MEDIA REVIEW: DOG DRIVER: A GUIDE FOR THE SERIOUS MUSHER (REVISED EDITION)

A skilled dog driver and team make mushing look easy. Synchronized pace, smooth gait, seeming telepathic bond between man (or woman) and canine—this team is a beautiful sight at the start or finish of a race and along the trails.It’s not a matter of type—long distance, sprint, mid-distance, or recreational—a good musher is the individual who seems to be one with the dogs.It looks easy, but anyone who’s done it knows it isn’t. It takes practice, dedication, sacrifice, and commitment. Above all, it takes a strong bond between musher and dog.That theme—that mushers must know their dogs inside and out to be successful—is at the core of the Collins’ twins, Miki and Julie, revised edition of Dog Driver: A Guide for the Serious Musher. First published in 1991, this compact little book contains enough information to give even the most practiced of mushers some new information.Julie and Miki have been mushing since they were mere children, living out in the wilds of Lake Minchumina, Alaska, depending on their team for transportation, freighting, wildlife warning, and companionship. They have put more than 25,000 miles on their team, throughout Alaska and Canada. They speak with the authority of experience, research, and knowledge.Lest racing mushers think this book is merely for those who depend on big, strapping dogs for freighting, it might be noted that both Julie (1985 Yukon Quest) and Miki (1984 Iditarod) can speak authoritatively on long-distance racing as well. They include mid-distance and sprint racing in their book, giving it value to any musher.As Julie writes in the preface, “Dog Driver is not just for competitive mushers; it is for mushing adventurers, mushers who run dogs for transportation or as a source of income, and for recreational mushers who want to understand their dogs and the sport better.”I might add, it is also a good book for those who love the dogs, if not the sport: the Collins’ understanding of Alaskan huskies is helpful for anyone who has one of these strong, independent, obstinate dogs.The Collins did not set out to write a comprehensive basic guide to mushing, the “Mushing for Dummies,” so to speak. They assume the reader already has a basic knowledge of the sport, the terms, gear, and techniques, which information is readily available.“We wrote this book for mushers who are tired of gleaning information from newsletters, advertisements, and pet-owner handbooks,” they write. It is a compilation of what has been widely scattered information, from all areas pertaining to mushing: training, techniques, veterinarian care, nutrition, and behavior.This revised edition, written almost 20 years after the first edition came out, incorporates new theories on training, nutrition, dog psychology, gear, and race strategies. It takes into consideration the rapidly developing field of canine health and biology of the sled dog, and new ways of looking at an old sport.“In the eighteen years since we wrote the preface for the first edition of Dog Driver, huge advances have been made in equipment, nutrition, and medical treatments. New lines of racing dogs are accelerating the speed of races, and fresh training methods have given mushers innovative solutions to behavioral problems,” they write.“We can take comfort, however, that one thing does not change—the determination and the devotion of sled dogs and the joy that they find in their work. We may tell dog mushers that we wrote this book for them, but really we wrote it for the benefit of the dogs.”The book is divided into sections: the dog, the gear, caring for the dog, breeding and raising dogs, trails, training, traveling, racing, and working. Each chapter is succinct, packed with information presented in a readable, logical manner. There are no long, incomprehensible words, no jargon—just vital information and anecdotes from the authors’ lives and experiences illustrating their points.In fact, it is those anecdotes that make this more than a how-to guide. Julie and Miki add a strong sense of humanity to the book, showing the reader how they’ve become such experts—not by virtue of being gifted with knowledge, but by trial and error, experience, and close class. Their willingness to laugh at themselves, and allow the readers, some of whom may be world-class and -famous mushers, gives them the authority and authenticity that makes this book indispensable for the serious musher.The first chapters introduce the reader to the Alaskan husky, as well as a distinct picture of the difference between racing and working dogs, and between long-, mid-, and short-distance racers. The authors explore the history, psychology, diversity, and performance of the breed. “Probably the best all-around sled dog,” they write, “the Alaskan husky combines speed, endurance, natural drive, and weather resistance, making it successful and popular. These dogs are bred for performance, not for set breed standards, resulting in many varied and versatile strains.”They also identify other breeds that can be found pulling sleds, including purebreds and the mixes so familiar to the mushing crowd. Top-class mushers will breed dogs with the traits they want, whether they are “true” huskies or not, to bring that trait into their team. Alaskan huskies are, therefore, the most interesting, varied breed around, with no two dogs, even those from the same litter, guaranteed to look alike.Perhaps the most important aspect of mushing, the authors point out at the end of Chapter One, is knowing your dog(s). The more a musher knows about his or her dogs, the better team he/she will have. By knowing what’s normal, what isn’t, what motivates them, what demotivates them, when they are happy, sad, or ill, the musher can build the best team for the circumstances, and be successful, whether the idea is to win the Quest or Iditarod, take the team on a 2,000-mile adventure, or make a living with freighting dogs. It’s a point they come back to many times throughout the book, again using some of their own experiences to show why this is so important.Throughout the book, there are offset boxes with notes, tips, checklists, and other helpful information. The serious musher will mark these sections for easy reference, referring back to them often. The other aspect that makes this such a good book is the photos. Most of the pictures were taken by the Collins’ as they go about their lives in the Alaskan bush. There are also pictures from news publications and other sources, all placed to illustrate a particular point.While most mushers would rather mush than read, this book is a valuable tool for any of them who want to be better, who want to get the optimum performance from their dogs, or those who just want to know more about these addicting animals. It is very obvious the authors are in the throes of an intractable addiction, and also obvious that they wouldn’t change a thing.At the end of the book, when they discuss a trapping trip, they’ve arrived at their cabin, the dogs are soaked form breaking trail, and scattered around the tiny cabin, dripping and steaming as they dry in the wood-fire-stove-heated building. Julie writes: “We were awash in dogs, surrounded by dogs, living with dogs. That’s just the way we like it.”Indeed. •Dog Driver: A Guide for the Serious Musher (Revised Edition)by Miki and Julie Collins • Available from Alpine Publications: alpinepub.net

Share:

More Posts