Thursday, March 5, 2009
Distractions on Gunflint Lake
I make a point to mention to our guests that when working with dogs, anything can happen. There may be training moments out there and that is just part of the adventure. Teaching the dogs to be calm and focused around distractions is another welcome training challenge. The more they are exposed to these things, the better they can become at dealing with them.
We had ideal conditions for a distraction training day on Gunflint Lake last week with a trout derby in full force and the herds of deer that hang around the lodge searching for hand outs. In addition, this was Hailey, our kennel helper's, first run with her own team on the lake. We had our work cut out for us in the training department.
The dogs didn't seem to be bothered by the dozens of snowmobiles wizzing by but the minute they spotted a deer on the shore, they all took notice. This is where the "on by" command comes into play. It is a useful command to teach the dogs while out on the trail and it means to ignore whatever is catching their attention. Don't mark that tree, don't sniff the dog team we are passing and don't pick up that bag of buns and carry it back to the lodge with you (more on this later). In this case, the dogs were not on the gangline but were on their picket line with harnesses on. Even though they can be in rest mode at this point, they are working and the rules are enforced. You can notice the deer on the shore but there will be no lunging at the picket line and no obnoxious barking. The adults understand this rule, however it took some time for one of the 17 month old pups(Zodiak)to get the idea. We continue to train......
Once the two teams headed out and we got past the majority of the trout derby traffic we could relax and work on some other items. Oken, one of my 17 month old pups, was in lead with Klaus, my seasoned veteran. It was Oken's first time to be in lead with him from hook up to our return and again, we had out work cut out for us!
On this day, we had a snowmobile assist to come along and run interference in case any of the snowmobile traffic came too close. Don, our guest musher, took this position and also acted as "dog team with puppy in lead" helper and photographer. Don helped with a couple of tangles when Oken did a few puppy moves, otherwise just took some nice photos and warned snowmobilers of our approach. Oken is such an eager to please boy, he doesn't always wait to be told what he should do and tries to guess. This means he's thinking. "Oh, I bet she wants me to go THIS way! I'm looking back and see her smiling so I must be a good boy! Uh oh, no smile, ok, well back I go". I can see his potential he just needs to solidly learn the commands, learn patience and focus. All in time. He did quite a good job and even went head-on towards a strange person laying in the snow on the trail to get a photo and did an excellent "on by"! Good boy!
While all of this training was going on, with our guest in the sled, delighting at every training moment, Hailey was behind us with her four dog team, looking like a pro. No problems there.
And that bag of buns I mentioned.......the trout derby was a big party. There were picnics on the lake. Someone snowmobiling along apparently dropped a perfectly good bag of hamburger buns in the middle of the lake and we headed right for them. A quick "on by" command was obeyed by the first four dogs as they trampled the bag, however when we got back to the wheel dogs, all bets were off. Ilu quickly snatched it on the run. He held it proudly in his mouth, ever so softly, and carried it back to the lodge from about a quarter of a mile away. Leave it to an Inuit Dog. I suppose I could frame it in a positive light. Rather than saying he disobeyed my command, I could say that he could not comply as he had a strong desire to keep the lake free of trash and it just wouldn't have been right to leave it there.