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North Hills Monthly

Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club Provides Outlet for Urban Mushers

Dec 30, 2014 12:09PM ● By Shelly Tower Rushe
You may have seen them on trails around the city, in parks on their bikes or, in more rural areas, guiding sleds through the snow—whether they’re on skis or sleds or mountain bikes or special scooters, ‘urban mushers’ love spending time in the outdoors almost as much as their dogs.

The Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club (PSDC) is one organization where these enthusiasts can connect and find places to run together. Experienced mushers can participate in group runs and those new to the sport can find support in training their dogs.   

Johnn Molburg is a former world-championship skijorer (think sled dog plus skis) and the president of the PSDC. He started in the sport of sled-dogging at age 9 and never looked back. He got involved in skijoring at the age of 53. He’s now retired but actively involved in the group of approximately 150 members ranging in age from 25 to 55 years old. Members are not only from Pennsylvania but also many East Coast states as well as Canada.

According to Molburg, most members use one or two dogs to participate in a range of both snow- and land-based activities. Snow activities include the well-known dog-powered sled races made famous by the Iditarod. There’s also skijoring where instead of being on a sled, the human in the equation is on cross-country skis. Skiers wear a special skijoring harness and dogs wear a sled dog harness and the two are connected by a length of rope. While skiers still do part of the work, the dogs help to pull them along.

Because Pennsylvania isn’t always covered in snow, PSDC also sponsors several ‘dry’ racing opportunities.  There are four types of dry racing:

•    Scooter: Participants use specially made scooters designed for one or two dogs. Drivers are still able to control the direction their dog goes with gentle steering. 

•    Canicross: Basically cross-country running with a dog that is tethered to a special waistband equipped with a bungee cord.

•    Bike: Mountain biking with a dog attached to a specialty harness. NOTE: Simply jumping on your mountain bike with your dog on a traditional leash is NOT recommended!

•    Rig: A rig is similar to a sled, only with three or four wheels. 

So what kinds of dogs are best for mushing activities? “Pretty much any dog that likes to run,” explained Molburg. “It just depends on how fast you want to travel.”  While many of the dogs that participate are the typical northern breeds (huskies, for example), if your dog is energetic and healthy, it will probably do well with mushing.

That’s not to say that you should expect to show up at a competition after a winter of throwing your pup table scraps and lounging on the couch. There is a level of training that needs to happen first, though it doesn’t have to be extensive. “I wouldn’t hesitate to run a half a mile if the dog will stay in front and is used to exercise,” said Molburg, who is quick to emphasize the humane aspects of sled dogging. 

The club’s website clearly states:  ‘The purpose of the club shall be to conduct sled dog races and promote the safe and humane training, driving, and racing of sled dogs,’ and Molburg knows his club members live up to this. “If everyone took as good care of themselves as we do these dogs, we’d all be in better shape,” he laughed. 

Still hesitant? Molburg suggests attending a sled event to see what happens. “Winterfest in Warren, PA is in mid-January, and I encourage people to come out and see how much the dogs love what they do,” he said.  

For more information on getting involved or to see a schedule of events, visit www.pasleddogclub.com.