30 September 2013 11.00 AM 40 F Overcast
People use many different adjectives to describe their dogs, and that includes those of us who have sled dogs. They are usually described as, obviously, sled dogs- which is possibly the broadest, safest, descriptive term. It leaves a lot of the defining to the imagination of the reader. Others prefer to simply describe their dogs as racing dogs, with a sub genus of sprint dogs, distance dogs, touring dogs, or even recreational team dogs. We tend to just call ours working dogs.
Part of that is an admission that I’m not that desperately driven to race. I fully intend to do some races, but it is not the reason I run dogs. I love the training of the dogs, teaching them new skills and behaviours. Add to that, the feeling of teamwork, of seeing those 10 or 12 different characters all coming together and watching them come to the understanding that if they all work together, things are so much easier. Then we have the thrill of exploring as a team, finding new places to go and above all else, having fun.
Usually, we stop running in April and don’t start again until early September, or later, depending on the weather and temperatures. Our dogs get to enjoy a few months of lazing around the yard and have plenty of time to play, chase, dig, sunbathe or hide from the rains. Digging is a favourite pastime of quite a few of them. The most prolific and determined include Mermaid (likes going deep), Ruby (prefers sand), Dawson (must be where his bowl can fall into it), Trouve ( deep enough to sleep in, shallow enough to still see out of) and the 3 dogs who really should be employed by a construction crew, Echo, Yuri and Turov. What makes these three even more of a hazard for the unwary, is the fact that they live beside one another. So, it’s sometimes hard to tell where one crater stops and the next one starts. They also have their individual styles. Echo is a tunneller. His best effort went 3′ down and then 4′ across, right under his house. Yuri is a moat builder. His entire circle is now surrounded by a deep ditch. And that leaves Turov who is a free style artist, creating mazes and strange designs, whilst still leaving the occasional untouched outcrop of sand in the middle of his endeavours.
Normally, we try to fill in the worst of the holes as they develop, but somehow there never seems to be quite as much sand available to put back in the hole, as came out of it. Plus, the dogs then consider it a challenge – we fill, they dig, we fill, they dig – they win……………… Now, with the temperatures starting to cool off, we are approaching that gambling period. If we time it right, we can fill in the holes, and then it will all freeze and we can safely walk around without disappearing down a crater that could swallow a tractor. If we do it too soon, then there’s just more lovely fresh sand for the dogs to amuse themselves with.
Of course, the cooler weather means we are back running the dogs and the forlorn hope is that will tire them out or distract them. Sadly not yet, they’re all still crazy bouncy and the ones who don’t get to go, dig in protest.
Starting back to training is an amazing thing to behold. That first run, you wonder how such a competent team ( rose tinted hindsight glasses) can be so wild and unmanageable – have they forgotten everything we worked on, all these previous years? With experienced dogs, the process doesn’t take too long for them to pick up again after the lay off. For the several younger dogs (and a couple of older dogs that haven’t run before) in our kennel, that are enjoying their first runs in harness, it’s a fairly steep learning curve. One that we try hard to make as gentle as possible, whilst still teaching them the basic dos and don’ts.
The “Do” list is pretty short. Go forward !
The “Don’t” list is pretty long. Don’t chew your harness, don’t chew your neckline, don’t chew the gangline, don’t chew your neighbour’s ear, neck or leg, in fact, just don’t chew anything, don’t stop, don’t pester your running mate, don’t annoy passing teams, don’t look at the scenery, don’t lope when we’re trotting, don’t trot when we’re loping and most importantly, don’t pee on your driver’s leg.
An all-girl team in early Fall training (photo credit D Quante/Husky Productions)