Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The team

Well, I finally have my own sled dog team. It has been a long time in coming. First I needed to move to a place where there was lots of snow. Then last April my wife and I purchased a house on 40 acres near lots of trails, here in Bagley, MN.
I plan to train mostly in the Buckboard State Forest, inside the White Earth Indian Reservation. It is some beautiful country with rolling hills, many lakes and towering pines. It is only about six or seven miles from my house. There is also a short trail leading right from my property to a wildlife management area.
I was originally planning to buy some registered siberian huskies, but after counting the cost of all the equiptment I had to buy like a sled, harnesses, dog trailer, and other gear, I decided to choose from the various kennels of alaskan huskies, unregistered, mixed breed sled dogs. These are the type of dogs most serious mushers and racers use and they are more available. Few people race with siberian huskies, there are a few competitive lines but they are not cheap and leaders are almost totally unavailable. Fast siberian husky lead dogs are as good as gold to siberian husky mushers and they hang onto them for life.
On the other hand, at any given time there are several alaskan huskies availbale from the many mushers that use them. Often race experienced dogs can be had at a reasonable price. I have eight dogs now from three different mushers and the most I paid was 400 dollars and that was for a four year old who raced last year in the iditarod. I got one lead dog for free. I did however, in choosing dogs, look for the qualities I admire in the husky, tough feet, warm coat, good work ethic, mellow, low maintenance dogs.
The alaskan husky is a mixed breed sled dog, descended from native northen dogs and having over the years various other breeds crossed in like irish setter, labrador, pointer, and even saluki and grey hound in some lines. There is an art to this type of expirimentation and it takes many generations to perfect and quite a bit of money invested. Most alaskan huskies are not a cross between two different breeds but are descended from parents who are sled dogs.
There are various breeding trends, and this is usually driven by the top sprint racing kennels. Right now pointer crosses and greyhound crosses are very popular. Many sprint dogs are referred to as "hounds" and not huskies any longer. Distance racers, like racers in the iditarod, need longer coated dogs more designed for endurance. But the iditarod is after all a race and people want the fastest dogs they can find. One strategy is to incorporate sprint line dogs into the distance lines and provide extra care on the trail to keep the dogs warm and hapy. They require more food, and often special jackets to wear when the temperatures plummet well below zero.
Another factor to consider is that hound dogs have different temperaments than huskies and often crave more human contact than more independant minded husky dogs and also often bark more.
I decided to take a low tech approach and get old fashioned type dogs, dogs that are naturally happy out in the cold, doing what they have been bred to do for thousands of years.

Here are some profiles of my eight sled dogs.

Strider
This is a stray dog that followed me home one day when I was out taking a long walk with my eight year old collie mix, house dog , Abel. I got him in the summer. I haven't tried him in harness yet and He may not even turn out to be a sled dog but I have high hopes for him. He is some type of German shepherd husky mix. He may have some Blue Heeler in him too. He has dark liver points and a mottled white stipe down his nose and ice blue eyes. The rest of him is black and tan in a huge (75 lb) leggy body. He is quite striking. When I first got him he had obviously been wandering around for a long time with not much to eat. His bones jumped out at me. He ate three big bowls of food the first day and gained 15 lbs in a few weeks. He is a big goofball, but really strong and pretty fast for such a big dog. I hope to run him in wheel.

JJ
JJ is short for Joan Jet. This dog was bred by Mark Black, but I bought her from Pat Faherty, who is also a Beargrease Musher. She has a really nice pedigree, With Susan Butcher's famous lead dog Granite in the background, and also Rick Swenson's leader, Tag.
She is seven years old. Mostly black and a petite 45 lbs, she pulls like a little tractor. She has a nice warm coat too and is purported to have good feet and has been injury free. She is a Gee Haw leader. The thing I like most about her is her work ethic and affectionate, mellow personality.

Cruiser
Cruiser is an unregistered siberian husky that I purchased from a recreational musher that breeds siberians. He needed to be wormed and is a little thin right now, be he should go about 50 lbs. He is an unharness broken yearling. Very friendly. He has some seppala in his back ground which is a line of siberians known for being very racy, but he looks like a typical siberian husky with black and white "irish" markings and blue eyes. One interesting thing about him is that he is so active on his chain that he has worn a circular trench into his area in the dog yard. I hope that quality will translate into tough endurance on the trail.

Ruger
Ruger is what I consider an "old fashioned" alaskan husky. Not much hound blood there. He is about 55 lbs and built like a little tank. When you pet him you are immediately struch by his powerful shoulders. He has a Sandy colored coat that is thick and hard like a malamute coat. I think he looks like a miniature inuit dog. He has a wide head and big sweet brown eyes. He has a face kind of like a bear. I also got him from Pat Faherty. Pat called him a "dog's dog" He is a simple minded happy dog. He just wants to eat and pull. Nothing too complex about him. Very low maintenance, eats what ever I put in front of him. Tough feet. To me the perfect team dog, for what I want.

Pumpkin
I got Pumpkin for free. She was bred by veteran musher Lloyd Gilbertson, and at one time found her way onto Gary Paulsen's team but was cut. She was then given to a High school kid, Jake Robinson, who is starting a sprint team and then given to me. She is a shy dog. She looks like she has saluki or somthing in her. One thing she has to lend to her is that she is a command leader. I will see how she turns out, from our bikejoring sessions, she seems fast but not a hard puller. Can't argue with the price. Time will tell.

Fir

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I got fir along with Jack and Doppler, from iditarod musher, Karen Land in Montana. Fir is a leader that ran 500 or so miles of the iditarod last year. There is an interesting story about why he didn't finish the race. Karen and her team fell through the ice at one point in 30 below temps. All the dogs made it out OK, but later on Fir fainted and Karen had to give him mouth to Mouth resucitation! He is on his second life now.
He is from Musher Terry Adkins Nayokpuk line of dogs crossed with, I think, Swingly lines. He is mostly Black with brown eyes. Kind of a Grizzled black the way balck wolves are colored. He is built very fine boned like a grey hound. Very Striking. He is probably the fastest dog I have now. He is a very vocal dog and likes to play around. I tried him on the Bike a couple times with mixed results. Not all dogs like Bikjoring until they get used to it. Having a team of excited dogs behind a lead dog motivates them more than running just by themselves or next to one other dog. I have seen him run at Karen's place with a big team pulling a four wheeler and I was impressed. I almost feel like Fir is a higher caliber dog than a newbie like me deserves. I hope I can bring out his potential. He is four years old.

Doppler
This is a yearling I got from Karen Land also. He is grey and white with light brown eyes. He looks like a seppala siberian to me, except with a little bit floppier ears. He has a nice build, rangy but not too light boned. Very affectionate dog and fast too. I have a good feeling about this dog. He has a real presence about him. There is definately a lot going on behind his beautiful eyes, could be a leader someday.

Jack

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Jack is the other yearling I got from Karen Land. I thought at one time he was Dopplers brother, but Jack is from a litter where all the pups were named after various types of Cheese, and "doppler" as far as I know is an airplane navigation device. Karen having gotten, many of her dogs from Musher Terry Adkins, who is also a pilot, makes me wonder if Doppler is perhaps one of his dogs.
Well anyway, Jack is my favorite, I have to say, next to Ruger. Another "old school" alaskan husky. Except unlike Ruger, he is a yearling. Karen and Terry seem to think he is a kind of a throwback to the older style of alaskan. He has a big malamutish head and a nice coat with wolfy looking markings. He is still filling out but seems to have a powerful frame developing.
I have seen him run too and he is both fast and smooth. I have a lot of hope for this Guy. He is very affactionate and playful and wild acting, to the degree that he is hard to harness even.
I have heard about wild unrully dogs turning out to be great after all that energy is properly harnessed. I hope this is the case for Jack.

Well that is my team this year. The only thing that sucks right now is that there is no snow and I don't have an ATV. I can't hook up the whole team on my bike and Bikjoring has proven to be almost more trouble than it is worth so far, good for running two dogs at a time for short distances.
Once the snow flies though I have the sneaky suspicion that I will have a hell of a team!




4 Comments:

Blogger Annie said...

Hey, Theo_Musher!!! This is just too kewl! I'll have to look for where you are on the map. I'm a nature lover and the place where you are sounds perfect. I lived in Wayzetta for a while. And I love dogs. It looks like you have a team just blooming with personality. I hope they work well together and for you.

December 3, 2004 at 6:10 AM  
Blogger Theo_musher said...

Thanks for stopping by Annie. Thanks.

December 7, 2004 at 1:01 AM  
Blogger George Forgan-Smith said...

Interesting... I am still looking for a great alaskan malamute breeder do you know of directory or something?

March 31, 2006 at 6:58 PM  
Blogger George Forgan-Smith said...

LOL, but isn't life always like that. BTW I have been trying to find a good alaskan malamute dog do you have any ideas? Nancy

April 1, 2006 at 8:52 AM  

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