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Monday, March 29, 2010

Ice Out in March

Ice Out!

Just this morning I watched as an adult Bald Eagle and, by its markings, likely a second year juvenile Bald Eagle had a meeting on the thin ice of Oake Lake, scattering the seagulls at their presence. At the same time, two Trumpeter Swans swam carelessly on the other side of the lake where the ice was already gone.

Uplifted, I walked away from this glorious sight and spent some time working on the computer. A few hours later I was astonished to see that the ice was out! The windy sun soaked morning created ideal conditions for this event.

The ice is out on March 29th!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ice Almost Out

White line reminders of early winter when Neil sunk an ax in the ice to check the depth. One penetration of the ax into the ice sent a chain reaction of cracking all across the lake. This then allowed water to seep up through the cracks creating a different surface color at the cracks as the water flowed over the existing ice.

Ice pulling away from the shore

I can't believe it. Here it is, not even April, and the ice is almost off the lake. I do know that if we have no snow in March this year we will beat a record on the books from the late 1800s. What is going on here?

The sled dogs appear to be anxious to start a new season. They could use a rest from all of our winter activities, as can the mushers. Spring is here!

Today, on Oake Lake, it sounded as if we were on the northshore with all of the seagulls squawking. Eight Hooded Mergansers were spotted paddling along the shoreline where the ice no longer exists; a male/female pair and a five male/1 female group. I love this time of year on Oake Lake!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, our friend, the Blue Heron came gliding past the window, hesitantly landing on the shore then taking off again as if to say, "Wait, this is just way too soon. This can't be right. I'd better check the memo again."

Large white and gray birds, yet to be identified and possibly in the Kite or Tern family, flew by one by one, looking down upon the lake. A red tailed hawk glided quickly by the window and landed in the shag bark Silver Maple Tree.

The birds have returned!

Supporting the Lifestyle

Last year's Minnesota Honey Producers Association State Fair booth

Selling not only honey but honey lemonade and honey ice cream!

Did I forget to mention honey candy?

Since the dogs are only able to provide partial financial support for their mushers and our lifestyle, we must do other things to bring money into the pot. While Neil is back in England for a few weeks working in his business, as an "Operating Theatre Practitioner", I continue to do Real Estate Appraisals and handcraft Scent from Nature; 100% Pure Beeswax Candles. This year, however, I will be adding something new! (Hey, I thought this blog was about a quest for a more simple lifestyle?! Well, it is. And in this "quest" one must do what they have to do to be set up for the desired future. This doesn't always mean it will be easy or simple. But it sure makes for a fun and interesting journey!)

I've got a background in and experience with honey bees as well as business so I thought I would combine the two. The Minnesota Honey Producers Association had a need for a manager for their Minnesota State Fair Honey Booth and I submitted a proposal that was accepted! This is their annual fundraiser where honey and other items containing bee products produced by their members is sold. What fun! The Minnesota State Fair runs from August 26th - September 6th. We'll be looking for bee products produced by members of the organization so join if you make these products and would like to take part and aren't a member already AND we are also looking for individuals who would like to work at the booth selling those items! You don't have to be a member to work the booth. You just need to be reliable, willing to learn all you can about honey and share that with our customers and then sell, sell, sell!

The 12 days of the fair will be very fast paced. Thankfully, Neil will be here to take turns feeding and exercising the dogs as they are a #1 priority, of course. He may also take on a volunteer shift or two at the fair. You can't live in Minnesota or visit Minnesota during the summer without going to the State Fair!

Arkansas Visitors

Andy with Wimzi

What a beautiful sight!

We had a chance to spend last week with family as my parents and nephew made the 16 hour drive from Arkansas for a visit. Blueberry had put up with the pestering by Wimzi too long, now it was Andy's turn to take over! He kept the house dogs, including Wimzi, fully entertained playing with toys and fetching the ball for hours on end.

There were many things to do in the dog yard and Andy was very helpful keeping the dogs occupied while I raked straw from their kennels and carrying water buckets to each kennel as the water line in the dog yard is still frozen. A long hose attached to a spigot at the house runs to only one kennel. From there, the water buckets are filled and distributed. I assured him that the next time he visits, he will have had enough experience moving those water buckets that he might be able to spare the entire front of his pants becoming soaked with water. Lift out and away from the body as you walk.

Mollie, the family Sheltie, came along for a vacation as well. She and Tuloon didn't hit if off very well. Each would lift a lip at the other as they walked by. At one point, a noise was heard while all of the "house" dogs were outside. A quick investigation revealed Tuloon laying on top of Mollie, making absolutely no contact with her mouth. It was obvious that she didn't want to hurt the 10 year old Sheltie, but she certainly wanted to dominate her. Mollie (and all of the people) didn't need the stress of managing these two and their personality conflict so Tuloon got to spend the remainder of their visit in the dog yard with the other sled dogs.

While our visitors were here, spring wildlife began to show itself and we were graced by the presence of a Bald Eagle that landed on the ice directly in front of the house. No doubt it was investigating the status of the ice break-up as it anxiously awaited fishing season. Knowing that it was looking for food, I quickly ran outside to bring the puppy and little house dogs inside before continuing to enjoy its presence. No little dog snacks for you! The very next day, a weasel was seen romping along the shoreline on the ice where the Eagle had been. A comedy show commenced as a red-winged black bird, which had just announced himself two weeks ago on Oake Lake, pecked the unsuspecting weasel in the hind quarters, sending it straight up in the air then straight into a hole in the ice to seek refuge. Moments later, up it popped from the icy waters and continued its stroll along the lake, maybe a bit more cautiously than before.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wimzi - 8 Weeks Old

Wimzi is 8 weeks old today. She has turned Blueberry into her permanent play thing. Fortunately, mild mannered Blue is beginning to set some boundaries and is not getting walked all over as he did previously. She is sooooo persistent!

At 8 weeks old, Wimzi weighs 16lbs. This is the same weight as Topa, one of the Tuloon/McKenzie pups, was at this age. Topa is now 9 months old and the tallest female in our kennel. She weighs roughly 60lbs.

Wimzi loves to latch on to Blueberry's wispy tail.


Blueberry with a look on his face we've never seen! He's finally defending himself.

Action shot

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wimzi - 7 Weeks Old

Wimzi, at 7 weeks old, weighs 12lbs and 12oz.

Shutterfly Photo Albums!

Linda and team
Photo by Neil Slaughter

We are happy to announce that we now have a place to post all of our fall and winter event photos, our back yard photo shoots of the dogs and all of our puppy photos so everyone can enjoy them! We can't possibly post all of them on our blog so please visit our Photo Albums page!

Wimzi and Sascha Puppy Test

Wimzi being elevated and remaining calm.

Sascha had lots of licks to give

At 49 days old is the best time to do a puppy personality profile test. Per Gail Tamasas and Wendy Volhard who wrote the document on the specifics of testing procedures, scoring and interpretation of the results of PAT, at 49 days old, EEGs demonstrate that puppies have the brain waves of an adult dog but are as yet minimally affected by experience and learning. They go on to say that while they have learned to use the inherited behaviors which make them dogs, they have not yet had a range of experiences to influence the test results so we are able to test a virtually clean slate.

At 49 days, the tests will reveal the raw material of the puppy's individual temperament. Thereafter, environmental experiences may influence a puppy's responses and we can't be certain we are getting a true reading of his behavioral tendencies.

Although we do believe this puppy testing is a good indicator of the temperament of a pup, we don't do this test to pigeon hole certain dogs and make assumptions about them, we do it to gather information about how to better teach the dog to reach its full potential and to place this pup in the most appropriate home, if we ever intend to place a pup. Along with this test is an old school leader test that should be given to pups at the same age. When collars and leashes are placed on pups for the first and the tester simply walks away from the pup holding the leash, the puppy's response is graded on a 1-4 with a 1 being full leader potential all the way down to a 4 which means, according to the test, that the dog will never make it as a leader or even a contributing member of the team.

I love to tell the story of one of our leaders, Zala. Zala is now 2 year old and tested as a group 4 puppy. When the leash was tightened as the tester moved forward, Zala just sat and refused to move. After several attempts, Zala still would not move. Having this information only changed the way we interacted with and trained Zala. After two years of training, this winter, Zala spent the majority of her time up in lead with a copilot and did quite the awesome job.

Just because someone or something, in this case the test, tells you something can't be done. Don't just accept it and give up on whatever it is, be it a dog, a person, a task or a dream. Do whatever you can to make some changes and try some new strategies in order accomplish the end result you want.

Now on to the Wimzi and Sascha test results! Our friend Shilon of Black Ice Dog Sledding has tested several of our litters over the years and her input has helped us to create the ideal kennel for us. Again, she agreed to provide input on Wimzi and Sascha.

Both girls tested as Group 1+ puppies in the leader test and they both scored mainly twos and threes in the Puppy Personality Profile test which means that they are both self confident and have the boldness and assurance that will make them excellent working dogs. We just don't take these results and let it ride, hoping they will then just be able to train themselves. Self confident dogs need to have a strong bond with their human in order to respect them and then therefore do things for them. The self confident dog also needs to be eager- to- please otherwise you could end up with a dog up front in your team that doesn't care which way you want to go because they have plans! Self confident dogs need to be challenged in different ways through obedience training, agility and canicross hiking which will all help build that special bond between canine and human.

Stay tuned in years to come for updates on how these two little girls progress!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Training Cart is Ready!

Neil is headed down the steep embankment in front of the house to illustrate how well the new brakes will work.

The brakes are locked and Neil is standing on the back with no forward movement at all. There you have it!

The yellow beast

Huge honkin' tires

Master cylinder

Now that the snow is gone,(Can you believe it? It's only March 15th!) we're ready to begin using the training cart again. Neil has done some amazing improvements that we are anxious to try out behind the dogs. If you recall from previous posts, the band brakes on the cart were so terrible that only one out of four was likely to work at any given time and I had to drag various sizes of tires behind for resistance to help slow the team down. Not to mention the terrible screeching noise made by the one functional brake.

Now, I am happy to report that we have a fully functioning cart with huge honkin' rear tires and hydraulic disk brakes! The new tires and brakes need to be installed on the front, but at the moment we are ready to roll as is!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

House Training, Separation Anxiety, Etc.

Cute baby Wimzi

Baby in a basket

Zala meets Wimzi who appears unconcerned

Submissive face licking

Face to face crates to ward off separation anxiety

Hardware cloth on the door and cardboard on the side windows

Vast array of Wimzi's puppy toys

Wimzi, having been here for only 3 days, has been exposed to so many new things and is learning very quickly.

Since Wimzi's litter was raised inside, only having been outside three times prior to her arrival, we needed to try to house train her quickly while also slowly introducing her to being outside for longer periods of time. Crate training is the way to go. The crate is not a punishment but a place the puppy beings to identify as a safe and quiet place all of their own.

Upon Wimzi and her sister's arrival, each had to be placed in a crate without their sibling for a short period of time so we could work with them individually. Wimzi's sister, since named Sascha, immediately threw a puppy tantrum and got her lower jaw wedged into the openings in the crate door. This was frightening. Thankfully we were there when it happened. This made the crate an unsafe place and something had to be done. A puppy can not be left alone for a minute without supervision or without being in a safe crate. Neil set out to devise the solutions: hardware cloth on the door and cardboard and duct tape on the side windows. Problem solved. The puppy can see out the door just fine but can not wedge anything in the tiny holes of the hardware cloth.

Crate training basics: Make it a warm, dry and comfortable place for your puppy. Have chew toys and stuffed toys inside to keep them occupied. Place the puppy in the crate and leave them there for no longer than one hour past their age in months. So, an 8 week old puppy can stay in the crate for three hours. There are many exceptions but this is the basic rule. Yes, the puppy WILL likely throw a tantrum. As long as they can't hurt themselves, don't remove them and try and ignore those very sad and pathetic sounding noises. Poor puppy! If you remove the puppy while it is having a tantrum or while making any noise at all, the puppy is training you. She knows that all she has to do to get out is make some noise! And that she will. If the tantrums get to be extensive and you do feel you need to remove the puppy WAIT for even a second of silence, then open the door immediately and praise the puppy for being quiet. Hopefully, the puppy will just get tired and fall to sleep. This is what Wimzi did. Now she is at the point where she will go in her crate to play. This has become her space.

When the puppy is removed from the crate, immediately take them outside and give them whatever command you are using for them to do their business. Our command is "go potty". This may take some time, but when they do, praise like crazy followed by the command. "Good Girl Wimzi! Good Potty!" You will do this over and over and over and over again until they reach the point where you see them waiting by the door to be let out to "go potty". If you take them out and they don't do their business, place them back on the crate for a while longer and repeat. At 7 weeks old and with consistent training, Wimzi is almost at this point.

Wimzi and Sascha slept together in the crate the first night until Chris came to pick up his puppy and now Wimzi was the only baby who desperately needed a canine role model. Since neither Blueberry or Copper, the little house dog mascots were not interested, another willing participant had to be identified. Tuloon, the mother of our recent litter that included Topa and White Feather, was more interested in guarding the toys and her space against the poor little pup. We assumed that she had had enough of the little ones for a while and needed time and space to herself. Her behavior was also not very welcoming to the pup and Wimzi was being slow to come out of her shell around Tuloon.

Zala had shown some good puppy nanny skills with Tuloon's recent litter so we thought we'd give her a try. Perfect! Zala loves and, more importantly, tolerates the little poop monster, as Neil calls her, without being too rough on her during play sessions.

At night, however, Zala and Wimzi need to have their separate space so each has a crate just their size. And so that Wimzi feels her closeness, the crates are placed door to door at night. Once Wimzi is more comfortable being alone after having been one of six puppies, each fighting for their own space, she will be weened away from Zala's kennel door.

Wimzi needs to be occupied 100% of the time when out of her crate. This is why we made sure she has numerous items that are hers so that she learns what is acceptable to chew on and play with and what is not. Some of these items spend the night with her in the crate in case she feels the need to chew. One item is specifically for separation anxiety. It is a stuffed animal that is microwavable. Placing it in the microwave for 30 seconds heats the buckwheat inside to about the body temperature of a puppy. They can sleep on or next to it and it mimics the feeling of laying next to litter mates. The majority of the toys are for teething puppies -nylabones, bones that are rubbery and specifically for babies and various Kong toys that treats are placed in that keep puppies occupied for hours. These toys are also to act as replacements if she decides to begin chewing on something that isn't hers. One of them is placed in front of her and used as a lure to remove her from the chair leg or the couch cushion. If she bites at people flesh or clothes, which doesn't happen anymore, a two finger light pinch to the scruff right behind her head with a gentle shake and a low toned "no" does the trick.

We began taking Wimzi outside during the big dog feeding on day two. She screamed and cried. What a poor puppy! Today we spent several hours doing dog yard chores. Wimzi spent this time in an outdoor kennel with Zala where we could keep an eye on her. The time wasn't without a few puppy screams but, for the most part, she did extremely well and even curled up on some fresh straw inside one of the dog houses for a nap.

This routine will continue for the next few weeks until we add the next lesson. Once Wimzi has had a shot at roughly 10 weeks old, she will be going to puppy class for socialization!

Notable Quotes

"Being on this Points Unknown adventure touched my soul. Everything I love and seek in life was here: incredible dogs, passionate people, the beautiful, peaceful north woods, good company, learning something new and amazingly delicious food."

Jenny Minton
Stone Lake, WI

Regarding a recent advanced adventure where those participants had attended a previous adventure:

"I just wanted to thank you for giving us such an amazing weekend!...." "The weekend was so well laid out to remind us what to do, help us feel more confident, and then go for it! It was truly memorable!"

Cheryl Jahnke
St. Paul, MN

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wimzi from Birth to 6 Weeks

One Day old

3 Weeks old

4 weeks old

4 1/2 weeks old

6 Weeks old

Thursday, March 11, 2010

PUWWA 2010; The 90 degree Turn!

Lisa's team with Phoenix in single lead, on the turn around loop

April's team

Jenny's team

First of the 90 degree turn series of photos. Leaning way to the right or into the turn

Wonderful shot of me as I brace for the potential impact with the tree on the opposite side of the trail.

Still bracing but no impact! Wonderful execution by Lisa!

The wheel dogs do their job and straighten the sled out to head down the trail.

The looks on our faces say it all....

The 90 degree turn is the biggest challenge for our new mushers and they did beautifully. The technique sounds fairly simple, however executing it can be a challenge.

The idea is to go into the turn slowly with your foot on the drag pad. As the point dogs(dogs behind the leaders) enter the turn and pass the tree on the corner, you quickly remove your foot from the drag pad, squat down, thus lowering your center of gravity and lean. A "crack the whip" effect happens and you are safely brought back on course by your burly wheel dogs as you then quickly place your foot back on the drag pad to slow them down. What happens, however, is your gut instinct tells you to keep your foot on the brake as you enter the turn so it can be taken slower and so that you don't hit the tree at the corner. This action however, will provide you with the opposite effect and you will run directly into the tree unless you allow the dogs to take you around the tree without resistance.

Since I managed to catch a few participants off guard (Lisa) and posted some very candid photos, I thought I had better then post a few of myself as I was the passenger in Lisa's sled going around that 90 degree turn.

PUWWA 2010; The Heat

50 degrees on March 6th?!! Come on!

It was so warm that Sweet Pea laid in her straw bed spread eagle

Here she is embarrassed by the "spread eagle" photo I just took.

No gloves or hat in early March!

PUWWA 2010 - The Chef

Lisa served up braised venison on a bed of beautifully prepared kale and pumpkin puree.

The intense concentration on the back of the sled runners.

Yikes! I can't believe she just took my picture!

Our wonderful chef, Lisa, joined us at the very last minute when our friend JD couldn't make the trip. She came highly recommended by JD and met all of our culinary expectations. She also made a great participant and took part in all of the activities, even though she is allergic to dogs. (What?! She did jump at this opportunity and I only saw her breakout once during her stay!)

She quickly learned that dog mushing is not a necessarily a leisurely activity where one stands on the back of the runners for an uninvolved "ride". It can be an intense workout, both mentally and physically, as you can see above by the look in her face on the above photos. Just had to post them, of course!