Thursday, January 27, 2005


I've had the flu. So I haven't been running the dogs. Actually before I got the flu I was working and then during my time off when I would have run them I got sick. Cleaning the dog yard and feeding and watering them about wiped me out today. I hope I feel better tomorrow.
I have been thinking about my dogs. I think I know what kind of dog I like now. Sled dogs come in all shapes and sizes and actually I have several types. My two favorites are Jack and Ruger follwed by JJ. Cruiser has a special place in my heart also. I do like all my dogs in different ways.
But the type I like the best are smaller stocky dogs that pull hard. about 45 to 55 lbs.
This weight is kind of a magic number. Iditarod dogs are all about that size. It seems to be a size that brings a balance of speed power and endurance. Dogs this size are less injury prone also. These three dogs are built like tanks. They have super hard muscle tone and are really strong. You would be surprised that a dog that small can be so strong. These three are each nearly impossible to walk on a leash. They can knock me over and drag me, even though I weigh 220.

I also value toughness, mental toughness, and physical toughness. Dogs that keep hard charging in difficult situations. My young dogs haven't really been through the test but Ruger an JJ have for sure.
I like a dog with a thick coat. It doesn't have to be long. The length is more or less determined by the outer guard hairs. The undercoat is what keeps a dog warm. It must be thick. My dogs are kept outside in plastic barrel houses insulated with straw. Some dogs have thinner coats and really need the straw. Sometimes on cold days you will see them shivering when outside their house. I don't like seeing this. I like dogs happy and naturally adapted to be out in the cold. The thin coats are caused by breeding to various hounds in order to increase speed. I have one dog that is built just like a grey hound. He ran 500 miles of the iditarod. He has a thin coat. The way he was kept warm on the trail is that he was covered with a blanket and heating pads. That is fine, the care of dogs on the iditarod trail is fine, but I would rather have tough dogs that don't need extra care. The thin coated dogs also need more food.

Jack for example sleeps outside his house at 30 below. He has a hole in the snow he sleeps in. It is about the size of a garbage can lid. It is about a half a foot deep he melted it into the ground with his body heat. The house is there for him but he never uses it.


I only have one dog that has the kind of appetite I like to see. That dog is Ruger. He scarfs down immediately any thing I put in front of him. The reason this is good is because such dogs are easier to feed on the trail. You can put the food pans out and take them away quickly before they freeze. They also tend to keep weight on better. Ruger has a very efficient metabolism.
There are ways to train dogs to eat better, like taking the food back after a little while so they learn to eat fast. Somthing about seeing a dog eat really good makes me happy. I guess to me it says the dog has good survival instincts.

Feet: I like dogs with tough feet. I have had no foot injuries so far except for Strider. I suspect that is because he is not a real sled dog.

Tough feet are not calloused and hard, but supple and soft yet tough like leather. They have springy pads. Siberian huskies have the toughest feet but may alaskan huskies all have tough feet too. Foot problems can put a dog out of commission. Their are booties available, and I plan to get some before going on a long trip, but once again I prefer dogs with naturally tough feet.

Good looks don't hurt, but is not the number one priority. I do like the looks of husky dogs over more houndy dogs, but some of my dogs have floppy but are tough and have thick coats.

Personality: This is where I differ from a lot of mushers. I like super hard headed dogs. Many mushers prefer slightly shy, softer temperamented dogs. I always worry I will hurt their feelings. My voice can be a little gruff at times. Hard headed dogs don't seem to mind. They may need a little more work but they are usually hard driving dogs also. Our personalities mesh better. I do have one very shy dog, Pumpkin, but she is growing on me and coming around. She is actually kind of hard headed in her own way.
I worry about Doppler at times because he is so sensitive and eager to please. I have never seriously reprimanded him. But he is also a hard charger and catches on fast. Leaders need to be more responsive than dogs in other positions but for team dogs, I would like dogs like Ruger that only know how to pull straight ahead and don't think much.

I also like affectionate dogs. My most affectionate dog is Jack. He always gives me a big hug when I come by. He likes to climb up into my arms to and try to take my hat off or stick his nose up my coat, funny things like that. Somtines I act like I am waltzing with him. I can lift his feet off the ground and whirl him around and he keeps coming back for more.

In the spring I might find some homes for a couple of the dogs that don't fit my standards. They may make excellent dogs for other mushers.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Wolf Eyes

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What do you see in this dogs eyes? I see somthing of the wolf there. Somthing mysterious an untameable. I am glad I was able to catch this. Often Jack has a friendly husky dog look in his eyes, but once in a while I catch this fiery little glint. He is an alaskan husky. His ears don't stand up like that normally, he was running and they got flipped up. Alaskan huskies are mixed breed sled dogs. Some have a lot of "hound" blood in them, But way back there is some wolf blood, from about 50 years ago some wolf was crossed in. Most wolf characteristics don't make for good sled dogs. Wolves are untrainable and unpredictable and don't have any work ethic like a good husky.
But I see little wolf characteristics crop up in my alaskan huskies, or maybe I am just imagining it.
What do you think?

Finally get to relax (yeah right!)

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Today, I got to ride in the sled while my wifes tood on the runners. I had to get out a lot to corect little mishaps. My young leaders don't really know any commands. But at least they stay on the trail most of the time. Its a bit of a dilema. I have a book where you can train a lead dog one on one over a four week period finally ending with him leading a team. I am doing things a little backwards, but I can't really justify letting all my dogs sit idle in the middle of the winter while I work for four weeks with only one or two dogs.
But the run went well, we shortened the root because of the added weight but they all pulled strongly and it was fun to be out with my wife.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Bumping it up to the next level

I left the dogyard today going about 20 mph. That is what it felt like anyway. Power in a sled dog team bumps up in increments. There is a noticeble difference in power between a four dog team and a six dog team. With four dogs you are kind of playing around. Six dogs is a team. You can go hundreds of miles with six dogs. We did the first mile at a dead run, uphill. I was airborn a few times. At the first turn, the sled tipped over and I was drug a bit. Good thing I have pretty good upper body strength and was able to right the sled and hang on. The dogs didn't miss a beat.
Doppler was eating up the trail. Like I had suspected earlier speed and the power of a big team motivates him.
I rode the break to slow things down a bit. I am not training a sprint team, though after a week off, sprinting is what the dogs feel like doing. I let them have their fun a ways and then let them settle into a comfortable 12 mph. pace. I had hooked up Doppler and Jack in Lead followed by Strider and Cruiser and then Ruger and JJ in wheel. I can't wait to feel what it is like to run six dogs that are really for real. I mean trail hardened dogs in their prime. It must be electrifying. Ruger and JJ are in their autumn years, retired from racing, but still quick hard workers.
Strider is a screwball, that only pulls for the first half of the run and may not really turn out to be a sled dog. Cruiser is just a pup, running in harness fore the first season and the same for Doppler and Jack. But these three boys, in my opinion anyway, have some serious potential.
We headed out onto the gravel road, still at a lope, except for Ruger with his fast trot. Crossed route 31 and headed into the Wild Life Management area. There once again we encountered some deep drifts. There was a single fresh snow mobile track down the middle but the snow was still soft and it was slow going.
This was another excellent training opportunity for the boys in lead. There were few minor mishapps, but I kept my composure, meted out some discipline, in a quick to the point way, and we were off again. Doppler and Jack are pretty familair with the trail by now and knew the deep drifts only lasted a mile or so, so they threw themselves into harness wanting to get on a fast trail again. When we got past the drifts and up a little rise the rest of the trail was slow and punchy. A punchy trail, is a trail with a thin crust of snow on top and softer snow beneath. The dogs keep punching through and so cannot go very fast.

The kind of trails I train on are not ideal for race training. Serious racers want smooth fast trails.
There was a race in Alaska last week called the "Copper Basin 300" Many racers were using it as either a qualifier or a tune up for the iditarod. Race trails are set with snow mobiles and then allowed to harden. This year the organization went badly and the snow mobiles were only a few miles ahead of the racers. This did not allow the trail to harden which slowed the pace down to 5 mph. They want to go 10 to 12 mph to be competitive in the iditarod. Also running 300 miles at 5 mph on a soft trail conditions the dogs muscles differently and also gets the dogs settled into a slow pace. Due to these considerations, almost the entire feild withdrew from the race before finishing. That is known as "scratching". Scratching means quitting.
Even though these racers, have my respect, and many have forgotten more than I know about dog mushing, seeing most of them scratch, kind of bothered me.
I would like to think that if I were to enter a race and spend all that money, sponsorship money, often, that it takes to do it, I would not scratch unless I broke my leg or somthing or all my dogs were sick. I also would like to think I had a team that could get me from point A to point B, even if conditions were not ideal. I suspect there was a bit of a Herd mentality going on as well. Some big name mushers scratched and then lots of people followed suit. Mushing great George Attla, once said:
"If I gave my lead dog a cigarette after winning a race, the next race I would see cigarettes dangling out of the mouths of 15 other team's lead dogs."
Racing has become very specialized. Right now I am in a learning mode, learning the basics. The high point of my season will be an overnight camping trip in the Bounday Waters Canoe are wilderness. The BWCAW does not have groomed trails. So I am glad I am able to train on less than ideal conditions in order to get ready.

Well back to the run;
As we headed down the last stretch of trail onto the Stockyard road that leads to my home, We saw a cotton tail. Sled dogs are draft animals, but they are predators not horses. The reason you can hook up six dogs and run them like this harkens back to their wolf ancestors running in packs in the primordial forests.
When they sight game it motivates them and they put on a burst of speed. Fortunately when the game crosss off the trail the dogs don't veer off after them but keep heading down the trail.

As we came to the turn onto the Stock yard road (just the name of the road, its a regular gravel road) I called out "Haw" for left. I had been traveling in a rough loop. I had been calling out "Haw" quite a bit, all the turns were left so far. I think the dogs were going by memory though. I was hoping they were catching on. But they missd this turn. When the dogs miss a turn it is unwise to keep repeating the command. Otherwise the dogs will think the command for left is "Haw... HAW...HAW!!!" when it is supposed to be just simply "haw." almost in a spoken voice.

Well they missed it but JJ, my demoted lead dog, running in wheel, she knew. Luckily Jack and Doppler saw what she was trying to do and ran out ahead. The rest of the run went well except for Striders attacks of the runs. He doesn't know how to poop on the fly yet. he hits the breaks to take a dump, bunching the team up.
Experienced dogs can poop and run at the same time. They learn this from the unpleasent sensation of being drug by the rest of the team as they try to stop and squat. Strider is a burly 75 lbs though and actually can nearly stop the whole team. He managed to get going then and I was able to observe that Jack had mastered, the pooping on the fly technique. His motivation for not stopping, is not wanting to have a 75 lb German shepherd mix slam into his behind.
This last stretch of trail was a plowed road and the dogs did it at a lope and looked pretty strong the whole way. Cruiser slacked off a little but It is to be excused. This is his first ten miler and only his second run of the season. After a little bit he started pulling again. From now on a plan to run him in every run.

We only saw one car and that was right as we were turning onto our road. I had had a bit of anxiety before the run, wondering what to expect with running a six dog tream with the new leaders, but they did me proud.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Breaking Trail

It was no where near as cold as it was supposed to be so I ran the dogs. It was probably around minus ten with windchill it may have been 20 below; not that serious. I hooked up Jack and Doppler in lead and JJ and Ruger in wheel. Ruger must be taking a liking to JJ as she lay down during hook up he peed on her.
I am not sure how exactly to proceed with the leader training. The book calls for about 4 weeks of one on one training. Seems like a waste to have eight dogs laying around in the middle of the winter while I take one dog out at a time for a 15 minute jog on a leash. So I decided to keep with the plan of going on four dog runs and varying the route to give Jack and Doppler time to pick up commands. Then from time to time I will go to one on one leash traing to reinforce some things.
Doppler seems to be learning that his job is to pull all the time, not just when things are going fast.
He did much better and even seems more focused on his job than Jack at times. What I want to do is keep running these two guys and developing them as leaders, without pushing them too hard, but slowly adding new experiences for them and mileage.
Today provided a new experience and a new test. About a mile of trail in the Wild Life Managent Area was drifted over with two even three feet of snow in places. My two young leaders did really well. It was slow going for a while and I stopped for short breaks a couple of times but we got through it without a hitch. I only led them by the collar a little bit and once they got the hang of they went at it full bore untill we got past the drifts and onto the better snow.

If I was on a serious long distance expedition, there could possibly be miles and miles of drifted over unbroken trails. What people do in that case is tie out the dogs and mush ahead a few miles with snow shoes to break trail and then walk all the way back and mush the dogs up to where they need to break trail again and then repeat the process. That can make for a long day. That is one reason people on expeditions travel a lot slower than say, dogs running in the iditarod. Racing dogs are faster, but also the trails are groomed ahead of time.

Instead of going around on the Lolly-pop shaped loop and coming back, I went back on the road. I saw one car the whole time and it turned off another way. This is a road that doesn't get much traffic and is pretty wide so I wasn't worried.

They all finished pretty strong and were well behaved as i unhooked them and gave them all a drink. It was another good run. Just a great time spent outdoors with my dogs. When runs go well like this I begin to plan my over night trip. They may be more ready than I think.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

One on one training.

Yesturday, I spent some time working one on one with five of the dogs, using Lee Fishback's leader traing methods. This training consists of training dogs to be leaders one at a time with a special leash. The leash has two snaps on it. One hooks to the end of the harness and one to the collar.

The idea is to get the dog to run out front and pull as you jog along behind and teach it commands.
His book has a proscribed course you follow that takes about 4 weeks. I may modify it some because two of my yearlings have led three eight mile runs leading two other dogs, so even though they don't know commands, they have picked up some things.

I tried out five dogs just to guage their abilities and attitudes. Out of this pool I will pick two dogs to be lead prospects. I am kind of torn as to wether JJ will ever be able to lead for me. We had a positive training session, but I had to really push her hard to get her to break her turning around habit. I also don't know how she will be once she gets out in front of a team. I may have ruined her for leading by letting her be this rebelluious this long. Lee Fishback even said, that once a dog has learned that basically the driver has no control and the dog is able to do whatever it wants out front, it is ruined.
JJ is also seven years old, in the autumn of her working career. It will take a lot of work for me to get her to the point where I have confidence in her and I may never really have it.
She also is a valuable dog to run in wheel because she is so powerful. So even out of lead she will contribute to the team.
Pumpkin, may yet earn her keep, helping the yearlings learn and by being a back up leader. I have gained some insights from this book into her personality and motivations. Fishback gives tips on training shy dogs that don't care much about human contact.

I also worked with Cruiser, Doppler and Jack. I still think at this point Jack and Doppler have the most talent and potential. Cruiser has the strongest natural pulling instinct, but may not be as responsive as the other two yet.
Doppler, needs to work on pulling. In the team he only seems to pull when we are going fast. The one on one trainig teaches him to always pull. Of all the dogs he is most eager to please and sensitive to my wishes. He also seems to be the most intelligent.

Jack, is my bud still, but showed his stubborn side a bit during the one on one. I think the reason he likes to run out front is because of his inate curiousity and desire to be ahead of the other dogs. Lee Fishback warns that "natural leaders" like this need training too. Their natural enthisiasm can go a long way but they need to learn how to lead even when they don't want to.

Life around the dog yard

Next couple days are supposed to be 50 below with a high of 20 below. Contrary to what some of you may have heard, most mushers don't train in 50 below. They may talk tough but unless they are in the middle of a race, that is a good time to stay inside and give the dogs a rest.
There is risk to the dogs also, even arctic breeds. Males can freeze the tip of their penis, for one.
That right there, is reason enough for me not to run them. That is probably another thing you don't hear about very often in non-mushing circles. But it is serious business and is said to be slow to heal.
I got slight frostbite on my ear already running in 20 below. Another injury that can happen to mushers is that they can freeze their corneas.
So, though I am one to usually jump at the chance of adventure and run off half cocked, usually. Training in 50 below is an adventure I will opt out of.
So I just figure I would make a few posts about life around the dog yard. People interested in the outdoors have probably gotten litle snippets about dog mushing, here and there, on the travel channel, or in National Geographic, but there are little details about mundane things that are kind of funny that you don't always hear about.

One detail is that sled dogs love to pee. Male sled dogs that is. That is their idea of being macho and showing all the other dogs who is boss. Don't leave anything within striking distance of a male sled dog or it will get marked and marked a lot. Probably a male sled dogs doghouse gets peed on at least ten times a day, probably more. If you give them some fresh bedding ( I line their houses with straw) that will get peed on. "This is MY straw". is what they are saying.
I read another mushers blog that had a tree fall down near one of her dogs area. He showed that tree who was boss and marked it about three times every half hour.
If you stand in one spot too long you are fair game as well, or your truck, coat, sled, anything.
My one dog Doppler, actually has a foot high yellow ice sculpture on the wheel axle he is staked out to.

This is one reason why many people don't bring their dogs in the house. You can though. they can be trained to be house pets, but in my opinion they are a little different than most pet dogs. More high strung and destructive. If you have ever seen the movie "gremilins" you will have an idea of what bringing my sled dog team into the house for the first time would be like.
These are outdoor dogs.

As far as noise goes, they are really not all that noisy. That is, unless they think they are about to be fed, or about to be run. They look for little clues when they see me walking around in the dog yard. I time the feeding times about 12 hours apart. Roughly, 10:00 am and 10:00 pm. So they know that routine.

But as for running them I run them at different times, and my schedule varies, so they don't know exactly when they will be run. So they look for "clues" to gauge my behavior. If I have the poop bucket and a trowel in my hand, its obvious what I am about to do. If I pick up a harness, they might indicate somthing, so there begins to be a little bit of a din. If I touch the sled at all, they begin to jump around and carry on, but if I appear just to be moving it, it dies down. When I set it up and begin stretching the line out in the snow, they know what is about to kick off and they get pretty crazy.

Excpept for Ruger. He is a really quiet dog. It is almost like he is a sled dog mime or somthing. He goes through all the motions but never makes a sound. I have heard him whine maybe once. He can howl just like a wolf or a coyote, but otherwise he is silent.

The rest of the times the dogs are quiet. I had a dog that would get loose. This was Strider. He was chained to a steel cylinder that I found. I think it was a tractor axle. The wheel end was pretty big and it had a steel shaft of about a foot long and three inches in diameter. The car axles, which I use for the rest of the dogs, had a longer thinner shaft with a smaller wheel base so I pounded them in with the wheel hub on top. But this tractor axle was top heavy and really short. I think it was for the front wheel. I burried the hub and looped the chain around the shaft.

Well, Strider is a leaper. He can leap almost six feet in the air straight up. He figured out how to flip the end of his chain off this steel shaft. But he would only get loose during feeding times or hook up. Like the rest of the dogs the other times he was quiet. I finally switched him though and put Pumpkin in his area, whonis not a leaper.
When they aren't running it is kind of a boring life. Some dogs will run all day though and wear a mote into the dirt path they make running around and around. I have one like that, Cruiser, the siberian husky.

The social structure, loosely resembles that of a wolf pack. They aren't really wolves, but closer to the wolf than other dogs, especially Ruger. He may indeed have a little wolf blood a ways back. His eyes reflect light really brightly and shine green at night in the headlights of my truck, when I come down to feed him.
He likes being part of his little pack too. The one time I heard him whine was when I was keeping him in the back yard before I got his spot set up in the dog yard. He wanted to be out there with them.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

It's not just me!

I just bought this book and training gear :
Training Lead Dogs
It is an excellent book and it has been very encouraging to read. It turns out that it is pretty common to buy a trained lead dog and have it end up not leading for you.
Mushers have different personalities and different styles and their lead dogs adapt to their way of doing things and style of running.
Here is an excerpt from the book:
"...Yet it is a common experience to invest $500.00 or more in a lead dog only to find that the dog does not suit the driver's style, is too temperamental for him, or is too old or too slow. Worst of all, a highly trained leader often knows too much; the beginning driver can't keep up with him mentally"

This seems to have been my experience. Note this book was written in 1979 and those are 1979 dollars the late author is talking about. My "best" lead dog I got for free (Pumpkin) and my other two "JJ" and the injured dog "Fir" I paid $350.00 and $400.00 respectively. Neither one of these dogs were sold as serious racing prospects from big name mushers.
But as I began having problems, some advice I got was to invest in a "real lead dog"
Meaning a $1,000.00 or more dog from a serious racer. Well I don't have the money and I'm glad I didn't take that advice because a $1,000.00 or even $5,000.00 dog(which are available) may not have worked out any better for me. Then I would have 4 lead dogs that won't listen to me and I would be broke.

One thing I began to notice is that I had been having better luck with my yearlings that I got for $ 100.00 or $200.00 a peice and don't know anything.

The author had his best luck training a dog he got at the pound. His philosophy is that your best lead dogs will be ones you train yourself. I am pretty excited about training my own lead dogs now. I think maybe my season will be focused around that. I may not log 1000 training miles like some other mushers this winter, but I think it will be a lot of fun. I am kind of an independant person, and I like the idea of having the satisfaction of running lead dogs that I have trained myself.
From what I have read so far the three yearlings I have been considering working with have the types of personalities that give them good apptitude for this type of work.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Article in "Makin Tracks" Newsletter.

I just had an article published in the "Makin' Tracks" newsletter. It is an online dog mushing newsletter put out by a dog food company called "RedPaw". The article is about my freight team and my Yahoo e-mail group I just started for freight mushers. The article is in the freight section.

This Newsletter comes in e-mail and is not online yet so I am linking to it from my e-mail grop website. Just scroll down and you will see it.

Cruiser's Debut

Well, Strider, the big goofy German shepherd mix, I just found out has developed some horrendous foot problems so he is out for a while as I research foot care and buy some extra large size booties( he has Mastadon size feet) I know where I can order this ointment called algyval that is supposed to be really good. I probably should have been prepared for this, but I figured I was only going on short runs so I didn't forsee a problem. I went and checked all the dogs feet and they all look really good. That was one of the things I specifically asked about when buying dogs and deliberately chose dogs with no history of foot problems. All the other dogs have soft pliable pads that are the consistency of a "shammy" you know the thing that you wax cars with. Striders are kind of dry and cracked. A couple of my dogs have run several 250 mile races and never had a problem but I am going to order booties for all just in case. Strider is the only dog I have that is not a "real" sled dog, so it stands to reason his feet would be less tough. Poor Guy. He was a little bummed that I didn't run him today.
But the great thing is I got a chance to run "cruiser"! He is awesome! This was his first run in harness, except for a couple disasters I had where I was having leader problems and never left the dog yard.
He is a natural sled dog. Beautiful to watch. For some reason, he requires no training. It is kind of a weird thing but all he wants to do is pull. He never screwed around or straddled the gangline or got tangled up or did any of the things I expected him to do as a yearling, his first time out. He pulled the whole time and was very focused on his job. The only problems I had were the other dogs faults. They aren't used to running with him and scuffled with him a couple of times. I broke it up and reprimanded all of them, grabing my hands ofer their muzzles with both hands and looking them in the eyes and saying "NO fighting." I think I got their attention. It was a dominance thing. The dogs are trying to sort out his place in the pack, but I am not going to let it happen. My philosophy is that I am pack leader and I don't allow dominance battles.
I hope Cruiser wasn't intimidated by this experience. I don't think he is he is a very self assured confident dog. After getting scuffled with, he seemed a little hesitant to keep his line tight and necklined a little, but before long he was pulling for all he was worth again.
Here is the situation: This is an unregistered siberian husky that I got for $100.00 from a recreational musher. He was very thin and I suspected he had worms. I wormed him a couple times and some worms came out but he has a hard time putting weight on. I found that if I over feed him he gets the runs. What I think it is is that he runs all the weight off. He constantly paces around in circles all day long on his chain, wearing a circular trench in the ground. He finally gained a little weight and so I thought I would try him out.
All that pacing must have paid off because he is a natural . He actually is more focused and harder working than Doppler, so if I can get him to get along with Jack I might try him up front.
Jack and Doppler are still pretty spotty on commands but with only four dogs it is not hard to hop of the sled and pull them onto the right trail.

I am pretty excited about this new "star" of mine.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Run of the Innocents.

I left my resident "headcases" at home(Pumpkin and JJ) and just ran Ruger, Strider, Doppler and Jack. I call this the run of the innocents because they are all yearlings except for Ruger and bereft of psychological baggage. Even though Ruger is seven years old and has been around the block and run lots of races, he is not smart enough to have psychological problems. His life consists of eating, peeing, taking dumps and pulling. That's fine with me. I wouldn't mind having 4 more dogs just like him and Jack and then I would have the perfect team! I think some of these dogs think too much and that is the problem.
As I suspected, with the addition of a couple more dogs and the added speed and power, Doppler was a lot more motivated and focused in lead. We missed a couple turns but both he and Jack seem to be catching on. They both can at least get the team out of the dog yard and onto the trail.
It's really not that complicated. It was nice to only have to deal with problems caused by youth and inexperience as opposed to outright mutiny.
The sled was loaded with 80 lbs. of salt and with my weight on the sled each was pulling over 100 lbs. So with this 8 mile run they all got a serious workout. Despite this they did the first mile uphill at a lope. I am finally having fun again! It was nice to be out there having fun with dogs that are having fun. They all ran very well.
Strider had not been run in a few days and was eager to go. He did pull a lot better, especially in the up hills when things are going slow. He did slack off a little during the fast times, but I hit the break to slow things down enough for him to get his tug tight.
Doppler needs to learn that when he is up front he can't screw around at all and sniff things or sightsee, or else he will screw up the whole team, but he seems to be catcing on. He likes going fast and breaking into a lope whenever he can. He is learning how to dig down and pull also when he needs too.
Jack continues to shine in lead. He had a problem at the beginning when he would look back and growl at Ruger during the first mile but I scolded him and he stopped doing it. He always keeps his line tight and is more and more focused on every run.
I was really impressed with Ruger. He is such a little trooper. Always looking straight ahead and keeping his line tight. I think he was pulling more than his share the whole way.
I think I am going to stick with this bunch as my core group. With this low level of stress involved, I might be able to run them everyday with maybe one day off and rotate different dogs in the whell position where Strider ran today. I want to give Cruiser, the siberian, a chance. Now that things are working out better I don't look at these runds with trepidation. Now I am considering what new trails to go on and thinking of how far I can go.
As far as the headcases go, they are fired from their lead positions, but I will think of a way to work them back in again. Ideally, I will eventually run eight dogs, but right now four is enough for me. Tangles are easier to fix there is more control, and less power and speed.
Wether I am an "innocent" or a "headcase" I don't know probably both.

Jack and Doppler

Well, JJ totally did not work out in lead yesturday. She missd the first turn and then when I got her back on the trail, she deliberately pulled off into the woods and wrapped the gangline around a tree. I just have to face it that none of the "lead dogs" I got from other mushers want to be lead dogs. Fir never listened to me either even before Ruger chomped on his leg and put him out of commission for the season. Pumpkin is just too unreliable. She gives me subtle hints that she doesn't want to run like hiding inside her doghouse. Then when I hook her up she balks and won't run out front. Once we get going she seems pretty good but half the time she can't lead the team out of the yard. So I need to develop a new leader. One that can at least stay out front and lead the team from the dog yard to the trail. Once on the trail I could probably switch Pumpkin into lead again.
My only real candidate for the Job is Doppler. He is intelligent and responsive and fast, but very young. So is Jack, but I only have so many dogs to work with. Strider is turning out to be too big and slow to keep up with team, Ruger doesn't have the mental capacity to lead, Cruiser might have potential But I haven't run him enough yet.
So after my disaster yesturday, I hooked up just Jack and Doppler with an empty sled. I must say I had some of the most fun I had with the dogs all year! We went six miles. We didn't go really fast. With me on the runners they were each pulling over 100 lbs. so I helped out a bit but still gave them a chance to pull. This gave me a chance to try Doppler in lead without any pressure on him, so that I could observe him.
He doesn't have the "fire in the belly" that Jack does, but he does seem to have some potential listening to commands. I could see little wheels turning in his head. The wheels are still turning in Jacks head to as he decodes these commands also. The difference with these guys and my other "leaders" is that they want to do the job. They are eager to try. The older dogs maybe have some baggage, psychological issues, that I can't sort out. They are no doubt comparing me to previous owners, previous runs and experiences.
These two yearlings are fresh slates. They look up to me and everything is pretty new. I feel like a Holloywood director working with some fresh new actors. They aren't Jaded at all and are eager to take direction. So it was kind of fun just being out there with these two Guys. The snow cover on the trail was nice. It was maybe ten degrees out, clear and sunny. I got thinking that This is my first year, I am not training for a race, I am not trying to impress anyone so I can move at my own pace, really get to know the team well and work on putting a team together. I have decided that for every bad run, I will make sure to do somthing positive, hook up a little team, or work on somthing to make it fun. If I had to be in a race in a few weeks I would be pretty stressed out right now, but as it stands, its not hurting anything.
With this in mind going on that short run with the two young dogs was pretty cool.