Basic CommandsJim Herriges and Lily

The following are commonly used commands for Lead Dogs. What term you use to give your dog a command is not important, as long as you are consistent. But the advantage to using the common terms is that someone else can give commands to your dog also.

  • Whoa or Stop. Snowplow to slow down and stop. Hold your dog stopped until you give the command to go (see below). It is a good idea to teach and practice “wait” also.
  • Hike, Let’s Go, OK. Begin skiing and verbally encourage your dog. Though used by many mushers, OK can be a risky word to start your dogs. If you stop to talk with someone and the word OK comes up in conversation, you may be surprised by how responsive your dogs are.
  • Gee (turn right) and Haw (turn left). These are easier to practice on your feet than on skis. Give the command in advance of the upcoming turn. If your dog even looks in the right direction start praising him. If you have the dog on a leash you can pull or lead him the correct direction praising him as you go. If he tries to go the wrong direction, correct him with a firm “no” and/or a sharp tug on the leash or tug line. Give the command repeatedly while physically encouraging him to go the correct direction. If you get the two confused, think “gee, that’s right!”
  • On By or Straight Ahead. Use this to go straight down the trail where there are choices of direction or to go past something (other dogs, moose, people) on or near the trail. On By is easier to say when you are out of breath from hard skiing.
  • Come is very important when you have a tangle or your dog accidentally gets loose.
  • Good Dog! Praise your dog often, especially after correctly following a command.

Advanced Commands

Once your dog knows the basic commands, you can begin to learn these more advance commands. Use these to communicate what to do as you encounter various conditions on the trail.

  • Easy means go slowly. Use this to go over bad sections of trail, when you are being passed and don’t stop completely, before an upcoming turn or junction in the trail, or when you just want to go slowly. Best if spoken slowly and calmly…”eeeezeeee.” Too much sense of urgency can make the dog get up tight and unresponsive.
  • Hike Up or Get Up means go faster. Use after a stop or on a downhill when the dog will naturally go faster during training. Once the dog understands the command, it can be used during and after a pass or to charge to the finish line of a race.
  • Over Gee or Over Haw means move to the right (gee) or left (haw) side of the trail. Use this command to go around something on the trail or to pull over and stop on a certain side of the trail.
  • Come Haw or Come Gee means to turn that direction and go back the way your came…a 180 degree turn. Use this to turn around on an out and back trail, when you have a trail blockage by moose or other obstacle, or when you change your mind about where you really want to go. You want to be on the opposite side of the trail that you give the command for. In other words, move to the right side of the trail before giving the “come haw” command. Your body will block the other option.
  • Line Out means the dog should hold the line tight and straight out in front of you. This is useful to avoid tangles when you are getting ready to start with more than one dog.
  • Wait or Sit or Stay means the dog should not move or pull. This useful while you have to wait for a start or while you put on your skis and poles or while you get up after a fall.

Training a dog to understand and respond to these advanced commands will take some work. But the result will be a much more enjoyable experience for you and your dogs!

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