Join Lorien as she interviews dog trainer Kristi Benson about micro-mushing, winter pet safety tips, and how to exercise your dogs during the cold months. Don't forget to reach out to us @pethub on any of your social media platforms to suggest a geeky topic for Lorien to dive into!
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00:00 Lorien Clemens
Hello pet lovers and welcome to Pet Lover Geek. I'm Lorien Clemons and today's From The Vault episode is all about pet safety during wintertime. Stick around through this short break and then we'll be back with a great episode for you.
00:35 Lorien Clemens
We are looking into ways to keep your pet safe and warm as well as some fun, safe activities to keep them entertained and enriched when the weather outside is frightful. So to help us with that, we've invited Kristi Benson. She's an educator at the Academy for Dog Trainers. She's also a really tremendous Blogger. In fact, her blog has been listed in the top 50 dog blogs in 2016 from Thoroughly Reviewed and on the side, she's actually done some micro mushing with her dogs. I mean how fun is that? I'm excited actually to talk to her about that. Hoping she can share some fun knowledge with us about sledding activities, but Kristi, I'm so excited to have you on the show, welcome.
01:12 Kristi Benson
Thank you so much.
01:13 Lorien Clemens
Okay well, I have to start with mushing because I was like oh my God, she's done mushing. That is so cool. So for those listeners who maybe don't know what I'm talking about, tell us about mushing. What is mushing with your dog?
01:25 Kristi Benson
The traditional understanding of mushing with dogs is usually a big team of dogs, like somewhere between four up to maybe... in some of the races it's even like 16 or 20 dogs in front of a sled, in the winter, so the dogs are in harness. The harness is connected either directly to the sled or to a centerline, and then that's connected to the sled, so the dogs are pulling you or pulling something forward. That's sort of traditional mushing.
01:48 Lorien Clemens
And how did you get into that?
01:50 Kristi Benson
Well, me and my spouse moved to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, which is about 100 kilometers south of the Arctic Ocean.
01:57 Lorien Clemens
01:58 Kristi Benson
So that was in 2004, so we just randomly moved up there for work and there's quite a bit of racing there that happens, so there isn't a lot of dogs being used for traditional activities, but there's certainly quite a bit of racing up there, so we sort of got to know some of the mushers who were racing, and we worked in one of the kennels up there for a little while, and that was our entrance, was in the Arctic.
02:21 Lorien Clemens
And now what is micro mushing as opposed to standard mushing?
02:26 Kristi Benson
With standard mushing you're usually -- not always, I mean, you know there's a range --but you're usually talking about a relatively large kennel with a lot of dogs, so maybe 10, maybe 20, maybe in some of the competitive racing kennels we're talking 50 or 100 or more dogs, so micro mushing is people who have a couple of pets or a couple of sled dogs who live in their home with them. Sort of more of a pet life, but the dogs are still pulling them, so it's all about traction, so the dogs are pulling them. It can be on a little sled, it can be on skis, which is one of my favorite things.
02:56 Lorien Clemens
02:58 Kristi Benson
Yeah. You can use a bike. There's some people who just jog behind their dogs or a scooter. So we have these big scooters that are actually made for dogs to pull you, so it's a small number of dogs, but the dogs are still pulling you around in whatever season.
03:12 Lorien Clemens
So I live in a very snowy area. I live at about 3032 hundred feet and I have one dog that is obsessed with the snow and my husband and I are both skiers and we are always looking for activities to do with the dog in the snow and I was like oh micro mushing, so my other dog is a Boston Terrier. Doesn't want to step foot in this snow, but if wanted to like do something with Ullr, that was, you know, something like that 'cause I just think he would have so much fun doing that. I mean, like what kinds of things could I do? Single dog? You know nothing too crazy, but I mean what kind of little things could I do, like sledding type of activities with my dog that I think he would just love?
03:49 Kristi Benson
So skijoring for sure is a fun one and it's fun for people and dogs, you know, because you're being very active too, but your dogs also being active, and if you have a very high energy dog, I think a fantastic thing about micro mushing or you know traction sports in general, is that it really tires your dog out, so as long as your dog is vet checked, you know, healthy and sort capable of doing pulling sports. It tires them out much more quickly than a regular walk, so you're working so you're keeping warm, your dogs working so they're keeping warm, you know, and then you really drain that kind of energy tank so that you know at the end of the day if your dog has done a nice ski or a nice, you know, what have you pulling in harness. They're pooped, they're tired, so that's a really nice.
04:31 Lorien Clemens
Where do you start? I mean, where would we like start to get into that?
04:35 Kristi Benson
You know quite easily enough would be to just buy a sledding harness. You don't have to get an expensive one to start. You can get them for about 20 or 25 bucks online. So get a harness, get them comfortable in the harness the same way that you would, you know, get your dog comfortable with any piece of new equipment, so gently introduce it and sort of pair it with a lot of good treats and stuff. Get them used to having something put on their bodies and then have him wear the harness beside you as you're skiing so you know they can be beside you loose if it's safe. If they have a good recall and it's a dog-friendly area, they can ski beside you loose so they get used to the sounds and they get used to you know you falling which will happen for sure.
05:14 Lorien Clemens
I fall in our snowshoes much less the skis, right?
05:18 Kristi Benson
Yeah, exactly right. So I always say if I'm not falling I'm not having enough fun like I'm not trying hard enough. If there's not some falls involved, yeah, so clip on the line to the dogs harness so they can get used to the feeling of them pulling you, but just out for a walk, so you know, and then every time they managed to get ahead of you and they start to pull then you can go, "oh good dog" and you could speed up a bit and kind of happy talk and get them very excited that oh, pulling is finally okay for once in my life I'm allowed to pull, you know, and then moved to skiing.
05:47 Lorien Clemens
But yeah because that is the thing. I mean he's got some, you know, shepherding in him. So he loves to push and pull things, so that's always been something we've said, "no, no, no, no pulling", and so that'll actually be fun. I think it's a great idea, so I'm excited to talk to my husband about that. Now let's kind of switch gears a little bit because like I mentioned, I've got a Boston Terrier who has no use for the snow. She really kind of hates it that we moved up on top of a mountain, I mean we used to live in like a place that never had snow to like what is this stuff on the ground.
06:13 Kristi Benson
06:14 Lorien Clemens
So let's talk about those pets maybe that don't like snow that much or are puppies, maybe you're training them, so how do you get those dogs out there so that they can maybe not enjoy it, but at least deal with it and tolerated it? What are the kinds of things that you can do to help acclimate a dog to a snow situation?
06:30 Kristi Benson
I would have sort of a two-pronged approach to that. So my first prong would be like hey, let's get the dog really liking being outside and so that might be let's get the dog a comfortable coat. So if they're finding it too cold, you know, let's help them with a nice coat or sweater or something so that they feel warm, and then let's make every walk that happens outside, every time they experience snow, to be just really all positive. So really short walks to start. You know they go out, you know, look at this my goodness like there's treats raining from the sky and I'm only out here for two or three minutes and then I get to go back in like oh, okay, that was actually okay, you know everything was good, it was okay, it was short, I didn't get uncomfortably cold, and then you slowly increase it if they like chasing stuff, maybe have them chase a snowball. You know, so save some of the stuff that your dog really likes to do. If it's you know, tug games or ball, or if they play with a flirt pole for example, save that so that they only get it outside in the snow, you know, so they're comfortable and happy because they're in their warm little sweater. They're not being sort of pushed past their limit, and getting cold or uncomfortable or just displeased because you know the walks are nice and short and everything good happens out in the snow, and you can slowly work them up to being like, hey, you know what, maybe this snow stuff is okay. You could hide some delicious treats in a little bit of a snowbank and help them dig it out or something, you know, so make this snow very positive and fun, and work up to it, you know, slowly and at the dog's pace, and then sort of the second prong...
07:56 Lorien Clemens
I was just going to say real quick so like what about with shorter dogs? Is there? -- 'cause I think some of the problem that like penny has I mean we'll get a dump of like three or four feet, and she's fine with the smaller snow, but I'm like with the big huge snows. I mean, it's at the same type of thing. I mean like your idea about putting treats in a snowbank, I was like oh, with that I actually might be a really good idea to help her get better at the heavier snows.
08:18 Kristi Benson
Yeah and I think if it's just straight up uncomfortable and unpleasant, there's not much we can do, you know, we can tromp a trail down before they go out or we can, you know, go to a place where the snow has been cleared, for example, but I think if we're talking about something that's just generally unpleasant, like I can't see because the snow is over my head, there's not going to be a training method that will make that, I don't think, any better. Which sort of is nice segue into my second prong which is, let's get this dog enriched, and happy, and exercised in the home. So there's a lot of stuff you can do for a dog and this is the same, you know, for any dogs that can't go for walks because they're scared of strangers or what have you, you know? Keeping them sort of interested and exercised in the home is a really, really good option, so food puzzles, nose work games, anything you can do to get the dog's brain working is going to be very helpful, and then you know, is there games you can play with your dog inside to tire them out? And a little dog, you know, they may not need quite as much exercise as a really big active breed so you can be like fetch down the hall. Tug games are really, really good here, and if you have a place in your basement or something if you could play a flirt pole-type game if they like that then you can really drain their energy that way, and then hey, you know, spring is going to be here soon enough and they can tromp or you can wait for the snowplow to go through and then go play on the sidewalk or whatever.
09:45 Lorien Clemens
Awesome and are there any other, you know, winter precautions that you should think? So I'm thinking in terms of when Ullr was a puppy and he clearly loved the snow from like the beginning, we named him Ullr after the God of winter so I think that we kind of asked for that, but with puppies, our trainer gave us quite a few precautions about, "okay I know he loves the snow, but here's some precautions you should think about when playing with a young dog in the snow." Like those type of things, things that people should think about?
10:10 Kristi Benson
That would be more of a question for a vet as far as... Yeah, so and I guess also like I have sled dogs and they tend to be super fine in the snow, so I'm sort of like well what are you talking about? Not good in the snow.
10:24 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, yeah. I think it's more about like sometimes running in the snow with heaviness on their coat and things like that, it can potentially, especially the younger dogs that don't know their bodies very well, particularly be an issue, but like you said we could definitely talk with the vet about that. Now you mentioning sled dogs. I wanted to kind of segue back into that a minute. You have done some work helping former sled dogs right?
10:43 Kristi Benson
Yes we do. Yeah, we have sled dogs -- and they're competitive racing type of sled dogs so they're not like the big -- they don't look like Siberians, their not sort of the shaggy type. They tend to be smooth-coated and they're sort of a -- I don't want to say they look like mutts, I'm trying to think of a nicer way -- they would surprise you in their looks if you had a sled dog in your mind's eye, but they're fantastic for traction sports. So if you like being pulled around or if you like being really active with your dog, and you wanna try Canicross or something like that then a sled dog is the Primo example.
11:17 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, let's say somebody is looking to adopt. They maybe listen to the show. What kinds of things should they maybe keep in mind that they're going to... Differences about a standard rescued dog versus a dog that was a sled dog?
11:31 Kristi Benson
So there's gonna be the hair, so the hair coat, there's a lot of shedding, and not just -- you just learn to put up with it -- but it's certainly something to keep in mind and all dogs are hairy so you know that kind of applies to everything, but sled dogs are known for their shedding, so there is that. Quite a few sled dogs are a little bit -- in the sled dogs lingo it's known as skittish -- they're a little bit fearful of strange people who they don't know, so that's something to keep in mind that you may need to work with a trainer. You may just need to be a little bit cognizant of that, you know, there's certainly not going to be the -- or they might be you know -- but sort of the tendency is for them to be a little bit scared of new people that they haven't met before, and a really big one in my experience, rehoming sled dogs is they tend to bolt, so if they're scared, they'll slip their collar, bolt and then they're gone and they can run for miles and I'm not exaggerating.
12:23 Lorien Clemens
Right, well that's what their bred and trained to do.
12:26 Kristi Benson
Yeah so you have a dog who's scared, who bolts, who runs, and you can have a very unfortunate outcome there. So if someone adopts a sled dog, we are very, very pushy about keeping them on leash all the time for the first six months, you know, we do fence inspections. We want to make sure that this dog, if they get startled, there's not going to be sort of a sad outcome for the, you know, for the new adopter and for the dog unfortunately, it's part of their stick, and currently, we're fostering a little spaniel and she's so attentive to us and we're both like, woah, look at this little attentive dog. Sled dogs are much more like, yeah, you know, I like you and I like your food but I'm just gonna do my own thing and I wanna, you know, I'm gonna maybe play with that dog and then I'm going to sleep for a while -- so they're an interesting beast for sure.
13:12 Lorien Clemens
Why do you think that is? I mean that -- 'cause I mean I've not had that experience with any dogs I've had, but I mean, why do you think that is that they're a little bit more, let's say standoffish?
13:20 Kristi Benson
Who knows? But if you cornered me and made me guess, I'd say it's probably a breeding thing that just, you know, either it came along for the ride, you know, when people were breeding for really good sled dogs, so they're fantastic. They like to pull, like they find it very enjoyable. Once they're in the harness they want to go, they face outside, you know, they're not checking in with the human, they are just pulling, go, go, go, forward, forward, forward. So, you know, maybe it's just part of that personality class. I don't know. It's certainly an interesting question to think about over coffee though.
13:50 Lorien Clemens
Yeah definitely, it's just curious to me, I'd not heard that before, but I guess it kind of makes sense too and so you see so many times that so often that they spend so much time outside and just around the other dogs and facing forward like you said, they're not out facing that human. It's all about what's outside of me, and so that's really interesting. Well listen, this has been a terrific talk, really good stuff. I want to make sure that people know how they can find you online to learn more about what you do.
14:16 Kristi Benson
Okay so my website is my name, so it's Kristibenson.com and then I also have a Facebook page which I'm pretty active on, and that's just Kristi Benson Dog Training.
14:27 Lorien Clemens
Awesome, and that's Kristi with an I. KRISTI BENSON. Make sure that people have that spelling there. Well great. Thanks so much for joining us today Kristi, really great stuff.
14:38 Kristi Benson
14:39 Lorien Clemens
And to our listeners, thanks for joining us today. Make sure you leave a comment below for any cool or geeky ideas that you want us to cover in future episodes, and like always, give those fur babies a hug from me. I'm Lorien Clemens and this has been Pet Lover Geek powered by PetHub.