Going to the dogs — mushing course offered over J-term

Instead of taking it easy over winter break, five Albion College students will be taking to the trails behind their canine companions as they participate in the .25-unit Educ. 187 Teaching & Learning in Dog Sledding class.

 “The objective of the class is to use the natural environment and the companion species to think more broadly about the nature of ‘teaching’ and ‘learning,'” said Melissa Mercer-Tachick, assistant professor of education, who will be teaching the course.

 During the five-day expedition, which runs Jan. 11-15 in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, the students will learn to work with sled dogs and complete a variety of winter camping chores. Students spend months beforehand improving their cardiovascular fitness and strength training, as well as purchasing special cold-weather gear for the trip.

 “We will begin by taking care of the dogs: they work incredibly hard every day, and they love their jobs, and it is good, humane practice to take care of their needs before our own,” Mercer-Tachick said. “So we will spend some time immediately upon camp arrival just bonding with and praising these working dogs.”

 Olivia Choate, Fenwick sophomore, and one of the students who is enrolled in the course, says the dogs will be her favorite part of the class.

 “I’m looking forward playing with the dogs and to being outside living off nature,” Choate said. “I’m taking it just for the fun of it and love of animals.”

 The trip won’t be her first experience with sled dogs, either.

 “When I was little, my husky would pull me in a sled or wagon,” Choate said. “My dad worked with a guy who competed, and he let me go to a training session.”

 According to Mercer-Tachick, the idea for the class came to her after her own trip in 2004, made through the same outfitters who will be providing the dogs and equipment for the trip.

 “I treated myself to an experience I had long dreamed about: I took a 5-day dog sledding trip,” Mercer-Tachick said. “The immersion in a natural environment and teamwork with a beloved companion species was not only thoroughly enjoyable but also enlightening. I found the experience to be cognitively restorative, which meant that my overtaxed mind had time to rest and make new connections.”

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