Friday, December 31, 2004

Pre-run anxeity

I have been going through this. Looking back at my lasy entry it seems kind of disjointed and depressive. It's because I have been a bit discouraged. I had four days off and only ran the dogs one of the days. Today isn't really a day off because I work tonight. I kept putting it off or coming up with excuses until it got dark. This can be a stressful hobby. I was thinking about this as I was running today. I was trying to come up with an analogy. The one I came up with was coaching a sports team of a sport you never played before and none of the players speak english. That's about the best analogy I could come up with.
It's kind of a weird balance you need to have I am finding. You need patience and a calm demeanor also persistence but at the same time lightening quick reflexes and decision making skills. Dogs can die. They can get tangled up and then get in a dogfight and kill each other, they can get tangled up and then drug and strangled to death. There are a lot of very stressful things to worry about. Its physically demanding also. Which I don't mind that part because its nice to be getting back in shape again. But unlike a solo sport, where it is just you and the elements, thuis is a team sport and I am the coach as well as a participant.
The leader problems I have been having have kind of been taking the fun out of it too. The majority of the time I have a major tangle as I am trying to get to my driveway. This is when the dogs are all juiced up with adrenaline and ready to fly. But this is the first turn where the leaders have been deciding to screw up the whole team in order to opt out of the run. Hooking the dogs up is stressful. Most of them are jumping around and screaming and whining wanting to run. It is a highly charged atmosphere. There are also a lot of quick decisions to be made and some last minute preperations to take care of. I usually try to plan out ahead of time who I will run and where but then will often make last minute changes for various reasons.

With this on my mind I was tempted to just take it easy today. But that would mean I ran the dogs once out of five days. So I forced myself to run the dogs. Here is how it went:

Pumpkin was snug inside her house. All the rest of the dogs were jumping around wanting to run including Fir finally walking on all fours again but no where near ready to run yet.
I tugged on Pumpkins chain to pull her out of the house to harness her up and I had to literally pull her out of her house. I don't like seeing this. I like dogs to want to run. But I was stuck.
I hooked her up and chained her to the set of tires I have to keep her in place holding the line out. I hooked up Strider and Ruger in wheel, Doppler and JJ and last of all Jack in lead.
Really Jack is an odd sort of leader. He has to be hooked up last because he is my most unruly dog. The leader is generally the most well behaved well trained dog. Good thing he is one of my favorite dogs or it would be really annoying hooking him up. It is a wrestling match every time just trying to get his harness on. He tried to climb inside my coat or somthing today. Then when I hooked him up he seemed to be catching on and held the line out after I unhooked the tire and walked back the the sled.
Disaster.
Pumpkin decides that she isn't going to run today. So she refuses to keep the line stretched out and the gangline gets all bunched up. Jack decides to turn around and sniff JJ because she hasn't run in a while and I guess he missed her. This is JJ's cue to bail and drag the team back to her dog house. Somehow Strider gets a knot tied around his leg composed of the gangline and three other dogs tugs. Ruger is all turned around and begins snarling curses at Strider because they are all twisted together.

So I took a shot and put Pumpkin away and put JJ up front after I got everything all untangled. I figure a leader that turns around at will and doesn't listen to commands is better than one that won't keep the line stretched out. So true to form she missed the first turn but I wasn't to upset. I pulled them onto the trail but Doppler shot ahead of the leaders. Minor tangle.

Then as we are going down the driveway Jacks tug comes off and he is running with such force he flips around in a circle around JJ. I whoa the team. I get everything all fixed up and then JJ decides to pull her first U-turn of the day. I gave her a sharp slap on the nose. The "positive reinforcement only" thing is out the window. I seemed to have got her attention.

Then she misses the turn onto the trail. Can't for the life of her fathom what "Haw" means. I am starting to have the impression that she is not really a command leader but is a good dog to run next to a command leader, kind of like Jack. That is she WAS a good dog to run up front before she developed this U turn problem.
About this time some ATVers come down the trail as I am untangling the dogs and trying to get them facing the right way. They decide to stop on the middle of the trail and gawk. I wave them past. I am sure they were nice people just interested in seeing a dog team and wanted to chat but now was not the time. I hope they don't think I was too rude but they seemed to wilt slightly when I looked at them. I was not in the best mood at this point.
So we finally get going down the trail and JJ is doing really well and Jack is right along side her running wide open. I have to say, for all the problems I am having, I really do like JJ. She is my type of dog. Tough "village dog" type dog. Totally honest. She is always pulling her butt off even when she is disobeying. Jack seems to be feeding off her energy and is pulling hard as well. Not that he is a slacker, but Pumpkin is kind of a limp noodle at times even when she is running out front and listening to commands. The only time she pulls is on the way back and even then it looks kind of odd with her hybrid saluki type body. JJ runs with her head down legs wide and digs.
I have a loaded sled, loaded with about 150 lbs of salt. We are going uphill in fresh snow for this first mile of the trail. The dogs are all doing great. Strider is running a little better than last time keeping his tug tight at a gallop instead of just running to keep up. I like watching Ruger run too. He is another very honest dog. He looks kind of humorous though for some reason. It think its because he has this cute Teddy Bear look to him but looks really serious when he runs.
Doppler looks good to. He is the super smooth natural athlete of the bunch. Wheras Ruger is very strong and honest and still pretty quick, he has kind of a rolling gait. Doppler's gait is perfect, effortless, everything perfectly in line. He runs best when we are going fast and there are at least five dogs hooked up. Speed motivates him. I tried to take it all in and enjoy the run while things were going well.
We got the place where we cross a road and JJ could not fathom that I wanted to cross the road. She wanted to go "Haw" and follow the bikejoring route we had done in the fall. Once again reinforcing my impression that she is not a command leader but runs on memory. I halted the team and kept saying "on by" What she does is what she often does and that is lunge in harness and scream, to keep going the way she wants to go. At this point I was thinking maybe we can just turn around and make it a 4 miler, JJ is not as well conditioned as the other dogs anyway, because I haven't been running her, eventually she turned the team around on her own. At this point I was too spent to get upset too tired to correct her again.
I decided on the way back I would just relax and enjoy the ride. The weather was nice; not to cold out but not too warm either. The trees were covered with fresh snow. Everything was silent except for the footfalls and panting of the dogs. I thought about how nice it will be when we get to go out on an all day journey in the woods on new trails. I tiried to implant this things in my mind to think about just before the next run.




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