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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Training Update

My big boy, Phoenix.

Illy's gaining more confidence! Here she is, leaning into her harness during a rest.

And the dog butts....with Phoenix in single lead.

Kristen drives the rig today! Wow is that bright orange!

The DNR stopped us on the trail today.

DNR worker, Deb, spent time hugging each and every dog but I think Zodiak got double his share because he gives such good wet kisses.

Training! It has been great fun so far this season. I feel lucky to have Kristen and Lisa on the trail with us, helping with the dogs.

Earlier this week, White Feather did a smashing job in lead as this girl muscled Oken over to the right consistently. Our "gee over" training is showing its rewards! Aise was in this team, as well. We were working with her on line biting during our last run. None this time around!

More "gee over" training for Phoenix today and in single lead. He's got it! So much better than the first time out. Illy is gaining more confidence with each hook up and doing so well!

The other dogs are all doing well with no major training issue to note. They really are loving training season, as much as we are!  Klaus is not too bothered to be behind the leaders but does pull out to the left and lead from point! Wimzi is the team cheerleader and jumps straight up when she thinks that our break should be ending. Ilo and Sweet Pea are the wheel dogs for one of our teams and they are just strong and steady. Ilo always has a smile on his face but somehow loses his ears when I get out the camera. Sweet Pea turned 9 yrs old this year, along with her brother Klaus. I am not seeing any signs of their age so far this season! Tuloon gets a little down if she doesn't get to spend time in lead so we make sure she's up there for a portion of each run. Zala is our little firecracker and makes a big stink if she is not one picked for that day's run. She pulls her little heart out and has such a fluid movement. Zodiak is an athlete, plain and simple. He just loves to pull and run. Ari and Journey are the wheel dogs for one of the teams. Both are very strong. Ari has an interesting gait that appears a bit awkward but it doesn't seem to lessen his ability. He is a powerhouse! Journey has one of the most fluid gaits I've seen, next to Zala.

Last, but certainly not least, there is Topa! When we're out running, she's enjoying MN Public Radio from the comfort of her cushy crate. She is at approximately 35 days into her pregnancy and is already showing! I don't recall Tuloon showing until almost 3/4 of the way through. AND the good news is, she is eating like a horse! Of course, I have to cook for her, but she is eating it!

Oh, but what about little Copper and Blueberry, you ask? They always look forward to our return from the trail because that means it's time for the little dog walk.

Pull Training Lessons

T-Bo can be a sled dog too!

Graduation to the BIG tire.

What I enjoy the most is seeing how much fun everyone is having together.
The tiny tire is used initially to get the dogs used to the idea of something being pulled behind them.
Amber and Curt came out with their three fuzzy buddies, T-Bo, Diesel and Miss Taylor, last weekend for a private pull training lesson. They were hoping to be able to make a cohesive "sled dog" team out of their bunch so that they could pull a little kick sled this winter.

They were concerned that T-Bo, who is not quite a true "sled" dog, but rather of the herding variety, might not take to it. Ah! But any breed can learn to pull! And pull, he did!  T-Bo turned out to be a very strong puller and I suggested that she begin with him in wheel position, along with Diesel so that Miss Taylor could shine in lead. She's a very eager-to-please little girl with a lot of potential!  The recommendation was that they work each of their dogs in different positions but to really focus on Miss Taylor in lead.

Each one of our private pull training classes is custom made to fit you, your dogs and your goals. They range from an hour to an hour and a half in length. The basics can be taught in one lesson but follow-up lessons are recommended to make certain you're on track with your goals.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Training Challenges; Leaders and New Puppies

Zala and Phoenix before Zala was demoted for goofing off. Little stinker.

Ari and Journey make a good wheel dog pair.

Phoenix in single lead

Lowering the training cart out of the back of the cube van with a winch.

Illy getting some of her special attention at harnessing time.

Zodiak is ready to roll!

Illy with Grandma Tuloon

Ilo and Sweet Pea in wheel

Wimzi and Aise

I was concerned that Klaus would be adversely affected by not being in lead so far this season. He is so easy-going and doesn't seem to mind. he does pull to one side of the leaders, however so in essence, he's leading. He takes any of the commands that the newbies fail to address immediately.

White Feather and Oken after a successful training run

Each time we head out onto the trail, be it on a training run or a winter excursion, we always have a training objective in mind. We've learned over the years not to have too many all at once and to pick our battles.

We always have general behavior expectations that get immediate attention such as line biting and maintaining general good manners at hook up and while in the team. Our specific training this week has been focusing on leaders and new puppies. Aise and Illy are 11 months old and its their first season in the team. Despite Aise's rocky start during our canicross hikes, she is doing wonderfully in with the team! Illy did an excellent job one on one for our canicross hikes and found it difficult to focus and maintain her confidence in her first run with the team, to the point of it being dangerous when her tug line was so slack, it just dragged on the ground behind her. The fear is that she could get her leg caught and tangled. Our next run would focus on Illy.

The first thing Illy needed was to get her confidence back up. While harnessing the team, we took extra time to spend with Illy, allowing her to jump up on our laps for comfort and attention. We slowed the pace down at hook up and made sure to praise her every chance we got. She was hooked up in point position, behind the leaders, next to Tuloon. Tuloon would not be as hard on her if she made a mistake like some of the other dogs would so she was a good, neutral choice. Off we went down the trail and Illy pulled her little heart out! Our training method worked.

Our next training challenge was with Phoenix on the "gee over" command which means to move to the far right side of the trail. Our initial method did not work. It's a method I was taught years ago and have used for years with success and it's fairly simple. The command of "gee over" is given and if the dog doesn't go to the right, you secure the cart, run up, crowd them over to the right while saying the command again, then when they are in the spot you like, praise by saying "Good, Gee Over!".  I did this with Phoenix AT LEAST a dozen times with no luck. He didn't appear to even be listening to me as I gave the commands and didn't look back to check when I was speaking. This isn't like Phoenix. He's very eager-to-please. This, to me, means that he isn't understanding what he's supposed to do or he can't hear me. I was speaking loudly enough to be heard so then we're back to his not understanding. This is the frustrating part because I don't understand why he doesn't understand but if I want him to work well for me, then I had better try to understand where he's coming from or there is just more added frustration and nothing gets accomplished. Rule #1 - it's usually always the musher's fault.

I made a couple last attempts at the method that wasn't working until there was a slight glimmer of light. He moved to the right, ever so slightly. When he did that, I immediately praised him then I completely shut my mouth. No more commands and only praise. When he gravitated to the center of the trail AGAIN, I didn't say a word. I just continued putting pressure on the brake with every inch to the left he was traveling until he began to move to the right. With every inch to the right, I slowly removed pressure from the brake until he was where I wanted him then, I not only let up on the brake but also kicked off (pushed) and said, "Good, Gee Over!".  I used this method for the next several minutes and it appeared to be sinking in to the point where, although he wasn't exactly where I wanted him on the far right, he was consistently a lot further right than before so I said good enough for today and called it a good training day.  Now let's see where this puts us on our next training run.

Today's run brought two different leaders and two different sets of training challenges. Aise has been known to be a line biter. This has got to stop. It is one of the MAJOR offenses in my rule book because she can release the dogs in front of her or, if she bites in the wrong place, she will not only release them but asphyxiate herself. I prefer, at this time, to train out the behavior than to use cables within my line as many mushers do.

The second training challenge would be more "gee over" lessons for leaders, Oken and White Feather.

Aise bit the line twice. The first time, I ran up and placed my hands over her muzzle and pressing tightly, I gave her full and close eye contact and said "NO!" in a very low and growling tone. The second time, all I had to do was growl from the cart and she released. This is ongoing training but hopefully, she'll be better on her next run.

We began the run with Oken on the left and White Feather on the right, up in lead. White Feather was on the far Gee side of the road. Wonderful! I love it when the dog naturally pulls to the right because it means less training in the area. Then there is Oken, who was running more down the middle of the trail than anywhere else. The first thing I've learned to do is set the dogs up for success and reinforce good behavior. White Feather is a natural righty so I put Oken on the right and White Feather on the left. She then naturally hedged him to the right and that's where he mostly stayed. This was after I used an extension of my hand to remind her of the proper position on the trail. This hand extension is a long flat "paddle" of sorts that is just used to tap the dog on the hind end or shoulder as my hand might do if I want them to move one way or another. With this "paddle" there is no need to constantly bend over. It looks and sounds far worse than it really is. Just like a "choke collar" can either be truly a choke collar or, if used properly, can be valuable training tool.

After the reminder, whenever I saw White Feather intentionally push him to the right as he drifted to the left, they each got praised with the words "Good, Gee Over, White Feather!" and "Good "Gee Over, Oken!".  Very little else needed to be done for their training on this run and they caught on quickly so that meant that I got less exercise, running back and forth from the leaders to the cart.

I'm very happy with our runs so far this week.  I think we all have learned quite a bit. Thank you to Lisa and Kristen for coming along and lending a hand!  Lisa had to miss today's run. She learned something very important on our last run; it's a good thing to hang on to your dog if they try to get away from you but it sure does hurt! Lisa successfully held on to Zodiak as he pulled her down the hill on her face. She did hurt her shoulder in the meantime but didn't lose the dog! See you on Friday! Sure hope your shoulder heals quickly.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beekeeping Course

I attended the University of Minnesota's Beekeeping Course this weekend. Unfortunately, Neil was not able to come along so he'll have to go next spring. What a wonderful course! Neil and I plan to begin keeping bees when we make our move and are looking forward to making some of our beeswax candles out of our very own wax! The hives will be kept far away from the sled dog kennel to avoid any "sticky" situations. (Did I just type that?)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Topa; Like Mother Like Daughter



She's not eating her kibble! Topa should be about 20 days along in her pregnancy today. For the first several days after she was bred, she was eating like a horse then became more picky to the point of refusing to eat her kibble. Tuloon did the very same thing. A friend and I were speaking about this earlier today. There is a great possibility that during the chemical change, certain foods, in this case kibble, begin to taste differently and potentially, unappealing. It makes complete sense. I've never liked the idea of trying to coax a dog to eat and have taken the tough love approach of, "if you don't eat it right away, it's gone". You would think that this approach would make for good and quick eaters. Not so with my dogs. They're even more stubborn than I am and I'm sure they chuckle to themselves with every bite they don't take. Generally, I've always been of the belief that a dog won't starve themselves and will eat when they're hungry. When there are babies involved, I get vigilant and tend to over analyze for the sake of those babies.

So, now back to Topa not eating. She had not eaten for two days. Last night, out of desperation, I began giving her slices of ham. She ate TEN as if it was the only meal she had been offered in weeks! Alright then, back to the kitchen to dig up the doggie recipes. Tuloon even refused to eat any of those special recipes so I was hoping that Topa would be different, for the sake of my sanity.

Digging whatever I could out of the freezer and cupboards, I compiled a rather delightful (doggie delightful) meal for Topa. I cooked a pound of organic hamburger (For those folks overseas, despite the name, this is actually not ground ham but beef. Go figure!) and about twice as much organic brown basmati rice. Remember, I said that these items were from MY stash. For the sake of my pocket book, organic may not be the way I'll go for her entire pregnancy. I then slowly heated some raw honey and mixed it in with the hamburger and rice mix. I added a tablespoon of each bee pollen and Redpaw's Balanced Fat formula and there you have it; a delectable doggy dinner! Now the big question was; will she eat it?!

Unlike mother, Topa ate it! Topa ate TODAY. Fingers crossed that she eats tomorrow.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Green" Vs Green ($)

Yesterday, I spent the day mostly in the truck, driving the six hour, one way trip to our little spot in the north woods of Minnesota, to meet the horse logger we had hoped would do our building site clearing. Having 15 sled dogs at home and a "to do" list the length of my arm, means no luxury of staying over night this time around.

Mark met me on our property at 1PM on the dot. I love punctuality!  This was a great start. He looked like he knew the woods well from his appearance, which gained him my instant respect in that category.  I had read a bit about him prior to setting up the meeting and was impressed with what I had read. He had been involved with the US Forest Service for many, many years, working contracts for horse logging and specializing in primitive tools. Raising him even further above the rest was that he had formed a sustainable forestry organization in our area. If anything, I knew I was in for an interesting and educational visit.

Taking the time to walk our entire flagged area, Mark was kind enough to offer tidbits of knowledge and recommendation along the way when it came to what trees to keep, which ones were on their last leg, what that particular type of fungi was used for and how it was harvested, along with comments on our two "nurse" trees that had fallen and now lay host to a beautiful and fascinating straight-as-an-arrow line of baby Balsam trees. The first comment, however, that made me think we were now heading down a different path with our clearance was, "You won't want to clear all of this".

We had planned to clear roughly 2.5 acres to make space for our beeswax candle workshop with attached living quarters, pole building, dog kennels with large roof over top, dog food shed and two large hooped garden sites. This size clearance was on our "wish list" and it was designed to comply with Firewise recommendations, our need for solar power and our desire to create a large open space where air could flow, keeping the nasty insects away from our dogs. Mark was aware of our requirements and our tight budget so now we were getting to the reality of what could actually be done with the resources available.

Excited about the prospect of the horses doing our clearing, I daydreamed of them tromping around in our woods as our "green", wilderness savvy logger, wandered in our present day woods, uttering various indistinguishable exclamatory notes to himself and scratching his head.When his figuring was complete, our journey down the "horse logging trail" took an abrupt turn when the horse logger himself bid the job as a mechanized one, excluding the horses all together, after considering the carnage left from our recent driveway job, making the area to be cleared not as easily accessible by the horses and therefore cost prohibitive. Yikes! That day dream sure met a quick death. But you know, I respect straight, honest and unfluffed information. It saves time! So, all being said and done, even with a project that is mechanized, the clearing looks like it could potentially be under an acre. Nothing like a swift slap in the face by reality.

So now we ponder over the new direction life is showing us. Actually, it's all in the same general direction, just a different path leading us to the same end result. It's difficult when you very much would like to follow the path your values send you, knowing that doing so, to the full extent, would mean a nice big clearing as a result of horse and man power alone,  but no money left for a roof over your head!  "Green" versus Green.($) There's got to be a healthy balance that supports both our values and our pocket book.  Still we ponder...........

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ilo Turns 8 Today!

A photo of Ilo with ears! He usually pins them back whenever I get the camera out. Happy Birthday to Ilo! Ilo is a Hedlund line Alaskan that also has some of Joe Redington Sr's Old School Alaskan lines mixed in.

Happy Birthday to Ilo! This infectiously happy dog turns eight years old today! Since he came to us just under 2 years ago, I don't have a puppy photo to put with his birthday photo but his original owner did tell me she had one and would be sending it. We'll post it just as soon as we receive it.

Ilo ran in lead for his previous owner and has only done a little bit of leading with us and mostly in smaller teams. He certainly has the aptitude for it! Ilo has got to be the happiest dog I've ever met. He has a constant big smile on his face and when he sees us, he not only wags his tail but he wags his head and then his entire body, while smiling from ear to ear. Phoenix and Ari are Ilo's boys. He's got a daughter named Rosie that lives with Lidia and Richard at Uktousa Kennel in New Hampshire and she looks very much like him. Our two boys somehow got the gargantuan genes because they dwarf their dad at 75lbs a piece!

We hope to have one more breeding with Ilo before he is fixed next year. Wimzi's sister Sasha who is 1/4 Hedlund and 3/4 Zulu line, is the lucky girl!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thanks to Zala, Aise's fixed.

Aise and Zala necklined together

Rest Stop


No neckline!


Zala leads the group


Through the orchard and she's still lookin' good!


If you recall, we had one heck of a time with Aise on our last Canicross Hike. She bucked and flailed and screamed and bit at anything that came into contact with her mouth and she did this for FOUR miles. I kid you not. These always make for challenging training moments for all. After the hike, we toyed with various training options and settled on our best stand by; allow the dogs to teach the dogs in their own language.

Since our new handler, Lisa said she wouldn't come if she had to handle Aise, (grin) I would take Aise and Lisa would take Zala. The plan would be to neckline the two together and Zala could help us teach Aise to focus in the canicross setting. Well, out of the gate it was a tangled mess as Aise, went over and under and around Zala with the neck line attached and Zala tried so hard to maintain her path while correcting Aise with nips and growls to her face. There were no doubt a few frustrating moments at the beginning. Once we made our way through the orchard, down the field and into the woods to the Luce Line Trail, she was fixed! Zala fixed Aise.

No longer was Aise the mindless bucking bronco. She actually calmed down and focused! It was like night and day without exaggeration. Those on this hike that attended our last hike could not believe the difference our change in training made. Thinking out of the box and going a different direction really made the difference and Zala was the very best of teachers.

After our coffee shop rest stop, we decided to test Aise by removing the neckline, knowing full well that we might need to quickly reattach her. Fixed! Aise pulled happily along next to the other dogs and people without so much as a jump, a flail or a scream. She also didn't leave the trail of destruction that was still fully embedded in my mind from last week's hike; slashed pants, bitten lines, bitten gloves, bitten dogs.  We can't be so naive to think that she is truly "fixed". But we do know that the training method we chose worked for now and we've got a long training road ahead of us. Little Aise learned something today and she learned it quick. We all did.

New Indoor/Outdoor Puppy Pen

Interior pen
The interior portion of the pen is located inside our dog food shed. It has access to an outdoor kennel. The floor is insulated with 3" polystyrene foam and was covered with plywood and vinyl tiles. There is a heat lamp securely hanging over the pen. In the past, we've had classical music from MN Public Radio playing on the radio. With Klaus and Sweet Pea's litter we played Jazz. Won't do that again! Those puppies can't seem to keep their feet on the ground!

Entrance to interior puppy pen
The gate is raised so that it will be easier for us to get in an out without puppies getting out. Or that's the idea anyway. Those little guys can be sneaky!

Outdoor pen
The interior puppy pen opens up to this kennel. We've installed hardware cloth on the lower half of the fencing so that big dogs don't accidentally hurt little puppies who might stick their feet, legs and noses through the fence.

New Whelping Box

The beginnings of the whelping box
Neil pieced it together outside and built it so that the sides rest on the floor and can be easily removed. The floor has been insulated with 3 inch polystyrene foam that is held in place with a frame of 2x2s.

Installing the flooring

 We used stick on vinyl tiles for easy installation and for easy cleaning. Sheet vinyl could have also been used, however installation would have been more time consuming and if a portion of the surface were to get damaged, then the entire piece would have to be replaced, unlike vinyl tiles where one at a time can be replaced.

What a nice job Neil did!

 The whelping box has 18" high sides with a rail installed half way up on the interior so that when Topa lies down, she won't potentially squish puppies as they will be safely tucked under the rail. Neil installed a removable door that lifts out so that Topa can easily climb in and out but small puppies can't.

Tuloon/Bazil 2007 Puppies Turn Four!

Baby Oken
Oken 4 years old
Baby Zodiak
Zodiak 4 years old
Baby Zala
Zala 4 years old

 The Tuloon/Bazil 2007 puppies turned four last week. This breeding was between a deep Hedlund female (Tuloon) and our Zulu line Alaskan (Bazil). They received the best of both lines, except that a bigger coat for Zodiak would have been nice. He stays plenty warm during our winter excursions and doesn't need a coat.

There were three other pups in this litter that were placed in working kennels. Cookqiz is with Lidia and Richard at Uktousa Kennel in New Hampshire and she remains intact. Wahya is with an active family nearby where she participates in skijoring competitions. Wahya has been spayed. Q is in a nearby recreational kennel and remains intact. He is our Wimzi's sire. Of those pups we kept, Zodiak was fixed for temperament issues and Zala was fixed due to her very small size for the line. Oken remains intact and, fingers crossed, will be the sire to Topa's pups due around Thanksgiving!

All three of our pups are leaders with Oken being an accomplished open country leader. The other three pups have proven to have leader potential, as well. This was just an awesome breeding that produced six beautiful, hardworking and talented sled dogs.