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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Oken Harness Training

Oken, tied to a tree sunk in the lake, practicing his "tighten-up" command.

Here, he's digging in and pulling hard against the leash.
Good boy!

More practice

The proud boy on top of his igloo house after training. His personality reminds me so much of Grandpa Zulu.

This morning temps were 30 below zero F with wind chills at 50 below zero. The winds continue to howl. A warm up is expected by the weekend that would put us in the upper teens to mid twenties.

Last week was the beginning of harness training for the 4 month old Tuloon/Bazil pups. Oken's turn was captured on film by Helen Corlew.

Each pup had an individual lesson. The pup was harnessed and a leash was attached to back of the harness. When the pup walked forward, making the line tight, "good tighten-up" was the praise. When we were en route and the puppy pulled hard, "good pull" was the praise. Otherwise, there was silence. If they let the line slack or turned around or did anything other than pull straight ahead, nothing was said until they pulled or tightened up again then they heard praise with the command included in the praise.

Zodiak did well with the occasional typical puppy distraction; blowing leaf, shiny piece of ice on the trail etc. He wants to pull hard and go, go, go but at this point, he's still too young and immature to have any type of focus.

Oken also did well. He is most concerned with what I think of him and his progress so he continued to look back to me for direction and praise and was a bit more distracted by that than Zodiak, at this stage.

The moment Zala was harnessed, off she went! She lunged and jumped in harness and pushed forward with intense focus and drive, barely being distracted from her task. What a surprise for a puppy that tested in Group 4 of the Mel Fishback's lead dog test. Per Mel, a Group 4 puppy will not likely ever be a good sled dog, being more of a "quitter". This just goes to show that these tests need to be taken with a grain of salt because, even though they give you hard data about that particular pup at that particular time, the results, depending upon how you react to the test results with training, etc., can be false.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunset in the Northwoods

Northwoods backyard sunset

Sunset effects over Gunflint Lake and looking into Canada

Expanded Gunflint Lodge Programs

Erik's team during a Gunflint Lake Experience

Erik with the client on the runners

In an effort to give our guests at Gunflint Lodge more of what they enjoy most, we changed our full day adventure on Fridays to two half day adventures. The Gunflint Lake Experiences are two hours long over a distance of roughly eleven miles, out to Campers Island on the east end of the lake and back.

Today, temps were in the upper 30s. Quite warm for traditional sled dogs with full winter coats. Thankfully it was a less strenuous day for them. We spent the afternoon with a family of seven on our Snowshoe/Dog Sledding Combo Adventure. The dogs only have to run roughly a half mile to the Tipi then back again.

Deciding to let many of the "A" team dogs rest today, I took Tukisi and Lily in wheel. *reminder to myself not to bring a retired mid-distance racing dog(Lily) on such a short run where she then must wait a half an hour on the gangline before we can run again, without a lot more training. This dog wants to run and run and run and doesn't appreciate stopping for a break so soon nor has she been trained to do so.

Klaus, Sweet Pea and Tuloon stood in harness patiently during our waiting period. Tukisi tried to do the same but found the constant bouncing and whining coming from Lily to be quite annoying so he began some training of his own. Every time she would bounce up in the air and whine, he would growl at her. This went on for about 15 minutes with Tukisi's growl getting slightly louder each time the little dog flung herself up into the air. By the end of the waiting period, Tukisi was no longer growling and Lily was no longer jumping and bouncing. I could, however, hear the slightest little muffled whine as she turned her head away from Tukisi in an effort to conceal her impatience. Now there's a lesson learned!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Puppy Training




The 4 month old pups spent their first day away from their pens and on chains today. This is a necessary step in training so they feel comfortable living in different circumstances. While at home and in the off season, they will be living in large pens in groups. Here at the lodge, pens for all of the dogs aren't feasible so chains attached to axels are the way they will live. While out on the trail, they will learn to stay on tie -out cables that are attached to trees or ice screwed to the lake.

They did extremely well and only protested for a moment every now and again. This training is leading up to the Points Unknown Women's Winter Adventure (PUWWA2008) in February where they will stay on a tie-out cable with the adults.

As a reward for being so good during this lesson, they each got a chance to spend some time inside with the house dogs as well.

Journey and Flint Update - 8 months old!

Journey is showing signs of being an excellent sled dog.

Journey and Flint (Helen's male from same litter)

Play time

Helen and Flint

Puppy Updates; 4 months old!

Tuloon has gotten most of her winter coat back after losing it after the pups were born. She's in fine shape and doing excellent open country leader work on the Border Lakes.

The Tuloon/Bazil pups in a sea of Helen's white fuzzies.

Oken is quite the "chunk" right now as he seems to eat more than his share of food.

Zodiak still has a solid build and is the most confident of the pups.

Zala is becoming more leggy.

Puppy Play

Oken compared with Tuloon.

Quite the interesting bucket.

Zodiak compared with Tuloon. (she looks even tinier than she is because she is the background)


Monday, January 21, 2008

Snowshoe/Dog Sled Adventure

Helen resting her team between runs.

At the Tipi

Posing for the camera

With temps dipping to 37 degrees F below zero and highs of only 10 degrees below zero, we had many brave guests join us for weekend adventures at Gunflint Lodge.

Our Snowshoe/Dog Sled Adventure was a hit and we had a booked afternoon with ten guests in attendance. This adventure includes a short dog sled run out to our tipi for half of the group while the others snowshoe and meet up with the mushers for hot chocolate in the warmth of the Tipi then the guests switch and those who dog sledding in now snowshoe out and vice versa.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gunflint Lake Trial Dog Run

In front of the lodge on Gunflint Lake

Ilu; always smiling

Heading out on our adventure

Taking a break to praise the dogs for their spectacular open country leading

Jenny in the sled

Eating lunch at Camper's Island

The dogs staked out on the ice while we eat

John standing on the hook, securing the team

We return to find trees sunk in the lake for use to hook our sleds down

Temps were -6 degrees F this morning with a high somewhere above 10 degrees F.

Tomorrow we have our first full day adventure with clients on Gunflint Lake so we spent today in preparation. Helen and I each took a team of six out on the run and invited John, the Gunflint Lodge Naturalist and Jenny, the Gunflint Lodge Massage Therapist, to come along to offer feedback and to enjoy the experience.

We decided that the best way to get the dogs down to the lake was to bring them in groups in our vehicles. My dog truck is a cube van and too large to take down by the lodge and in addition, there is a very steep hill down to the lake and without a running start, the truck won't make it up. Helen has a dog trailer and it just doesn't make sense to go through the trouble of hooking up the trailer for less than a half a mile. So, I used my Subaru and took two trips, four dogs in one trip and two in another and Helen took all six in the back of her pick-up truck. It works.

We ice screwed our dog tie-outs on the lake, hooked our sleds down, hooked the dogs up to the gang line, took the ice screws out and rolled up our dog tie-outs, pulled the hooks and we were off. I had Tuloon and Klaus in lead, they were getting another change after not being very responsive on my Loon Lake test run. Since there were no hills on this run, I brought Zulu along and Phoenix was next to him in Point. This left Icoa and Ilu in wheel.

At this point, there were numerous tracks now on the lake from which to choose so it was quite the "gee" and "haw" lesson for the young leaders. Once past the point where the snowmobiles travel, the track we had laid a couple days ago was blown over and indistinguishable. My young leaders got a lesson in open country leading and to my surprise, did it like veterans! They were "geeing" and "hawing" all over that lake and I couldn't stop smiling. What a great adventure and they were enjoying every minute of it. I noticed that most of the dogs behind the leaders were also joining in the commands and taking direction from their position. What fun.

After a few miles of our open country adventure we joined up with our original trail and headed to Camper's Island for lunch. Here, the tie-outs were ice screwed in the lake and the dogs were taken off the gang line for a break. I had brought along a special trail treat for the dogs of raw, frozen and ground beef liver, beef heart and pork trimmings. Cutting chunks with my ax, each dog got about a third of a pound of the frozen snack. They rested contently while we went on the island to eat our lunch.

In preparation for our departure, I cut a deep groove in the ice with my ax, placed my ice hook in it and pounded it in with the back of the ax. I then secured my quick release to the ice screw closest to my sled. After moving all of the dogs back on the gang line I wound up my tie-out line, making sure to end up closest to my sled so I could pull out the ice screw with the quick release attached, at the very last minute. During all of this, I had my passenger standing on the snow hook which had been securely sunk into the hole in the ice. Once my final ice screw was out, I traded places with my passenger and stood on the snow hook as he got in the sled. The dogs were quite calm at this point so my passenger wouldn't necessarily have had to stand on the hook, however its an extra precaution to take if a second person is available.

On the return trip we ran into just about as much slush as we did on the way out. We were on a different track and even though it seemed packed, the slush still appeared. The dogs were very good about trudging through and not stopping. On the way in, we had stayed a bit too long in one spot of slush and needed to rock the sled several times to get it moving as it had already frozen in the slush.

Upon arriving back to the lodge we noticed that during our absence, trees had been sunk in the lake for us to use to tie our sleds down and to attach our tie-out lines. Those will sure come in handy and they blend into the landscape versus using a wooden or metal post.

Many thanks to our passengers and helpers for the day, John and Jenny!

Gunflint Lake Track

Bedded down

Two friends we met on the trail

Beautiful animal

Snow coating the trees and the sun trying to peek through

One of many slush pockets we came across

Still trying to be sunny

A small island on the lake

A few of the many Ravens that caught our attention

Wolf Kill

The day before yesterday and after a weekend of constant snow, Erik and I laid a dog sled track on Gunflint Lake.

Leaving on the snowmobile from the dog yard we checked out a possible route to take the dogs directly onto the lake from the dog yard versus trucking them less than a half a mile or running them down a plowed parking lot and across a plowed road, which is not safe. This route proved to have a dangerously steep downhill approach to a plowed road crossing so it was immediately thrown out as a viable means to the lake. During our route finding, we came across two deer that had bedded down near our Tipi site. Since the lodge had been feeding the deer until this year, the deer are quite tame and stayed in place until we were almost five feet from them.

Once on the lake to begin tracking we found numerous pockets of slush, which was expected after such a heavy snowfall. Our hope was that the slush on our track would freeze before our trial dog run before using the track with clients.

It was a foggy and overcast day but the sun did try to peek out through the trees on occasion.

While on the lake, in the distance, we saw a flurry of Raven activity indicating a possible wolf kill site so we headed that direction after completing out track. It was indeed a wolf kill. Later, we ran into an ice fisherman who had seen a wolf on the kill earlier in the day and he mentioned that he had seen the same wolf howling on the shore of the lake. There is a lot of wolf activity in the area. That same day, someone had seen a large gray wolf pass quickly through the parking lot just north of the dog yard.

The day remained overcast and foggy, which adds something mystical and magical to the experience. The little available sunlight reflected off the snow making for another glorious day on the trail.