Wimzi and Phoenix. At 8 1/2 months old, Wimzi is already the largest female in the kennel. Topa is the same height but is lighter boned.
Diving right in with both feet, Rebecca helped run the sled dogs for the first time this morning! The temperature was 41 degrees F and it was partly cloudy. We had prepared the night before by bringing the water jug in to be refilled and by putting the dogs' collars on. The dogs live in their kennels with no collars on for safety. I've heard the results of dogs playing unsupervised with a collar on when one slips its jaw under the collar of another. To be on the safe side, collars only go on the night before a run and after the dogs have had a lot of exercise during the day to minimize their playfulness in the evening.
There are so many things to learn and remember when working with sled dogs, but Rebecca did wonderfully and didn't seem nearly as overwhelmed as she did the day before at the grocery store. We have far too many choices here in the United States. Poor Rebecca.
First up were Klaus and Zala in lead, White Feather and Topa in point, Zodiak in team and Ilo and Sweet Pea in wheel. Of interest on this run was that on the way back, we placed Zodiak in lead with Zala. It has taken this boy quite some time to mature and at 3 years old, I think that he is ready mentally to do a good job in lead. And he did! No issues and no slack lines. The true test was when we arrived back at the truck. He was called upon to remain still and keep his line tight while we removed the other dogs from the gang line, like any good leader should. I taught Rebecca what needed to be done if he moved which was to gently bump him back up in place, not saying a word, then praise when he had remained still for a few seconds by using the command in the praise. "Good tighten up, Zodiak!". This was necessary only a few times then it appeared as though he fully understood his job description at that moment and didn't budge. Excellent job, Zodi!
The second team consisted of Tuloon and Phoenix in lead, Oken and Wimzi in point and Ari and Journey in wheel. Since we are only doing 4 mile runs at this early stage, 8 1/2 month old Wimzi is able to come along. We placed her up in lead with Phoenix for the return run, all the while keeping a close eye on her for stress or any other issue that might indicate she should return to her original position, but none came. We did see a couple of momentary puppy "moves" that were easily correctable from where we were (which was all the way back on the cart) and with Phoenix's help. "On by" commands were reinforced by the quick jerk to her neck that resulted from Phoenix remaining straight on course as she veered off to inspect a suspiciously floating leaf or a taunting squirrel just off the trail. A neckline between the two lead dogs can be a good training tool and was, in the instance of a goofy puppy and a seasoned leader. There are even training benefits to the seasoned leader. He/she must learn that they shouldn't be thrown off course by what someone else is doing and move away from what they know to be the right thing to do at the moment. Eventually, the neck line will be removed and the new leader will have to learn to think and act independently of their partner.
The temps look good for another morning run tomorrow! Fingers crossed the temps remain low now for the rest of the season so we can spend more consistent time out on the trail with our fuzzy friends.