The article “Training Alaskan Malamutes/sled dogs for mid/long distances” was originally written by Svein Tore Bøe (Najanin kennel) and appeared in «Polarposten».
The systematic training should begin in mid-September, if the dogs need to be in their best shape towards February / March when most races take place. As a general rule, during the training the dogs should always go in slow pace while the distances they cover. All training until mid-September should be limited to 5-8 km distances up to three times a week, due to the possibility of overheating the dogs.
Setting the goals for the Malamute team
The dogs must learn not to burst in the first few kilometres, to use their strength wisely and to take commands. If the training goes smoothly and you have the control over the dogs, there is no problem allowing the team to increase the pace quite considerably at the end of an exercise and even encourage that with a specific command (or applause/sound).
The training cart or other means of transport used for the workout should be relatively heavy and equipped with proper brakes in order to regulate the speed of the team, that eventually the dogs would learn to start at a moderate pace and not to burn out in the first few kilometres.
As mentioned before, it is wise to keep a low pace, so the dogs would get into working in trot with a nice “flow” in the team. Once we have this “flow” in the team, we begin to gradually increase the pace. The training continues at a trot speed, but now we have control over the team of dogs so it’s time to introduce shorter intervals with gallop and max speed, to get the training more varied. Use the same specific command (applause/sound), which was used during the first stages of the training, to get the dogs to speed up. It is also important to train for shorter feeding / watering breaks, so that the dogs would get used to eating / drinking, standing quietly harnessed in the line, etc.
At this point the training diary (which you should keep filling in after every run) should show many miles covered and list the good and bad characteristics of every dog in the team. The best and most reliable trotters in the team should be identified and the selection of the rest of the team should be based upon measuring them with those best ones. A point to consider: restless, fussy dogs can be quite difficult to control and have a tendency to burn out quickly, so they might be better suited for sprint runs. Here (at the Najanin kennel) we focus on calm dogs that are easy to connect with, which usually end up being the best trotters, but people shouldn’t be too harsh with the restless ones (usually they are just young and over-energetic!) – often they become as fit for the long distances as the other dogs, especially after burning their energy and sharpening their noses into some long distance runs during the training period.
The training continues
Although the dogs cover only around 20-30 km divided into four training sessions per week in October-November, in December, the dogs become very strong physically and mentally, thus the training should be stepped up if you are betting on long distances. The training sessions should reach 8-10 km every other day, with a long trip of about 15-20 km during the weekends. With January comes the racing season, so at that time the maintenance training should amount to 20-25 km 2-3 times per week.
In order to get the dogs to respond well to such training, they must be fed well with the highest quality food. The diet of a hardworking dog should consist essentially of meat and fat. Also, we mix in high quality kibble for the dogs to receive needed minerals, vitamins, etc (there are many good brands on the market to choose from, so we won’t expand upon this topic here).
Finally, a bit more about what we (at the Najanin kennel) look for when we buy or breed an Alaskan Malamute for sledding dog: we study the parents of the puppy and the environments from where they come from carefully, as the desire and drive to work are both inherited and environmentally dependent.
So – Alaskan Malamute enthusiasts – lets start training in order to ensure that the great accomplishments of our beloved breed won’t become a thing of the past!
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