Klaus is still the boss and plays, as if he were still a puppy, with his understudy and kennel mate, Oken.
Today is Klaus and Sweet Pea's eighth birthday! What an amazing couple of dogs from an excellent litter of leaders. Sweet Pea doesn't enjoy leading as much but will do it in a pinch. She would prefer to take commands from just behind the leaders in "point" position.
Klaus is not the least bit concerned about the stress associated with being a leader and just does it naturally. Interesting word, "naturally". I recall a conversation I had years ago with a new musher that had just acquired a gee/haw leader. She expected the dog to instantly join her team, hop in front and turn "on". Not a very realistic expectation. A dog needs ample time to adjust, which is sometimes more than a year, to new circumstances before being able to feel relaxed enough to tap into its memory bank and then possibly lead for a new musher. You can acquire a leader and never really see the dog's full potential or the results of his/her prior training in action because of musher error.
If the musher doesn't know what they're doing, they certainly can't consistently support a good trained leader and they won't get the best results. Then what do you do? The best thing to do is go into the situation knowing what you know and knowing what you don't know. Then learn what you don't know. Talk to other mushers and get as much input as possible. You don't have to use it all or agree with it all. Just pick what works for you. This could take a while so that gives your new leader a while to settle in and rest before you even attempt to put him/her in lead.
I recall bringing Zulu, Klaus and Sweet Pea's dad, home years ago when he was 5 years old. He was reported to be a superior gee/haw leader who had done some open country leading. I was so excited and immediately put him up in lead. Imagine my disappointment with that dog when not one command was followed. I couldn't believe that I had been duped into believing he was a leader. I tried and tried for a few weeks until I got so frustrated that I put him right back in the team and all but wrote him off as just another mediocre leader and sled dog. Wrong! Interesting how we judge other things, people, dogs and situations when we're really looking into a "mirror" many times in life. I was relatively new to dog mushing and was a mediocre musher.
The next year, after gaining a lot more experience and talking with a lot more people, I tried him again. A light bulb clicked for both of us and together, our abilities grew. Now, I'd like to think that I became a pretty darn good musher with Zulu as one of my main mentors, but I can say with certainty that Zulu became the absolute best open country leader I could have ever hoped for. Klaus followed in his foot steps and now we've got a whole kennel of dogs in various stages of leadership training and each and everyone can lead if asked. Interesting, isn't it, how knowledge and experience can bring us so far. And yes, a dog must have some abilities to lead, but it is not always just "natural". That is too high an expectation. It is the musher's responsibility to bring each dog to their full potential so they are allowed to shine.
This goes for all facets of being in the company of dogs. When first bringing any dog into your life, keep expectations low while setting strong boundaries for desired behavior. Keep things structured and keep training sessions brief. Be consistent. Most of all have fun!
So back to Klaus and Sweet Pea. They are from the generation after Zulu and were able to reap the benefits of my gradual enlightenment(which is an ongoing process). They are both such assets to the kennel and deeply ingrained in our hearts.
Happy Birthday Sweet Pea and Klaus!