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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Heart and Soul

Is the line tight enough for ya?

Passing training with our friends on a scooter.

Frankie and Lilly doing an excellent "on-by" with the temptation of baited water.

Klaus puts his heart and soul into every second he spends in harness. His work ethic is exceptional and its a pleasure to work with him. Since Zulu is his father, he has big boots to fill. He's coming along nicely with his open country leader training and is beginning to turn on a dime like dad, however if he feels hesitation from his team members he seems to lose his confidence and will occasionally go back to his original route. I'm sure there is trainer error involved so I need to make sure I am more consistent with the feedback I give him. As for pulling, I would have to say that I don't think I ever saw Zulu pull as hard as his son. (Sorry, Zu)

Our training on this day consisted of two runs as usual but with a twist. Our friends Chris and Sarah rode their scooter pulled by Frankie and Lilly. We practiced team passing; side by side and head on. Frankie and Lilly had never done a head on pass before and after one "training moment" every other head on pass went off without a hitch.

This reminds me of the very first head on pass Klaus ever made(or didn't make). It may have been one of his first solo runs in lead. We were on a bush trail beginning to go up a steep hill. I saw another team coming down the hill. I had never seen another team while on this trail. Klaus saw the team coming too and must have thought the same thing. He took one look at me, one look at the team, another look at me then he proceeded to come right back to me for comfort, forgetting he was at the front of a string of dogs. At that time, there were dogs in the team that certainly shouldn't be making contact with other dogs in the team and with Klaus heading my way, they most certainly would be making contact if I didn't think quickly. Planting my snow hook then tipping my sled on the snow hook, I ran to meet him halfway down the team where I briskly scooped him up(as much as you can "scoop up" a 70lb dog), moved him back to the front and off to the right because the trail was only one dog team wide. I then planted him safely in a snowbank just as I thought the other team would pass. But the team didn't pass. They stopped right along side of my team. My assumption was that these were yearlings and couldn't sense the stress coming from me or my dogs at that moment. After several of them licked the chin of my very well behaved at the moment, burly Inuit Dog wheel dog, they continued on only to weave through our friend Sandy's team behind us. This was Sandy's first year mushing. What a time she and the other musher had as they untangled the dogs.

So that was Klaus' introduction to head on passing. (and Sandy's) What an adventure for all! I was thankful that Frankie and Lilly got a much more controlled introduction.

Fall Reminiscing

Monarch and beetle share a sunflower.

View of Oake Lake from within the sunflower field.

Ornamental grass, cattails and purple coneflower at the edge of the lake.

Sunrise on Oake Lake. Another new beginning!

Reaching for the sky.

Life at Points Unknown has been so busy since we found out about our new winter adventure. Fall seems to have just slipped away. I did manage, over the past couple of months, to document its beauty in photos.

Life is too short to take for granted; to just let pass by without enjoying the little things that can take your breath away if you only stop for a moment to experience them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gunflint Lodge Adventures Update

Points Unknown Adventures at Gunflint Lodge are now live! Click here for details.

Tuloon/Bazil Male Pups

Zodiak - 16lbs 8 oz

Oken - 15lbs 10 oz

"Q" - 17lbs 10 oz

Tuloon/Bazil Female Pups

Zala - 13lbs 10 oz

Zorra - 16lbs 2 oz !!

Wahya - 12lbs 10 oz

Tuloon/Bazil Puppies - 8 weeks old!

Puppy pile!

L to R - "Q", Wahya and Zorra

Oh, the puppies! 8 weeks old and soon, three will be going to their new homes. "Q" leaves this evening. He won't be going far so it will be nice to be able to watch him grow. Wahya's new family comes to pick her up this weekend, traveling all the way from Colorado. Zorra will have a plane ticket to New Hampshire at the end of next week.

The pups haven't been free-fed for a few weeks and the weights are evening out just a bit in the males. Zorra still is so much heavier than the other girls and even one of the boys.

This past week I've noticed the puppies are becoming a lot more "scrappy" with each other. I think they are getting tired of sharing the puppy pen. Its still a mad mob when attempting to enter the pen. In the morning, when the puppy poop is thick, its a mad dash to the corner with the puppy bowls filled with food, grab the pooper scooper and pick up quickly before the little gangsters finish eating and jump in the poop then all over me. Whew!

Tuloon is spending some time in with them during the day for socialization but not right after eating because she is still regurgitating her food for them. She will do this up to 5 hours after she has eaten. She has a nice layer of fat on her ribs and it's nice to see it remaining there after she began her fall training runs with the other dogs last week.

The first round of puppy shots was given yesterday, just a day before they turned 8 weeks. The shots really shouldn't be given any earlier because until around 8 weeks old, they have their immunity that mom gave them. It would be as if you were "over vaccinating" to give the shots any sooner which can have some terrible consequences.

I've managed to train the pups to stay away from my shoelaces. A quick two fingered scruff shake and a low "aahh" has done the trick. However, when visitors came today, I noticed that it doesn't transfer to others. My poor visitors had three pups each attached to their shoelaces while attempting to leave. They're so darn cute, no one seems to mind but imagine that from three 75lbs adults!

Journey's First 4 Mile Run

Eye on the trail and a tight tug line...

So happy to be a part of the team!

Journey is now close to 6 months old and after coming along and hanging out in the truck on run after run, I decided it was time to let her do a full run with team. We did four, very slow miles. This was the 2nd time she was hooked up with the team but rather than stopping every 500 feet, we kept going.

She had excellent focus with a tight tug line and her eye down the trail the entire time. She was placed in point position next to Klaus who would quickly keep her line if she didn't stay focused. The "training moments" with Journey were right at hook-up and when resting within the first 2 miles. She continued to do a "wind up" before she would lunge into her harness to pull. During this "wind up" she would pull her neck line back and throw the lead dogs off balance with her force.

All in all it was a very good run for little Miss Journey. This winter she should be able to enjoy weekly short runs with the team while at Gunflint Lodge. The Snowshoe/Dog Sledding combo adventure should suit her nicely as it is only a full mile of running. In addition, because it is so short, she won't be in danger of having too much activity that could injure her. She is still so very young.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tuloon's First Run of the Season

Finally out on the trail for Tuloon

Are we ready to go yet??? I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready!!

Our running had been put on hold over the past couple of weeks due to deer hunting season in the area. Today was the perfect time to plug Tuloon in the team with the other dogs needing to go back in mileage due to their little break.

The pups have been eating solid food since they were three weeks old, however Tuloon has been supplementing their diets on a regular basis with milk and has been regurgitating her own food for the pups. Since she has been so terribly thin since the puppies were born and began to nurse, it was time to give her long breaks from the puppies and especially right after meals so she can retain those nutrients for herself. She finally has a thin layer of fat on her ribs, however she is now losing her winter coat. This winter she will likely be sleeping inside so she can retain as much fat as possible until her winter coat grows back.

Having this thin layer of fat and the will, she was ready to run. She could hardly contain herself when I put her collar on her this morning. "I get to run today! Finally!" was what she must have been thinking. I popped her right up in lead with Zulu, on the "Adagio" team(indicated by name, this is the slower team due to the greater number of older dogs in this bunch). She was lunging in her harness with a huge smile on her face. We only did 4 miles to start and she didn't seem the least bit tired. We'll be able to move up in miles by next week if she continues to show me she's ready.

Oh, you should have heard the howls and cries of the puppies that were left behind today. Their time will come.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuloon/Bazil Male Puppies

Zodiak weighed 14lbs 2 oz today at 7 weeks old. Please reference a previous post regarding the meaning of the testing scores. Zodiak's puppy test results were a mix of ones, twos, threes, and fours with the majority being fours. His leader test placed him in Group 1 which indicates he has natural leader aptitude. The individual training for this puppy will be geared towards enhancing this natural ability.

Oken weighed 13lbs 4 oz today. He scored a mix of ones, threes, fours and fives with the majority being threes. His leader test placed him in Group 2. My training will be geared towards confidence building. With this, Oken will likely make a good leader.

This puppy was named "Q" by his new owner, after a character in James Bond. "Q" weighed a hefty 15lbs 2 oz today. His scores were mixed between twos, threes, fours, fives and a six with the majority being fours. His leader test placed him in Group 1 which is the group that has natural leader aptitude.

Tuloon/Bazil Female Pups

Zala weighed 11lbs 6 oz today, at 7 week of age. She was the first in line for today's puppy testing. Miss personality scored with a mix of twos, threes and fours on her puppy aptitude test with the majority being fours. If the previous post is referenced, you will notice that this scoring conflicts with her leader test where she scored in Group 4. It will be very interesting to watch Zala mature. Based on this scoring and what I have seen in her thus far, she will definitely be the first pup attending obedience class and she will get special one on one training that emphasizes the need to follow my direction.

Zorra weighed 13lbs 14oz today. She's still largest girl and has huge feet! Zorra scored a mix of twos, threes and fours with the majority being threes. This also is a bit conflicting with her leader test placed her Group 3 which means she will likely be a team dog. I know she will be receiving very special attention in her new home and I wouldn't be surprised if she ends up dabbling in lead. Time will tell.

Wahya weighed 11 lbs today. She scored a mix of threes, fours and fives with the majority being threes. Her leader test placed her in Group 2 which indicates that with proper training, which she will be getting in her new home, she can be a good leader. She is less confident than the others and more reserved but is more interested in following direction.

Tuloon/Bazil Pups - 7 Weeks

Puppy testing in progress.

Puppies at play.

Listening to the big dogs.

At seven weeks of age is when puppy aptitude testing and leader testing is done. According to a piece written by Gail Tamases Fisher and Wendy Volhard called "Puppy Personality Profile; The specifics of testing procedures, scoring and interpretation of the results of PAT". EEGs have demonstrated that at 49 days, puppies have the brain waves of an adult dog but are as yet minimally affect by experience and learning. It goes on to say that "While they have learned to use the inherited behaviors which make them dogs, they have not yet had a range of experiences to influence the test results, so we are able to test a virtually clean slate. At 49 days, the tests will reveal the raw material of the puppy's individual temperament. Thereafter, environmental experiences may influence a puppy's response, and we cannot be certain we are getting a true reading of his behavioral tendencies."

The test needs to be performed by a stranger to the puppies and in an unfamiliar area. The test has eleven exercises to be performed in the presence of the puppy. They are as follows:

  1. Social Attraction. The puppy is placed four feet from the tester. The tester then calls the puppy. The purpose is to determine the pack drive or degree of social attraction to people, confidence or dependence.
  2. Following. The tester stands up and slowly walks away encouraging the puppy to follow. Th purpose is to determine pack drive and the puppy's willingness to follow a person.
  3. Restraint. The tester crouches down and gently rolls the pup on its back and holds it down with light pressure with one hand for 30 seconds. The purpose is to determine the puppy's fight or flight response and the degree of dominance or submissive tendency and ease of handling in difficult situations.
  4. Social Dominance. The puppy sits or stands on a crouching tester's left side and the tester gently strokes it from the head to back. The purpose is to determine the puppy's pack drive and degree of acceptance of social dominance by a person.
  5. Elevation Dominance. The tester cradles the pup under its chest with both hands, fingers interlaced, palms up and gently lifts the pup two feet off the ground and holds him there for 30 seconds. The purpose is to assess the fight or flight response and the degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control.
  6. Retrieving. The tester crouches beside the pup and attracts its attention with a crumpled up piece of paper. When the pup shows interest, the tester tosses the paper no more than four feet in front of the pup, encouraging it to retrieve the paper. The purpose is to assess the puppy's prey drive and the degree of willingness to do something for you. Together with social attraction and following, a key indicator for ease of difficulty in training.
  7. Touch Sensitivity. The tester locates the webbing of one of the puppy's front paws and presses it lightly between his index finger and thumb. The tester gradually increases pressure while counting to 10 and stops the pressure when the puppy pulls away or shows discomfort. The degree of sensitivity to touch is a key indicator to the type of training equipment required.
  8. Sound Sensitivity. The puppy is placed in the center of the testing area and an assistant stationed at the perimeter makes a sharp noise, such as banging a metal spoon on the bottom of a metal pan. The purpose is to assess prey drive and the degree of sensitivity to sound. Its also a rudimentary test for deafness.
  9. Sight Sensitivity. The puppy is placed in the center of the testing area. The tester ties a string around a towel and jerks it across the floor two feet away from the puppy. The purpose is to assess prey drive and the degree of response to moving objects such as a bicycles, children or squirrels.
  10. Stability. An umbrella is opened about five feet from the puppy and gently placed on the ground. The purpose is to assess the fight or flight response and the degree of startle response to a strange object.
  11. Structure. The puppy is gently set and held in a natural stance and evaluated for structure.

According to the same piece referenced above, "The PAT is based on a six point scoring system. Each procedure is scored separately and is interpreted separately. The results are not totaled or averaged. " The behavior of the puppy is assigned a number.

They go on to say that they "...view the scoring system in a circle. High numbers are no better or worse than low numbers. Dogs do not pass or fail the PAT, they indicate behavioral tendencies."

"....a dog scoring mostly ones is extremely aggressive and dominant; mostly twos is very dominant and can be easily provoked to bite; mostly threes is active and slightly dominant; mostly fours is submissive and very willing; mostly fives is extremely submissive and shy; mostly sixes is independent and unaffectionate."

The second test is based on a piece written by Mel Fishback called "Puppy Selection for Work and Training". It involves placing a collar and leash on a puppy for the first time and with leash in hand, just walking away from the puppy to see how they react.

Group 1 puppies crane their necks for a second then immediately rush to your side or head out in front of you. These puppies are the most level headed pups and those that will be real learners and make the best leaders.

Group 2 puppies take a bit longer to figure out the idea of a collar and leash and might resist, make noise, throw themselves on the ground but within a few minutes get the hang of it and come right along. With specialized training, Group 2 puppies can make excellent leaders.

Group 3 puppies will fight the leash and object in a passive way. They will eventually come along but not in a very happy or excited way. These puppies make better team dogs than leaders.

Group 4
puppies actively resist the leash and are somewhat defiant in doing so. According to Mel Fishback, puppies in Group 4 are quitters and will not make good working dogs.

Having listed all of the test items, I must say that I take all of this puppy testing with a grain of salt. It is but one moment in the life of a puppy. While I do think it is good information to have so that individual training can be done according to the results, I don't think that this test dooms a puppy to that specific group or that specific behavior for the remainder of their lives. I believe that with patience, time and attention, all puppies can grow up to be working members of a dog team.

I have had puppies test in Group 4 of the leader test, screaming and throwing themselves on the ground and flailing about, and grow up to have very strong work ethics that dabble in lead position. These puppies do require extra attention and specialized training but it is done. Amaruq was a case in point. He did exactly what I described during this leader test. Also, when hooked up for the very first time in the team, he threw himself on the ground screaming as he was dragged a ways. All he needed to know was that he was alright and safe. He needed confidence. Obedience and agility classes did this for him and last season before he died, he was in double lead with Tuloon and has happy as can be.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tuloon/Bazil Male Pups

Zodiak will be staying at Points Unknown kennel with hopes of placing him in the Hedlund Husky breeding program. He weighed 11lbs 8oz today.

A name change occurred over the the past week. This puppy was called Rusty and his name is now Oken. Oken will be staying at Points Unknown kennel. He weighed 11lbs 6 oz today.

This pup was also involved in the name change. He used to be Oken and now his name is to be determined by his new owner in a sled dog kennel close to Points Unknown. He will also go to his new home at the end of this month. He weighed 12lbs 14 oz today.

Tuloon/Bazil Female Pups

Zala will be staying at Points Unknown kennel with hopes of having her be a part of the Hedlund Husky breeding program. Zala weighed 9lbs 8oz today.

Wahya weighted 9lbs 6oz today. She will be going to Alpine Kennel in Colorado the end of this month where she will join an other Hedlund Husky, a couple Inuit Dogs and three Alaskan Huskies.

Zorra will join her new family in New Hampshire the end of this month. Uktousa kennel is home to a number of cherished Malamutes and three Hedlund Huskies. Zorra will be the fourth. She weighed 12lbs 2 oz today.

Tuloon/Bazil Puppies - 6 weeks old

Zorra and Zala

Blue with Wahya

Mom and pups.

Puppy visitors.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Gunflint Dog Yard

50x50 play area location for the dogs.

A dog yard in progress...

Up the trail from the dog yard. Musher accommodations in the distance.

One item to work on prior to our arrival at the lodge for the winter is the dog yard. The Points Unknown dogs live in kennels and feel quite comfortable while out on trail being staked out on a lake or a sheltered wooded site, however they have never been tethered as a way of life as many northern sled dogs. This will require some adapting on the part of the dogs with patience on the part of the mushers. Our hope is that the dogs will have so much activity that they will spend very little time thinking about their new winter accommodations and simply rest while tethered.

The lodge is thoughtfully providing an approximate 50x50 area that will be fenced with 6' chain link to be used as a place for the dogs to play and reconnect with each other during their days off. This is intended to be an enriching experience for them and a change in the weekly routine to keep their minds fresh and rejuvenated.

The puppies will be getting their own kennel to share with mom, Tuloon. And Zulu will live in his own pen next to the puppies. After 11 years and being a spectacular leader, Zulu only gets the best in his older years. Tuloon is beginning to shed her winter coat which is typical after having pups. This is unfortunate timing, however Miss Tuloon may not think so as she will be spending her nights in my warm and cozy room along with the house dogs..... and probably Zulu.

Visit to Gunflint Lodge

Gunflint Lodge, est. 1927

Expect the very best service available.

Enjoy the gourmet northwoods cuisine in a rustic setting.

Enjoy the view.

Enjoy the peacefulness of the calls of the loons on Gunflint Lake.

This past weekend was a much needed and productive trip up to Gunflint Lodge. The program director and I discussed and agreed upon a very diverse and exciting dog mushing program sure to be a success. Clients will have their choice of six completely different dog mushing experiences in Minnesota's northwoods. These experiences include a fully instructional adventure where participants learn the finer points of running their own small dog team on Gunflint Lake, an "Ice fishing by dog team" adventure, a trip to "Points Unknown" which is an off-site adventure at a different location in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness each week and a dog mushing/snowshoe combo with a warm Tepee in the woods as your destination. If your curiosity is peaked you can look for the full adventure offerings on the Gunflint Lodge website in the weeks to come.

This trip reminded me how clearly one can think and feel away from the busyness of every day life and how needed such trips are for the soul. Wouldn't it be grand to take a piece of such a feeling and save it for those hectic days when its needed most? How refreshing and rejuvenating it would be. I think memories of such get-a-ways help provide this; the smell of fir trees as they brush against your face while hiking through the forest, the sight of a female moose as she meanders down the quiet gravel wilderness road, a fox scampering through the underbrush as you approach, a buck with an impressive rack bolting across the road in front of you as you slowly drive down the trail. Such memories nourish the soul.

Care to join us this winter at the lodge?