Since many parts of the US and the rest of the world are starting to think about springtime, that is often the advent of a whole range of dog & human recreational and competitive activities. We thought we would devote this issue of our dryland mushing column to cross-training and the benefits of dryland mushing in all the different activities you do with your dogs. What do we mean by “cross-training?” Simply put, participating in one activity to the benefit of another. Just as humans use cross-training —swimmers can bicycle for additional aerobic and muscle development or archers can lift weights to develop their strength and powers of concentration – dogs can also benefit from utilizing cross-training. Most of our readers do many different activities with their dogs, ranging from neighborhood walks to agility to showing in the breed ring. No matter what their activities, your dogs will benefit from the well-rounded physical and mental stimulation that cross-training with dryland mushing provides.What is the benefit? Again, the parallels with humans are striking. Both people and dogs benefit both mentally and physically from different forms of activity and development. Physically, it is easy to understand you don’t want to become muscle-bound, or overdevelop one set of muscles at the expense of others. That is what leads to injuries and shortening of careers and enjoyment of a particular sport. Thus weightlifters also do exercises which rigorously stretch themselves and lengthen their muscles, dancers lift weights and run, horseback riders also develop their balance and strength, and so on. Dogs’ sports and activities similarly tend to focus on one type of action (short bursts of speed, long-term endurance, etc.) and thus need to be balanced with other activities to keep their entire bodies in shape.An even bigger benefit is the mental stimulation which dryland mushing provides. For many dogs and owners it is something completely different from their normal daily activities or weekly training, and therefore provides an incredibly valuable mental stimulation. By participating in dryland mushing, your dog is learning new commands. Learning they can accomplish different things (like pulling a cart, scooter or bicycle), developing their drive by competing in a race or fun run, enjoying their increased endurance as it develops, taking all of this into new environments with the local bike trails or beaches. All of these aspects continue to stretch your dog mentally, keeping them engaged and active even as they age, and stimulating them to perform and focus better especially on the other activities or sports they may have been doing for years.Competitive snow mushers have known and utilized the benefits of cross-training for years in their programs. Both top echelon sprint and distance teams utilize free running and swimming, for example, to stretch out the dogs and build additional aerobic capacity prior to getting onto snow and the heart of their competitive training. Both Barb and Liz, as with many mushers who can’t do their early season training on snow, utilize carts and ATVs (quads) with their fall training. For example, when Liz was preparing for Iditarod in 2008, she put 1,000 miles on the dog team on dirt before transitioning to sled and snow. So for many mushers, dryland training isn’t a luxury, it is an absolute necessity, and the dogs benefit from the discipline and endurance built with seasonal dryland training.Likewise, “urban mushing” as many city and suburban mushers enjoy it, has a host of benefits. The dogs understand how their body works, develop their natural gate and stride, and enjoy increased stamina, aerobic capacity, strength and stretching. Since the various forms of dryland “dog sledding on wheels” are so easy to do, in practically any setting, it ensures a higher likelihood of getting out and doing it, preventing the couch potato/weekend warrior syndrome. Your dog learns mental and emotional flexibility, making them a better family companion and they’re more relaxed, both at home and out in public.Let’s look at a few of the many dog sports which benefit from canine cross-training, especially with dryland mushing. For the purposes of examples in this article, we’ll look at agility, obedience, flyball, SAR, and competitive conformation. These are by no means the only sports and activities which will benefit from a complimentary dose of dryland mushing, but will give you a good overview of the various benefits and how they can be applied across the board.AgilityDog agility is incredibly popular both in the US and Europe, and all types and sizes of dogs compete with a variety of different venues and sanctioning organizations. Agility is a timed event where the dog runs a sequenced obstacle course under the direction of their handler. In order to train and compete in agility successfully, the dog needs good stamina (courses are often 200+ yards), focus (not to be distracted and to follow the handlers sequencing commands in the selection and ordering of obstacles), drive, and the physical ability to intersperse running, jumping, climbing and crawling. Agility participants who also enjoy dryland mushing find their dogs are used to focusing and ignoring distractions (as they pass others out on the trail or neighborhood), have developed drive (as they are used to executing sequences of commands while moving), and of course the development of their stamina and endurance. Agility tends to be a seasonal sport in most areas, so the utilization of dryland mushing training helps keep the dog and handler active over the course of the year, especially if the dryland team might be able to take their fun to the snow while skijoring, snowshoeing or small sledding.ObedienceBarb got into dog sledding partly because she was so interested in obedience. Running a team of Siberians to her was like obedience to the maximum, getting a group of dogs to all do what was requested at the same time. Dryland mushing helps dogs competing in obedience from both a mental and physical standpoint. In our Urban GO Dogs clinics we have a section we like to call “sled dog obedience” which includes line-out, somewhat like a stand stay; on-by, keep on going like when the dog is heeling and cannot be distracted with what’s going on around it; wait, similar to a stay, but ready and waiting for the next command; gee and haw, right and left turns. These are commands particular to dog sledding (on wheels or on the snow) that can serve as additional training opportunities to expand and cement typical obedience commands.Flyball.Flyball is a high energy and action sport featuring head-to-head relay racing between two teams of dogs, over a set of hurdles, snagging a ball off a spring loaded box, and carrying it back over the hurdles to the start/finish line. Often in a days flyball tournament a dog might run 6 or 7 races, of 4 or 5 heats each…stamina, especially in warm weather, is key! Liz’s experience integrating dryland mushing and flyball produced amazing results. Her Australian Shepherd Jake was about seven years old when he took up competitive flyball, and the year-round carting and pulling kept him buff, aerobically fit, with great endurance and stamina. It also helped in the consistency of his ability to perform. Every flyball run, from morning to night, was rock solid consistent within a half-second. Each year at the beginning of flyball training, the other dogs on his team had to re-build their speed, endurance, and often overcome small ouwies and soreness as they got into shape. Jake arrived buff, solidly muscled and ready to rock and roll. He loved head to head racing with the other team, enhanced by his ability to focus and drive as he had lots of practice ignoring loose dogs, bikers and other distractions when out carting on the San Francisco Baylands.Search and Rescue (SAR)Sometimes called the ultimate working dogs, these dog and handler teams are called upon to perform at the highest levels in often the most challenging conditions imaginable. The dog/handler teams train continuously and continue to perfect their technical skills in anticipation of when and where they might be needed. Not for the faint of heart, these teams also have the ultimate need to be able to relax, recreate, stay fit and have fun doing it. That’s where dryland mushing comes in.Because a dog/handler team never knows when they might be called upon, they need to maintain their physical and mental fitness at all times. Dryland mushing is a terrific opportunity to do so—relax, enjoy, and yet maintain the edge they require. When put into service on a mission, the teams are dropped into challenging and emotionally charged situations, and all the aspects of dryland mushing they have enjoyed will be brought to bear. Their ability to focus on their jobs, have the stamina and endurance to work, avoid injuries, listen to and obey their handlers, and deal with new situations and environments are all enhanced by participating in dryland mushing activities.ConformationThe conditioning gained with dryland mushing also helps in the ring. With improved physical stamina the dog can stay more alert and ready to perform. A quick scooter or bike run around the show grounds before a competition can help the dog to relax and be more focused on the job in the ring. Top winning Champion conformation dogs need to stay in tip top physical shape to show off their movement in the ring. This is sometimes difficult to do when you are on the road every weekend traveling to dog shows. When your dog is winning they have to run around the ring more times than those that aren’t winning. If you are lucky enough to be awarded Best of Breed, you wait around until you get to go into the Group ring, usually late into the day, then when you take Group 1 you get to run around some more. This takes physical stamina, particularly on those warm days. A physically fit dog holds up longer no matter what the conditions in the ring. Barb’s dog, CH Fraka’s Sparkl’n Jewel O’Kossok (Sparky) was a top winning show dog two years in a row and earned Best of Opposite Sex at the Siberian Husky Club of America National Specialty with an entry of nearly 1,000. Sparky spent quite a bit of her time on the road showing, pretty much 38 plus weekends in one year. When Sparky wasn’t in the show ring she trotted around the neighborhood, pulling Barb and her husband around on their bicycles or Sacco cart several times a week to stay in shape. Sparky was a nice Siberian and while she wasn’t perfect, keeping her muscles firm and fit helped her to move more smoothly. Often judges would comment on how she appeared effortless in the ring because she never tired. The miles on the bike or cart sure helped in that area. Sometimes people will say that running a dog in harness will make their rears wide. That has not been Barb’s experience. A dog has whatever structure they have and usually keeping them in top physical condition only serves to help their success. We’ve seen dogs who had no so perfect movement improve after a season of running in harness.Dog owners today often include their dogs in as many of their activities as possible, and with the development of so many different canine sports and activities, it is easy to have a very full recreation schedule with the 4-legged kids. Everyone, both canine and human, enjoys what they are doing more when they are physically and mentally up to the task. Obviously, dryland mushing has a lot of benefits for the canine and human participants, in addition to being just plain fun! So get out there and enjoy it as we transition from winter to spring, and realize it is also benefiting you and your dog in ways you might not have realized. Happy Trails!Liz Parrish, is the co-author of the inspirational book Crimp! On-By!!, (CrimpOnBy.com) Barbara Schaefer has been raising and training Siberian Huskies (Qualobo.com) in California for over 20 years competing in obedience, conformation, and dog sled races. Together their joint venture is known as Life…Through DogsSM, which provides hands-on urban dog sledding clinics (UrbanGoDogs.com) and ultimate dog sledding adventure experiences (RunYourOwnIditarod.com), as well as presentations, coaching and more. Their latest book is Be the Lead Dog: 7 Life-Changing Lessons Taught By Sled Dogs, available January 2010.