The 1995 animated film Balto—
based on the true story of the sled dog that ferried life-saving serum to Nome, Alaska, to fight a diphtheria outbreak in 1925—put the mystique of sled dogs center stage. But even hundreds of miles from the arctic tundra, a bit of the sled dog culture is finding a home in Boise through Dryland Dogs
, a newly formed company that teaches "urban mushing," an activity that started out as off-season training for sled dogs and has evolved into a sport in its own right. On Saturday, May 19, Dryland Dogs founder Mia Gussie and a handful of volunteers will convene at Camel's Back Park
to offer a free workshop for Boise dogs and owners.
Gussie describes urban mushing as "any type of activity where a dog pulls out in front of you." Though there are lots of options to choose from, including everything from wooden carts to roller blades, Dryland Dogs focuses on scootering, bikejoring and canicross, in which a dog is tethered to a scooter, mountain bike or runner, respectively.
"It's a mutually beneficial sport for dogs and people," Gussie said. "Not only is it an exercise for people but it tends to be a bonding experience with the dog as well, because you are trusting them based on voice commands."
At the Saturday workshop, the third for Dryland Dogs since its inception in January, Gussie and her team will meet to the right of the tennis courts at Camel's Back Park to offer free harness fittings, introductory training and 100-300-yard scootering runs on sidewalks and the dirt path that loops around the back of Camel's Back hill. Gussie said the objective is to give the dogs "a feel" for the sport.
Those who stick with it can eventually use "gee and haw training," traditional mushing voice command training in which "gee" means right and "haw" means left, to direct the dogs like Gussie does with her 100-pound lab/great dane mix, Zeus. Zeus is the one who led Gussie to urban mushing in the first place; she's a research company executive by trade, but stumbled across the sport online last year while looking for ways to help Zeus work off his excess energy.
"The goal really of starting Dryland Dogs was to help other people who are interested in the sport not have to go what I went through," Gussie said. "Because I spent a lot of time and a lot of money trying to find the right product. Because you order things in hoping they're going to work, and they don't. Or you order things in and they're the wrong size. Or you order things in and you don't know that you've ordered the wrong thing until after you've tried it. It's really my mission to let people try before they buy, because this is not a cheap sport to get into."
Prices range from about $100 for canicross leads to up to $1,500 or for a scooter or mountain bike designed to handle the speed, terrain and dog-pulling lead. Gussie solved part of the problem by importing two lines of scooters for her classes: Crussis
, a company based in the Czech Republic, and Belize Bike
, based in Canada. Those who fall in love with the sport on Saturday can purchase everything they need on site.
The workshop will run from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., and all dogs over 30 pounds are welcome, as long as they're in good health (chubby pups are welcome—Gussie even described urban mushing as "doggie crossfit") and are either more than a year old or have been cleared by a vet to pull heavy loads.