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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Phoenix Turns 3 Years Old Today!

Phoenix with friend at 8 weeks

Phoenix at 12 weeks

5 mos.

First time in lead at 10 mos.

Canicross Hiking at 1 1/2 years old

Photo Courtesy of Layne Kennedy
Freight dog Phoenix, March 2008

Sweet and happy guy

Phoenix was a laid back, big blonde bundle of fuzz when he came to us from Mush Knik Networking in Alaska, with an enormous instinct to pull at a very early age. He is one of the mildest natured dogs in the dog yard and is every one's friend.

When put up in lead at 10 mos, he showed great potential. At three years old, he has now grown up and is really taken to his new role as full-time leader in one of the Points Unknown teams.

Unassuming, quiet, relentless puller, extreme power are only a few of the words used to describe this well rounded boy. He is a true gift to the kennel.

Happy Birthday to Phoenix!

A Day in the Life.....

Sunrise over Oake Lake in the dog yard


Tuloon and Phoenix. Phoenix sports his new "shorty" harness.

Klaus and Journey

Ilu and Oken

Icoa and Zodiak (legs!)

Klaus giving his usual 110% even while at rest

One of our distractions on the trail today. The horses enjoyed the "show".

Today we awoke to the most amazing sunrise over the dog yard. It had been cold enough that a complete layer of ice formed on Oake Lake over night and the sunrise reflected on it. The dogs howled to welcome the new day before breakfast was served.

After breakfast, the dogs rested two hours before we began to load for our training runs. It would be out second run after resting over a week during deer hunting season when being out on the trail is just plain dangerous. We would be trying some new harnesses for the very tall dogs that would free their hind ends from the downward pressure that comes with being tall and pulling a heavy load.

The "shorty" harnesses as we began calling them are actually called saddle back harnesses because they rest on the dog where a saddle would on a horse. Our big wheel dog, Ilu would be testing one as would all of our tall boys Klaus, Phoenix, McKenzie, Oken and Zodiak. After using them, I was impressed with how some dogs took to them and how they seemed to fit quite nicely, however on other dogs, it was very difficult to adjust them to make them fit. More testing is needed. Every dog using them seemed to pull just as hard except for Klaus and it could be because of an improper fit. Once back in his old X-Back harness, he seemed to feel much more at home.

Oken, the just over a year old pup, was up in lead with uncle Klaus today and we practiced "gee over" commands which means move from where you are to the far right side of the trail and hopefully stay there until another command is given. His attention span was fairly short so he moved back to point position behind the leaders and Journey took his spot. Journey is a year and a half old and hasn't been up in lead for several runs. She forgot nothing and did the most wonderful "gee over" down the trail with Klaus.

Tuloon and Phoenix are the leaders of the second team. This is Phoenix's first year in full-time lead and is giving Tuloon a run for her money. Tuloon, being the princess she is, sometimes decides what is best for her rather than what is asked of her. This happens for but only for a moment until she hears the ever so familiar "aaah" sound make from deep within my throat or the "on-by" command which means, "no, you can not take us into the field of horses" or "yes, there are cattle down that ravine looking up at us but let's not bother them and just stay on the trail" Phoenix, on the other hand, straight as an arrow, takes us down the trail with complete focus.

Both Phoenix and Tuloon took commands wonderfully today. Since I want them to work independently of each other, I don't use a neckline. When one of them appears confused about which way to turn the other may go behind them and pull them in the proper direction, reinforcing my command. Otherwise, if neck lined together, one may be hesitant to invade the space of the other to move in the proper direction because being tied at the neck, they can't go behind each other without a severe tangle. On the other hand, there is a time and place for neckline use with leaders as in the case of Klaus and Oken. Oken needs all of the reinforcing direction he can get, being a big boy puppy, and Klaus needs to learn to have the confidence to push into him or pull him from the neck when a command is given that Oken hasn't yet learned. In this case, a neckline is used. Each situation needs to be assessed and each dog needs to be worked with in a way that works best for them. After one too many missed commands on Oken's part today and an appearing frustrated Klaus, the neckline was removed so Klaus could have free movement again to go behind Oken to make a turn, if necessary versus constantly having to pull or push him from the neck. Klaus just needed a break.

Ilu got his first chance out of wheel in ages and was placed behind the leaders with Journey and then Oken once the leader swap was made. Ilu took advantage of his new freedom on occasion and tried to pull the team over one way or another to check out something neat but quickly corrected himself when "asked".

After two successful training runs the dogs were unloaded, placed back in their kennel groups, had their collars taken off for safety and were fed a light snack with some water baited with fat.

Tuki and Isis, two of our retired dogs, were then exercised in the yard, and ran wildly around and around. Zulu, another retiree, was taken for a walk with his grandson Zodiak. After the retired dogs were exercised it was time for the evening feeding after a short one hour break for the mushers. The evening dinner consisted of a Redpaw 32/20, a Redpaw 38/25, a Redpaw Balanced Fat and some rice in various quantity combinations based upon the individual dog. After which is a second round of watering with fat baited water. Poop is scooped as it is numerous times throughout the day and then tonight, straw was added to all of the dog houses.

The evening ended with a contented howl from the dogs as we said good night and see you dark and early in the morning!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Introductions; Jon Williams

Jon with his well behaved team of Malamutes

Jon Williams, 53, is a clinical pharmacist at the Great River Medical Center in West Burlington,Iowa. At an early age, he discovered how much he loved exploring the outdoors, through camping, hiking, fishing, and canoeing. This led him to spend 20 years of volunteer time serving on the Des Moines County Conservation Board and Partners for Conservation Foundation.

He has backpacked the North Western states, Alberta/British Columbia, and Isle Royale. Rock climbed in Wisconsin and Idaho with the Iowa Mountaineers. With his wife Jane, they have canoed extensively through out the BWCAW and Quetico over the last 20 years. In 2000, Jon canoed the Hunter Island route, which circumnavigates the BWCAW and Quetico.

Jon always enjoyed X-country skiing and ice fishing in the wintertime, but wanted to find a way to explore this time of year even more. So in 1986, he bought his first Alaskan Malamute puppy. After reading a couple of books on sled dog training he was able to get his first dog to pull a sled full of ice fishing equipment and accompany him on his many ice fishing excursions. Several Malamutes later, he realized more training was necessary. He wanted to see if he could handle winter camping with sled dogs so he spent a week learning how at Paul Schurke's Wintergreen in January of 1997. Next stop, was completing two of Jamie Nelson/Ann Stead's mushing boot camps in northern Minnesota. The boot camps were an unbelievable "dog and musher," learning experience; also a way to meet people from all over the country and gain mushing friends from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Over the last several years Jon has enjoyed winter camping and mushing with his friends in northern Minnesota. Currently, Jon has 11 Alaskan Malamutes that make up his Ravencrest Kennels in rural southeast Iowa. There he trains his 10 dog team and is always looking for new adventures with them up North.

Jon is also a pilot and enjoys flying from the grass strip airfield near his home to visit friends all over the Mid West. This will be Jon’s first season with Points Unknown, assisting with client adventures. When first meeting Jon several years ago, I was impressed with his well behaved team of Malamutes and know he and his team will be an asset to our winter program.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In-Between Days

Trumpeter Swan family of eight

Today is the first of many of those "in-between" days. Not quite fall and not quite winter. We awoke to a skim of ice on Oake Lake and the dogs' water buckets had frozen a good 2" on top. The dogs have warm and cozy nests of straw in their dog houses and seem happy to spend the day inside resting and waiting for the sun. This week is deer hunting season and in these parts, we stay clear of the trails until it's over so the dogs get a week of vacation from training.

As I watched the light snow fall through my office window this morning I noticed the family of Trumpeter Swans that had apparently stayed on the lake over night. They had kept an area on the lake of about 10 feet by 20 feet, free from ice by their movement. As the day went on, temps became warmer and the wind picked up, there were other areas on the lake where the skim ice was opening up. One of the adults of the Swan family was seen walking daintily across the skim ice to another open area, hoping for the rest of the family to follow, as it appeared. No one did. Instead, the other adult, with 6 adolescents in tow, swam through the ice, plowing a channel of her own to meet up with her mate on the other side. The photo above was taken when they reached the other member of their family.

It would be interesting to know what each Swan was considering when they took their path of choice. Why did one walk across the ice and the other plow through it? Was it the consideration of safety in the second Swan's mind? Not wanting her (assumed to be her) six babies to fall through the thin ice and experience a hardship, she then lead the way.... a different way than the first.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Gunflint Lodge Work Weekend

Blueberry and Copper lounging at the Musher apartment

New pen in the dog yard

Distant view of the now complete dog yard

The dog truck, a 17' cube van, was unloaded of its dog transport items including 12 large plastic dog crates, a fall training cart and all associated gear . It was then reloaded with fourteen bales of straw, five wooden dog houses, four plastic dog houses, the brush cutter, other miscellaneous trail cutting tools and various tools needed for the dog yard. On Friday the sled dog mascots and I headed up to Gunflint Lodge for a special work weekend in that loaded cube van.

Each year, Gunflint Lodge has a work weekend planned where guests can come for two nights for a discounted price in exchange for five hours of work on the property. This weekend Points Unknown had a total of fourteen very eager and hard working trail clearing and dog yard workers. With Jason, the maintenance supervisor at the chain saw, me at the brush cutter, eight "lopper" specialists and four log and debris movers, we managed to clear 2+- miles of new dog sledding trails in under five hours! Even though trail clearing is quite a lot of work and winter had blasted in the evening before, sending flurries throughout the day and cold wind chills, we all had fun clearing, chatting and laughing along the way. The evening ended with a complimentary buffet for all workers. I saw a lot of tired and happy faces this evening.

As the people worked most of the day, the sled dog mascots lounged comfortably back in the musher apartment and enjoyed four short walks during various breaks throughout the day.

Yesterday was spent in the dog yard unloading the truck, installing a new dog pen and preparing the chains and hardware for many of the axles. With the help of Robert who lives at the end of Gunflint Lake Road, this was accomplished in a few short hours.

Many thanks to Robert and all of the hard working trail clearing and dog yard workers! Your help was much appreciated!