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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Training Breakthrough for Zala

Zala keeps the line tight while at rest.

Phoenix and Journey lead the second team. Caught this goofy tongue shot!

Zala had been having some difficulty remaining focused when running with Phoenix. Phoenix is a big softie and we think that he just allowed her to not be as serious about leading as she should have been. She would have an occasional interest in what was running through the woods, to the point she would try to scamper off after it, still attached to the team. Letting the line slack a bit while on a quick break and turning her body sideways to see what I was doing were her other offenses. Each time, I would give the command, be it "tighten up" or "on by", then get off the training rig, place her in the desired position, reinforce the command with praise and we would do this over and over again. Training can be very repetitive and frustrating, especially when you wonder how many times you'll have to do the very same thing until it sinks in. Patience is the key. (I sure could use more of that) Then it dawns on me. Hey, this isn't working, let's try something different!

Sometimes the very best teacher for a dog is another dog and the musher just needs to stand by and provide assistance. Today, Klaus would be helping with her lessons.

We like to train and run, for the most part, without necklining the leaders. This means that both leaders must work together but be able to think for themselves and not use the other leader as a crutch. However, there are times when training with a neckline between the leaders can be an excellent tool. Especially when one is very good at something that the other hasn't quite picked up yet. Klaus is excellent at keeping his line tight ALL of the time. He may become interested in things running in the woods but he continues down the trail straight ahead. When we break for either a few seconds or for more than an hour, he keeps his line tight ALL of the time, even if laying down. This is a gift he has always had and if his line isn't tight, there is something very wrong.

Since Zala got her tremendous work ethic from uncle Klaus, we believe that she must have some more of the exceptional traits he holds buried beneath the surface and we want to try and bring them out.

We began today's run with Klaus and Zala in lead, necklined together. We commanded nothing new of her other than the usual "tighten up". Once the neckline when on, she was glued forward with not the least bit of slack in her line. She didn't move her body sideways but only twisted her head to look back, just like uncle Klaus. When the command to go was given, off she went, straight as an arrow down the trail. When she caught a glimpse of a red squirrel scurry from tree to tree she did attempt to dart back behind Klaus for a brief second until the neckline and my "on by" voice command abruptly reminded her of her job description. After that, no reminders needed. While at rest, a tight line she kept. All good behavior received verbal praise from the musher, however not once did I have to get off the rig to correct.

It still amazes me to this day, that one seemingly small change in a team can be made to receive such a greatly different result. It's hard, sometimes, to get outside of our own little boxes. We think that it should be this way so we continue to do it "this way" when, if we would just think to try it "that way" we might save ourselves an awful lot of trouble.

In dog training as in life, there isn't just one way to do something to accomplish the same result. It's just remembering this that is the challenge when we have "this way" stuck in our minds at that moment.

Zala will continue to run necklined with Klaus for the next few runs. Then the neckline will come off and we'll see what stuck and just devise a new training plan there.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Crab Apples are Ripe!

Klaus the handsome

There he is, making sure I am watching

He's thinking about it....

Up he goes!

Look Journey! If I could just reach that bunch up there!

Klaus loves this time of year! He delights in jumping up in the air and grabbing a mouthful of as many crab apples as he can. His niece, Zala, has this fixation as well. The others just mostly stand by and watch, wondering what could be so good about a bunch of nasty sour crab apples.

Phoenix and McKenzie with the Puppies

Topa and White Feather, what beautiful girls!

You can't tell that White Feather is her fathers' daughter...

Topa playfully greets her papa.

Legs run in the family (no pun intended)

These are some big 15 week old puppies when you compare with 70+lb Phoenix.

What a fun group shot!

Fun times

Phoenix in the play bow for the pups

He lays down for them so they don't feel as intimidated. What a good boy!

Phoenix the goof

Today was the first time that papa McKenzie and Phoenix spent a significant amount of time with the puppies, Topa and White Feather. It is so nice to have two big and powerful, intact males who not only get along well enough to live together but also that play carefully with puppies.

McKenzie likes to be a bit stoic and not let the pups know that he likes them showing interest in him. But the second they show more interest in Phoenix, he makes sure to be included.

Phoenix is a goof. He lays down for the puppies so they don't feel as intimidated by him and rolls on this back, legs flailing in the air.

What a show!

Update on New Hampshire Pups


Tumac - look at the legs on that boy!

Hana is roughly the same height now as Tumac but has more fine features.

Hana plays follow the leader with Rosie who happens to be Phoenix's sister.
All photos supplied by Lidia at Uktousa Kennel

Tumac and Hana are living the luxury life in New Hampshire as they are still what Lidia considers "bed" dogs before they graduate to sled dogs. Just as their sisters Topa and White Feather, they are growing like weeds and have long thick legs and big feet. Long walks with the pups have determined that they are driven to pull and at the same time enjoy being babied and cuddled by their musher.

There is no better place for these two than at Uktousa Kennel. We are excited to watch them grow and can't wait for the first day they run with the team!

Ilu and Icoa

Ilu and his beautiful brown eyes

Icoa smiles for the camera

Ilu jumps up for a snack on the crabapple tree

Ilu and Icoa are our two Canadian Inuit Dogs. Icoa is 6 years old and her son, Ilu is 4 years old. They are quite the pair!

Since Tukisi and Isis went to their retirement home last month we had been concerned about how Ilu and Icoa may take this change, considering they are now the only two of their kind left in the kennel, surrounding by our freight Alaskan Huskies. They have done very well and a new dynamic has been created in the kennel. They actually seem a bit more relaxed which is exactly what we had hoped. You see, Isis and Icoa had a big rivalry that created tension in the kennel. With her source of tension gone, she can now relax.

Now that the cool weather has arrived, they are more than anxious to be out on the trail and they bounce on their hind legs, peering over the top of the 6' kennels, whenever it appears as though we are loading the truck for training.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trail Scouting at Audubon Center of the Northwoods

Audubon Center of the Northwoods near Sandstone, MN

The field stone fireplace is the highlight of the building

West wall of main lodge

What will be the musher cabin

Trail view

View from the trail

View from the trail

Not too windy

The rain finally ended and opened up the skies to a beautiful blue with temps in the 40s. Despite feeling "cloudy" from the recent onset of a cold, I took a drive north of the Twin Cities approximately 2 hours and 15 minute to visit Audubon Center of the Northwoods which is where the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources(DNR) Becoming an Outdoors Woman(BOW) winter workshop will be held in February. Points Unknown will be providing the dog mushing instruction and, this being the first year at this location, I wanted to do some trail scouting to determine the best location for the mushing program.

A wetland trail area was recommended. On the site is a new log cabin that we have been offered as our accommodation. I was anxious to visit these trails, thinking that a wetland area would be relatively flat and wide open which would make for the perfect setting for our beginner mushers to get their first safe dog mushing experience.

The Audubon Center is located on a small lake. The site contains hardwood forests, restored prairies and wetlands. The main lodge appears relatively new with a two story high field stone fireplace in the middle. A small nature store is at the entrance of the building. There are various buildings dotting the campus that include a restored barn and farmhouse.

After a quick visit to the lodge, I went directly to the wetlands trail and log cabin, hoping for the best. Finding proper dog sled trails isn't always an easy task, not to mention finding them with the right qualifications for a short and safe first mushing experience. They should be wide and not too windy. There shouldn't be too many trees close to turns in the trail that could reach out and grab an unsuspecting participant. And there should be a loop which means the dogs don't need to be turned around in the trail which could make a nice tangle.

The trail was just what I had hoped. A few minor improvements and additions here and there will make it ideal. There are a few extra turns in the trail that will need to be blocked off with a straw bale to keep the dogs from taking our guests on a ride we didn't anticipate. In addition, some posts could be sunk near the cabin to tie off teams and to stake the dogs out between workshops. The cabin has no heat, electricity or running water but a wood stove and outhouse make it perfect for the mushers. We'll also use the building during the workshops for the introductions and overview before we head out and begin the hands-on portion with the dogs.

Here, you'll just get a taste of what dog mushing is all about. Our hope is that you fall in love with the dogs and want to join us for a more advanced adventure in the future!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

White Feather Update

White Feather, a happy and healthy 15 week old puppy (who is in the gangly stage with long thick legs that she sometimes doesn't know what to do with)

If you recall from an earlier post, White Feather began having head tremors shortly after her first puppy shot at 8 weeks old. At the same time her left ear, which had been straight up, began to droop to the side. We consulted the vet and sought input from friends and people on our various email groups to figure out what could have happened and how it could be treated. After all of the input was received we concluded that when she got her first shot she still had maternal immunity and the shot created an oversupply of antibodies in her system and caused an outward immune reaction which, based upon stories we have since heard, could have been much worse. This reaction was the head tremors and cocked ear.

A fellow Hedlund Husky owner suggested we begin White Feather on a round of Melatonin which is a holistic substance that produces serotonin in the brain. We also were to work her up to 500mg of Ester C and keep her at that level for two weeks. Slowly increasing the amount of Ester C given helps to avoid the diarrhea that giving the full dose upfront may cause.

White Feather was watched closely throughout this process and the head tremors were still there but seemed to be less frequent. We are now happy to report that we have not noticed a head tremor in over two weeks! In addition, the ear that was cocked after the shot was given and when the head tremors began to take place is now standing straight up!

What ever it was that caused the tremors to stop, be it the melatonin and Ester C, time or a combination of both, we'll never know. What does seem apparent is that the vaccination caused the problem. We've had other vaccination related problems in our kennel and have changed the protocol since but didn't realize that even a first puppy shot given at an atypically late date (8 weeks old) could create such a problem. White Feather will get another shot to make sure she has proper immunity, but it won't be until 5 months of age and a month before her rabies vaccination. She'll get a booster at a year old then titres will be done at two years to see where her immunity lies in relationship to what is needed.

It has become obvious that over vaccination is a big health concern. Dogs and puppies have had reactions ranging from fatigue to seizures to death from too many vaccinations. If you have a dog, please do some research on the topic to make sure that your dog stays properly immunized but is not unnecessarily vaccinated. Dogs don't need yearly shots nor should they have them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hard Choices

Tuloon with her puppy girls at about 15 weeks old. Tuloon blew her coat entirely after having the pups and is completely naked. Her new coat is just beginning to come in.

Topa has such a wonderful build with beautiful lines. She is almost as big as half sister Zala!

Sweet Pea and the pups run off to play

Showing proper respect to 13 year old Zulu

White Feather is almost as tall as Topa and has a slightly heavier build.

As most of you know, there are many things in life you'd rather be doing that what you really need to be doing at the moment. Today was one of those hard choices days. Run dogs vs working on real estate appraisals. The weather was perfect! Temps in upper 20s, ice on the buckets, the leaves are turning beautiful reds and yellows, the air is brisk and the dogs are hyped! Vs I have a deadline, I can't let my office down, I have bills to pay, the dogs and I need to eat, electricity is nice to have sometimes and you've got to pay the bill to keep it! Appraisals won. The dogs understand. As long as they are able to get out and play together, it seems they get as excited about that as running so no problems there. It's just the musher/appraiser that feels the pain of hard choices at the moment. Oh well. No pity party allowed. There just isn't time! So between steps in the appraisal process, I swap over play groups and hang out with my canine companions for a bit before the computer calls or the phone rings again!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Zala and Journey Training Moments

Stacy sets up the cart and lines and performs the safety checks prior to hooking up dogs.

Zala is the star leader today

Water time! Leaders always first.

Back at the truck, the puppies come out to, again, join the big dogs.

Temps were in the 30s this morning when we loaded the dogs up and headed out to the trail head. Stacy, who has attended one of our Points Unknown Women's Winter Adventures, drove in from Minneapolis to try her hand had some fall cart training. Being an avid dog trainer in obedience, flyball and agility with her own dog, Guinness, she could apply these skills when working with the sled dogs. That is, once they grow to respect her. Right now, she's just another person tagging along that, in their eyes, doesn't know too much about them or what they do or what the expectations are so they think they can get away with things. They're real good at finding vulnerabilities as is any dog! And Stacy knows this. She's got one up on them already.

Klaus and Oken did fairly well at working in lead as a team today. Oken responded much better to the "gee over" commands. I didn't have to get off the cart 24 times today to remind him what that meant! Zodiak was a peach as was Ilu and Icoa. Well, other than the typical Inuit Dog "scuffle" at the beginning of each run. This lasts for only a moment. I think Icoa just wants to remind her son that she is in charge and that he had better be good.

Zala got to begin the run in lead with Phoenix and ended it with Journey. On the way out, Zala got a surprising training moment, the kind that I just watch quietly and then chuckle to myself. Straight ahead they went and then Zala noticed something run off into the bushes to the right. Not thinking, she immediately took a sharp right into the bush and the ditch. Little 45lb Zala is no match for 70+ Phoenix so he just continued running straight ahead. Zala quickly realized as she faced the rest of the team, now being dragged backwards by Phoenix, that she probably shouldn't have done what she just had. Around she turned and straight ahead she went. I did make sure to reinforce it with a couple of strategically placed "on by" (leave whatever it is and continue on by) commands.

Journey also did a couple of very good recoveries. Same thing, she noticed something off to the left while she was running in lead on the right. She didn't take a quick left but did show an awful lot of interest as she slowly crept to the left. "On by" command and "on by" we went.

I train all my dogs to poop on the run and most do it just fine, however when in lead, it is a different story and some try to stop the team while doing it. Not Journey! We were amazed to see her drift to the right, I can only suppose to keep it off the path of the team, and poop as she ran in lead. Good girl!

First Snow!

We awoke yesterday morning to over an inch of ice in the dog water buckets and our first dusting of snow!

The day was spent filling dog boxes with fresh straw, putting away hoses (and warming up and draining those we left on accidentally over night) and doing last minute dog yard chores that needed to be done in time for the big snow that is coming! (wishful thinking)

This will be Topa and White Feather's first snow. Watching a puppy experience something new like snow is a lesson well taken to slow down and cherish the little things.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dog Yard Fun

Neil captured some of the daily dog yard fun on video earlier this summer. Phoenix loves to egg Sweet Pea and Zala on then acts surprised when a female alliance is formed and he is the target. He loves every minute of it. McKenzie usually joins in, as well, however Ilu and Icoa and the film "crew" were a distraction from play.

Sweet Pea sounds so vicious!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Zodiak's Special Outings

Rich running with Zodiak

Rich, who we met up with when he and his wife visited us last winter at Gunflint Lodge for a dog sled adventure, comes as often as he is able, to spend time with the dogs he fell in love with during his visit. Zodiak, spilling over with energy, has always been one of the dogs that goes with Rich for some Canicross fun. Rich does the running style of Canicross and not the hiking style and Zodiak always seems to give him a "run" for his money. Rich says that Zodiak has been good for helping him set a better stride.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Rainy Evening In

Zulu plays with the ball inside. It's too soggy outside to play ball right now.

It's Topa's turn inside tonight and she finds a cozy spot on the back of the chair. She's been hanging out with the little dogs too much...

Just hangin' out

The king of the castle, Copper.

Blue wondering when she'll be done taking photos.

Points Unknown Chefs and the Amazing Farm to Table Event!

Neil at Star Thrower Farm

Our guys J.D. and Scott

Scott on his "Big Green Tractor". If you know country music, you know how the song goes...

Icelandic Sheep being guarded by the Llama couple.

Dinner was served in a 105 year old barn. All candles supplied by Scent from Nature; 100% Pure Beeswax Candles

Alright, well, I guess we can't truly claim them as our very own. They are independent and not to mention, have restaurants of their own, but they seem so much like family to us that we can't help but want to keep them all to ourselves.

Scott Pampuch owner of Corner Table Restaurant in Minneapolis, MN and J.D. Fratzke owner of The Strip Club Meat & Fish in St. Paul, MN have been with us for several years now, thoughtfully preparing meals for our Points Unknown Women's Winter Adventures from mainly locally grown and all natural/organic ingredients. They are passionate about what they do and we support and respect their values and ideals when it comes to what they create in the kitchen and how they do it. The fact that they both love dogs and each has one of their own, just makes them even more special to us.

Sunday evening we were fortunate to be invited to the last of five of Scott's Tour de Farm events with J.D. in lead (in dog mushing lingo). The setting for the event was Star Thrower Farms, a local farm sustainably, humanely and thoughtfully raising Icelandic Sheep for their milk, meat and wool. What an outstanding concept, this whole Tour de Farm! I think that we humans have become so complacent about our food. And many don't realize what they are eating and much less how it was raised or from where it came. Food shouldn't come from a factory and include all types of artificial substances. You are what you eat! It should come from a farm. Our food shouldn't include unnatural growth hormones, antibiotics or pesticides, just to name a few. Just like sled dogs, the quality of food that goes in, expresses itself on the outside. Dogs with a poor coat, that aren't functioning to their full potential, that suffer from allergies, etc, could just need a better diet! (Stepping off the podium now.....)

It sure was a fun evening; full moon, good food, wonderful setting, hosted by special people who we are also proud to call friends.