Peace Pups Dogsledding; year four.
2004, Puppy (and Ken) training begins. Hooking up a group of seven month old pups for the first time in your life is a rude awakening. I had no idea of the amount of energy and power adding four young dogs to the team was going to make. I generally run down our driveway and take a 90 degree right (gee) or left (haw) at the bottom. I must have crashed at least eight times before I made a clean run out of the yard that winter. On top of the speed going down the hill the surface is hard packed due to us driving on it. It was therefore very difficult to control the speed of the sled as we flew down the driveway and even harder to keep the sled upright and on the runners as I was whipped around the 90 degree corner at the bottom. One run in particular I had asked the dogs to go Haw which they did. I however flipped the sled over on its side. The dogs just kept on running as fast as ever because me sliding on my stomach really doesn't add that much resistance. Being early season the stream bed at the bottom and left of our driveway was not frozen over yet and was a jumble of rocks and stones. I was dragged through that at a good rate of speed while yelling "WHOA" at the top of my lungs. This is not a very effective way to stop a team of Siberians when they are fresh and crazy to run. I just hung on and when we got to a slight uphill they stopped and looked back at me. I attempted to stand up and right the sled but as soon as I moved they were off again. I was doing my best to be an anchor but not having a lot of luck. After repeating this about five times I finally got the sled upright and back on the runners. It occurred to me that if any one with in a mile radius of our place was outside and heard my frantic yelling they were probably wondering what the heck was going on over here. I figured they must just think I'm crazy. After I had several repeats of this adventure (less the stream bed luckily) I actually developed a technique for righting the sled and getting back on while moving so I guess something good came out of this experience. As the winter progressed I developed more confidence driving the new and improved six dog team. We didn't do very many long runs this winter because the pups were still only eight to nine months old and developing. You don't want to work dogs of this age too much because they could become injured or if worked too much they could decide they really don't like pulling at all. It's very important to keep it fun for everyone.
7 months and raring to go!
I also reached a point during this season that I contemplated placing one of my dogs. When I started with all of this I swore I would never place a dog. When they came to live here they were here for life. Jake has been an example of that. Even though he no longer runs with my sled team he is here for life. He was in the shelter twice before we got him and I just couldn't stand to see him moved again. Misty was having a hard time fitting in with our faster sled team. She never really was a good pulling dog but she did love running, just as long as she didn't have to work too much. We have some close friends who had recently lost a dog and they were looking for another companion. They gave Misty a try and she is still there today. I think it worked out better for everyone. I'm not trying to push her to contribute more yet she still gets plenty of exercise and attention. She is the only dog that I have placed since we started our canine family. We still visit Misty since she only lives a short distance up the road and she often comes to spend the night and visit her old friends.
We took our first trip to Matawin Quebec toward the end of the season. The St.Maurice Provincial Park is located about five hours north of here and they have cabins with wood heat and gas for cooking and light as well at 100 miles of dogsled only trails that they keep packed. It's a wonderful place to do some longer runs and have a winter camping experience with out the hardships of sleeping outside. It's pretty cushy being able to lounge around the woodstove sipping wine and playing cards while you're out in the Canadian wilderness. The pups were really coming along nicely and did a 25 mile run while we were there. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life spending so much time with the dogs and being out there all by ourselves. This was to become a yearly excursion for us.
We ran two races that spring. One was a six mile sprint race to expose the youngsters to the whole race scene. The other was a 25 mile fun run which we entered shortly after returning from our trip to Quebec. When racing I realized the Toots was kind of a weak link in the team and being almost 10 years old she would only become slower. Aiko was also close to her age. I began to think I should have another younger dog to fill out the team and not hold back the younger guys. The rule of thumb for a dog sled team is "you are only as fast as your slowest dog". This is because the dogs are all connected and if one of them is running slowly you have to brake the sled or cart to the speed of that dog or else they would begin to be dragged by their neck line. They really don't like that and if it happens will generally become completely frustrated and stop all together. If that happens no one goes anywhere.
We were introduced to Exxon at a spring time race in New Hampshire. Exxon is a big boy with a big bark. He's not the most focused guy on the team but tends to pull well. We keep him in wheel most of the time so he is less able to stop and play with loose dogs. At this point the pups are getting full grown and becoming fast runners and I am learning about the difficulties of balancing a team of dogs with diverse age and running abilities.
You start with one group of dogs then add faster dogs to your team then you may find the first dogs you had can't quite keep up with your newer faster dogs. It becomes easy to see why some kennels have forty plus dogs to pull together one good team. I have decided not to go that route. My goal is to try and use the dogs I have and be able to work them together as a team. As some of my earlier dogs become older and retire I will need younger dogs to replace them. It's strange how once you begin to keep eight or ten dogs it really is easy to make the jump to fourteen or sixteen. When I first started with Siberians and had one or two I felt like that was the most I would ever have. I found it hard to see how someone could have ten dogs and feel the same way about them that I did with my one or two. I can now tell you from experience that I love each and every dog in my kennel now just as much as I did when I only had one dog.
Factors that determine the number of dogs you keep are feeding and care cost, space available for your dog yard, and the amount of time you have available to care for and work with your dogs, as well as what your goals are in regard to dog powered sports. I've heard various numbers for the cost of keeping sled dogs but a average one seems to be $1.00 per dog per day. If you have a kennel of ten dogs that would be around $300.00 per month. That's probably a pretty good estimate based on normal care and not taking into consideration any extra veterinarian expenses from sick or injured dogs. It's hard to walk in to the vet's office without spending $100.00 these days.
With Exxon joining us in the spring we had plenty of time for socializing and play time before he began training in the fall. I find that even though buying a dog in the spring means you won't be able to run them for several months it does allow a good amount of time to get to know the dog and allow them to settle in with the rest of the dogs. We were now suddenly up to eleven dogs, how did that happen??