Believe it or not, I’m pretty good at being quiet while running dogs, especially with my veteran teams, but sometimes when working with young dogs, teaching them new tasks, I slip. I got an unexpected slap on the wrist in an interesting way the other day…
This is the time of year that I really focus on lead dogs, virtually every dog in the main string gets a try in lead – and that’s what I’ve been up to for the last few weeks. It’s been an interesting, rewarding, pleasing, frustrating, aggravating and hair pulling time. During the ‘frustrating, aggravating and hair pulling’ times, it is easy to slip back into some old bad habits and I realized I was doing that the day I had Barq in lead. Let me say first that Barq, despite his status as our resident ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ dog, has been showing GREAT potential as a lead dog. He holds a team wonderfully at hookup and sets a great pace, he even seems to have alittle bit of an understanding of ‘Gee/Haw’, however when he thinks it is time to take a break, he simply veers into the bush and drops to the ground to rest (I don’t believe in neck lining leaders together). This has provided for some interesting tangles as the rest of the team continues on down the trail.
I found that if I yelled at Barq whenever he looked at the woods, I could pretty much keep him in check – but really, the theories I believe in for training a team dictate that I should let him make the mistake, stop and go up and ‘correct’ him for it (which really is nothing more then dragging him out of the bush, placing him where he should be and giving him the ‘up front’ command) each time. He needs to be ‘responsible’ for his behavior, not relying on me to constantly be ‘reminding’ him of his job. I was unconsciously slipping into ‘nagging’ behavior.
It hit home to me after I heard myself yelling “BARQ, BARQ, BARQ” as we were heading down the trail. How STUPID does that sound?? I was sounding like a bad soundtrack in a ‘Disney does dog sledding’ movie. I immediately became conscious of the habit and stopped it – luckily before I tried Eeek in lead. One of the neighbors might have dialed 911 if they had heard me in the woods shouting ‘Eeek, Eeek, Eeek’.
Now, before I give everyone a ‘status’ report on the ‘rookies’ and how they did on their first attempts leading, it is important to remember that not all dogs step into ‘leader’ roles at the same age. Just look at Buddy and his brother, Spud. Buddy started to lead at about 8 months of age and Spud just took us all on wild ‘squirrel’ chases through the woods every time I put him in lead until he was about 5. After that he was a ‘staple’ in front of my teams for many, many years. Same deal with Orion and his brother, Draco.
So far I’ve had everyone except spunky little Dare and Zackery in lead. I think Dare stands the best chance of having a good first experience with levelheaded Kara up front next to her. Kara is still ‘catching up’ on miles since weaning her puppies, so the opportunity to put the two of them up front together hasn’t arisen yet and I honestly just don’t think Zackery is ready for lead dog training yet, but I will give him a shot soon.
Jinx, Holly, Pepsi, Q, Eeek and Barq all did really well - Barq in particular.
Vortec lasted about 2 miles before making it very clear to me he wasn’t up to this task yet.
The experience with Newt was pretty amusing. Newt was never sold to me as a lead dog and you could sure tell that by the look on his face when he found himself in front of the team during hookup. I’m sure if he had had a cell phone and an agent, he’d have been on the phone asking for clarification on his contract. Sadly for him, all ‘contract negotiations’ go through me.
I had put Draco up front with him. Draco doesn’t like Newt very much and I knew he would have no qualms about pushing Newt around on corners and such. Indeed, Dra seemed to really enjoy the moments when he was dragging the big, obnoxious Newt around. Everything was going on the poor side of fair (but going) until we made the corner at the water trough. Newt tangled the whole front end of the team and ended up next to Hilda and Olena. When he discovered the ‘ladies’ were back there, the end was at hand. This was not to be Newt’s day to be a lead dog.
Now, I have saved the best for last – Jr. He was so good in lead that I came home and started combing through my old training logs and diary entries to see how much leader experience he actually had (some – but not much). He is doing outstanding! His new role has also helped him step up in overall confidence. Watching a young dog like this ‘come into his own’ is really the most rewarding part of training for me. I am so proud of him!