Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Leader training

On the advice of some experienced mushers at Sled dog Central posting to me about my problem, we decided to drive out with Fir, JJ and the sled and mush back, to avoid reinforcing the turn around behavior.
We loaded JJ and Fir in the Cab, put the sled in the truck , and drove out to the 2 mile point on our trail where it crosses a gravel road and continues into state forest land. The sled was weighted down with tires and Linda would be riding on the back. I would be jogging along behind ready to run up front to correct them.
Right off the bat Fir veered off into the woods. So I drug them both back onto the trail and gave them a firm "No". I had had their neckline off to see if it was one dog turning around more than the other, not wanting to have to correct the dog that was trying to do the right thing.
We went OK for a while then JJ tried to turn around, Fir following Suit. I was able to drag them and put them back in the right direction. JJ did this three or four times. Then it looked like they got the message and forged ahead for about 250 yards or so and I fell back to behind the sled jogging along with hand on the handle bar along side my wife.
Once again JJ and Fir turned around and I ran up to grab them, and missed, they turned the sled around quickly with a lot of force knocking Linda off the back of the sled and sped down the hill toward the truck. They took off fast.
We walked back dejectedly, thinking they would be there at the truck waiting for us.
When we got to the truck they were no where to be seen. I began to really worry at thet point thinking JJ had run back home along the road where we had done bike training.
My wife then noticed a set of runner tracks going off into a farmer's feild. We ran down the trail as fast as we could fearing the worst.
Luckily they were only a short ways a way laying down on the trail with the sled turned over. Linda was so relived she showered them with affection. I told her to ignore them they are being bad.
I righted the sled attatched a dog leash to their neckline and had Linda ride the brake, slowing them down to Jogging pace.
I said "Nice try guy's. Now, we get to go all the way back up the hill where we came from." That's what we did. With me running along side JJ, holding the leash, neither could mutiny and turn around. Linda was in the back peddaling and running, riding when the grade flattened out. We took a little rest at the top of the Hill right before the turn home. the rest of the way would be another mile, this time all down hill. They dipped some snow, and then began harness banging wanting to go. Then I unhooked the leash and grabbed the handle bars as the sled went by, it was a fast run all the way down.
I admired their form on the short fast run home. There was no chance of mutiny now as they knew where they were going. They both have excellent form and were well matched. They really are valuable dogs and incredible athletes. Leaders are a very impotant part of the team. Without them there is no team. All control of the sled is based on verbal comands and the trust that your leaders will obey them. Not just any dog can be a leader, most of the other dogs on my team are just as athletic and strong but don't have the mental make up. There is a lot of psychological pressure on lead dogs and not all dogs can handle it. If I had more lead dogs to choose from I would give these two a break and run them in "swing" position which is the next position down.
My plan for tomorrow is to try my other Leader, Pumpkin, a shy dog, that lacks the strength and speed of these other two race leaders, with Doppler in lead.
I am hoping Doppler has what it takes. I am also hoping that Pumpkin will be a good match with less experienced Doppler. On the few Bike runs with Pumpkin she seemed to take commands well. Bringing up the rear will be Ruger, the steady seven year old team dog and his wildman protege' Jack.
I have been feeling like I have been neglecting Jack as I have been running these small teams working on leadership. He always howels in protest as we leave the dog yard without him.
Tomorrow will be his day to shine.


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