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.

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