Around and Around

After receiving some feedback on this post, I decided it was important to include a disclaimer message. Please read the next post if you decide to teach this command to your team.


A valuable command to have in your dog team’s arsenal is “come haw” (or “come gee”—either works, we just tend to haw). Come haw is used when I want to turn the entire team around (towards the left—"haw"). It comes in handy  when you’re running an out-and-back style trail, rather than a loop, but it can also save your butt in difficult situations.

When I moved out west, our first run could’ve been a lot more difficult had my leaders not known how to turn the team around. Since the trail was unfamiliar, we hit a lot of roadblocks trying to complete a loop. We had to turn around at least a half dozen times, which is frustrating for everyone, but they managed it well. We kept hitting downed trees, boulders, and fencing—all stuff the dogs could maneuver around or under, but I could not pass with the cart. So, come haw they did, and we turned back to find another route.

This command also helps in more serious situations. I’ve used it when I saw loose dogs approaching us from down the trail. It has also been useful when approaching road intersections that may not be safe to cross. There’s plenty of reasons why you may need to abruptly turn the hell around, so it’s an important command to train.

 

Teaching your team to turn around starts with making sure your leaders know what to do—so train them alone, or with a small team, before trying to turn around a string of 12 dogs. Use the command when training on a dead-end trail if you can. Find a spot where the trail very clearly comes to an end and the dogs wouldn’t be able to proceed easily forward. 

The first few times, you’ll likely have to dismount from your rig or sled (good brakes, digger claws, or snow hooks are key) and maneuver the leaders around. Once they get the hang of turning around at the dead-end, try using the command on a wide trail that hasn’t ended yet. (A wide trail is easier to turn around on) Be patient—going forward into the unknown is a lot more fun than going back the way they came, so it’s not an easy command to master. Eventually, try using it on narrower trails or when something particularly exciting is in front of them. That’s the true test.

My leading ladies know the command and will obey it... most of the time. Usually, they’re quite good about it, especially when there’s a sense of urgency or an obvious reason to 180. However, they will test it if I try to turn them around simply because they’re slowing down or goofing off. In those situations, come haw becomes a threat—"do your job or we’re going back home". In some cases, it motivates them to pick up the pace and keep rolling… but if I hold the brakes long enough, they’ll roll their eyes and make the turn.