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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

First Run of 2009/2010 Season!

Linda and Second Team

Neil and First Team

13 week old White Feather with papa McKenzie

13 week old Topa with Klaus

Monday, upon our return from the Points Unknown cabin, it was cool enough to finally get the dogs out for their first run! It was overcast with temps in the upper 40s and low 50s and WINDY, extremely windy.

Since it was on the warmer side for running we took several breaks along the way for water and lots of praise. We always train and run small teams unless the conditions dictate otherwise. This way, the dogs really learn to pull and get used to it as the norm rather than dividing the work among twice as many dogs.

First Team

Klaus and Oken in lead. This will be Oken's second season in lead and we'll be challenging him more and also expecting more out of him. Klaus, well, he just needs to get the kinks out right now. This dog is a seasoned veteran and has excellent leader abilities. It may be a bit more of a challenge for us to come up with challenges for this boy but we'll try!

They both did an excellent job for their first run barring a bit of a distraction for young Oken. It seems that because Neil was walking on the main path while we took an offshoot to make a fluid "haw come" (turn around to the left and go back), Oken thought we should be with Neil and decided to try to take the team down a steep embankment to get to him! Klaus kept the line tight and tried to keep us in the right direction but Oken was so determined and the downward force so strong that Klaus ended up getting pulled a ways down the embankment backwards by Oken. The remainder of the team, however did not follow and all was well after a reminder that we were actually going to continue going straight regardless of where Neil was walking.

Zodiak in point/team. He has done some maturing recently and with his neuter in the spring, we are hoping we will be able to override some of his dominant tendencies. We also plan to put him up front a lot more this year and give him more responsibility if he earns it.

What a great job this boy did on our run! He not only pulled his heart out as usual but when met with a hairy situation, he minded his own business and focused on the trail. What hairy situation you ask? Well, the one when Oken got the idea that we were not going to follow him down the embankment and came back into the team before getting into his leader position and got into a tangle with Zodiak.

Ilu and Icoa in wheel. Our two Inuit Dogs will be moving beyond wheel this year as we try and challenge everyone in the team a lot more with running in lead in front of bigger teams. Each dog gets to lead many times during our season with a partner at our women's adventures, however this is only for the introduction and only in a two to three dog team. After that, these two have gone back to wheel to carry out their duties. Not this year!

The traditional cheerleaders didn't disappoint us this year and as usual, couldn't contain their enthusiasm prior to and at hook-up. They seemed to stay in super shape this season because they were able to keep up with the huskies the entire run. They say you are only as fast as your slowest dog. Even though speed is not our goal, these two kept a pretty good pace for our first run and did their usual excellent work.

Second Team

Phoenix and Journey in lead. This will be their second season in lead. More challenges will be coming their way. Phoenix has done very little single lead and Journey has done none. This will be in their training for this season.

Since Tuloon is season, Phoenix attempted to run full speed ahead with his head turned back at Tuloon. It made for quite the sight and didn't last long. Phoenix turns into a testosterone zombie during these times and it takes a minute to get him to focus. Poor guy. I don't expect much of the dogs for their first run other than to mind their manners and give it their best. I pick my battles and don't necessarily worry too much if we aren't as "geed over" (far to the right side of the trail) as I would otherwise like but Journey was really drifting to the left so I decided to give the "gee over" command. Phoenix carried it out like a pro. Journey will need a few reminders in future training sessions but put all she had into the run and we remain in awe of her fluid gait and work ethic.

Tuloon and Zala in point/team. Tuloon spent all of her time in lead last season and began to take advantage of that position so she will be in point position for a while. Her "princess" complex (that we have nurtured) has caught up with her and although she still is our princess, she'll need to take her job a bit more seriously before she gets the reward back of running in lead. Zala will be given a lot more responsibility this year, if she wants it. She will spend more time in lead.

They both did a wonderful job on their first run. Tuloon was serious about working but didn't seem to be too concerned that she wasn't in front. We'll keep an eye on her to see how this plays out. Zala so resembles her uncle Klaus in how she puts her head to the ground and digs in with everything she has. All 45lbs of her along with heart and soul are given to her job.

McKenzie and Sweet Pea in wheel. McKenzie needs some work this season on patience while being hooked up and waiting to go. We like our dogs to be calm at hook up and remain calm until we give the command to go. Who would have thought that the most mild mannered and virtually the most silent dog in our kennel could put up such a fuss at hook up and while waiting for take off! And what noises he makes! Sweet Pea will be challenged and moved around in various positions this year. We hope she will want to help lead Neil's team when we run both teams in the Mush for a Cure in March. She gets bored easily so we'll need to work on keeping her on her toes.

McKenzie was very attentive to my requirements at hook up for our first run. Yes, he was impatient, but not as much so and most definitely toned it down based upon my commands. Last season it was as if he was in a total haze during this time and it was difficult to get through to him. Sweet Pea! Oh my gosh, Sweet Pea! This is the girl who hates to be harnessed and hooked up. She just doesn't like being handled that way but once we take off, she loves to pull. Well, we heard a very unfamiliar sound coming from the line and when I turned around, there she was! She was all hyped up to go and making all kinds of interesting noises! What a great way to start the season with Sweet Pea! Since she is getting older, it has been hard to keep her weight down so I thought that she might have a bit of an issue on the first run with keeping up with everyone. No so!

White Feather and Topa in puppy positions. These two came along in the truck for the ride and got to get out and hang out with each team as we returned. They then went around to greet everyone and spent time on tied out on a long leash for their first introduction to a tie out.

Zulu, Copper and Blueberry in house dog positions. These three stayed home and relaxed in the comfort of our warm home on their respective plush comforter beds until our return when they were taken out for a walk around the property then promptly plopped down on the couch next to us for some evening spoiling.

Women's Adventure Preparations

Points Unknown cabin in the early fall

Raspberries have taken over our northwoods dog yard

Copper and Blueberry got to go on this little adventure and relaxed with us in the cabin after a full day of fresh air.

We spent the weekend up at the Points Unknown cabin. Our goals were to cut some firewood, brush cut the dog yard and, although years down the road, to scope out a building site for our new "facility" on a different parcel of land to the current cabin.

Having always cut already downed logs for firewood, it was my very first time cutting a standing tree. There's a first time for everything. After a lot of safety considerations and reflection on my previous experiences cutting firewood, reading through the manual for tips and having Neil coach me from a distance, mission accomplished! We cut down two small birch trees. Enough for one day and the first time. We've got a lot of downed logs back in Watertown to cut up so I decided to save my back!

Since my father is an ex USDA Forest Ranger and has used a chainsaw much of his life, Neil and I are fortunate to be scheduled for a full chainsaw refresher/training course during our upcoming visit to Arkansas, where my parents have retired, for the Thanksgiving holiday. Neil has had no use for chainsaws in the UK and has seen far too many chainsaw moments gone bad in the operating theatre so is reluctant to pick one up without proper training. Who can blame him. A chainsaw in not only a useful tool but an extremely dangerous piece of equipment.

The dog yard desperately needed a face lift and relief from the thick wild raspberry bush intrusion. It was a nice cool day to work outside with virtually no bugs.

We spent half a day on another parcel of land that is not far from the current parcel, getting to know the terrain. We were pleasantly surprised to find a lot more rolling topography within the parcel that we originally thought. A perfect place for a walk-out basement building was found. Of course, we have high hopes of someday having an indoor/outdoor kennel set up under the main facility where the dogs can come inside during the spring and summer to escape the hoards of mosquitoes and black flies. This indoor space will also be used for puppies, older dogs and any special needs dogs that come along. The dream begin to take shape!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Puppy Lessons

We started the puppies out on leash until they got all of the grasshopper chasing out of the way and could focus better. Look at those legs!

Once they began to pull hard on the leash, we took turns with them in harness; a harness far too large for them but it accomplished the goal of getting them used to wearing something and pulling. These pulling sessions only lasted 5 minutes at the most. Otherwise, they just walked on leash.

It was nice to see a good harness lean on Topa. She's 12 weeks old now. She reminds me a bit of Journey at her age but much more confident with strange encounters.

How exciting when a couple of horse and riders were spotted coming down the trail! What a great training moment!

After a quick step back to assess the situation, Topa wanted to get closer to investigate while White Feather remained cautious and wasn't interested in getting too close. We made this encounter a fun and relaxed one as we spoke casually to the riders as though this was just an every day occurrence.

We couldn't help but take advantage of the sunflower field background for a couple quick shots with the pups. They are almost too big to carry at 12 weeks old!

Neil was more sensible and didn't attempt to pick them up for this shot.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Watching an Expert

Fish in talons!

In search of a quiet spot to savor its catch

During our kennel work day we were entertained and amazed by this bird of prey. Hovering over the water at over 50 feet, it would spot its prey, fold its wings to form a "V" and dive in the water. We were pleasantly surprised to be able to actually witness a catch!

Fall Kennel Work

Finally taking down a 10 year old volunteer box elder tree that I have continued to remind myself over the past 10 years to cut down.

Moving dog kennel sand/gravel

White Feather helps

Almost done!

Topa decides it has been just too strenuous a day and naps on the deck in a chair.

Neil, Hailey and I spent one day over the weekend doing various, never ending, kennel chores. It was a wonderful day to be outside! Bleaching all kennels was first on the list. Kennel sand/gravel was moved from one end to the other to fill holes and to provide better drainage. Kennels were raked of any remaining shed out dog hair and leaves and volunteer trees and thick willows were removed from a portion of the Oake Lake shoreline to provide a better breeze for the dogs and help create better sled access from the dog yard for the winter. This also opened up a beautiful view of the lake from the house!

Retirement Home

Last good byes

Isis and Tukisi in their new pen

Tukisi and Isis has been wonderful members of our team and then were retired a couple of years ago. Since then, they have not been able to run with the team but have spent much time every day during the off season, running free in our fenced enclosures. They have needed much more stimulation that, due to the needs of the other dogs and the schedule of the musher, we haven't been able to supply. We decided quite a while ago that if the proper retirement home came up, we would place them. It did!

Genevieve, a long time friend living north of Winnipeg, Manitoba was Tukisi's breeder 10 years ago. When discussing with her what would be best for the dogs, she agreed to provide them both with a retirement home. Genevieve and her husband live on 640 acres in the Canadian bush with 22 Canadian Inuit Dogs. There are numerous trails running through their land that the dogs get to run on in groups every other day. Each group of dogs gets a huge pen. Tukisi and Isis would get a 50'x50' enclosure to call their own and a huge dog house with a covered front porch. (Michael is very handy with his chainsaw sawmill.) I was so excited that our two retired Inuit Dogs would get what they needed and more in their older years and so sad that I wasn't in a position to give it to them myself. It is about the dogs first and foremost.

Neil and I drove Tukisi and Isis up to Grand Forks, North Dakota on Saturday to meet Genevieve halfway. Isis has been to visit Genevieve before and Tukisi spent the first weeks of his life in her care. She seemed familiar to both of them and Tukisi cuddled up to her right away.

Isis and Tukisi will be missed at Points Unknown kennel but we know that they are in good hands, living good lives.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Arkansas Visitor

Mom with grand dogs, Topa and White Feather

Look at those long legs on Topa!

Our craft fair booth

Last week, my mom flew up from Arkansas for a visit and to participate in a large craft fair where we would be sharing a booth. We sold our Scent from Nature; 100% Pure Beeswax Candles, (which helps support the Points Unknown sled dogs), her award-winning quilts and my Dad's wood turned items. Our dog handler, Chris, took excellent care of the dogs while we were away, as usual. With Zulu's demadex and White Feather's tremor issues, it was nice to know they would be in good hands.

Long story short, we determined very quickly that the craft fair wasn't the proper venue for our items. All wasn't lost, we still had a very nice visit and Mom got to see the granddogs again which included the now 11 week old puppies!

It was White Feather and Topa's first time in a harness just the other day. Both took turns in harness as Mom and I walked them on leashes around the property. I think we've got ourselves some more naturals here! They took to it right away and made no issue of the new experience.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Day at the Vet

Poor Zulu!

White Feather and Topa

Last Thursday turned out to be a very difficult one. The night prior, White Feather had her puppy class and did exceptionally well, all except for about a half of dozen, almost indistinguishable head tremors. It took me a few times to actually pick up on what was going on they were so mild. A head tremor is not a seizure. It is, in her case, a split second bobbing of the head almost like a bobble head doll. It didn't interrupt her function and otherwise she is acting completely normal.

Thankfully, for observation sake, she did this again in front of the vet the next morning. Blood work was draw which subsequently came back normal. All the research that has been done and that has come from all of the wonderful people I have been in contact with tells me that the most likely scenario is related to her recent vaccination and it is something that will just go away.

What can happen if a vaccination is given when there is still immunity is an outward expression of this oversupply in the dog's system. I have had it expressed in the form of an autoimmune flesh eating disease and an autoimmune hepatitis years ago and as a result, changed our vaccination protocol but I have not seen it in the form of head tremors. How can an 8 week old pup have an oversupply of immunity? It is called maternal immunity and it is carried on from the mother for several weeks of the puppies' lives. The understanding has been that it expires about the time a first shot should be given at approximately 8 weeks. If this is the cause, then we can assume that she still had her maternal immunity.

There is still research to be done and White Feather is being watched very closely. For the next few weeks she will be kept out of situations that may cause stress such as puppy class and we are hopeful that it will resolve on its own.

Taking White Feather to the vet happened in the morning that day. We ended up taking another trip to the vet that afternoon. I had been gone for a couple of hours to run errands and returned to find Zulu's front legs bright red and missing patches of fur. Fairly sure this was another one of his demadex issues, off to the vet we went. Demadex is a mite that all dogs carry but it only expresses itself when the immune system is down. Zulu came to us with undiagnosed lyme disease at the age of five which is an overall stress on his system and ever since then has had this affliction just about every year at this time or in early winter. He was given prednisone and an injection of Ivermectin. In two weeks we go back for another Ivermectin injection and in a few days he will be tapered of the predisone which is a steroid that helps the itching and swelling and he should be back to his old self.

Puppy Nanny in Training

Tuloon with Topa and Zala with White Feather


Zala, still almost a puppy herself, gets silly with the pups.

A bonding moment with Topa

Zulu has just about had it with the puppies getting under foot but continues to be patient.

Since Sweet Pea resigned on the spot recently, Zala has been learning the ropes from Tuloon on how to be a puppy nanny. Very soon, the puppies will need to be separated so that I can work with them individually and they can bond to me more than they are now bonded to each other. When I do this, I want to make certain they each have a reliable adult to teach them and look after them. The pups will then be rotated between Zala and Tuloon until they are fully bonded with me. I do have a bond with each pup, however it goes as far as their interest level at the moment. If the other pup is doing something more interesting, then off they go. Once this new depth of bonding has ocurred, then they can be back together and likely will be big enough to live in a small pack with a couple of other older, mellow dogs.

Canicross Hike 2009: Minnewashta Regional Park

Our new hiker team. It's a Newfy pup!

Oken and Phoenix

Temps were in the low 60s today but quickly heated up with just a tad of humidity in the air which made it too hot for the dogs too soon. Our hike was relatively short today but were very excited to welcome a new hiker team. Sue and her 7 month old Newfoundland joined us. Wilson caught on almost right away. A very important component of the hikes that makes it successful for new dogs is that the dogs learn quickly from each other rather than trying to figure out what their owner wants them to do. This makes it easier for the owner then to reinforce the behavior that they want and put a command to it. When you think about it, it would be like trying to listen to directions on how to complete a task in a foreign language. Wouldn't watching it be done first be so much easier?

Dogs are smart and can pick up quickly by watching. Be careful, however, because they can also pick up behavior you might not want just the same way!

Canicross Hike 2009: Afton State Park

Oken got to go!

Our new hikers

Conan has become well known for his love of water.

Two German Sled Dogs!

Last month our Canicross Hiking Club visited Afton State Park. Temps were in the low 60s and it was bright and sunny. How lucky we were to have had two German Shepherds along on this hike!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Zulu at 6 years old, just having lead us into the BWCA from the Crane Lake entry.

Zulu at nearly 13 years old, staked out next to the cabin just before being brought in for the night.

As I sit at my computer sorting through photos from last winter season with, now 13 year old, Zulu laying at my feet, I can't help but reminisce about the times when Zulu was at his working peak.

Zulu was quite the handsome and majestic specimen of a dog; long legs, thick weather resistant coat, keen senses, mild temperament and great intelligence. Zulu had amazing innate abilities as a sled dog and leader. The knowledge he possessed about being out on the trail trickled down to me little by little over the years. He was a true mentor and I often felt humbled by what he would teach me.

Zulu still has the long legs, but he is a little less sure on them as arthritis has set in. He's got the amazing thick weather resistant coat but it's a bit more coarse and brittle than it used to be although he does look quite good for his age. His intelligence hasn't faded. His mind has just shifted from thoughts and analysis about the dog yard and trail to how to get the best spot on the couch in the sun room and which way to lead us on leashed walks through the nearby meadow. He is still so gentle that toddlers and young children are able to tug on his coat, coo over him and pet him as he soaks it all in. Although his hearing is still impeccable, (This dog can hear a cracker drop on the kitchen floor from the other end of the house!) his eyesight is fading. If his crate is moved a couple of inches either way, he could miss is completely. He knows exactly where everything is in the back yard and overcompensates for known obstacles to make certain his not so agile legs are able to successfully clear the object and he doesn't fall on his nose.

In his old age he continues to humble me with his teachings. Please be patient with me. Slow down. What's the hurry? It's been a life with Zulu of never ending lessons. As he continues to age, I am quite certain he has more great things in store for me.