Through her first spring, Sasha and Jiak were rarely apart. Whether he was tending to the other dogs, training Sasha’s siblings or harnessing up the team for the trail, the young dog followed him everywhere. The puppy pack grew in size quite quickly, and began to train for their important jobs; pulling the sled.
Jiak was a gentle and patient teacher. He’d repeat the same command, often accompanied by a hand gesture, until a dog could understand his meaning. Sasha donned leather boots, and Jiak fitted her with her very first X-harness. The X-harness crosses at the breast bone, and again on the dog’s back, shifting the load rearward on the dog, distributing the weight and pulling from the top of the back.
For starter training, a dog would have the drag bag attached, a leather bag filled with rocks to accustom the dogs to the feeling and commands of pulling, and build the needed muscles. Jiak would call “Hike” or “Mush it up!”, “Go” or “On boys!” to pull. He’d call “Whoa!” and “Hold up!” to stop. Pulls across the yard would be rewarded with bits of jerky. This was fun, and Huskies love to run and pull. It is in their nature, and they enjoyed working for Jiak.
After some practice, the day finally came to pull a sled, though not a full-size one. Jiak hooked up the sprinter sled, a short and light dogsled designed for a single driver and no cargo. Then the most exciting part, the youngsters would be paired in a two-dog harness with an experienced sled dog. A dog named Spring was one of the best tandem teachers. He was quiet but energetic, and knew every command, including a few in other local dialects. He also seemed to understand the newbies, and rarely ran too fast or turned too quickly for a trainee to respond and follow his lead.
Now the important commands were taught. “Line out” to tighten the lines, “Haw” to turn left and “Gee” to turn right. “Easy” for rough spots, and “Everybody Down” to lie still and await the next command. Jiak had trained many sled dogs, and used a constant mixing-up of commands dogs might hear from other drivers. Some said “Mush” to go, others called “On” or “Hike”, sometimes “Go” or “Pull”. Most used “Whoa” to stop, some would call “Ho!”, some “Hold up”.
Learning to turn was mastered fairly quickly working with an experienced dog. At the sound of a “gee” or “haw”, the older dogs, like Spring, would commence the turn immediately. If the trainee turned away from Spring in the opposite direction, they’d feel the pull of their harness to correct them. If they turned wrong and ran into the larger dog, they would sometimes be knocked down and the sled would stop. After being stepped on several times, it became easier to get the commands right.
During this time, Sasha continued to learn from Mother, and sometimes Kotka, a real master at pulling the sled, and an enthusiastic teacher. She learned about working in the harness, pulling the sled. The joy of work and camaraderie with the team and driver, praise from Jiak, Bek and Nina.
“When we’re in harness, we are a true team and must work as one.” Mother espoused. “You can’t stop where you want or go where you please or the whole team will be held up. Perseverance, stamina, patience and cooperation with the team are your goals. At times it can be difficult work, but we must carry on. We all rely on each other out on the trail. We’re in this together, and on the taiga, failure can mean pain and death.” Mother cautioned her litter about life in the elements.
The Arctic is narcissistic, in love with her own beauty. To keep it from being over-run by the growing, climbing and crawling things of this Earth, she maintains a frigid and frozen home, unwelcoming and inhospitable to most living things. A very few, those who bow to her superiority and ultimate power, are granted some quarter. Perhaps these things, too, thinks The Ice Queen, wish to repel the takers and destroyers of this world.
Mother taught her children well. A healthy respect and a touch of fear will bear you up in this wilderness. The little pack must learn these important things, for the Arctic is a merciless teacher.
Any lesson from The Ice Queen could be your last.