Monday, November 23, 2009

Saturday's Run

On Saturday we travelled to a place known as the Geophysical site north of Newport.  In winter this area is a cross country ski area.  Other times of year the trails may be used for hiking, biking, or well dog training!  Since the area is well drained and a thin layer of ice and snow blankets many of our other trails we decided to try this one.  The parking lot looked great.  We went over and checked out the trail map again to decide upon our route.  We chose the outer loop which has some somewhat challenging short steep hills for the dogs.  Many of our runs to date have been relatively flat.

After getting the dogs "dressed" in their harnesses and the cart outfitted with lines, I took off.  When I did so, I did without knowing the adventure that lay before us.  Within a mile or so we can to our first downed tree across the trail.  It was small and easy to get around.  We had come to several trail intersections by now and I was working with my leaders, Cooper and Rose on gee and haw commands.  Cooper is still getting used to my voice and how I give commands.  I don't think Rose really has learned hers yet.  They are definitely learning though!  After the small tree, somewhere before we reached the mile point, we came across our first large log.   I did not measure it, but it was at least 12 inches in diameter.  I asked the dogs to go ahead and they all hopped over and then stopped when I asked them to.  Now I had to get the cart over and get on it before the dogs took off.  Normally I have my dirt brake to keep the dogs from taking off with the cart while we are stopped but this strategy would not work here.  Sometimes my dogs are very patient and will wait for me to call them up after they have stopped.  This time however they were not patient and though I told them to "whoa" they were already starting to move.  So I grabbed the handlebars, and jumped on the cart as it went by.  This brought back some not so fond memories of homemade carts (we called them "death traps") and runs gone by in Flagstaff.  At the mile mark we reached the first short steep hill and fortunately at this point Bob showed up.  I say fortunately because if he passed us on the hill my team could hopefully chase.  Bob's team was not so inclined to race up the hill either.  Between the steepness and the trail surface, which was lumpy grass, we both had to get off and give our dogs some assistance.  That or wait a very long time before the dogs might decide that was the only option!

Several logs and a couple more hills later, we both arrived back at the truck and the dogs received their well deserved meat soup and the special treats, frozen hotdogs!!  I have not given the dogs hotdogs before but on a email discussion list I am on some people said that their dogs really like them as an after run or trail snack.  Upon the first sniffs the dogs looked doubtful, then they took the "dogs" in the mouths and their demeanor changed.  Tails started wagging and everyone was looking for their second hotdog!  It is definitely a winner!

Second run I took out the rest of the dogs, a second 6 dog team.  I had a new dog with me this run, named McGee.  McGee is just over a year old now and just being exposed to work in harness.  His breeder had started to work with him to ensure that he would be the kind of dog that would work out here.  So far I am very pleased.  This day he ran at wheel next to my boy Pepper. Pepper is really sweet boy, not a mean bone in his body.  He does have one bad habit I have to work on in races and that is trying to visit.  He thinks everyone is his playmate....errr not so buddy.  Otherwise Pepper is very steady in harness, his tug is always tight and he has a calm demeanor that I like.  I like a dog that knows its job, takes off with joy and energy but is not crazy to go.  Some people do like their teams to be crazy to go, lots of leaping, lunging, and jumping in harness.  It is just a preference really.  For some this is a sign of their team's absolute joy in running.  Quieting them is stifling their behavior.    At any rate McGee did a great job as a wheel dog.  I really felt the power through the gangline on this second team, a little more so than the first team.  That was a nice feeling. 

As this team drank their meat soup and later devoured their frozen hot dogs, Bob, I and good friend Luanne caught up with one another over cups of coffee. The weather had held for both of our runs, temperatures were very nice for training (certainly for people).  In spite of the obstacles we "lived" to train another day and definitely to tell stories (tall tales perhaps?) about our runs today.  So we and our dogs will look forward to more adventures ahead.  It is surely through those that we learn the most!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dashing Kennel New Addition

The Dashing Kennel welcomes Tumnatki's McGee, Cooper's half brother.

Spokane Dirt Rendezvous Picture

November 7 and 8 Bob and I attended the Spokane Dirt Rendezvous at Riverside State Park in Spokane. The event, put on by the Inland Empire Sled Dog Association attracted mushers from the Inland Northwest as well as western Washington.

Pictures from the recent Spokane Dirt Rendezvous

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fourth Training Runs

All is well with the world for me when I get to go out and train the dogs. Today was just our fourth set of training runs. We woke up to a dense soupy fog and temperatures dipping slightly below 40 degrees. After giving the dogs their "meat soup" to get them hydrated, we sat down to our breakfast. At around 9:00 we hit the road with the truck loaded. We did not drive far today, about 15 minutes over to Granite Mountain Plantation just north of Athol, where we live.

I thought I would mix up the teams a little today and try out some new leaders, give the others a break. My initial plan was to put Nova on the boys team as she is not in heat, have Skye run at lead with Abby, and put Cooper on the girls team to work with Starr. So with the first team, I started out with Abby, our 10 year old alaskan husky leader and Skye at lead, Pepper and his dam Nova at swing and Donner and Blizzard at wheel. Though Nova is not yet in heat, she is either very close or smells like she is because she shares a kennel with Starr who definitely is....Skye kept turning around at lead to try and face her. Pepper was a little interested in her as well but nothing like Skye. So I thought I would try a different configuration and put Nova up at lead with Abby, Skye and Pepper at swing, and the brothers at wheel. We got started at least with this lineout, though Nova is not really a lead dog. Still we were moving forward. I got a little ways down the trail before Skye started to lift his lip at Pepper. Well so much for that configuration, the last thing I needed was to get down the trail and have a dog fight! Having Nova on the team, it would seem, was just too much of a distraction at this time. Fortunately I was still within earshot of the truck so I called Bob and asked him to bring me Cooper which he did. I replaced Nova with Cooper and then off we went. Now the team consisted of Cooper and Abby at lead, Skye with Pepper at swing, and Donner and Blizzard at wheel. Skye was just fine now, with the "Nova" distraction removed. He had no trouble running next to Pepper who he ordinarily gets along with fine. This is a powerful team, Abby is extremely enthusiastic in spite of her years. Cooper is an extremely talented leader. I am so very excited to have her in my kennel.

We are doing a 2.5 mile run today, mostly level but with a gradual uphill grade on the return. The team is doing pretty well though I note that Pepper's and Donner's tugs are not quite tight. I stop a couple times to give the team a break and then start them up again each time I see the tuglines go slack. I am a bit surprised to see this in Pepper. Donner on the other hand has a tendency to take it easy sometimes. He is more easily bored I think. If it is a little warm, if we do a trail several times in a row he will take it easy sometimes. So I decided to take a bit of different loop or part of the loop to see if this would entice Donner a bit. The only problem was getting Abby convinced that we were going to take this trail, and not the one we usually do! She is a creature of habit and she was determined today to go the way she has gone most recently. After stopping several times and guiding my leaders over to the correct trail while giving them the command for that direction we finally go....I think Cooper would have had no trouble with the switch, but Abby was determined.

At the half way mark Bob's team caught up with us and after that point we did some passing practice on the way back to the truck, leap frogging one another so each team chased, then passed, ran ahead and then stopped while the other did the same. At this point both Donner and Pepper were very much engaged. Perhaps Donner has been saving himself for this the entire run....At any rate, our passes are clean and the team moves ahead after each pass with no loss of forward momentum. This passing practices give the teams not only practice passing and being passed, it also provides for some interval training as they speed up each time they are in chase mode. We continued this process all the way back to our track, finishing with a quick sprint at the end.

The second team to go is my girls team. I decided today to give Saffron a chance to run at Lead with Starr, put Rose with her dam at swing, and Willow and Kes at wheel. The team hesitates off the start, which they did at the their last run, but once they are going they are moving along just fine. This team, smaller in size and without Abby or Cooper on it is definitely not as powerful but they are moving along steadily. I think they would be happier if it were colder. Saffron has not run lead much and is not quite sure of her role. Most of the time she moves forward but every now and then she drags Starr off the trail to investigate smells or turns around to see the dogs behind her. We stop, I line them out and then we go again. Each time Saffron does not seem uncomfortable being in lead, just not understanding completely her "job" there yet. Her tug is tight though and most of the time she is working hard side by side with her co leader Starr.

At around about 1/3 of the way around I stopped the team for a break. The temperature is around 50 degrees so it is a little warm. When I call the dogs up to run again, not a girl budges. No one leans into their harnesses. I wait a bit longer and call them up again and still no response. At this point I went up to check on them, they are not overheated, but I do think they are not as enthusiastic with the current temps. Still the purpose getting out to train is just that, the dogs need to learn that go means go, unless there is a very good reason not to. So I go up to the team, take each dog's tug in my hand and give it a tug saying to that dog, everybody pull. After finishing that I returned to my rig and called them up again, still no response. I repeated this same process three times before the dogs responded, leaning into their harnesses and getting the cart moving forward again. Yahooooo, what good girls they are!!!!! I am so proud of them, rewarding them with lots of praise. Now the team and cart is moving and we head downhill for the next stretch of trail, no problem with team morale here!

Once we reach the final turn for the "home stretch" Bob catches up to us with his team. That is good timing.....this will give the team something to focus on, to boost their morale as we move into the final leg of our journey. I am curious to see how this team will do with the passing practice since Saffron has not spent much time in lead at all. We did several passes as we traveled back and each time my team pulled ahead they slowed some but they continued to move ahead most of the time. This was very promising, some dogs, less comfortable in lead are unwilling to pass and move ahead, particularly when it is their teammates. I also tried to set up some positive hill climbing scenarios. After I passed Bob's team a couple times (while he is stopped), I moved my team ahead but I stopped them before a short but noticeable hill. Knowing Bob's team would have no trouble with it but hoping this would give my team that extra incentive to give the hill their best effort. It worked both times. My intent is to instill in them the idea that they can readily climb hills as well as to build strength early in the season.

As we approach the truck Bob's duo takes off at a dead run, my girls don't quite have that much sprint in them but our pace picks up nicely. When we stop in front, all tails are wagging, and their sammy smiles are bright.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Training Log #3, October 16

Its mid October now and in years past we usually have quite a number of runs under our "belt" by now; but this year we have been a bit slower. First of all, it was so warm in September and then there was the dust...On top of that, there is the greenhouse construction and some a couple other side projects. Fortunately in the beginning of October the weather changed for the better for training sled dogs (not so for people who were enjoying the long indian summer). Today we got out for our third runs of the season. Vicky Massey and I met north of Blanchard where we ran on State ground, starting out a friend's property. I had gone today with the intent of avoiding rain tomorrow, though now that I see the latest forecast, it appears that the rain will hold off til tomorrow night. Nonetheless it looks even warmer tomorrow than today so I am glad I got today's runs in.

Speaking of warm, it is much warmer now than the unseasonably cold temperatures we experienced last week, in fact it feels almost balmy in comparison. Our low last night did not dip below freezing, in fact I don't think it dropped much below 40 degrees. I definitely prefer quite a bit colder temperatures for running my Samoyeds but we can adjust when it is warm, we take it slower, stop more often, take a drink or two. Still I hope for their sake, it will cool down a bit.

With a kennel full of girls in heat, I am still training the samoyeds in separate boys and girls teams. So no A and B teams here, we have B and G as someone said today. The boys, with Abby and Cooper ran first today and had the pleasure of sharing the trail with Vicky and her dynamite scooter team (except they were pulling a light racing cart). We did some passing practice which I have been wanting to do with some teams other than Bob's. For the most part that went well except for one pass in which Donner got a bit snippy with one of Vicky's leaders. I'm not sure what was going on but I told Donner to "leave it", which he did, as that is certainly not exceptable passing behavior. Of course this is why we practice, the more we do it, the more comfortable the dogs become. They learn what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior when passing. It becomes pretty automatic to them. In recent years however; I have not had nearly as much chance to practice this with my dogs as I have in the past and I think it is so important.

The "boys" very much enjoyed their run, even with the warmer temperatures. Doing back and forth passes with a team they had not met before was something new and exciting for them. I was also pleased with the leaders performance on turns. At a couple points, Vicky took her team in different directions than I did, and both Cooper and Abby, though they paused initially, took their commands correctly.

The girls went out second, and alas it was getting warmer definately for them by the time we left. So we took it slow and took a few more breaks. Actually we had a few more breaks than I intended because these girls certainly like to hunt. In fact, it would seem that their sole purpose in going out on these runs is to locate all squirrel middens and squirrels. I lost track today. Now I will say that the good thing is that though they get distracted and go off the trail for the squirrels they are definitely better than my old boy Moqui used to be. Once he saw a squirrel, he was like an elephant that wouldn't forget and I used to have a terrible time getting him to focus again on doing what "I" thought we were supposed to be doing ;). Of course that is the thing about working with dogs and running dogs. We each go out for our own reasons. The alaskan huskies, they run because they were born and bred to run. Some of them don't even notice squirrels, or deer even. Siberians, well I think the squirrel would have to run right under their nose to notice. Samoyeds, on the other hand, well it depends on the Samoyed but clearly these girls were thinking about winter provisions! Once again, the key is to understand your dogs and train accordingly. At any rate they were clearly enjoying themselves and keeping an eye out for tasty morsels kept them alert and working (between squirrels). I am hopeful though, that as time passes they will learn to go onby these squirrel "morsels", at least most of them :). Without Abby or Cooper on this team we did a bit more actual hill training this second run. You see the girls tried to convince me that the two hills we encountered were too much and would I not get off the cart and help them or perhaps take a different route! So I stopped for a bit, in a couple of cases, got off, set my brake, and gave each of them a little pep talk before going back and calling them up. In both cases after I did this the girls leaned into their harnesses and pulled well. This is all part of training, and that is why we are out there! We did make it up both hills, the girls did it all themselves, and we stopped for lots of praise afterwards. If all our runs were going perfectly, it would mean that I was not doing an real training with my teams!

As we approached the truck we could hear the dogs from our friend's kennel singing and the girls sped up with anticipation of their return to the truck, greeting their buddies and getting their treats. They arrived with tails wagging and tongues hanging out, it was warm....but they were happy.

After our runs Vicky and I and our friends had the chance to do what all mushers love to do after a run, stand around, enjoy some coffee and a cinnamon roll (thanks Vicky) and talk dogs or whatever else comes to mind. As we relaxed, so did the dogs who were enjoying the warm sunshine now that their exercise was done. So with another set of runs are over, and I sit here smiling as I remember, yes, this is why I am a dog musher.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Second Training Run, October 11

Fall seems in full force now as temperatures dropped precipitously after an arctic weather system swept south and settled into northern Idaho. Our high temperatures have been in the low forties and at night they have plumeted to the low twenties. The dogs are full of energy.

This morning we loaded up the teams and headed out north of Blanchard to run with friends from another friend's property. The trail network is extensive and includes many small roads that wind through the woods, it's training heaven. We arrived at around 9:00, it had been 7 degrees there this morning. It was still brisk and cold.

We unloaded our first teams and with the cold temperatures and other dogs, their excitement was tangible. Everyone was barking, tails wagging eagerly, eyes following me with anticipation as the lines come out, the harnesses laid next to each dog. I took my "boys" team out first once again. This time both Abby and Cooper were running with us (so it was really the sammy boys team with Abby and Cooper ;). Abby and Cooper definitely enjoy running together. Abby is a 10 year old alaskan husky but she loves to go. Samoyeds always run better in the cold, with their thick coats the colder the better. This morning was no different.

It was a beautiful morning to be out, crisp cold temperatures stunning beautiful blue skies, trees turning gold. About a mile and a half into the run Bob came up behind me with his scooter team of Xena and Cody. As they passed my team digs in and the speed and power go up several notches. The enthusiasm and power of this six dog team is noticeable today in the cold temperatures compared to our first run. Two miles out we turn left and up onto some windy trails through the woods. Bob's scooter team refused a turn and we pass at least temporarily for a windy run through the woods with his team on our wheels. Partway through this stretch there is a short steep hill and I stop my team before heading up it to give them a breather and let their enthusiasm build for running the hill. Bob's team passes, perfect! This is just what we needed for that extra effort to climb the hill. Still it is early season though and about 2/3 of the way up, their momentum slows and we pause for another quick break to catch our breath. After a few moments, Abby and Cooper are ready to go and with my "are you ready" command they are straining to climb the hill. As we crest the top of the hill the trail plunges around a shady bend and down through the trees. At the bottom of the hill we turn left again and take some winding trails and some gee and haw practice. Then we come out on the main road again and turn right and head back to the truck. I am impressed the sams are still running with great enthusiasm, they are enjoying the cold. Skye put in an awesome performance at point. That boy really loves to go and he was pushing the entire run. Blizzard also put in a stellar run, my big powerful wheeler. Once back at the truck, raw meat with water (mmmmm), canned food with water for a few, the team looks very satisfied.

The second team to go out is my girls team, now with four girls in heat. Better to get this out of the way at once I guess than spread it out over two months. Rose and Starr take the lead, Nova with her daughter Saffron at point, and Willow and Kes are at wheel. Our take off today is not quite as powerful as on our first run last week. I don't know if this is because their hormones have them a little distracted or something else. However, after about a quarter mile down the trail the whole team kicks their speed up a notch. Teams do this sometimes and it is never quite clear what they have detected. Is it an animal they smell off in the woods, something about the trail, something they hear? It is hard to know. The team is doing really well until all of a sudden both leaders dash off the trail into the dense thicket of trees along the side. I didn't see a bird or squirrel but there must be one. My "onby" and "leave it" commands fall on deaf ears. These girls don't seem to miss a single possible prey item! I stop, set my dirt brake, and go up to line out my leaders, now tangled with each other from their brief adventure. As I line them out I see Bob with his "A" team racing up behind me. They fly by us literally. That definitely gets Rose and Starr's attention and we are off and running again.

We keep them in sight for awhile but Bob's team is fast and my girls team is smaller and not as powerful as my first team. He slowly draws away. I don't know if my first team could stay on this powerful scooter teams wheels. Still the girls are doing well, they are clearly happy and working. One girl in particular is most enjoying herself, perhaps a bit at the expense of the rest of us. This is Nova. Nova is a little bit of a sightseer sometimes. She loves to go and she can run as fast as the wind, but of all my girls; Nova is my biggest hunter. One day I was out and she was in the middle of the team somewhere. We were moving along, the team was running very smoothly, everything had gone according to "plan". Then we pass a dead grouse that was off to the side of the trail (by a few feet). I missed it. The leaders missed it. The point dogs missed it. Nova did NOT miss it. She leaped off the trail, pounced, coming up to my surprise with grouse in mouth. Of course at this point, EVERYONE on the team knew what was up!!!! I don't think Nova has ever forgotten that run and she is always on the lookout for a possible treat....At any rate, she was in rare form today and definitely enjoyed herself.

As we reached the turnaround point of this run and head back to the truck the girls speed up. Are they thinking about their meat broth? Or were they thinking about the squirrel they saw back along the trail? I am not sure but something has peaked their interest. This increased speed lasts for a while and then they slow down. It is time to take a breather. It is a little warmer than the first run. About half way back along this stretch of trail, which parallels the road I came out on, I turned into the woods to the give my leaders some practice with turn commands. we do a small loop on a windy woodsy trail all with right turns. It is preferable when practicing to try and work on each turn separately. This loop worked very well for that.

As we approach the truck the girls anticipate the finish. Everyone is working hard. Seeing the team working as a team always puts a big smile on my face. Starr has especially impressed me on this run, particularly during the last stretch where she was working incredibly hard. I smile once again as we pull up behind the trailer. We have finished another adventure together and until the next run, we will savor its memories.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fall is here, the training run

The first run is always a momentous occasion! In a way, it is a little like "going back to school". That is the best thing I can compare it to because once you do that first run, training season has begun in earnest. That means getting up early on weekends to run when it is cold, getting up earlier on week days to get the runs in order to get "real" work done later. Though each run may not take all that long, the total time spent in the endeavor takes several hours by the time we load our dogs into our truck, drive to our training site (which may be anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes or even an hour away), unload the dogs and equipment, run them, feed them, drive home, unload them. It is a major investment in time and effort. Each dog weighs from 40 to 60 pounds and must be lifted up into the truck. The dogs can help on the boxes on the lower deck but for the upper deck it takes some upper body strength.

Wedsnesday we got up at 6:00 which is not all that early. The first thing we did was give the dogs some "baited water" which is water with a little meat or canned food or something to get them to drink so that they are hydrated before they start their run. We usually use a special raw meat product for this, but our shipment is not here yet so canned food it is. Then we had our breakfast. After we had breakfast we hooked up the trailer to the truck and drove down to the dogyard to load. We have a good setup and can load 16 dogs,water, and food into our truck in about 15 minutes. Then we started off to a place about 10 minutes from the house here, called Granite Plantation, it is mixed ownership with Forest Service, State Land and private timber. It has a wonderful network of roads with loops up to 10 miles in length.

I have 3 girls in heat now so I brought all the Samoyeds but ran them in separate boys and girls teams. I am also running a 4 year old Siberian Husky as a leader to work with my leaders. Wednesday she ran with the boys because I have two boys on the team who are not fond of each other and with the girls in heat I wanted to make sure that there would be no chance of "issues". So there were 4 boys and Cooper and 6 girls on each team. I ran the boys first, because one of those boys, Skye, will chew his tail in his dog box if he has to wait very long :0!!! Skye ran up at lead with Cooper, Pepper ran at swing/point by himself. He is also a leader and this a great place to train leaders. My wheel dogs were my two beloved brothers, Donner and Blizzard.

When the dogs were dropped from their boxes, and attached to their drop chains their excitement was evident. Tails were wagging. Some were spinning in circles. Some were barking. All eyes were on me. When the harnesses came out, each one laid out next to the right dog,the excitement clearly intensified, more barking. They love to get their harnesses on because I always give them a little rubdown as I do.Next the cart was hooked up, a snubline was attached between the cart and truck, brakes on cart set, 6 dog line set out. Now time to hook up!!! First the leaders, Cooper and Skye are hooked up, then the swing dog/s, then the wheel dogs. At this point it can get REALLY noisy, but my dogs are actually pretty calm. My call to get started is to say "Are you ready", then "lets go". "Are you ready" is when I want to see them lean into their harnesses, with the lines stretched out tight. When I say "let's go", I will release all the brakes and off we go. So wednesday I cried out "Ready" and Cooper slammed into her harness and Skye followed her lead. Off we went!They were running full out at the start but I held their speed down with my brakes. It is unwise early in the season to let dogs run full throttle. This can lead to injuries until they build up their muscles to protect their joints. They can also be more susceptible to sprains. Not far into the run their pace falls off. Their muscles are still "soft" from summer, we settle into an easy trot. At about a half mile I see just a couple tugs look like that are going a bit slack. Tugs are short for "tuglines" and are the lines that connect the gangline to the harnesses on the dogs. When dogs are pulling hard those are very tight. I stop for a break to give the dogs a rest. I wait until their energy builds, they begin to strain in their harnesses to go or bark. You have to understand that you can't make a sled dog run but you can shape good behavior. By waiting for them to regain their energy, they know that they can trust me. Sometimes I ask for a little more, as they get in better condition, on some days I may do hill or interval training, but I am always fair, my relationship to my team is built completely on trust and mutual respect. I stopped several times today, to give them a breather and then we would be off.

It was magical to be out in the woods, to see hear them breathing, to see them moving in synchrony, to feel their power. When we returned I put them back onto their drop chains on the truck for a nice broth of water baited with canned food again. All tails are wagging, all eyes still follow me. Its time to take the harnesses off, give each dog a little rub down, a dog biscuit or two.

Next I had my second team, the girls, to take out. I was so jazzed about this run. My leaders were youngsters, homebred Rose, and kennelmate Starr. At swing was Nova and her daughter Saffron. At wheel were partners in crime Willow and Kes (another story). I had contemplated whether to use the big cart or the little cart because these girls are not as big as the boys…..Silly me to wonder. I decided to use the big cart. We hooked up the grrrrrls team and when I said Are you Ready? Rose and Starr slammed their harnesses. Hmmmm I was pretty pleased (much of last year Rose ran lead with our old alaskan leader Jezebel). Off we went and this team of all grrrrls, all Samoyeds, was keeping up as good a pace as my first team which had Cooper and my big boys in it. At the first turn, there was a pause, these leaders are not real sure about their turn commands I can see. But Starr started to go in the "right" direction, I praised her with a "Good Gee" and then to my surprise and pleasure the team took off at a dead run. I slowed them down a bit with my brakes. At the next corner, at which point there is a lovely view down into the Hoodoo Valley, the team settled into a trot and we stopped for a breather and I admired the view. Next there is a left turn, and at this point we are halfway done with our run. At the next and final turn to the left we paused again. Rose and Starr were anxious at each stop to get going again but I was keeping a close eye on Kestrel who is 9 years old. The cardinal rule in training and racing as well is go as fast as your slowest dog. Otherwise you will be overrunning your dogs, which is frustrating for them, and because they do have a hard time keeping up also ends up teaching them not to pull because they simply won't be able to. They may not be "necklining" or dragging, but they may not be working. At some point you may make a decision, if a dog is just holding back the rest of your team, well maybe that dog is just not a good fit. But maybe that dog is not having a good day that day, there could be a slight injury even. In Kestrel's case, she is 9 and I think she deserves the right to go a little slower and I also know she loves to go and as she gets in condition she will do fine. It just takes her a little longer now. I have to pay attention more to her needs.

Now we are on the home stretch, a squirrel races across the trail ahead and up a tree. What say Rose and Starr, a Squirrel??? Like any self respecting Samoyed, they completely forget what they are doing (leading and running on a sled team) and head straight up the tree trunk, jumping at the base, their teammates behind them. Ok, time to stop, set my dirt brake, go up and line out my leaders, who promptly go back over to the tree where the squirrel is, sigh. I line them out a second time, telling them to "leave it" and to "line out". Hey they do it, they must have learned something last year!!! Sammies lining out with squirrel in tree. WooHOOOOO! Excited after the squirrel incident there was an extra boost in their stride for the next quarter mile or so. They thought about chasing some chickadees that were flitting about but kept going straight ahead.

I am grinning from ear to ear. This is why I keep 20 dogs. Sometimes at midsummer feeding 20 mouths I ask myself, why do I have so many dogs????? It's hard for me to do anything spontaneous. We always have to find someone to take care of the dogs. We can't just leave, you can't board 20 dogs and it takes awhile to train someone to properly care for them in our absence. But when fall arrives and the magic happens, I remember again that special relationship, what it is like to be out in the woods, larch turning, birds singing, just me and my team. Not every run goes perfect but that is the challenge, trying to put myself in their heads, what motivates them? I learn from the runs that don't go perfectly and sometimes from the ones that do like today that I didn't think would ;). Most of all I rejoice in the time we have spent together, them and I.Til we run again….Jill and the Dashing Sams (and Cooper)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Spring/Summer is finally here

June 16, the days are long and summer officially starts only days away. True summer is short in northern Idaho, so it must be enjoyed to the fullest while it is here. The garden is in full swing. The parade of spring flowers is nearing its climax.
The kennel welcomes a new member, Cooper, a purebred siberian husky who joins us from Prineville Oregon where she was bred by Karen Yeargain. Cooper is a 4 year old and will be working with the Dashing teams in future years. She is fitting in nicely and we are enjoying her company, and learning how to "sibe - proof" our yard!

Our running days are now distant memories, though I am able to take individual dogs out with a bike via spring or k-9 cruiser for some exercise, when mornings are cool. I am hoping that this will help to keep them in some minimum level of fitness for next fall. It is also that time of year when we explore other activities, particularly agility. I have been accumulating some equipment and have converted the old "puppy" yard into an agility training area.

Friday, April 3, 2009

April 3, 2009

Winter is very slowly releasing its icy grip on the north country in Idaho. It has receded from our yards, leaving just the piles on the north side of our house and other buildings. We find ourselves not enjoying its continued gifts of snow, however beautiful.....and instead looking forward to spring. There are still trails to be skijored or venture by sled but our energies have been somewhat low after the finish of the race season. We are looking forward to some carting and scootering when the trails clear

The dogs are enjoying themselves, however; playing in the yards, enjoying those last snow mounds playing king of the mound. Here are some images of them doing what they do. Above is Starr and Saffron. Pictured here is Saffron again.

This is pretty Kes, she especially enjoys this time of year as she is an avid digger. Her coat nonetheless stays amazingly clean.

Brother Blizzard (l) and Donner (r) enjoying each others company. Looks like Donner is asking his brother here if he would like to romp.

Portrait of handsome Blizzard, showing off his distinctive biscuit mask.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A winter/spring day

The snow is almost gone in the exercise yards around our kennel, which means it is mud season....Snow is also going in many of our favorite training locales and the temperatures are warming which means but the time we travel to them conditions can be a bit less than optimal. We are awaiting some more of the snow to melt and local trails to dry out so we might get out on out carts and scooters.

The new cart that I got Bob for his birthday has arrived and I will need to take some photos so that I can post here. It is made by Artis carts and looks like it is going to be a very nice addition to our suite of training equipment here. It is similar in design to the carts made by German designer Fritz Dyck but with a few differences. It has a wider wheel base, and a slightly different dirt brake mechanism. At this point Artis carts only come in a three wheel version. One of the nice features of this cart is that it has a very easy to use lever for the dirt brake, a feature not found on the Fritz Dyck three wheel cart, at least when we purchased one. These two brands of carts are the only that we know of that have a dirt brake. We have been very impressed over the years by the the ability of this device to hold and control a team while out on the trail. We have been using both the Fritz Dyck SAM and TOM in our training program for several years. In the future I will post some pictures of the new cart but meanwhile here are some pictures taken around our place today of the house and dogs.

Happy Pepper

Pepper above and Nova below

Dasher and Back Yard

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring....yahooo! But...that means MUD

We are down to a 4 inch snow pack now on the property. It has been disappearing much more quickly as our nights have grown warmer, temperatures above freezing. Yes I admit to a certain obsession with this topic. I do enjoy the snow and winter and there is a part of me that is sorry to see it all go. But once it does start to go, this in between stage is just not for me! What is it about retreating snow that leaves mud the consistency of clay ready to be worked. Clay that sticks to whatever crosses over it, whether it be my dogs or me. Of course the young dogs are always filthy this time of year. They can get a bath one day and within another day or two it is hard to tell that any shampoo touched their bodies. Much of it will fall off once the dogs are dry so that is the best strategy for me!

In addition to receding snow, and encroaching mud, other signs of spring here include the morning cacophony of birds. We are starting to see greater variety at our feeders, today a downey woodpecker, towhee, red breasted nuthatch all came to visit. We've had chickadees, juncos, and house finches as regular visitors, along with occasional goldfinches.

Another recent discovery has been "facebook". Funny how one discovers that all of sudden there has been this whole other world of electronic communication out there that they were not aware of. The networking abilities available through this tool seem boundless.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Long Winter

The long winter continues.......After relatively mild weather through January and most of February, winter came back for at least one last blast this week. Several inches of snow fell in northern Idaho followed by a very strong cold snap. Night temperatures after the storm fell below zero across the inland northwest, breaking records across the region. As snow has many words in different languages, it can have a different feel depending upon temperature. Cold snow, that in the teens or single digits has an almost stiff or crunchy feel when walked upon, perhaps a reflection of its more hardy harsh nature than its warmer cousin at 25 to 32 degrees. We expect more snow this weekend, though temperatures are not expected to be as cold.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Frog Lake 2 Race

This past weekend was our last snow race of the season at Frog Lake. Seems like about 1/3 of the time we visit this race we find rain waiting for us. This time Saturday was gorgeous and the view of Mt. Hood travelling to and from the race were incredible. A storm had passed through two days before leaving the trees covered with snow, so the scenery was stunning. The Frog Lake 2 race is a fun race for everyone. It is not part of the PNC (Pacific Coast Championships) Series, rather a fun race allowing everyone time to get together one last time. The host club, the Cascade Sled Dog Club threw a wonderful barbecue on saturday for all participants with burgers, hot dogs, chili and lots of other side dishes. We also heard that this year, the club was celebrating its 50th year of existence! It is the oldest sled dog club in the northwest. Sunday, the rain caught up with us. The morning was showery, the afternoon for most heats the rain was steady. It cleared up for the awards ceremony though.
I had a pretty good first day, somewhat slower than the last couple races, but this course is listed as being a little longer so that would figure. I later figured out that with the course length as noted as 6 miles we did about the same as we have all season. I am very pleased with the consistency of the team and with the progress that the puppies have made. The Frog Lake 6 dog course is a nice one, it has the longest hill of any of the course that we do for sprint. This weekend with Xena on the team we had to do a few more stops and encouragement as she learned to work with the sams. She is a very hard worker, and no doubt wondering why they were not making quite as much progress as she thought they should be. Below as some photos. The first two are from Frog Lake, start and finish the third is from Priest Lake.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


We've attended two races to date in 2009. The first was in Chemult Oregon, south of Bend. This has always been one of our favorite events because it receives so much community support. In spite of a lower snow pack this year, and a very fast track we had a good time. Bob did decide to skijor with only one dog due to the trail conditions. Rolo definitely missed his trail companion Simon (aka Ivan), particularly on the downhills when he was surprised to see bob catching up with him. My 6 dog sprint team did great. I really enjoy the course which has some variation to it, with some wide straight aways, one uphill and a nice winding section through the trees. Both days the team finished in around 32 minutes on the 5.5 mile course which is a little over 10 miles per hour for speed. I was really pleased with what I saw with the three pups, Pepper, Rose and Saffron, and Donner and Blizzard. Jezebel, as always helped young Rose learn the ropes of lead at a race.

On February 7-8 we traveled to Priest Lake Idaho for the 40 anniversary of the Priest Lake Race, put on by our home sled dog organization, the Inland Empire Sled Dog Association. We had a great turnout and the trail conditions were fabulous. On saturday I had one of my best runs ever at Priest lake with my 6 dog team, aided by a perfectly timed pass about 1/3 of the way around the course. The course is difficult for passing, due to its width, but that same feature also makes it very enjoyable to drive! I attach two pictures, one of my team and one of Bob's. The picture of my team is taken at the start on sunday. The one of Bob at the finish on saturday.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Snow, Snow, Snow.....since mid December it has been doing this one day after another such that just in December 83 inches fell at our home here in northern Idaho. Our snowpack is somewhere between 26 and 30 inches as the snow falls and settles again. The snow has certainly created a wintry wonderland across the inland Northwest. It is strikingly beautiful though it has in our case put a damper on sled and skijor training.

In spite of interruption, the dogs make the best of the situation, using newly created snow mountains in their exercise yards as just something more to play in. Here are some photos of the crew and their antics.