It doesn't take big-dollar backing or a competitive drive to enjoy sled dogs in their natural environments.
Andrea DiMaio has yet to race her two Siberian huskies, but she may choose to in the future.
"I do a little bit of it for fun, but I'm not a professional by any stretch," she said. "I do it because the dogs like it, and it's good exercise for them. It's fun for me too."
Local dog trainer Andrea DiMaio says that having huskies exercise through sled-related activities is not only enjoyable for the dogs, but it is what they are meant to do.
P-J file photo by Dave Emke
Just like athletes, DiMaio believes her dogs need to start training in small doses. She takes her dogs out on local trails for a mile or so at a time and to a couple of demonstrations each year, traveling to the Warren County Winterfest and the Audubon Center and Sanctuary's Snowflake Festival.
At one time, DiMaio didn't think of her huskies as sled dogs.
"I always thought it was really mean to make them pull and thought, 'Oh, I would never do that to my dogs. My dogs are just my pets,'" she said.
That all changed when DiMaio put a harness on one of the huskies for the first time when they were surrounded by other sled dogs.
"She was chasing one of the other people in front of us," DiMaio said. "She was absolutely smiling, and she was so happy. When I realized this was so much fun for her, I thought, 'There's no making these dogs do anything. These dogs want to do this.' I could see these dogs and how excited they would get. They would just jump and scream. When it was time to go, they just burst out and ran as fast as they could. You could see smiles on their face. I enjoy it because I've seen how much the dogs love to do it, and it's very natural for them."
DiMaio stays active with her dogs during most of the seasons. The lack of substantial snow this winter didn't affect her plans too much.
"Even in the snowiest places, Canada and Alaska, there's not always snow, and you have to train," she said. "You don't train in the really hot part of the summer, but you do train in the spring or the fall, and there's not always snow."
As a result, DiMaio has gotten into bikejoring, which she can do on dry ground.
"A dog pulls you on your bike with special equipment in the same kind of harness they would use to pull a sled," she said. "I'm a biker myself, so to marry the two together with the bikejoring, to have my dog pulling me on trails in the woods, how fun is that?"
Having her huskies exercise through sled-related activities is not only enjoyable for the dogs, according to DiMaio - it's what they were meant to do.
"If a person wants to get a northern breed like a husky or something like that, and they want them to sit around and be couch potatoes, when they were bred to run 100 miles in one day, you're not going to have that," she said. "You have to exercise your dog. Why not exercise them by doing something they love to do anyway?"