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Friday, October 26, 2012

Beautiful Fall Day with the Dogs

Wimzi and Rommel

Illy running in single point position

Klaus, my 10 year old, completely amazing leader

Relaxing run

Beautiful trails

Wimzi and Rommel again

Since Neil is now back in the UK working for several weeks, I'm having to be even more effective with my time. I've got 23 dogs to exercise (and three puppies on the way tomorrow!), beeswax candles to make, winter dog mushing adventures to plan and a house to sell! Can you imagine how I would fit in real estate appraising on top of that? I can't say I miss it very much since I began my "sabbatical" of undetermined length, last June.

Part of my routine for exercising the dogs now involves fall training on our four wheeled cart. We're fortunate to have a recreational trail nearby that takes us as far as we need to go to build up the dogs' mileage before the snow falls and the lake freezes. Then we can run straight from the house for a month prior to heading up north for our remote dog mushing adventures. I've got 20 dogs in harness this season and I've broken them down into four groups of five for training purposes. I like the smaller teams in the training season because it allows me to have so much more time to work with each dog and it really teaches them to pull rather than rely on the others in a bigger team.

Today I loaded up ten dogs and ran two teams, four miles each. We start the dogs out slowly and not only add miles to each run as they get in shape, but weight. Since our dogs are working all winter, hauling people and gear around, weight needs to be added into their training regime.

This fall, I'm training five puppies. The Topa/Oken puppies are now 11 months old and Rommel and Rayna, our puppies from Alaska, are just over a year old. They're all still very much puppies in big adult bodies. Surprisingly, however, I can't say that I have any real issues with any of them. They have been fairly "plug and play" since after their first wide-eyed introduction to the cart. Now I am mainly working on keeping them focused and teaching them various commands that help with their manners.

We had an excellent "on by" moment today with our first team that included Arrow and Irish, two of the Topa/Oken puppies. "On by" means that whatever it is don't sniff it, lick it, bite it, touch it or pee on it, just keep going forward and ignore it. Typically girls mature faster than boys, (in many different species :o), but, in this case, Arrow has been the more focused of the two since he was a little guy. We saw two people walking in the trail. We would eventually meet. Phoenix, the seasoned leader that he is, noted them and gave them a quick head nod as to say hello and did a marvelous "on by". Irish, who was in point position, right behind the leader position, attempted to pull the team over to say hello, but when feeling the resistance from the others and my stern words of "on by", she kept moving right along. Arrow smiled at them as he trotted by in wheel position, right in front of the cart but did not attempt to give any kisses, which he is famous for doing. SO! Excellent run today for this team.

The second team consisted of only one puppy; Rommel. Wow, is all I can say! He's done this before in past lives. He's that good. Enough said.  Topa was getting some leader training from 10 year old veteran, Klaus. Even at ten years old, this dog is like the energizer bunny. Topa, thankfully, is a natural "gee over" dog. This means that she naturally pulls to the right and stays on the right side of the road, which is preferable and so nice and easy to train! One bad habit that we worked on today is that Topa likes to wind herself up before she lunges into the harness, leaving her tug line slack. I don't like this because when her tug line slacks, so does the main gang line to which all of the dogs behind her are attached. When that line gets slack, there is a possibility for a tangle and a dog getting injured. So we nip those bad habits in the bud right away.

It was a beautiful day on the trail. It took us 4 hours and 15 minute from start to finish to run two teams, four miles, including loading, traveling, unloading, loading again, traveling and then a final unloading. It sure will be nice when we make our move and can run directly from the house. We'll save about an hour in time and a lot of stress on our bodies from all of the loading and unloading. And I'm not getting any younger, ya know.


  1. Oh, that just sounds so wonderful, Linda. Not next week, but perhaps the week after, if you'd like some help, I might be able to come out a morning or 2 . I'd really like an orientation to your methods first, though, because every musher does things a bit differently. And it's quite surprising to me how important some of the tiniest differences can be at each kennel. Let me know if you'd like some help, with training runs, kennel chores, or just a respite since Neil is away.

  2. Sure, Kathleen. You just let me know when you're available. I appreciate the offer. You will be learning as you go by observation and will be on the cart with me. We don't train for speed. It's all about teaching them to pull, have good manners, respond to commands and make the right choices. I like my dogs to really use their brains and not just their brawn.