Peace Pups Dogsledding; year one.
Our first Siberian Husky was a dog named Jake. My partner and I had been to one of the New England Dogsled Club sprint races. We were very excited about the skijoring event. This seemed like something we could do. We both love cross country skiing and dogs so what could be a more perfect combination of the two? We had our pet dog Maura and two cats at the time. I attempted to teach Maura to skijor and I was convinced that she must have some husky in her background somewhere despite my veterinarian's insistence in labeling her as a Sheppard mix. I soon became convinced that he was probably right. Maura would much rather chase her Frisbee than pull me around on skis. After many unsuccessful attempts at persuading her that skijoring is fun I gave up and started contemplating the idea of a "real" sled dog.
My partner stopped by our local shelter and found they had a beautiful Siberian Husky sitting there waiting to meet us. She took him out for a walk and found that he about pulled her arm off while on a leash. She came home and insisted that I stop in and check him out for myself. She was right; he really did pull on his leash. That and his gorgeous looks got him to our house for a "trial" visit with the warning that he might eat cats. I clearly remember the day we brought Jake home to visit. I was intimidated by this sixty five pound wolfish dog which the shelter labeled as "dominant". Not to mention the stress of thinking he might eat one of our cats for a snack! He didn't eat the cat and we got used to him after a few days and decided to keep him. The next big hurtle now that we had a dog was to learn how to skijor and to teach Jake to work in harness.
Jake was from a home where his main form of exercise was chasing down the neighbors chickens which is what landed him in the shelter the first time around (we were round three but that's another story). Obviously we both had a lot to learn. I started scouring the internet for information on skijoring and training Siberian Huskies. I bought every book I could find on the topic and read them cover to cover. I must admit that Jake did a pretty well as a student given the fact that I knew even less about the sport than he did. We spent our first fall bikejoring together to get in shape and his instinct to run kept him out in front of me for the most part. This is important when bikejoring since you don't want your dog to go around you in circles and tie you, your bike and himself in a big knot. We learned a lot about skijor lines, dog harnesses, and human harnesses this first fall. Once snow fell and our trails were covered with snow we dusted off the skis and tried out our new skijor harnesses (his and mine). I used classic cross country skis this first winter because that allowed me to ski around our home and not have to seek out groomed trails. It was also a little more forgiving as I learned to absorb the bumps and jolts that are added to your skiing once you attach yourself to a dog. We were skijoring two or three miles a few times a week and we were starting to get the hang of it. This was creating some issues at home however, my partner seeing how much fun Jake and I were having decided that she should really have a dog to ski with as well. I couldn't really argue that fact; it wasn't fair that I was having all the fun so we started looking for another unsuspecting Siberian to add to our household. I had read somewhere that Jake would be much happier with another Siberian to play with.
Jake Posing For Our Christmas Cards
Enter Misty, our second Siberian! We thought we had such good luck with the shelter that we would look there again. This time they didn't have any Siberians sitting there waiting for us. They did however have a posting from a local woman who was placing a whole team of sled dogs! We promptly called her and arrainged a visit to see what she had for dogs. There was a mixed bag of dogs that she had acquired from various kennels around New England. One particular female happened to catch my eye. I didn't really know what I was looking for but Misty seemed like a nice dog and she looked like she would make a nice companion for Jake. We went for a walk with Misty and hey, she pulled on her leash too! Home she came, again with the warning "she might eat your cats"...
Misty, our 2nd sled dog
This was a false alarm with Misty as well. We never did have any problems with either of them bothering the cats although Misty never seemed to take her eyes off of them when they were in the same room together. This is a cause for concern with any Siberian, until you get to know the dog don't leave them alone with your cat, chicken, bunny, or even other dogs. Most of them do have a strong prey instinct. It helps if the dog was raised with cats from a puppy, and then there is more chance that they will not bother with them. Misty and Jake got along marvelously and the both settled into our home quite well. My partner and I skijored most weekends and I even signed up for a couple of races to see just how well we were doing.
What an eye opener that was! Jake and Misty ran pretty well together but one thing I hadn't put much work into was their running with other dogs around. If you've ever been to a dogsled race you know there are plenty of other dogs around. Misty did fine with the whole thing; she was from a long line of sled dogs and had been to races before so it was old hat for her. Jake however had not been around other dogs much at all and had never seen anything like what he saw that first race. I managed to keep things under control in the parking lot and somehow with the help of some other very kind mushers we made it to the starting line. They counted down our start and we were off, yahoo, Jake and Misty were running down the trail (in the right direction I might add!) and things were looking great. That is until we met one of the other teams coming back toward us. This was an out and back race course with what is referred to as "head on" passing. Basically you are on a ten to fifteen foot wide trail with another team coming directly toward you and hopefully holding to the right side of the trail. I learned very quickly that Jake knew nothing of "gee over" meaning move to the right, and he apparently didn't know to stay on the right side of the trail. After the first encounter I realized that in order to not mess up every team we met I was going to have to take hold of Jake and physically hold him off to the right side of the trail. This allowed the other teams to get by with out becoming tangled with me. Every time another team moved past us and I let go of Jake to continue our run he would spin around and attempt to follow the other team in the wrong direction. I was extremely happy when we finally had the last team ahead of us go by. I figured we were home free at that point, no more head on passes so Jake could just keep running. Misty was just watching all of this and probably laughing. I had resigned myself to the fact that we were going to be in last place when we caught up to another skijorer on our way back to the finish line. Wow, we were going faster than someone else! So what if it was a twelve year old kid wearing down hill skis and ski boots, we still caught someone. I had my first opportunity to try a pass, as we came up to the other skier I told him I was going to try and pass. Of course up to this point Jake and Misty had been running hard since they could see these other dogs up ahead. As soon as they got alongside the other dogs Jake thought is was play time and no amount of coaxing was going to convince him to get by these other dogs much less continue to run in front of them. I started to snow plow to slow down and settled for following the other skier in to the finish line. We still came in a minute ahead of him because we went out in one minute intervals. This became our main race strategy with Jake and even got us a trophy and some prize money that winter. We caught a team that went out ahead of us, followed them to the finish line to come in second out of the field of three. Hey, we'll take it any way we can get it...