Thursday 27 August 2015

First Time Leader

I've explained lots over the years about how I start new leaders, so I won't go through it all again but I had Ditto in lead for the first time this morning and thought I'd share a few pictures!

 Surrounded by my TOP leaders it will be very hard for things to go too wrong. That is See, Boo and Missy.

And now Ditto joins the mix.

 "Wahoo!!! I'm in lead!!!"

No sweat....

Okay, some sweat ...but to be expected!

Distracted by some bear scat (real bear, not Bear the Dog) ...

Back underway....

A bit of trouble at the river, but that is a tough thing for even experienced leaders!

"I got this"

A few other small learning experiences ...


...but overall she did really great!

Good girl Ditzy!!!

Monday 24 August 2015

Raising 'A' Puppy

I have raised hundreds of sled dog puppies. With the support system we have created within the kennel and the experience I've acquired over the years, raising a well adjusted sled dog has become almost a habit.
Oh yeah, there are the occasional 'hiccups', but for the most part it is a pretty smooth process.

I have raised a couple single 'non sled dog' puppies over the years - Skeeter, my first dog - and Fly, our first 'yard' dog - but it has been a long time! Cricket, Bet and Bear all came to us as adults.
I had forgotten just how much work it is to raise a single puppy into a responsible canine citizen!!

Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying Twig immensely - and she is a smart little pup that catches on very quickly. Housebreaking is pretty much sorted - she figured the dog door out in no time. Though she does think there is a chance ALL walls may open to exciting new places if you paw at and bump them with your nose. It's pretty amusing.

I'm a big believer in letting puppies find out the consequences of their actions. Watching Twig corner one of the cats and find out that cats 'explode' when you pester them too much is not fun. My nurturing side (yes, I have one - it just doesn't extend to human babies) wants to scoop her up and protect her before it happens - or coddle her afterwards.  Neither will result in her being a good canine citizen though.

Same goes for her and Bet. Bet is extremely tolerant, but Twig has to learn there is a limit to that. Bet is completely supported in her corrections of the puppy - that extends to growling and even snapping.

She's got her head stuck in peanut butter jars, in chain link fence, fallen off couches, and tried to drown in the river. I bail her out only when things get dangerous.

Dangerous applies to the dog yard. She is not even allowed on the same side of the house as the dog yard at this point. In time, but not until she is much, much bigger

Many have asked if she sleeps on my bed. Nope. That is an earned privilege and she is too young to have earned that. She has her own well appointed kennel outside that she sleeps in and spends time in during the day.
It's important for her future life to learn how to behave in a kennel and crate - and much easier to deal now, when she just figures it is part of life, then to 'retrain' her later.

She has learned to hand over inappropriate toys, stomp in the river, eat politely out of her bowl next to Bet, give the cats room, be respectful of the guardian dogs (I'm not kidding - Bear gets scared and runs away if she jumps all over him), ride on an ATV, ride in a crate in the van, be quiet in her kennel and much, much more. But there is still SO MUCH more to learn!

I'm looking forward to and dreading it all at the same time!!!

Saturday 22 August 2015

A Trip to the River - Twig

Hello fans, my name is Twig and I'm adorable.

Bet has explained that some of my expected duties here in my new home is to "blog" my adventures.  Seems a bit strange to me, but she says it's important, so here I am.

I must say that I'm enjoying my time here at North Wapiti Kennels.  My mom told me that is was a great position, and that I would lead a very exciting life.  I was expecting a full time position where there actually were some sheep, but apparently my job is to help herd "Pretty Curly Tails", which are actually Siberian Huskies that pull sleds for fun and sport.

My owner is called "The Musher" although I'm pretty sure she has never in her life said "mush", she actually does this high pitched "lululululululululu" thing, and since her cooking is actually very tasty, I'm pretty sure it's not a nickname for her culinary skills.  This confuses me, as I like things to be pretty cut and dried.  I've managed to glean from conversations that her real call name is Karen, but I'll stick to her nickname for continuity sake.

One of the good things about being a puppy apparently is the small size of my head.  This allows me to reach the good parts of the leftover peanut butter in the jar.

I wholeheartedly approve of peanut butter, although the fat content could lead to weight issues.  I don't expect this kind of a treat every day, just when the jar has been used up, so I don't see a problem with the calorie content.

Seeing how I'm expected to grow quite a bit until I reach adulthood, I don't expect another jar to be emptied before my head is too large, so I'll just enjoy this little treat while I can, and feel fortunate that I arrived at the ritual empty peanut butter jar time.  Bet says she usually gets the jar, but seeing how I'm new, she let me have the honors.  That was very nice of her.

Bet has also been very gracious to let me share her dog bed.  She says it's officially called a "clouch" because it's a cross between a cloud (one type of foamy dog bed) and a couch (although this one doesn't have legs, but it does resemble a couch).  Not wanting to appear as though I don't appreciate her generosity, I too shall call it a "clouch".  I had no idea that I would also need to learn a whole new language in my new home.

I don't want to appear as though I'm just taking over the place, so I find it easier and more polite to sleep up here.  It's pretty comfortable.  Yes, I realize that there is yet another of these "clouches" right behind me, but this is the one that Bet "gave" me, and I don't want to overstep my bounds until I can figure out the whole routine, and pecking order of this new home.  Plus, it's just not nice to come in and take over.  I know I wouldn't appreciate a young pup like me just glomming on to my things, so I try to be gracious about boundaries and rules.

Although this may not appear to be a comfortable position, it actually is, as I don't have to worry about rolling over and landing on Bet (who tends to be a bit flighty about some things... I'm curious to experience these horrible creatures she calls "pointy pointy beady eyed birds").

The other day the "Musher" told us that we were going to the lake for an adventure.  I'm very keen to experience new things, and I haven't seen a lake yet, so I was raring to go.  Of course we had to wait until Bet had picked out an appropriate "ensemble" and then decide that she wouldn't wear one because it might get muddy, and that was a whole process that took forever, but eventually we got to the lake and it was wonderful!

There was squishy mud that feels really funny between your toes, and it smells slightly gross, but a wonderful gross, and there was this rock!  What a great rock that was!

The water was a bit warm and muddy, but tasty.

I saw another rock and I told Bet that it would be fun to splash through the water and get on that rock, and she was like all "watch out, there's creatures in the water and muck and the Musher will give you a bath", but I was all like "watch me run out there and be queen of the rock!"

So I did, I got on the rock!

I looked really close to the water and didn't see any creatures.  Sure there was muck, but muck is fun!

I tried to get Bet to come in and play in the water and play queen of the rock, but she said something about mussing her furs or something.

When I got out Bet gave me a lesson on water safety.  Something about stretching, and then not getting into the water until an hour after I ate, something about cramps, and the proper way to give CPR.

Thankfully she lost her train of thought when we heard a sound in the woods.  She's worried about bears, but not the bodyguard variety Bear.  I heard her chastising the "Musher" about not bringing the Homeland Security crew with us, but the "Musher" said we'd be fine, so I figured she knows what she's talking about.

I went and played in the long grass, because it was fun and there's cool bugs and things in there to chase and eat.  The grass wasn't that tasty, but I chomped a path through it.

I have to admit it got a bit dense in there, and then Bet had a conniption about not being able to see me, so she made me come back.


I tried to get her to go wading in the water with me and chasing these creatures she keeps talking about, but she said she was muddy enough.

So I'm like "fine, I'll go hunt for creatures by myself or something", and that got me a lecture on creatures and how they'd eat my face.  I'm beginning to wonder if Bet needs to be on some meds or something.

So I stalked an evil lake monster into the water

It was huge and ferocious, but I caught it and subdued it!

It nearly pulled me into the water, but I was able to capture it and kill it!

Then I found some delicious smells and followed their trail to the water again

I was pretty sure I captured it, but it turned out to be a blade of grass and not a giant worm set on destroying the world.

I heard some splashing, so I went to investigate the noise

I discovered that you can't smell things in the water because that muck goes right up your nose, but that didn't stop me

Where is that splashing thing, I shall capture you too!

I think it was a fish!!

Here fishy fishy, I will capture you!

Fish apparently swim very fast, but I was hot on its trail!

Come out, come out little fish

Hey!  Was that the fish?

Since I was getting pretty wet and muddy, Bet wanted me to come back to shore

Hey!  Come back on the shore, you'll be eaten alive!!

Helloooooo, did you hear me little missy????
It was pretty fun out at the lake, even with worry wart Bet around.  Don't get me wrong, it's nice to have someone looking out for you and all, but eeesh, I'm a growing puppy and I don't need a nanny!


Wednesday 19 August 2015

Starting Puppies

When and how to start 'puppies' is definitely a frequently asked question - so yesterday as I was doing just that with young Opie I took a bunch of pictures and video.

The first issue to address is 'when'.

I don't think there is a 'magic' number here - and for well bred dogs with lots of drive, it really won't matter. We always wait till circumstances are such that I can really focus on the puppies - not when I I'm focused on getting a race team ready.

Always over 6 months, but may be 8 or 10 or more.

I don't do much 'prep work' with them. Again, with well bred dogs with lots of drive, I just don't think it is necessary. I do make sure the dogs are well leash and/or chain broke though - they NEED to understand how to 'give' to resistance. It is not fair to your team nor your pup to have it have to figure that out in a team situation - plus you stand a very good chance of ruining you pup permanently if he fights the pressure and 'wins'.

Our pups also have the advantage of having watched many hookups prior to their first time. I have heard it said that a young dog will learn from watching others, I don't know that I buy that - but what I do believe is that the pup gets familiar with the sounds and energy coming off the other dogs and that helps them take 'hook up day' in stride.

With a rescue dog and/or a non traditional sledding breed, you may want to start younger and put more ground work in.

Opie is right about 9 months old.

With puppies first runs you always want to set them up for success, so picking your team carefully is very important. I do the following....

1) Pick a SOLID front end. This is not the time to be dealing with inexperienced or unreliable leaders. Pick the best you have!

I chose See and Opie's mom Kelly for the task

2) Put a number of dogs in front of the pup with good drive. You want dogs that will keep moving even if there is back pressure from the pup pulling back. If the young dog happens to try to test to see if he has to go forward and is sucessful in stopping the team you have created a HUGE future problem.

I had Ditto, Google, Turtle and Scud directly in front. Lotsa drive!

3) Pick a running mate that  has good energy and that the pup knows. I want a good driving dog, but not a 'crazy to go' dog nor one that will take unreasonable offense if the pup bumps into them.

For Opie I choose Ryka. They are kenneled next to each other and LOVE each other. Her energy is perfect!

Team sorted, you want to pick a relatively easy trail. I don't want to have to stop unless I want to on a puppy run. This is not a time to go exploring.

I hook my puppy up very last and then don't dilly dally once they are in the team. Move calmly but with purpose. Rushing and running around will add more stress to the occasion.

And now the key to it all GO SLOW!!! I cannot stress this enough. There is NOTHING to be gained and MUCH to be lost by charging down the trail at breakneck speed.
Scare a pup now and you will have a big, if not impossible, problem to overcome in the future. You will not harm your team nor your puppy by riding the brake. Quite the opposite actually.


Most pups will figure it all out very soon but some will not. Just go as slow as you can but keep moving forward. Having someone run alongside the pup coaxing it can sometimes help a reluctant young dog.

Be creative.

I had one dog once that was quite reluctant to go and my handler, Katherine actually took a few steps alongside her while holding her up by her harness. Worked like a charm and she was off and running on her own in just a few steps. That dog, See, was leading the team today.

I don't fret over what side of the gangline they run on and will slow down but let them sort out any minor tangles they get in on their own. Stopping every time they get even slightly tangled will teach them 'learned helplessness'.

No need to chatter at them nor stop and bother them - they have enough to sort out right now. The reward of actually running will be more than enough anyway.

A quarter mile into our run (sorry - messed up the clip of leaving the yard)

A mile and a half or so into the run

Sorry, messed up the finishing the run video - but here is a still

You can see he is on his own side and into his harness much better. The MOMENT his tug starts going slack I will slow the team down to the point that he gets back into his harness again.
I do not believe in teaching puppies that it is okay to run with a loose tug line - nor do I ever undo the tugline and let them run without pulling. They need to learn that keeping the line tight is their job - and how to use the pressure from the tug line to help balance.

Don't run the pup too long. Always leave them wanting more!

Remember all puppies, even littermates, are different and will progress on their own schedule. Don't be in a hurry.

Give them time to sort everything out and move forward with confidence! It will pay off in the long run!!!