Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Meet the Dogs: Nibbs

    Nibbs is a six year old male, also from Scott Smith. He's run the Iditarod and multiple distance races in Alaska. Named after one of Peter Pan's lost boys, he lives up to his name! Nibbs is always happy, loves his food and will run anywhere but lead comfortably. One fault is that he doesn't get along well with Mambo or Razz, but with everyone else he is great.

Monday, December 10, 2012

On the Sled at last!

    On the sled, back to the 4-wheeler and now, at long last, back to the sled! We're sitting at about 850 miles and the dogs are slogging through a slump. But at least we're on the sled...
    We're to the point that the dogs, in addition to being tired from six runs in the last seven days, have garnered nicks from the long, hard miles on dirt. Several of the dogs have cuts on their feet, mostly on their pads - which is better than web cracks but still isn't comfortable. So, pulling out the pink ointment and booties, I hope to get them into better shape before we do our long runs.
    When we went from sled to dirt in November, Jersey got a bit sore - I think it was because she typically runs in point (1st pair of dogs behind the leaders) and one of our first four-wheeler runs back from the sled we went 32 miles, and she ran wheel. In the end, she had about a week off - in case it was a shoulder injury.
    According the Scott, shoulder injuries need 10 days rest to fully heal and wrist injuries should have 7 days rest. Fortunately, when you keep your speed down, these type of injuries are much less common.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Double Sledding

    One thing that makes those first sled runs much less stressful is having a second person on hand. When I first started running dogs, my mom and I both ran the team with one sled - as you can imagine, it was not always very comfortable! However, while ten dogs are not enough for two teams (at least, not for the distance I'm going), they don't have much trouble pulling two people; especially since they've just come from dragging the 4-wheeler!
    Here's some pictures my dad got on his yearly run:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Meet the Dogs: Jersey

    Jersey is a six year old female who usually runs in point. She's amazing with commands, but will not lead, so it's the perfect spot for her - she will MAKE the leaders take the right turn! She eats, has good feet, always has a tight tug line and is one of the first to start jumping and barking to go when we stop. In the yard she's a pleasure to have around, she doesn't jump but is most affectionate and will wait patiently for attention on her house.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Meet the dogs: Cougar

    Cougar is the oldest dog on the team at 10 yrs old. He's a solid, experienced dog who was a life-saver in 2011 when I ran the Jr Race to the Sky - leading most of the way. This year he's had his challenges - being older it's harder to keep weight on him and his front feet got a little torn up on the rocks/ice. He's so tough I have to keep an eye on him because he won't tell you he's hurting. I'm expecting this to be his last year racing, next year he can retire to train puppies with Quest, but I really want to see him complete another 200 mile race...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Meet the dogs: Legolas


    Legolas is a 4yr old Swingley line dog who came from, surprisingly, the same person who had Quest (my first sled dog) the season before I bought him! I was thrilled to get him as a yearling and he's led every season since. Each year he gets more and more confident and this year knows his Gee/Haw commands as well as enjoying being in single-lead. He's a one of the kind dog who eats, runs and seems tireless - despite the fact that he paces rather than trots (the only thing I don't like about him). When hooked up last, he practically roars with excitement!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Snow, No Snow

    After three glorious runs on the sled (during which I managed to break a stanchion tie/anchor), we had to go back to the 4-wheeler. I think it's about time (and mileage) for a "slump". I know I'd be bored to come back to the dirt if I was a sled dog - so I guess I can feel some sympathy for them!
    Still, they are moving smoothly and well. Feet are holding up pretty well, except for Cougar's front feet, and everyone is in good shape. Hopefully this week I can get some weight on the dogs in anticipation of snow...
    Here's some pictures from recent runs:

November 18th 2012 - 30+ mile run. Breaking trail...gorgeous! Legolas and Summer leading.

November 23rd 2012 - 32 mile run on the 4-wheeler. Zoomey and Razz leading.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Meet the dogs: Zoomey

     Zoomey is a natural leader who came from my good friend and mentor Lanette Kimbal in October. She arrived and, though shy, is one of my most reliable leaders - quickly picking up Gee/Haw commands. An amazing, fluid trot - she's not as big as Summer but definitely has the same, energetic attitude! I love watching her power up the hills - when we go too slow she barks and does a little hop...and pulls are the harder. I can't wait to watch her improve, as I'm sure she'll be a key part of the team for years to come. Just wish she wasn't so shy...fortunately it doesn't affect her appetite.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why Train Slow?

    I wholeheartedly agree with Scott's training method, which I learned in Alaska. When we've talked since, he's mentioned the speed mentality of mushers in the lower 48...encouraging me not to deviate from what I learned! Of course, if you're training for shorter races it only makes sense to train fast...but for long distance I just don't see the point.
    On the 4-wheeler today I was thinking about how comfortable the dogs were, despite the heat, allowing us to run longer than would otherwise be possible. In fact, though we stopped more often than normal (to take advantage of the puddles), they were not really winded and quickly began to jump and bark, ready to GO!
    My thought was this: If you start out loping, you know your are going to slow down as the run goes on...and the dogs are more stressed/prone to injuries in those first miles when the speed is fastest. However, by leaving the yard at a trot the dogs gradually warm up to their cruising speed...a speed comfortable for all and one which appears to be able to be kept up forever. Basically, you "gain" speed as the run progresses because the dogs aren't being burned up. And another plus - few or no injuries!
    If a team can keep a steady pace throughout a race, isn't that preferrable to going out fast but burning up in the end? In Alaska I was able to see the results of both types of racing...

    I've noticed that my dogs are much easier to control and happier than ever before with this training method. Also, because I'm not pushing them for speed down (or up) hills they put their heads down, place their feet well and pull - confident that they can do anything! The trail we are currently running with the 4-wheeler I could never have attempted with other teams I've trained...it would've been too dangerous because of the steep, long, twisty (trees!) downhill. But, so far (and I owe God a huge Thank You for keeping me and the team safe!), we've made it down without mishap. Whether or not I can do it on the sled is another question for another day...

    Yes, it's hard to look at this year's runs v.s. my runs of 2010/2011. But when I remember I was pushing them to get speed they weren't ready to give, everything comes back into context and I know that when we move to the sled, they'll be ready to move faster. As Scott says, "...the dogs just move differently on snow." And now is the time to lay the groundwork for faster runs later on...I can no longer imagine pushing the dogs to run downhill, a method used among the Seppala mushing crowd, and thus taught to me, when I got into dogs.
    Another note: I've never been able to point out my weakest dog with ease. This year, however, the weakest link has shown himself and now I know which dog to use as a gauge for training. While it's hard to limit my more talented athletes, I can see that later on in the season, having the "team gauge" is going to be invaluable...

    Well, I hope this makes some sort of sense...it's harder than I thought, organizing my training thoughts and putting them into words!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Meet the dogs: Mambo

     Mambo - the dog who scared me so much in Alaska because soon after I got there he bit off the end of Flynn's beautiful tail! At 5-6yrs old, he's run the Iditarod and multiple mid-distance Alaska races with Scott Smith. What a gift of a dog - he isn't the smoothest but he pulls HARD and is a big boy. He was always a team/wheel dog for Scott, but I've started using him in lead...and he's quite good. I look forward to long miles with Mambo, who eats and has that "tough dog" mentality of a distance sled dog. In Alaska Mambo seemed to be a bit of a bully, picking fights with the other dogs. Here, so far, he's been great (of course, that might be because he gets to stay in the corner of the girls yard!) and hasn't even bothered the pups that moved into the girl's yard. Can't wait to see how 'my Mambo' impresses me this year!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

First Moose

    Running on my favorite trails, I saw the first moose of the season. Typically this wouldn't be such news, but this year's training runs have been devoid of deer, elk and moose - which we would usually see (or at least see fresh sign) most every run; even with the 4-wheeler running. I find it sad that with the wolves moving in, the wildlife is more scarce...though I don't really miss the moose all that much.
    The weather has been very warm, and rainy, so we've had to stop at puddles often along the way. But the dogs are doing well, keeping steady at 7 mph average.
    Here's some pictures from recent runs...
My favorite mountain - Frost Peak.

The team -
Razz - Zoomey
Legolas - Duke
Cougar - Jersey
Nibbs - Griz

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Meet the dogs: Summer

When I decided to switch from Seppala's to Alaskans, the opportunity that opened up was buying dogs from Katie Davis, a musher who ran the Yukon Quest on 2009 and made the hard decision to get out of dogs. She had some yearlings, three left the first time I went up, and Summer was the one I settled on first (I later acquired her sister, Rachel, who now runs with Lanette Kimbal's team). She's alway's been my girl and turned out to be a big, smooth moving and hard working dog. She continues to gain confidence, but during her first season led in a few races. I love her appetite, gait and how she continues to get better as we go. I regret that she had to sit out last season when I was in Alaska, but I'm so glad I kept her. Since I'm trying to keep a team made up of mostly males, Summer is one of the three females that I'm glad is on the team! And did I mention she's a nice, big (55lb) girl?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Meet the dogs: Griz


         Griz came from Laura Dangereau the summer of 2011. I remember the dreary, rainy day when I got him - he was so good in the car! He ran on her Iditarod team in 2009 (picture above), as well as many other distance races. He is best when running in team - anywhere but lead! He's pretty mellow, get's along with everyone and is easy to handle. Although not the biggest dog on the team, he's good sized. I'm not sure how old Griz actually is - somewhere between 7-10yrs old. If he's 10, then he's even more amazing! Griz paces, a little roughly, but when he trots he looks great...my goal is to get him to trot all the time rather than pace.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

250 miles!

    Well, just over a quarter of the way to our Jan 1st goal! The dogs are muscling up nicely, eating well and I'm thinking I need to let them do a fun, short run on Saturday since we've been grinding away at 2-3hour runs the last two weeks. Attitudes are still good, but I don't want to push it when they're all doing so well...and to think that Zoomey and Duke went from 2 mile runs and started here at 7 miles and haven't looked back...I think they deserve an easy run for that accomplishment!   

    Last week has been busy - both with longer runs and getting my 4-wheeler tuned up (thanks to my older brother!) as well as getting the new (and badly needed!) front tires on. There is now snow in the mountains and with the cooler temperatures, it's time to make sure the dog yard gets ready for winter.
    The puppies have adjusted nicely to their new lives in the yard, I still need to have a couple more stake-outs made to move the boy puppies out of the puppy pen and finish a few barrel houses, but all in good time...the fall list just goes on and on and, once again, I did not get my dog trailer painted and it's been raining. Tomorrow I think I will get the paint and just make sure that it gets painted the next nice day...and we're running out of nice days! Oh, the life of a musher...

    In other news, Scott texted me that Mouse is finally in heat...which means Pepperjack puppies coming in a month or two! I've got to figure out a way to get her down from Alaska, but I'm so excited to get her here and see those pups!

    Have you ever noticed how HAPPY sled dogs are? I've been around several different breeds, but my Alaskan's make me smile the most. They are always eager to run, even when it's rainy and cold and miserable. They eat well, are low maintenance (no chewing, rarely jump on me - unless it's muddy! - and usually don't fight) and can never seem to get enough attention. All in all, they are confident, happy dogs. And it rubs off...
    Our friend's have a German Shepherd that has come to stay with us for a week and a half. Now, Saber is, apparently, a picky eater at home. Not here! She barks, bosses our collies and eats the sled dog food without qualms. A rescue, she's used to being inside and an only dog, but it's been good for her to learn to be an outside dog - I think she's a lot more confident this time than she was before.
    I must confess, the first time she came here I was told she was a completely different dog (in a good way!) when she went home, I had actually done pretty much nothing with her - and when I say nothing, I mean NOTHING out of the ordinary: i.e. food, water, etc. I can take no credit for any better behavior - it has to be the sled dog attitude rubbing off on her!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

October Update

    We are still plugging away at miles of training. We are now at 18 mile training runs, hopefully bumping up to 22 miles on Thursday. Our first 18 mile run was an adventure. I put Razz (who led a bit for me in AK) and Duke (new from Lanette) in lead. We'd had a lot of wind and at the very top of my steep, narrow 4-wheeler trail in the mountains, we were stopped by a pile of fallen trees in the trail.
    This led to a huge tangle and ended with me forgetting that I'd put the 4-Wheeler in reverse and wondering (worrying!) why I couldn't get it started all the way down. I learned I can actually make it down safely without the engine on to hold them back...although I am so thankful for a team so well-behaved; with my Seppala's or a crazy sprint team I think I would've crashed into a tree.
    Our run, surprisingly, was rather fast for us at this time of year - 7.11mph. The dog's have been averaging 6.85mph which is about right since we go fairly slow up (they are dragging the 4-wheeler in gear) and then about 8mph down. The focus right now is settling everyone down, getting the team to meld and be comfortable. I was encouraged after a training talk with Scott last week - I'm on the right track! The goal is 1,000 miles in December, first race the 200 mile Eagle Cap in January and then, hopefully, Race to the Sky 350. I don't think I've ever been so excited for the season to get underway!
    There are leaders...and then there are LEADERS! On Friday I put Legolas and Mambo, Saturday Legolas and Summer. They take control of the team and power up the mountains, while leaders (meaning dogs that just run up front) are not so focused. One of the things I'm implimenting from Alaska is letting a few dogs really grow into the lead position. Legolas and Summer are the main two  I'm working on, as well as Mambo, Cougar, Razz and, later, Duke and Zoomey (once they get to know me a bit more). This, in addition to putting dogs in single lead, will do wonders for a dog that leads but just hasn't taken "control" yet. Of course, I've got a couple dogs that just don't take to lead - but that's ok. Once each dog finds his position and gets comfortable, everything goes so much smoother.
    In other kennel news, the seven pups are now on chains. They took to it really well, with less whining and tangles than I've had in the past (with Seppala pups). I can't get over how fast they've grown! They still go on walks, way ahead of me now, but are no longer the tiny things they were when they came here. And they are, by far, the best behaved pups I've ever been around (except for the squabbles that led me to get them moved out of the puppy yard). I just can't wait to see them in harness - they are so uniform and fearless! A huge thank you to Brad VanMeter for entrusting them to me...
    Well, that's all for now. My plan is to introduce each dog in a post, so you know a bit more about each of my team...but that's for another day!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

First Twelve Mile Run

    Today was our first 12 mile run - we now have 136 miles on for the 2012-2013 season. I love this time of year - the cool mornings, beautiful colors and patches of frost. Just 864 miles to go to reach my goal by Jan 1st!
    Races are lining up - the plan is Eagle Cap 200, Race to the Sky (if all goes well, the 350, otherwise the 100 mile) and then Ashton. I'm hoping the pups will be ready to go on a short race at Ashton to give them experience and then I'll split up my race team between a puppy team and a race team for the distance class.

Pictures from today's training:
Nearly to the 6mile turn around.

Mambo showing off after the run - isn't he a pretty boy?!!!


Nibbs and Griz in the background.

Jersey - keeping watch over the dog yard after the run.