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Mushers train at one-of-a-kind boot camp in South Colton

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SOUTH COLTON — Ten teams of sled dogs raced through 600 acres of forested trails, pulling specially made carts and their owners behind them. There were frequent stops: speed is not the goal of Mushing Boot Camp, obedience is.

Teams from across the Northeastern U.S. and Canada brought their dogs to South Colton for this one-of-a-kind training event, which started Thursday night and ends today.

Trainers Ann B. Stead and Jamie L. Nelson live in Minnesota and have decades of mushing experience between them. Ms. Nelson has run in the Iditarod, one of the world’s most famous and grueling sled-dog races, four times. The pair started Mushing Boot Camp in 1997 and have been traveling the world training mushers and their dogs ever since.

Having recently returned from Switzerland, the pair is at Call of the Wild kennel, 3019 Route 56, this weekend.

Spencer F. Thew, owner of the property, raced against Ms. Stead in the 1990s. When he heard that Mushing Boot Camp was looking for a new East Coast location, he said, he was eager to volunteer Call of the Wild. This is the boot camp’s first year in South Colton.

The intensive training works with dogs and their owners over three days to develop obedience skills and teach training techniques that owners can continue to use at home.

“When we start, the dogs are really not used to what they’re doing,” Mr. Thew said. “Within an hour, they were catching on. I’ve been doing this 26 years, and we’re still learning stuff at boot camp.”

The 10 teams came from Virginia, Maryland, Vermont and Canada. Each team paid $895 for the chance to train with the pros.

While the dogs learn plenty of valuable skills, Ms. Stead and Ms. Nelson are more focused on developing skills in people.

“We’re training people. We teach them how to train their dog,” Ms. Stead said.

The teams came to the camp with a variety of experience and motivations. Some want to race competitively; others race for the fun of it. Eric Benson came from Baltimore, where he hosts sled tours with his company, Maryland Sled Dog Adventures. This is his second Mushing Boot Camp; he attended one in Maine several years ago.

“Jamie and Ann are just excellent at teaching you how to teach your dogs,” he said.

Mr. Benson started mushing as a way to provide exercise to one high-energy dog, but he soon grew to love the sport and now owns a whole team.

“It’s an opportunity to work with your dogs in a way that few people get to see or experience,” Mr. Benson said.

Ms. Nelson and Ms. Stead offer five or six boot camps around the world every year. No matter where they go, they said, they see the same needs with nearly every team.

“People need to learn to be quiet and not nag their dogs, and dogs need to learn to trust their people,” Ms. Nelson said.

For those who have the space and resources to own a sled team, it can become a lifelong hobby.

“It’s an addiction,” Ms. Nelson said.

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