BARK! BARK! BARK! … BARK! BARK! …”
Jake lunges and yells incessantly at the top of his lungs. If the folks in the condos near Shore Dogs Park weren’t yet awake this morning, surely they are now.
“BARK! BARK! BARK!” the chant continues. LET’S GO!
Finally I stepped on the cart: “Alright! Let’s go!”
With a lurch belying the power of the three medium-sized house dogs attached to the cart, we’re off.
Blessed silence. The frantic barking replaced by the screech of gulls, rubber tires crunching gravel, padding of dog feet, and distant sounds of civilization starting another day.
We pass joggers and walkers, with and without dogs. Waves, stares, grins, coupled with a quiet command, “On By!” from me, reminding the dogs to ignore these distractions and keep going.
I marvel at the simple pleasure of traveling by dog team. Urban mushing is such a great way to burn off excess dog energy in the misty, cool morning.
Most importantly, it is a tremendous means to bond with my motley crew of house dogs: Jake, the middle-aged Aussie who denies the possibility of being “off duty” and never met a job he didn’t like; Elske, the sweet Elkhound who loves to do things with his pack, so long as someone else decides; and Marta, the beagle mix who perpetually sees the world through her nose.
The dogs are in heaven, and so am I.
As we cruise along the levees, I recall how, although we often did agility and flyball, we previously had no activities that everyone could enjoy and participate in together at the same time.
Through urban mushing, I have learned so much about myself and my dogs. Nearly any dog or breed could be taught to enjoy working in harness, once you explained the job to them. With patience, trust, and focus, the team came together.
The bonding that occurred during learning and teaching how to pull in harness was transformational. Whereas previously each dog was encouraged to accomplish tasks individually, now the expectation was to work together, developing their confidence and leveraging their pack instinct. Although none of this motley crew had any “sled-dog aptitude,” they certainly took their pack dynamics to a new depth with each other, and with me.
Likewise, I learned profound lessons about communicating, teaching, and rewarding within a team. Working with the team gave me endless opportunities to practice patience and to be fully present for what they needed from me each moment.
Just as the dogs learned to embrace noninstinctive activities, so did I. Truly the journey was the destination, and the skills my dog team enabled me to learn are invaluable in my work and life.
We’ve gone a couple miles now, and the dogs are panting as the morning starts to warm up. Time to stop for a drink.
We stop, and I watch the birds while the dogs slake their thirst. I smell the damp cool salt-water air. My mind wanders to a far distant place, where we could go under dog power, with more training, bigger dreams. Imagine…
“BARK! BARK! BARK! …”
I am jolted out of my reverie. Somebody has decided we’ve stopped long enough.
Load the watering supplies into the cart, and we’re adventuring again.
Liz Parrish, Iditarod’s Littlest Musher, started urban mushing and ended up completing the Iditarod Sled Dog Race to celebrate her 50th birthday, with her own team of huskies she trained from scratch. You can get a guide to the top resources for urban mushing at UrbanMushingClinic.com, as well as learn how to get started urban mushing with your own dog(s).
Bay Woof is looking for personal essays on dog-related themes. Send yours to Editor@BayWoof.com.
Main article photo by: Gerry Ingram