Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Puppies in training: the making of a sled dog

Sled dog training starts early: Tak's puppies are only seven weeks old, but they're already learning the basics of how to be sled dogs. I don't know how other people train dogs, but for me, puppy training starts with teaching pups the basics: that people are good and to come when I call for them.

Perry leads the puppy pack toward me down the puppy paths

Because sled dogs must work together as a team, I believe in allowing the dogs free time to interact as a pack daily. They work out their differences and, in general, they all get along very well. It's quite a sight to see a dozen or so dogs running full-throttle through our pastures, playing and wrestling!

I also believe strongly that dogs need social/play time as well as physical training throughout the year, not just during training season, so I diligently stick to a strict daily "free running" schedule for my dogs, and the puppies (especially the puppies!) are no exception. At least twice a day, I turn the pups out and work with them, handling each one, allowing them to run and play, and teaching them to run with me along our puppy paths.

Perry follows Marley, our Australian Shepherd, along our puppy paths at the Ranch
There are so many connections being formed in each of their little brains at this age, and I want as many of those connections to be as positive as possible. Dogs learn so much from each other, too: how to not bite too hard, where each one sits in the pack, how to interpret body language, and where their place is with the adult dogs.

In my opinion and experience, dogs who don't have nurturing and safe "formative" years in these critical weeks of puppihood end up having issues later in life. In order to give our dogs the best shot at forming healthy relationships with the world around them, I really try hard to offer a loving and stimulating environment for them to romp and play early on.

(from left) Toots, Tosh and Rasta explore the ruts in papa Yeti's circle
They are each so gorgeous and curious in their own ways. Tosh is quiet and gentle, Toots is affectionate and loyal, just like her sisters, Rasta and Ziggy. Perry is calm and affectionate, but Wailer - just like his name - is the loud-mouthed runt of the bunch and a mama's boy!

When they are done playing, they drift off to sleep wherever they land. Oh, to be young!
They're so trusting, so innocent. It's hard to believe they will grow up to be such amazing athletes.

It's also hard to believe Tak's beautiful puppies are already seven weeks old. Sweet dreams from sled dogs in training!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Don't Fence Me In

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don't fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don't fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze,
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don't fence me in.

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies.
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise.

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in.

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies,
Don't fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don't fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don't fence me in

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise.
Ba boo ba ba boo.

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can't look at hobbles and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in.
Poppa, don't you fence me in

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Keep it locked up inside don't talk about it.... talk about the weather!" Dave Matthews "

In mushing, weather is a big deal.

Most mushers I know can report the upcoming weather forecast for the next week, at least.

During the "dog days" of summer, the dogs laze around in the shade, waiting...

My leader, Yeti, lounging in the shade of his circle

But they're beginning to get restless. They sense a change is in the air. The days are getting cooler, and the evenings a little chilly.

We have some big plans for this coming season too, as we begin to map out our racing schedule for the upcoming season. Our first race is always, traditionally, the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Classic - which will be our first race this next season. But I intend to step it up a notch and compete in the 8 dog pro class (42 miles) and stay with the 8 dog classes all season. Stay tuned as we announce our intentions for the season!

Puppy Update
In other news, Tak's puppies are really blossoming now. They are six weeks old, and their personalities are evolving everyday! One who has stolen my heart is little Rasta.

Rasta at 4 weeks and 5 days. How can anyone deny the sweetness?
We all have grown so attached to them! We are looking for homes for two of them, so if you or someone you know is looking for an Alaskan husky, please contact me!

Here are some pictures of Tak's Reggae litter:

Perry, the largest male in the litter

Rasta at 5 weeks

Perry's "twin" sister, Ziggy, stalking me from the weeds
Toots playing in one of Yeti's big holes around his house
(from left) Rasta, Wailer and Ziggy planning mayhem, no doubt!

Sophie (with the sun in her eyes) and Wailer 
Finally, Elise with her very special baby, Tosh
Fall is in the air! Get ready for training updates from the trail and, as always...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Do not speak unless it improves on silence." Zen sayi

Shot at The Bomb Shelter 
Akron, Ohio 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Out with the puppies, in with the puppies: a word about puppy brain development and socialization

Tak's puppies are getting so big! They're super fuzzy and feisty already. 

Puppy brains learn and develop most within the first four weeks of life. The more exposure puppies have to different environments, sounds, people and things, the more socialized they are to these changes. Because of this, we have begun working on a puppy pen, and shortly, Tak and her babies will move outside. They were three weeks old yesterday - it's amazing how fast those three weeks have gone by!

Toots (right, female) kissing her brother Tosh (left)
With the puppies moving outside, it was time for Mr. Miles, who is now eight months old, to move to his "big boy" house with the other boys in the dog yard.

Miles tethered out at his own dog house with his buddy, Yeti, in the distance. He's adjusting well to his circle.

We are all trying to lay low during these very hot days of summer. We had a bit of a reprieve from the heat, though, with a quick five-day mini-vacation up to our favorite place: the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, last week.

I went up initially for a talk I had in Tecumseh, Michigan. But, I figured, why not turn it into a little trip. It ended up being a fantastic socialization adventure for Mr. Miles.

We started our photo journey of the U.P. with a picture of the infamous wolf in the U.P. welcome center right after entering the Upper Peninsula.  Elise was not thrilled about this photo. :)

Sophie (left) and Elise (right) in front of the wolf at the UP welcome center
We then ventured up Route 2 where Miles' puppy socialization really began: we stopped to let Miles experience the beautiful shores of the crystal blue Lake Michigan.

This was all new to Miles, and he was a little afraid at first...
but soon, he felt at ease and loved playing and running full-throttle down the beach!

Miles loved watching Elise playing on the beach. I wonder what he was thinking?

Every opportunity for new experiences, smells, sights, people and places creates new connections in a young dog's brain, just like children learning about their world. Miles had plenty of experiences on this trip to forge lots of new pathways of socialization and experience, and he reacted beautifully to all the changes.

We hopped back in the truck and headed along Route 2 all the way through Manistique ... and visited the biggest, deepest, coldest of the Great Lakes: Lake Superior

Elise blissing out along a walkway to an old lighthouse on the Lake Superior coastline in Manistique, Michigan. Elise hasn't always taken changes in her own environment with ease, but she blossomed along the gorgeous deep blue waters of this vast great lake.
We finally arrived on Friday afternoon for our long-awaited visit to the home of Pete and Sharon Curtice and Ridge Runner Kennel in Rumley. Don't try to find Rumley on Google Maps: it's not listed. Elise and Sophie were super excited to play with Emily Curtice, who is the most mature, adventurous and capable nine year old I've ever known!
Emily Curtice plays chauffeur on a quad ride to pick raspberries with Elise
We picked up Daisy and Mace, two dogs from the Curtices kennel, in order to transport them all the way to Ohio where they would be picked up by their new owners and travel all the way to up state New York! After a wonderful night's sleep at the Curtice's, we were on our way again: this time to Newberry, the home of some of our favorite people, including Jan Shaw, and the Oswald Bear Ranch!

Elise (left) and Sophie (right bottom) got to pet a baby bear at the Oswald's Bear Ranch outside of Newberry, Michigan. That's me behind them :)
We spent some time visiting Jan and Bob Shaw and their Yooper-famous sled dogs at Arctic Wind Sled Dog Kennel.We love visiting Jan & Bob and all their dogs. Miles got to experience being in a strange, larger kennel and meeting more new people.

How many UP friends can one person squeeze into a five day visit? My friend Stan arrived at the Shaw's kennel and offered to take the girls and I out on his boat on Lake Superior. Unfortunately, it became chilly and windy, so we opted for pizza in Grand Marais instead. There, we hung out with Stan and his daughter, Laura, and I had the opportunity for more photos...

Once again, Miles went to new places and met new people, and did beautifully!

Finally, we left the U.P. and began the trek back down I-75 to Tecumseh, Michigan where I would be presenting our dogsledding talk, Backyard Iditarod, to the library. We had some time to kill, so spent the night in a hotel in Bay City, and Miles got to spend the night in a hotel room for the first time (and again, did beautifully).

The next day, our friend Anne Schneider Keller, the teen librarian at the library, sent me directions to a great sprinkler park/dog park for the kids AND Miles to let off some steam and get cool. By the time we arrived at the library, Miles was pooped!

Miles catching some ZZZs at our talk at the Tecumseh District Library. Photo courtesy of Anne Schneider Keller

Ultimately, the experiences Miles had last weekend will help him become a well-socialized, well-mannered educational dog for our programs. He's already become a perfect replacement for our original educational ambassador dog, Foxy, who is 15 1/2 and needs to retire fully.

What's more, we had the opportunity to forge our own memories of the U.P. and our favorite place. My only regret is that I wasn't here when Miles' brother, Theo, passed away unexpectedly. I can't help but think that if I had been here, he'd still be alive...

Until the next adventure...