Area woman learns the art of dog sled mushing

In this undated photo, Kate Walrath guides a team of mushing dogs. (Photo submitted)

PERTH — When Kate Walrath has a harness in her hand, her dogs start “jumping, barking and howling.”

“They’re very excited,” she said.

That’s because she and they are trained in the art of mushing–traveling by dog power.

Ten years ago, Walrath, owner of Run By Dogs at 3832 Route 30, spent two years in Alaska where dog sledding and related conveyances are commonplace.

“I absolutely loved it,” said the Mayfield native.

In this undated photo, Kate Walrath poses with some of her dogs. (Photo submitted)

She brought the experience back to the area and learned about training for mushing from reading and the internet.

“I was 100 percent self-taught,” she said.

The dogs and their handlers learn mushing together.

Mushing isn’t just about sledding. People can jog with dogs (canicross), ski with them (skijoring) or bike with them (bikejoring). Dogs can pull wheeled carts as well. Eight or nine years ago, Walrath enjoyed participating in the first bikejoring world championship in Bristol, Quebec, even though she didn’t place.

Walrath travels around to community events in places such as Syracuse, Indian Lake and Northville, giving rides on a sled or cart. Most recently, she let children ride on a two-dog cart at the HFM Prevention Council fun day at Park Terrace Elementary School in Gloversville.

“Sometimes kids will just laugh and giggle the entire ride,” she said.

Mushing can be a blessing to disabled people.

“Sometimes it’s the only way people with disabilities can get out into the woods,” Walrath said, whose husband is disabled. “In a really good winter, we’re nonstop busy” with sledding, but, during mild winters, cart rides on dirt roads and well-groomed trails are always possible,” she said.

For example, Walrath also regularly takes people on excursions in Stratford.

Dogs such as Siberian or Alaskan huskies have it in their genes to mush, but not all dogs like it. Some dogs would “rather go sit on the porch or go for a regular walk,” Walrath said.

When a dog likes mushing, “they get back in touch with what they’re meant to be as dogs,” she said.

“You know a happy dog when you see a happy dog.”

Besides mushing, Run By Dogs holds dog obedience and training classes, including helping dogs that are aggressive toward people or other dogs or are very nervous and insecure. “We are directly saving dogs’ lives on a daily basis by retraining dogs that the owners might be tempted to put to sleep,” Walrath said.

Dogs need to be acclimated to the human world–the sights and sounds around them–as well learning to work in step with their owners’ needs. For instance, if an owner has a walker or is entering the house with an armful of groceries, the dog shouldn’t be darting ahead, she said.

Walrath trains with individual owners as well as groups. One of the group sessions is held on Saturday mornings in downtown Johnstown to help owners to walk their dogs in a busy urban setting.

Run By Dogs has been in business for four years and at its current location for a year. Easiest way to contact the business is by email on its website or Facebook page, Walrath said.