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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Gee Over"

White Feather does an excellent example of a "gee over".

After posting this photo of White Feather on Facebook, I've had a few requests for some tips on how we train the "gee over" command. For those non sled dog people, "gee over" means move to the right side of the trail. Voice commands are the most common way to provide direction to the dogs while in harness. Incorporated in how we train those commands, and sometimes in addition to verbal praise or verbal correction, is the pressure or lack of pressure on the brakes. Each dog is so different and it's been a fun challenge for us to try to figure out how each dog learns best.

The method we try first on each dog is verbal praise for doing the "right" thing. We also use this on puppies for just about everything. If I'm putting a new dog up in front for the first few times, I try not to focus on anything else but that they're pulling and moving forward. Pick your battles, as they say. They may or may not have even heard the commands before so the words are meaningless, at this point. Whenever the dog moves to the right side of the trail on their own, I say their name and then add "good gee over", in a high pitched voice. Ideally, this is a good time to put your parking brake on and walk up quickly to praise even more, giving them a lot of positive physical attention. The dog may spend the majority of the time on the left side of the trail but if only once, they go to the right, the biggest deal is made of that one time.

Now, let's say I've got a natural lefty who is just not going to the right side and therefore I'm not able to praise the behavior. Here is where the other dogs come in. I try, when I can, to let the other dogs teach a new dog the commands. If I have a natural righty and/or a really good "gee over" dog, I'll put them up in front with the new dog and will place them on the right side and put a neck line between the two. Most of my dogs are more comfortable with pulling another dog over than pushing them but you can also use a "pushy" dog to your advantage in this situation and place them on the left. So now, I've got a dog who knows what they're doing up in lead. I give the "gee over" command, in a low voice and the second I do, the seasoned dog moves to the right, which triggers a quick jerk on the neckline to the right which indicates to the new dog to go to the right. Right! Once the new dog moves to the right, I praise like crazy. I always include their name and the command, "Good Arrow! Good Gee Over!"

A good thing to remember is that dogs hear inflection and tone and not always WHAT you say. Make sure that if it is a command, you are using a serious, lower voice. If it is praise, use a more exciting, higher pitched voice. And most of all, be consistent.

Another method, if there isn't another good "gee over" dog available, is to have one person driving the rig and another walking along BEHIND and to the side of, the leaders. I stay as far back as I can because I don't want them to use me as a crutch. I also don't want them to be able to anticipate what I will do next. I also use the word "walk" because training is better done slowly, especially if you're also trying to teach your dogs to pull. For this method, find a long, thin stick or twig with leaves on the end. You'll use this to prompt the dogs to move to the right by lightly brushing it up against their left side. We use the left back legs. The Hedlund Huskies have extremely good boundaries and will move very quickly away from a stick lightly brushing against their legs so this method works well with our dogs. Apply the same command and praise steps from the other methods. The musher tells the dogs to "gee over". If there is no movement the second the command is given, then the person walking well behind the leaders walks quickly up so they are in reach with the narrow stick, and gently brushes it against the left side of the dog. At the same time the musher should be giving the command one more time. When the dogs move, everyone involved goes crazy with praise, remembering to give the dog's name and then the command again - "Good Arrow! Good Gee Over!"

One last method that comes to mind, that has worked specifically with two of our dogs, involves using the brake on the rig. Both Phoenix and Oken should know their commands by now but do tend to wander to the left naturally. For these boys, when I see them wander across the center line, I say "Oken or Phoenix, Gee Over". If there is no movement, I apply the brake, making it more difficult for them to run unless they move to the right side of the trail. When they move, I release the brake and say "Good Oken or Phoenix! Good Gee Over!". Pretty soon, I don't even say the command and apply the brake, they instantly move to the right and I praise. 

You may not get them to do any of this on the first try and, actually, it could take you more tries than you dare to count and more training sessions than you had hoped, but they will get it. The point is, be consistent. Don't let the dogs set bad habits by your lack of consistency. Anything they do "wrong" in our eyes, after all, is entirely the your fault, not the dog's fault.

One big thing to add is to make sure you are in the mood to train and have the patience to train. An entire training session can be ruined by a trainer having a bad day or not enough patience. If you begin feeling this way in the middle of a run, pack it up, head home and try it again the next day. I speak from lots of experience on the topic of patience, or should I say, the lack thereof. Also, keep in mind, it should be fun or why do it?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Great Teacher

Despite his improperly formed jaw, he chews and plays like any other puppy.

So much like his sire, Phoenix, Ryden is an old soul.

Handsome boy

Ryden is destined to be a great teacher in the Points Unknown kennel. He recently developed a severe over bite, causing his upper jaw to elongate while his lower jaw is shortened. Right now, his lower canines are punching holes into the roof of his mouth. Those will soon be removed and his adult canines will likely be removed as well. He will help us teach visitors to our kennel that it doesn't matter what you look like or what you're ailing from, you can still rise to great heights. Ryden WILL be an awesome sled dog and fuzzy companion. It's his destiny.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sasha/Phoenix; Almost 8 Weeks Old

Botas, renamed Friday, will be going to Thom Swan of Stardancer Historical Sled Dog Kennel in the Fairbanks, Alaska area.

Mancha, renamed Ryden, will be staying with Points Unknown

Puppy pile

Ryden and Friday

Mixta will be staying with the folks that raised the litter.

Humo, renamed Kenzie, will be going to California to live with Linda McKenzie who got her first Hedlund Husky 17 years ago.

Pinto, renamed Rio, is staying with the folks that raised the litter


Sasha knows there are treats in there somewhere!

Ryden, our relaxed boy.

Sasha, playing with Kenzie. What a good mom!

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.

Monday, October 15, 2012

New Members of our Wholesale Family

We'd like to welcome five new members to our Scent from Nature wholesale family! If you're nearby, stop in and say hello!

City of Lakes Waldorf School
2344 Nicollet Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN  55404

Country Clutter
@ Premium Outlets
1911 Leesburg Grove City Rd
Suite 715
Grove City, PA 16127

Country Clutter

Rooting Around
7507 Alma Vista Way
Sacramento, CA  95831

 Drummond Farms and Alpacas
4487 Trading Post Trail S.
Afton, MN  55001

Bluff Country Coop121 W. 2nd Street
Winona, MN  55987

We Love Our Beekeepers!

Chuck and Marjean with Ginger
It's that time of year again! We just picked up our yearly ration of pure beeswax that will soon become our handcrafted Scent from Nature candles. The only beeswax used for our candles is the thin layer of wax that encapsulates the honey comb on each side if an individual frame of honey. Our beeswax was just harvested last month! For as long as we've been crafting our pure beeswax candles, it has come from a beekeeper family nearby. We've worked with them over the years to minimally process the wax just the way we like it so that it retains it's very best aroma and color.

Chuck and Marjean Hendrycks got into beekeeping in 1974 when they traded a pregnant milk goat for a honey bee hive. In 1986, they went from a few hives to over 500 and began their commercial beekeeping business. Now, with 1300 hives, they say they're close to retirement, although Chuck would like to continue with "only" about 500 hives in his retirement.

Because Scent from Nature is expanding, we're in the process of "interviewing" a few new beekeepers in our area and will work with them to make certain our wax remains as we like it. We're looking forward to adding to our beeswax family!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fall Training Photo Album

First run!

You can see more of our fall training trip photos in the following facebook album - Fall Training 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sasha/Phoenix Puppies; 3.5 Weeks Old

Botas - male

Botas and Mancha

Humo - Female

Mancha - Male

Mixta - Female

Pinto - Male


These were taken a couple days before I left for our northwoods trip. They're showing their personalities much more every time I visit. Looking forward to visiting them at 5 weeks old in just a few days. And yes, I am still up, posting on the blog at 4:30AM. That'll teach me to drink a cup of coffee at 4PM.

Rayna's First Run and Birthday!

Here's Rayna on the left next to Ilo. For comparison, Ilo is 65lbs and about 28inches at the shoulder. She's a big girl!
Rayna, our fifth "puppy", ran in our last team. She was cool, calm and collected and fit right into the team. Rayna just turned one year old the end of September! Happy Birthday to Rayna!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Early Return; Basking in the Glow

Our water stop, a secret artesian well en route.  One of us drives the Toyota with trailer carrying our training cart.

One of use drives the big white beast we refer to as "Milton" which carries all of the dogs and gear.

We are packed to the gills! There are 21 large dog crates in there along with everything we and the dogs need for several weeks!.

Basking in the glow of beeswax candles used for light and ambiance as Neil cooks dinner using our new propane combination over, griddle and stove.

My bed for the trip. Relaxing with Copper and Blueberry.

A flurry of beeswax candles orders and wholesale inquiries has brought me back to Watertown sooner than planned. Excellent reason for cutting my northwoods trip short while Neil remains to tie up some loose ends for a couple days.

Creativity blossomed as I basked in the after glow of my time spent at our Irish Creek Homestead during my 7 hour drive home. This was a welcome change as creativity has been illusive to me lately. Sorting through the complications to get to that "simple" desired lifestyle leaves the mind weary. And I mentioned driving "home". The word "home" isn't quite fully identified for us as we continue to travel from central Minnesota to the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota awaiting the sale of one home and the completion of another.

As I drive, behind me, in the box of my 17' cube van, snugly resting in large straw-lined crates, are my 21 husky companions. Next to me, two small house dogs keep close company. I'm in a bit of a fog as I drive down the "Trail" to the main highway. I've just spent the past four days working painstakingly on our building project with Neil and running the sled dogs, all in a place that doesn't take long to refresh my soul. I've not seen a shower for those four days and that fact quickly presents itself in a mix of other smells traveling home with me on my journey south that includes balsam fir, dusty straw and dog. All in all, the atmosphere is an extension of the north and is welcome, extending my feelings of relaxation.

I stop at the Subway in Grand Marais for a quick meal, knowing it will be the only one I have for the rest of the day. The dogs can't remain in their crates for much longer than the drive home and the temperatures are warmer than I would like so I am a bit on edge, despite the relaxation fog that remains. I've got a pass-through door in the cube van that keeps me in close contact with the dogs. I check in on them as I drive and sing to them whether they like it or not. As I walk up to the counter to order, I notice two people that I know from a few years ago in a completely different setting; out of context. It became quickly apparent that I was still in northwoods solitude mode as I stumbled over my words, greeting them, then completely losing my train of thought, standing silent looking at the wall and then apologizing for my disconnection. My social skills come and go just as my creativity can and today, those social skills were virtually non existent. "Not to worry," one of my old acquaintances quickly rescued me and says, "I remember how it was when I first moved up here".

Halfway through the drive, I began to feel that lull that threatens to prolong an already long trip as you struggle with boredom and monotony. Coffee time! I'm not a coffee drinker so this sudden desire for coffee does come with the knowing of consequences far reaching into the night. I'll be up late whether I like it or not but at least I'll be able to keep myself going for the remainder of the journey without petering out. I do have a full schedule of events upon my arrival that comes with traveling with a truck full of sled dogs.

I stop at a wayside just an hour from home, knowing that once I get home, I'll have no time for myself until all of the dogs are removed from the truck and tucked into their kennels for the night.

I arrive "home" just before 7PM. The dogs know we're home and begin rustling around in their crates and Klaus sets everyone off with his cheers of anticipation that this trip might finally be over. Any idea what it looks like to arrive home after a trip away with 21 sled dogs? Let me paint the picture.

I park the cube van down by the kennels, open the back of the van and muscle the steps Neil made out of the back. Neil made those out of two pallets. This invention makes it so much easier to go up and down and up and down into the van 21+ times to retrieve dogs and gear. I move several items out of the isle so that the dogs will have a clear pathway. First, I begin with the older dogs and puppies, until all 21 are out and into their respective kennels. Next, I pull the cube van up by to the front door and let the house dogs out. They run around in the yard a little then into the house they go. I quickly feed them, head out to the cube van to get the sled dog food and right back into the kennels I go. The veteran dogs know that I'm now in "buzz" mode which means they just step back out of my way and let me run around like a crazy person. I know full well that after a 7 hour drive and an intensely physical several days before that, if I'm not able to sustain the adrenaline push for just a little while longer, I won't have any hope of getting inside and sitting down to relax before I just plain crash. Now, the puppies, well, they aren't as familiar with "buzz" mode. Poor Zola follows me around briskly with a nervous "smile", puzzling. She'll learn.

This time of year, I scatter feed the dogs which means they each have a special place they eat and their food gets scattered in that area, be it on top of or inside a dog house. Scatter feeding keeps them busy and also helps to eliminate stomach bloat by forcing them to eat more slowly and pick at their food versus wolfing it down, allowing excessive air intake. Stomach bloat can be deadly.

After feeding, I needed to dump and refill their water buckets. Each bucket contained a combination of maple, oak and birch tea that had been steeping for several days. Before I left, I decided to leave the water in those buckets versus dumping them out so that upon our return, they would have something to drink before I could refresh it. While the water buckets filled, I collected the poop which is something a musher becomes very familiar with and even has serious conversations about. The color, texture and appearance are all important factors to the health of a dog. I can't tell you how many times Neil and I have rejoiced over the fact that so and so finally pooped this afternoon and it looked really good!

Collars then needed to come off. Since our dogs live in kennels with anywhere from one to three house mates, we remove collars to make sure everyone stays safe. Sometimes, their play can become intense and we don't want anyone catching their jaw on someone's collar. The collars are new for this season. The color of choice is blaze orange in celebration of Minnesota's first ever wolf hunting season. (NOT) Can you believe that over 26,000 people from all over the United States applied for a license to kill Minnesota wolves? Apparently ONLY 6,000 licenses were given. Great. And do you know that this season begins November 3rd and ends January 30th? Whether you agree with wolf hunting or not, the fact remains that people mistake dogs and who knows what else for deer during deer hunting season and my dogs have the appearance of wolves and now we have a wolf hunting season. We train our dogs beginning in October and then run them through the winter. We not only need to worry about deer hunting season but now they need to be fully outfitted with blaze orange for wolf hunting season. Then there is always the unknown. What exactly will occur when people from all over the US who have never even seen a wolf come to my neck-of-the-woods looking to hunt them? It's a scary situation, to say the least. Having said that, we're doing everything we can to make certain we and the dogs will be seen and safe.

OK. Dogs are fed, water buckets filled, collars off. Did I remember to get everyone off the truck? So I count again. Yep. All 21.

Now it's my turn. I immediately head in to turn on the beeswax candle tank and stock it with wax blocks. I'm going to have a busy day of making candles tomorrow!. Then I run to the truck to retrieve only what I need for the night. I head inside and wash my hands. I can see a distinct line that separates the clean hands from the rest of my dirty, dusty self. Shower time! But instead, I quickly sit down at the computer and type up a blog post before my creativity disappears with the coffee buzz. And now, a photo! You can't do a blog post without posting a photo too. So I dig through my photos and pick a few most fitting out of the 187 taken. That should do it. Now off to shower and/or eat, whichever calls as I head in that direction. Oh, did I mention it is now 10:10PM, 3 1/2  hours after I arrived home? And I still have a coffee buzz. This could mean another blog post or at least some photos posted on facebook.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Phase Two in Full Swing

Phase two - electrical, well, septic, plumbing, heating, solar energy, cell phone and satellite boosters installation!

I'm taking a break from floor board installation to put up sheet rock. Happy to note that the floor board are now completely installed! (my aching legs....bending and bending and more bending)

Kinda messy today. Notice the electric switch and outlet boxes! It's coming along...

More Firsts!

Irish's first run! "I'm ready to anything!"

Misquah's first run. Intense is the word!

After Rommel's first run. "I'm ready to go again!"

Monday, October 1, 2012

First Run of the Season 2012

Baby Zola is now 4 1/2 mos old. She did some canicross hiking with us yesterday. She's too young to run in the team just yet.

Fall training right from the house!!! Can't tell you how long I've waited to do this.

Veteran leader Phoenix on the right with 10 month old Arrow towering over him. This was Arrow's first ever run. We kept it short and fun and just popped him up in lead at the end for this photo. He stood there like a pro!

Just wook at that baby face! That's our Arrow.

 Autumn in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota! We're spending the week working on our Irish Creek Homestead building project and taking in the sights of fall. Thank you so much for your patience! Getting information out to you or getting your beeswax candle order shipped out is our first priority when we return.

Many thanks and much appreciation to Jenna from Cold Antler Farm for her mention of us in a recent post. The comments and orders have been keeping me on my toes!