The Madeleine Brand Show

The Madeleine Brand Show is a daily, two-hour program that looks at news and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Madeleine Brand

Cyclists, joggers and sled dogs? Urban mushing hits the trails in OC

by Mary Plummer | The Madeleine Brand Show

Urban musher Vickie McConathy (right) and her friend with siberian huskies Shadow, Nikki, Tundra and Diva at Talbert Nature Preserve in Costa Mesa, Calif. Al Kamalizad

When you think of dog sledding you probably imagine a winter activity — one where a team of dogs pull a sled over a snow-covered course. We did too, until we heard about urban mushing. It's the snow-free version of traditional dog mushing and has an enthusiastic following here in Southern California.

Our Associate Producer Mary Plummer grew up dog mushing in Alaska. So we sent her out to see how the sport fares here in sunny SoCal.

What is Urban Mushing?
Urban mushing is similar to traditional dog sledding, which is done on snow. But instead of pulling a sled, urban mushing teams pull a scooter or dog cart over dry land courses. Teams range in size from one to ten or more dogs.

How do you steer?
Dog teams are navigated by verbal commands from the musher. Calling "Gee" instructs the dogs to turn right, and a "Haw" command tells the dogs to veer left. "Stop" can be a little trickier. If you're riding on a sled, try the foot brake until the dogs slow down enough for you to lodge your metal hook in the snow. If you're riding a scooter, hand brakes will help slow you down along with a calm sounding "whoa." To learn more about urban mushing commands click here.

When did dog mushing begin?
Traditionally, dogs pulled sleds to help their owners transport goods and hunt more easily. The first sled dog races in Alaska popped up after the Gold Rush in the early 1900s. By the 1940s and 50s organized races became popular in the state. The sport has continued to expand since then. By the 1980s dog sledding competitions took place throughout parts of Europe. Today, you can even find mushing in Australia and South Africa. For more information on the history of mushing, check out the audio extra below.

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