Sunday, June 10, 2007
All Grown Up!
One of the joys of having traditional sled dogs is watching them grow up to be well rounded, hard working adult dogs.
When Phoenix was 9 weeks old, he and his brother, Niwot, were flown to Denver, Colorado from Anchorage, Alaska. They spent the next couple of weeks with Sandy, friend and Points Unknown instructor, and her husband Mark, until it was time for Sandy to make her way to Minnesota for the 2006 Points Unknown Women's Winter Adventure season. Phoenix and Niwot spent that winter being fawned over and attended to by every participant, as taking care of the puppies was one of the necessary daily tasks.
Phoenix began his sled dog training very slowly with a leash hooked to the back of his tiny puppy harness at the age of 12 weeks, taking "walks" from the cabin to the truck and back, which was nearly one mile each way. Since puppies have very short attention spans and training should always be made fun, he didn't spend the entire walk "working". Lots of stops were made to enjoy playing in the snow drifts and with the treasures he would find along the way.
When Phoenix was 6 months old he was hooked into the team for the first time and placed next to a hard working and strict teacher, Sweet Pea. These few runs were under a mile. Phoenix was such a hard puller, he needed to be monitored so he wouldn't overexert himself and his tug line had to be detached on our return trips as he was pulling too hard for his still maturing frame.
At 10 months of age we began fall training and he was in the team on shorter runs, under 6 miles in length. It took him a while to learn to pace himself and not give 110% during the entire run. By the winter, he had matured enough and had enough experience on little runs, that pacing himself became easier.
Leader training for Phoenix began slowly at 10 months of age. He was placed in lead with Zulu, the magnificent, who began to teach him the proper lead dog etiquette. Phoenix acted as though he was made to be a lead dog by being so cool and calm for such a young dog. His leader training was intermittent so as not to stress him. He spent most of the winter of 2006-2007 in point position, behind the leaders.
Recently, Phoenix was given his first try at one on one leader training in the form of canicross hiking. Being around other dogs who already know this skill, made it easy for him to pick up the finer points of the sport. Speaking as the person behind the tug line on this day, I have to say that he now needs to learn that when pulling one person on foot, the power he applied can be diminished by about 90%. My sore legs will thank him. He picked up on "gee over" quickly and that is where the training stopped. One new situation and one new command is all he needed to deal with for that day.
This winter, in the team, he will be placed up in lead with a now 11 year old Zulu, with the hopes that Zulu can pass along everything he knows about being a magnificent lead dog, to the greenhorn to make the musher's training job a little easier.