Thursday, May 31, 2007
Points Unknown has been anxiously awaiting the birth of the Cranberry and McKenzie Hedlund Husky litter out of Knik, Alaska. On May 31, 2007 five pups were born; four females and one male. In August, we will travel to Alaska to pick up the female pup that will expand our current freight dog lines.
McKenzie is a deep line Hedlund Husky with Kim Fitzgerald of Mush Knik Networking. Kim is responsible for beginning the preservation efforts for this rare line of Alaskan Husky some 17 years ago and more recently, founding the Hedlund Husky Preservation Project. McKenzie is one of the most spectacular males that has come out of her breeding efforts. He has an excellent work ethic, is very intelligent, has exceptional conformation and an extremely mellow temperament.
Cranberry joined Kim in 2006. She is an Alaska bush trapline dog that enjoys working and has a well rounded and laid back temperament and excellent conformation. Cranberry was carefully selected to be added to our Hedlund line breeding program. Both Cranberry and McKenzie have wonderfully dense coats and are long legged with rangy builds. This pup will be a welcome and exciting addition to the Points Unknown kennel.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Points Unknown is fortunate enough to have the very best dog yard helper/dog handler. Sixteen year old Melanie, in addition to helping with numerous fall and winter dog activities, comes out every other weekend to help with the never ending dog yard chores, after her job at a local veterinary clinic.
The arrival of Spring meant kennel clean up and the moving of dirt around in kennels to fill holes. Shade cloth for the dogs was hung and kennel repairs were made. Straw was cleaned out of dog houses and kennels were raked. Kennels and dog houses were sprayed with a mild solution of bleach and water to remove some of the smell and to help eliminate ground parasites. Toenails were clipped, if needed. Heartworm medicine was administered for the first time this season. And all dogs were given their spring wormer.
Shedding season recently began and the brushing chores are in full force. Each dog requires daily brushing until done shedding. The backyard takes on the appearance of a winter wonderland as the blanket of undercoat spreads and rests atop the grass. Providing their undercoat is a way the dogs contribute to the bird population in the backyard, as we find many bird nests made from twigs and dog hair.
Every few days, the dog "pools" are emptied and filled with fresh water. On a weekly basis, they are scrubbed free of the accumulated algae. 65 gallon sheep tanks make perfect hard surface dog pools that are located in most of the kennels and in the play areas. Water buckets require more frequent scrubbing and water is changed every day. Feeding takes place twice a day and all get out to play in groups on a daily basis.
All of the work required to have a life with sled dogs is balanced by the rewards of having many adventures with them on the trail as a group as well as those special one on one moments with each dog in training, canicrossing, packing or just hanging out in the dog yard. I'm glad our helper also thinks so.
Flowers don't last long in the dog yard. Its best to enjoy them when they first arrive and document their arrival by taking a photo, as they will likely be trampled shortly after. The dogs usually don't eat the flowers, however Amaruq has been known to graze around the yard biting the heads off the Dandelions.
The flower garden was quite spectacular when we purchased the property and moved the pack of sled dogs over. I had to let go of the idea of keeping the garden as spectacular shortly after our arrival. The garden is right in the middle of dog territory, after all.
Friday, May 25, 2007
The Points Unknown Pull Training Classes came to an end last week. The last two classes are special in that all of the dogs are hooked up to a heavy four wheeled training cart and have their pulling skills tested while learning from the dogs around them. Each dog gets a chance to be in each position on the the team. Rotation in and out of lead is done frequently, as this is the most mentally stressful position for the dogs, due to the "pack of dogs" following close behind.
The herding dogs, Stormy, Tucker, Conan and Portia, seemed to really perk up once they discovered that this is what all of that tire pulling business, earlier in the class, was all about. Others, such as the Standard Poodle, Pluto, had taken each step with all fun and seriousness and seemed to enjoy even pulling the tires around. Our seasoned Siberian, Katsu, having come to a prior class, was all business as he showed the others the ropes while hooked up to the cart. Bugsy, the Collie/Husky mix was an impressive leader when returning from our short evening run. Our other seasoned sled dogs, Frankie and Lily were unable to make the final class as their owners were stranded in a broken down vehicle, while on their way to class. Hmmm, I wonder if they had thought of putting the dogs' pulling skills to work during this unfortunate turn of events?
Three baby cardinals left their nest, nestled just outside our front door in a shrub, the other day. This is one of the babies causing the sled dogs to remain banished to the treeless play area for the next couple of weeks while the babies test their wings.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Its that time of year when we see the songbirds warming their eggs and feeding on the thistle seed feeder. Its also that time of year when the honey bees pollinate and gather nectar from the apple trees in the orchard.
Its a delicate balance, nurturing songbirds in the back yard and keeping sled dogs. There are times during the late spring when the dogs are confined to the smaller play area with no trees while the hundreds of birds in the tree-filled area have time to raise their babies and get them on their way. There's nothing better to a sled dog than a nice snack of tender baby bird. Not only does this affect the bird population but the dogs can get worms and other parasites from eating birds. We do what we can to maintain the balance.
Honey bees can also create issues with sled dogs. Last year at this time, we discovered that a great number of the honey bees had decided that the dog yard was a nice place to hang around. There were bees using the dogs' water buckets and just generally buzzing around. The more annoyed dogs would habitually snap at bees and get stung. We had record medical issues in the kennel last spring including one seizure and numerous bacterial infections. It couldn't be proven that the bees caused our medical issues, however after moving the hives a much further distance away from the kennels, we are finding no such issues and everyone appears to be living in harmony.
The second dog chosen for obedience class this spring is Phoenix, an 18 month old Hedlund Husky. This particular evening proved to be a much dryer one than the previous during Ilu's class. Either way, rain or shine, we go.
Does teaching a sled dog, or any dog for that matter, to heel and not pull, interfere with their learning to pull a sled or cart? Not at all. Dogs are very smart and can tell the difference between walking on a leash and wearing a harness. "With the leash attached to my collar, I don't pull." "With a line attached to the back of my harness, I pull." Its all about positive training. It doesn't even matter which comes first.
Points Unknown sled dogs will go to puppy socialization when they are between 8 weeks old and 4 months old. They won't be hooked up in the team until they are at least 6 months old, then it is only for very easy and short runs. They may only run with the team twice a week at this age. Their bones are still growing at this point and damage can be done to joints if they are asked to do too much at an early age. At a year old, most of these dogs are ready for more strenuous and longer runs, keeping in mind that they are still growing.
When they attend obedience class for the first time depends upon timing. They may go to obedience class before any strenuous runs in the team or they may wait until they are three years old depending upon who else is ahead of them or who needs it more at that particular point in time. For instance, Tuloon, an almost three year old Hedlund Husky, will go to obedience class next spring. This girl had a serious injury to a back leg when she was very young that meant she had a recovery period of almost a year. Her second year was all about running with the team, gaining strength in that leg and just getting to be a normal dog. This year she will be having puppies, making next year, at the age of four, her year for class. Having had so much one on one time her first year during recovery, she is quite obedient and it isn't as important to rush her class time.
Phoenix's class will end next week. He has been a very good student, always keeping his eyes locked to mine to make sure he doesn't miss a command. It took him some time, being the puppy at home, to figure out how to deal with all of these dogs that were younger than he who would fly into his face, licking frantically or lay flat on their backs when he approached. After a while, he decided that he kind of liked being the "big dog" at class and having everyone bow to him. He got more comfortable and figured out that he could play with them and be the boss at the same time. "Pretty cool!", he must be thinking.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Once the temperatures begin climbing in the spring and running the sled dogs on a sled or cart is no longer feasible, what do the dogs do? In addition to daily group free runs in our large fenced in enclosures and numerous other activities, every Points Unknown sled dog gets to go to obedience and agility class. This is a great time to form special individual bonds with each dog that have been worked in groups all fall and winter.
Ilu, a 23 month old Canadian Inuit Dog, is on his third week of obedience class. His eager-to-please personality makes him a natural. Making it a fun place to be is my job and he does the rest. While heeling, he doesn't take his eyes off of me and sits the instant I stop, which is exactly what he is supposed to do. He is beginning to have a trustworthy "stay" but dislikes the "stand for exam" command, wanting to sit rather than stand. He'll catch on. I am amazed overall by his calm and focused manner while doing this sort of work. Inuit Dogs can have a reputation of being stubborn and quite a challenge to work with, to say the least. Not this boy.
Will he need these tools to be a good sled dog? Not at all. Will he need these tools to be a GREAT sled dog. You bet!
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Last evening was the fourth week of seven Points Unknown Pull Training Classes held in New Germany, Minnesota. Having learned "tighten up", "pull", "ready, let's go", "gee", "haw", "whoa" and "on-by" they were ready to be introduced to the scooter to put all of their hard work to the test. I think the herding breeds in the class were beginning to wondering, "what could pulling a tire have to do with any job I'm ever going to do?" However, once they got the hang of it, they were enjoying themselves as much as the traditional pulling dogs. The Standard Poodle, Pluto, is proving to be a natural puller.
The class consists of two German Shepherds, a Border Collie, an Australian Shepherd Mix, a Collie/Husky Mix, two Alaskan Huskies, a Standard Poodle, and a Siberian Husky. Any breed of dog can learn to pull!