What makes a lead dog?
Famous Iditarod veteran, Martin Buser, says lead dogs show signs of being leaders from puppyhood. They are usually very curious and spunky. As they get older, they show that they like to be in charge and can learn the commands very quickly.
Now retired, Foxy once led during the Yukon Quest
It is also said that leaders possess intelligence, initiative, and the ability to navigate a trail in a variety of conditions.
I've developed my own theory lately about leaders.
It's all in the eyes.
My main leader, Yeti, is only three. I acquired Yeti when he was just four months old from a musher named Mike Murphy. Mike gave him to me for free, and Yeti was extremely shy. I didn't know if he would be a sled dog, and I never dreamed he would be a leader. Our bond was quick right from the start. He seemed to hone in on me, looking up at me with his beautiful almond-shaped eyes that still melt my heart today.
That next season, he was leading 10 dog strings as a yearling. This season, he has blossomed into a true "gee-haw" leader - that is, a dog who definitely knows and follows directions. Still painfully shy, Yeti will break down shaking in a crowd and always gets stress diarrhea at races, but when he is in harness, he never falters. He is certainly the best "free" dog I've ever gotten!
Leaders have a willingness to please beyond other sled dogs. In my opinion, my leaders seem connected so strongly to me with their willingness to please, that it almost seems as though my leaders look at me adoringly. Nothing can sway their focus or loyalty; they are steadfast in their commitment to me and the team.
Take my young up-and-coming leader, Ruffian, as an example.
Ruffian stares at me lovingly. She is only two 1/2 years old and 45 pounds, but already shoulders Yeti into a turn if he hesitates on a command
I acquired Ruffian when she was barely harness broken at 10 months of age from Joann Fortier. She was a wiley, silly yearling, and again, - unproven - so I didn't know what I had gotten myself into
Ruffian as a youngster
Ruffian is supremely intelligent and is one of the few dogs in my kennel I trust completely to free run and come to me when I call her.
I have been so fortunate to have such a great bunch of dogs in my kennel. They all get along and are all super with my kids and very loving and friendly with anyone who approaches them.
In addition to a very strong willingness to please, I have a theory about something that creates not just a great leader, but a happy kennel: social time. Dogs are social animals, and I have always been a proponent of daily free run play time. It helps the pack sort our differences and figure out their place in the scheme of things, as well as blow off steam.
Last night, I went to bed watching a light mist of rainy snow fall from the sky. Nothing to write home about, I thought, and wrote off the talk of NE Ohio getting dumped on.
I was surprised, then, when my phone rang at 5:30 this morning to tell me school was canceled.
I woke up to a winter wonderland! six inches of fresh powder had fallen on our already eight inches over night. The neighboring county declared a "snow emergency." I had to laugh. The only emergency I could see was getting outside to play in the white stuff fast enough!
Here is a small clip of our run today. Until next time,