Rob's Blog Archive

September 6, 2015

Two Thumbs Up










I think that dogs are religious animals by their nature.  At the least, they see, hear, and react to “signs” with something approaching religious jubilation.  That was certainly true as I got up on Tuesday.  It was cold---just above freezing.  Fall has definitely started.  Of course, there was the alarm and me getting up---I’m sure the dogs heard both.  And then, the sign that surprised me, but really got their attention---they heard the printer.  It went into its warm-up gyrations and so did my dogs.

I plan who’s where for every run I do using a database I designed a decade ago.  I’ve modified it to track many things, additions as it were, but since its first rendition I could enter each dog’s position for each run and it would track total mileage each dog had both overall and by position.  With this, not only do I keep track of how much mileage each of my dogs has in lead, I balance right vs. left mileage while pulling the ATV as well as right vs. left mileage while at wheel.  I usually plan runs the night before, but I actually print out a diagram of positions shortly before the run and that’s what the dogs heard.  I do use the printer for other things, but the dogs ignored that possibility.  The other characteristic of dogs, perhaps the one that’s most influential, is they are eternal optimists.

What was interesting was even Lamia and Omaha, new to the kennel, got excited with the sound of the printer.  Of course, they know what fall means and probably recognize the body language of their kennel mates. 

My A-team included Gaiya and Prudhoe in lead, Sybil and Daisy next, then Lamia and Omaha, and finally Lolo and Shoshone at wheel.  I harness my dogs in line rather than the more traditional method of harnessing them then bringing them over to the gangline.  So, after I laid out the appropriate harnesses for each dog, I set the A dogs free.  Well, not quite free.  I do all this inside of a fenced yard.  These are still Siberians. 

I harnessed the lead dogs first, then as I was checking who was right and who was left between Daisy and Sybil, Lamia caught Prudhoe’s attention and he started following her and abandoning a good line-out position.  A quick “No!” along with a drag back to the lead dogs was all it took to have them maintain the line-out like they’re supposed to.  Scowling at Lamia didn’t hurt either.  Beyond that, setting up the team was glitchless.  Even the new girls came to me with no loss of time.  Only Tok, on the B team, would end up screwing around and dodging me rather than coming when I called him. 

And so, at about five before nine and with a temperature still in the mid-thirties, we took off.  Not only did I have the dogs effectively push start the ATV, I kept the brake on hard.  Particularly for the first part of early runs, before they’ve warmed up, it’s important to keep the speed down.

As the run progressed, I eased up on the resistance.  I kept the engine engaged so the dogs were pulling against it, but that was it.  Everybody looked great.  I thought I saw a slight kink in Lolo’s gait, but that was a couple of minutes before he relieved himself and a normal preceding motion for that act.

I ran Omaha and Lamia---they are mother and daughter---side by side.  That said, seeing how familiar all this was to them, I’d guess I could have run them with anybody. 

At this time, I water my dogs after runs by laying out three filled water bowls and a bucket and letting them take care of themselves.  I was a little concerned that the two new girls might decide that this wasn’t appropriate,  When I was training my dogs for distance races, I’d always water and feed them in line and I’m sure that’s what Lamia and Omaha were used to, but both immediately wandered over to the water bowls and happily drank.  And, of course, as I tethered them back up, each insisted on getting her treat, a requirement they were familiar with prior to joining the Silly Lake Pack and that I have continued to meet.

Turning the ATV around, rearranging harnesses, harnessing, running, and then tethering the B team also went well, if not very slowly.  My B team now has two dogs who are over thirteen, two who will turn thirteen in November, one who will turn twelve in November, one who turned eleven in June, and two who were never particularly good sled dogs to begin with. We were really slow.  Still, everybody had a great time.  The temperature topped off at a pleasant 48 F.

Nine years ago, Shoshone joined my kennel.  He’s shy with people and, for the first two months, wasn’t totally sure about me.  After our first run, however, he decided I was cool.  That first year, he went on to be one of my two main leaders.  After Tuesday’s run I went back into the yard to talk to Omaha and Lamia.  They’re not near as shy as Shone, but they still have occasionally wondered about who this nutcase is that is now responsible for their food. 

“What do you guys think?”

“If we had thumbs, we’d be both giving you a thumbs-up.  Look at our smiles!  Can we have another treat?”

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