Safety main focus of volunteer training

CALUMET – With just two weeks to go before the CopperDog 150, race organizers are taking care of the details that should keep the race running smoothly and safely. On Feb. 22, a strong turnout at a volunteer training session in Calumet could go a long way toward making that happen.

The session will focus on dog handling and how to manage road crossings so that sled-dog teams and cars don’t end up in roads at the same time.

“We’ll learn how to set up a safe crossing for the dogs, how to communicate upcoming crossings to mushers, both at night and during daylight hours, and we’re going to learn the mechanics of sleds and teams, and how to handle dogs,” said CopperDog Volunteer Director Brian Donnelly. “It’s really crucial that there are people on site at each crossing that know the right way to set up the crossing.”

“They might have to stop these sleds physically, which is hard,” he added.

The training will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the CLK Schools in Calumet. The first hour will be classroom training in the school’s multi-purpose room, and participants will move outside for the second hour for hands-on work with mushers and dog teams.

Donnelly said musher Brad King, one of the race’s founders, will be handling the classroom session. Local mushers Tom Bauer, of Otter River Sled Dog Training Center & Wilderness Adventures, and Matt Eberly will be bringing dog teams and working with volunteers during the hands-on training.

Keeping dogs under control at the start, or stopping them at a crossing, may seem like simple physical tasks. But doing them correctly is actually more complex, according to Race Director Meredith LaBeau.

“My first training was an eye-opening experience,” LaBeau wrote in an email. “I never knew how the dogs perceived road crossings, and how wrong movement can really spook the dogs and hinder their ability to race.”

Even returning volunteers should attend, she added, to keep up on new strategies to make the race even more safe.

“There are new improvements this year including the use of snow fence,” LaBeau wrote.

Donnelly said that the training is required for dog handlers, and that it’s crucial for at least some members of crossing teams to be trained. But other volunteers seeking to learn more about the race or become more involved should also come.

“It’s a fun chance to learn a lot about the CopperDog as a whole and to get some up close and personal time with a dog team,” he said.

Donnelly added that he’s still looking for about 60 more volunteers for this year’s race, particularly for Sunday.

“We still mostly need crossing guards, and also people to help set up snow fence on Friday,” he said. “And we still need some dog handlers at the starts in Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor.”

To volunteer, go to CopperDog.com, click on the ‘Volunteers’ tab, then on ‘Volunteer Now!’

For those potential dog handlers, Donnelly let slip one tip from training that could save them plenty of grief.

“Don’t step on the dogs, or stand over the dogs,” he said. “They’ll jump up and bop you in the nose.”