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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Winter Programs at Gunflint Lodge 2008-2009

The Points Unknown; Dog-Based Adventure winter programs have just been finalized. We're excited to able to offer such a diverse selection of daily adventure as well as several different adventure weekends. Please visit the links below to learn more!

Weekend Adventures

Daily Adventures at Gunflint Lodge

Biomedical Research at Points Unknown


Klaus sporting his new collar

Researcher with his subject

A biomedical researcher, interested in using the Points Unknown sled dogs in his research for a device to be used on free ranging wolves to track their activity, visited us last week. We chose Klaus as the first dog to be tested and fitted him with the custom collar so his activity around the yard could be recorded. The next step will be to place the collars on a few dogs while working in harness, however this will have to wait until the temperatures cool down enough to begin fall training. Below is a summary of this study written by the researcher.

“Little is known about the activity levels of free ranging wolves. Their travel speed, length of journeys and what time of day that they travel would be of great interest to researchers. In order to obtain this kind of information I’m suggesting that a motion sensing accelerometer (similar to a pedometer) could be incorporated into a radio transmitter collar for a wolf. The commercially available accelerometer device, typically used in sleep labs is about one inch by one inch by ½ inch in size. In order to validate that this method will work I’m doing testing on sled dogs at Points Unknown and another facility. Sled dogs are similar in size to wolves and a bit easier to work with (that would be an understatement!). The testing will consist of dogs wearing the accelerometer devices in specially made collars while pulling a sled (wheeled or on snow) at controlled speeds as well as while the dogs are resting and socializing. The speeds will be monitored by a GPS instrument on a minute by minute basis. My hope is that I can easily distinguish resting, walking, trotting and running based on the step-wise increasing number of counts per minute on the accelerometer. If I can reliably correlate the counts to activity then the next step is to incorporate this electronic accelerometer chip into a radio wolf collar and start measuring free ranging activity in wolves. The goal is to have the radio collar ready to go by spring of 2009 though that’s quite ambitious.”
Gus Fenton
Shawano LLC
Phone: 612 823-2566

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Announcing our New Musher Team Member

Liz Parrish and two of her furry team mates

Liz Parrish is the newest addition to the Points Unknown musher team and will be joining us for the 2008-2009 winter adventure season. We are thrilled to have her aboard! In addition to providing dog mushing adventures to clients on a daily basis, she will be creating a "Run Your Own Iditarod" Adventure weekend. Guests will get a taste of what it's like to take part in a piece of our sled dog heritage and actually run their own mini-Iditarod after detailed instruction and lengthy preparation.

Liz Parrish, 50, is an innkeeper who owns and operates Crystalwood Lodge, a destination pet-friendly resort in the Southern Oregon Cascades. She also owns and operates Briar’s Patch Sled Dogs, which currently has 22 canine members and Liz who is the musher and chief pooper scooper. She has had a life-long love affair with dogs and dog sports, which has sustained her through numerous challenges she’s faced ranging from childhood cancer to scoliosis to fibromyalgia.

From an enthusiastic and naïve beginning 10 years ago with the “Motley Crew” team (an Aussie, Norwegian Elkhound, and Beagle Mix), Briar’s Patch has developed into a small kennel of Alaskan Huskies, whose dual missions are to train for and race in distance sled dog events and provide opportunities for the public and individuals to learn more about sled dogs and sled dog sports. The team finished the 2008 Iditarod with 14 dogs in 14 days…for Liz it was the perfect way to celebrate hitting the half-century mark!

Liz is continually amazed at the marvelous athletes these dogs are, and honored by the deep trust and friendship they provide. She enjoys sharing their special talents with everyone interested in learning about them, as well as providing inspirational insights and reflections based on her unique experiences. Liz and the team have provided workshop instruction as part of the Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife’s Becoming an Outdoorswoman program, provided independent and custom tailored adventures for individuals, businesses and scouting groups, and done numerous demos and presentations for classrooms, corporations and civic groups.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Canicross Hike: Carver Park in August

Zodiak, ready to greet the others

Zodiak at 10 mos old

Out on the trail

A break in the shade

A beautiful sunny day with bright blue skies and big white puffy clouds presented itself for our hike today. Temps were in the mid 70s and there was a slight breeze to keep the mosquitoes away, however they were minimal. It rained last night so the air was a bit sticky but it was still a pleasant day for hike and nothing like the heat and humidity we experienced last month.

10 Month old Zodiak was my trail companion. It sure will be nice when he grows up! He's an excellent puller and then he catches a glimpse of something fun in the bushes and in he goes. He will work straight ahead on the trail until he sees something fun on the other side and over that way he goes. We practiced "on by" quit a bit today and by the second portion of the hike, he remembered what it meant and did change his behavior quickly when he heard it. A few "gee over" commands were given and when his response looked even the slightest bit close to an actual "gee over" the praise was laid on thick. He's a good boy and really does learn quickly. When he matures, his ability to focus will improve. Right now he's just a big, happy puppy with loads of potential.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Klaus and Sweet Pea Turn 6 Today!

Sweet Pea and Klaus in lead, Fall training 2005

Klaus between 6 and 7 weeks

Klaus open country leading on Gunflint Lake, Winter 2007/2008

Sweet Pea between 4 and 5 weeks

Sweet Pea resting after a run, Winter 2007/2008

Klaus and Sweet Pea were born at Points Unknown in 2002. Zulu, our now retired leader, is the proud papa. Interestingly enough, both Klaus and Sweet Pea were placed as puppies in racing kennels. Klaus came back to us at 6 months old when he developed an issue where the eyelash grows in, brushing up against the cornea, causing irritation. We were more than happy to take him back. We feel a great sense of responsibility for any dogs we bring into this world or that pass through our kennel until they pass on, no matter what the circumstance. We believe there are far too many dogs on this planet as it is, to not take on this responsibility. (Alright, off the soap box now)

So Klaus came back, had the eye surgery and we neutered him for fear of passing this issue on. He immediately became part of the team. During his very first test run in lead at 6 months old, he never looked back, kept the light tight enough to bounce a quarter on at all times and kept going straight ahead. His commands took a lot longer to sink in, however. Boys do tend to mature more slowly than girls, that has always been the excuse. Once they did sink in, look out! This dog has turned into the most spectacular open country leader. Do I dare say that he is just as good as his father Zulu? Well, he is. I never thought it possible, only from the standpoint that Zulu has been so magnificent over the years, who would have thought that it could be duplicated? Klaus is not only a superb leader but also one of the strongest and most steady pullers on the team.

As a pup, Klaus was the one that wondered away from the group, wasn't too social with the other dogs and didn't quite care so much for attention from the humans either. He just seemed like he was on a mission. Now his bond with me is very strong and he doesn't take a liking to discipline or structure from an "outsider". Recently we had a visitor from the UK who spent hours upon hours with the dogs. Klaus liked him. However, Klaus did not like the idea of listening to him and did not want the others to listen to him either. When Neil attempted to put his dog play group back in their respective kennels, Klaus stood between him and the others and didn't allow the others to get near the gate. Every time they would attempt to obey Neil's command of "in your house", Klaus would run at them and nip them. This is a dog that at a hand gesture, goes directly into his kennel without hesitation. Neil finally got all of the dogs in their kennels. All but Klaus. Klaus stood at the other end of the yard not budging in the least......until I came out. He even gave me a bit of hesitation this time, I think to make a point. Point taken. I am Klaus' person and there will be no others. Fine by me. We then adjusted our routine so that I was the one dealing directly with Klaus and the kennel went back to its original peaceful dynamic. Talk about the dogs training the humans.........

Sweet Pea came back to us when she just plain didn't want to be a racing dog. She wasn't keeping up with the rest of the dogs in her original placement so was then placed with another kennel who has two of her litter mates. This team is more of a freight team and fast just isn't important. However, after being there for a short period of time there were problems. She was not only having difficulty keeping up with these slower dogs but her coat was falling out and she wasn't gaining weight. Several hundreds of dollars later and she was diagnosed with an autoimmune protein passing disease and her mushers were told that she would never have enough stamina to be a sled dog and would have to remain on steroids and a special food all her life. I encouraged them to send her back to me. I tried something radical the minute she arrived. I took her off the "special" food the vet had placed her on, as well as those nasty steroids. She began eating the high quality, high protein food that all of my dogs eat (Redpaw) and within 2 weeks she had gained 8lbs, her coat brightened up and so did her spirits. This was 4 1/2 years ago. Since then, she has been doing the same miles and pulling the same loads as all of the others without issue.

After much analysis of the situation, we determined that, for one, she just didn't want to be a racing dog in the first placement and then she went to a home that was feeding a food with wheat as one of the ingredients. Might she have been allergic to wheat? It is the number one food allergen for dogs. Whatever it was, it has not been an issue since the day she returned and she is just as sweet as can be.

Sweet Pea was, well, as the name implies, the sweetest of the eight puppies in her litter. She would do anything for you and always with a very coy grin and ears back. This hasn't changed one bit.

Happy Birthday to Klaus and Sweet Pea! We are SO thankful they came back to us!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Break in the Humidity

Digging the trench

Setting the silo blocks in place

Melanie working away

An extra pen complete!

There was a welcome break in the heat and humidity today which made it the ideal day for some kennel work. Since our return from the winter season, there have been two kennels of Inuit Dogs side by side. This hasn't been working as hoped with occasional bickering between the bunch at the fence, creating unwanted stress in the kennel(and more so to the musher!). It was time to make a change and install additional fence panels to divide one large kennel into two smaller pens. Two of the laid back Hedlund Huskies would then be strategically placed in the new kennel between the bickering bunch with hopes of lowering the stress level.

The three hour long journey to retrieve the fence panels was done earlier in the week so they would be on site just in case there was a cool day for installation. Today was the day. The panels were lifted over the existing kennel walls and attached to the existing posts where fencing at one time existed, making for a much easier installation than it would have been if posts also had to be sunk. A trench was dug below each panel and down to the dig out wire. Silo blocks, which are flat paver-like cement blocks, collected from a nearby friend's farm were sunk in the trench to make certain no skinny little puppies (Zala) dig even the narrowest of holes and slide under to pay a visit to the neighboring kennel.

Phoenix and Journey are the first to test this pen. So far, there has been no bickering, only the play bark of Phoenix as he attempts to lighten up the "oldies" on one side of the fence with a few of his comedy acts. After that..........silence. Thank goodness.

When working with a group of sled dogs, there are never any clear cut rules - this is going to work or that will work. Its more like, let's try this and see how it works and if it doesn't then we'll try something different. Trial and error. For now, this is working. Let's now wait until Journey goes into heat and then we'll have to try something else!

This kennel management is one of the things I like about working with these wonderful creatures. There is always something new to learn and always change and adaptation to new circumstances or events. It keeps both dogs and musher on their toes and there is never a dull moment.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Memories of a Friend: Kate Stenso-Miller

Kate teaching winter fire building techniques

Kate teaching ski lessons

Foot on the brake and off she goes!

Kate managing a tipped sled as the dogs begin to raise the level of adventure by cutting the corner on a patch of Alders.

Sinking the hook to help secure the team

Making her way around the Alders with the sled

Kate Skijoring

Kate with Klaus and Sweet Pea

Kate after a day filled with adventure, warming up on the couch with Phoenix and chatting with friends.

I met Kate roughly four years ago at a wilderness training weekend for educators. We hit it off right from the start and almost immediately began planning how we could work together for a women's dog mushing adventure that I was dreaming. I attended a Navigation Workshop she was teaching for the Three Rivers Park District in Hennepin County, MN and she later came to teach at my very first Points Unknown Women's Winter Adventure which was held in the winter of 2005-2006 and I taught her a bit about dog mushing. She had been a big part of the program since that first winter and had became a wonderful friend.

Kate was the kind of person that touched the heart and soul of everyone she met with her infectious passion for life and her love of the outdoors. Kate died unexpectedly this spring. She was an amazing teacher, a kind soul, a dear friend and a patient mentor and will be deeply missed.

I was fortunate enough to recently receive a CD filled with photos that Kate had taken during our PUWWA2008 at Gunflint Lodge Adventure last March. What a treasure. Below are some of those photos that bring back fond memories of dogs, winter, fun and friends.

Klaus and Tuloon in perfect "sync" with Sweet Pea wide-eyed behind

This adventure on the lake involved a photographer and Kate, speeding out ahead of the dog teams on a snowmo to snap shots as we ran by.

Points Unknown "A" team

More photographer antics

Karen's team doing a very nice "on by"

Yes, the photographer was eventually run over by a team! (no injuries incurred)

Karen resting her team as we are greeted with hot chocolate by the resident of the wall tent pitched on Camper's Island.

Lisa practicing some of the fire starting skills she was taught by Kate

Freight Sleds

Mushing 101

What in the world is Karen doing?! She got a lot of exercise running up that hill.

The PUWWA2008 Gunflint Lodge Adventure group.

McKenzie Turns 7 Today!

McKenzie at 7 years old.

Since McKenzie has only been with us since April, I have no puppy photos to include so I decided to attempt to snap a few good shots of the birthday boy today. As you can tell by the tongue, it was and has been very hot here in central Minnesota. The dogs and I say "no thanks" to this kind of weather and anticipate the cool fall days so training can begin.

So, sweet McKenzie turns seven years old today. He has had virtually no issues adjusting since his arrival in April. He eats well, gets along well with everyone, makes no noise whatsoever and is just generally a mild mannered, happy chap. His favorite friend in the kennel is Sweet Pea, who turns 6 next week. Those two run frantically around the kennel after each other, jumping, nipping and twirling. I eagerly await the chance to harness him for the first time and bring him into the Points Unknown "work force". I have no doubts he will be as much a joy in harness as he is out.

Happy Birthday to McKenzie!