Sunday, April 22, 2012

Not only when the snow flies

There is a misconception that keeping sled dogs means stuff only happens only when the snow flies. This couldn't be further from the truth.

During the months when we're not training the dogs on the gangline, we spend lots of time training them in other ways. For the puppies, who are now nine months old, I've been working with them on basic commands, like coming when they're called and returning to their houses at the end of our free running sessions.
Nine-month old, Perry, on a hike with 14 month old, Miles (behind)

Most kennels I know use the time between April and August for renovations, preparations for the upcoming season, reaching out to potential sponsors, and building projects. I have been busy doing something I wanted to do long ago: building platform dog houses for the dogs.

The beginning stages of building the platform: day 1
I received the original plans and instructions on how to build this platform from my friends, Ed and Tasha Stielstra of Nature's Kennel. Luckily, I had a dozen 2x4s and a couple 4x4s laying around, so I didn't even have to shop for lumber.

It only took two days to put together Freya's platform dog house. This is the end result.

Freya was happy to demonstrate...

Onward! Only fifteen more to make!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Free running: an integral part of training

Dogs are social animals and, like any other social animal, they need time to play and blow off steam.  As the warm hues of a mild April evening close over the kennel, I throw on my boots and head outside for our daily free running session.

"I'm heading out the run the beasts!" I yell to my family as I hit the back deck.

When the dogs see me coming, they erupt into a chorus of excited yips, barks and howls. Next to dinner time, this is their favorite time of day: free run time.

I unhook the boys in front first, Miles, Perry, Tosh and Kerouac. Between the ages of 9 months and 2 years, they are the most pent up of the group and are eager to be free to run, full throttle around our "puppy paths" - the paths carved out along the perimeter of our seven acres where we run the dogs nightly. As the four wheeler roars to life, the boys are already zooming off around the puppy paths, and I have shifted into second gear by the time I catch them.

Perry is turning into quite a great sled dog already
Free running plays such an important role in my training program, and I free run the dogs every day - even in the hot days of summer. It gives the dogs a chance to play, but more than that, it gives them a chance to interact with each other in a more relaxed atmosphere, without the intensity of being hooked up on the gangline. This way they might have an opportunity to figure out where they are within the pack dynamic.

Free running also keeps the dogs in shape during the off season.  Sitting around in a kennel all summer is akin to creating doggy couch potatoes.

Finally, free running strengthens other muscles not used during pulling and running. For example, the dogs often chase each other at top speed, only to turn on a dime and dart off in the other direction. This helps keep them agile and to use all of those muscles and ligaments.

The dogs are enjoying these mild days of spring - cool enough for them to be comfortable yet warm enough for them to begin throwing their straw out of their houses.

Yeti lounges in the sunshine of a cool April day

Perry's dad, Yeti, is perfectly content lounging in the sunshine.

Freya never stops moving, even in the off season

Happy Easter from the Ranch, and as always...