Monday, December 14, 2009

Gliding on Our Own

A new layer of snow has fallen in the Bitterroot and we decided to once again take our small team of three and mush. We choose to sled Roaring Lion again but this time independently from our group of mushers. Now that we have the required gear for sledding this can easily be accomplished. While we appreciate the mentoring and guidance we receive from members of the Bitterroot Mushers, our dogs get rather distracted by the four legged members of the club. We thought Sunday would be a good chance to take them out to train with fewer distractions. Tensaw was as vocal as usual while he waited impatiently to be put in the traces. Since Blue was up to the task of leading last weekend we put her in lead again. The snow was deeper with tire tracts from the occasional car traveling to the Roaring Lion trailhead, leaving the middle of the road the obviously easier path for the dogs to traverse. Yet, the moment we got the dogs going, the bushes across the deeper snow had a strong attraction. Not long after getting them lined out again we encountered a fellow Siberian Husky owner and her dog, Ginger. They were returning from a skijor trip up the same road. Our dogs have not made the distinction between working and playing and sought to greet Ginger, which was quickly thwarted by Brandi. After pausing to let them pass and, yet again, unsuccessfully attempting to place Kona in the lead, Blue led Cobey and the team up the road.

When Cobey returned, I took the team out for a run. I was super impressed by Blue. She has turned out to be the lead dog I thought she’d be, for not actually being trained to be a lead dog. Impressively, she kept a straight course, keeping the pace well, never leaving slack in the line, and even, when the other two veered off the road to smell and pee on a rock, she kept focus down the road, attempting to straighten the others out. Tensaw and Kona definitely pull harder than Blue but only she so far has shown capable of leading the team.

While attempts keep being made for Kona to run lead, I think wheel is perfect for her. She seems to get freaked out in the front and likes having another dog to run next to. Compared with the other two, she has the most heart and pulls hard. Tensaw has the potential to be an excellent sled dog but he needs to learn how to untangle himself, or better yet, avoid getting tangled to begin with, and to focus on the task at hand, running, not sniffing and chasing critters. Still, our team is finally coming together, and for what it consists of now, a few inexperienced companion dogs, I’m mighty impressed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Three Sibes, a Guy, and a Pregnant Lady

Today we went for our first run of the 2009-2010 season and on our new sled!  I wanted to go sledding and Cobey was wondering which patch of dirt we would choose.  We ended up going up towards Roaring Lion at the suggestion of a few of the members of the Bitterroot Mushers.  The snow was thin and upon arrival I, too, wondered how the sled would handle it.  But we put our trust in the more experienced mushers there claiming it was good to go, so we unloaded the dogs and sled and prepared the way.  After getting the dogs in the traces, Cobey set off first and boy you should have seen them go…nowhere.  This was also the first time we let our dogs do it all instead of borrowing a more experienced dog, often lead dog, from another musher.  Our “sled dogs” were more interested in what had been wandering the sides of the road than running.  It took some prodding, many utterances of “leave it” and “on by,” and a lead dog switch (from Kona to Blue) before Cobey was on his way up the road.

Our huskies have never been in excellent pulling shape and especially not right now at the beginning of the sled season, so he only went half a mile or so before turning back to give me a chance.  I got on the sled, and once again, it took some coaxing before the dogs ran as a team.  Once they did, I realized some things we have trained these dogs to do as companions do not bode well for dog sledding.  When we are on walks along roads the dogs have been trained to “stay in the yard”, which often in cases of forest service roads means hug the ditch.  And wouldn’t you know it; today they decide to be the well trained huskies we occasionally see and run on the very edge of the road, if not in the ditch at times.   It was very frustrating for sledding and even more frustrating because you struggled not to be mad at them for they were achieving what they’d been trained to do.  We are hoping as the snow level gets deeper, snow berms build up, and roads appear more like trails that the dogs will run down the middle and leave the technical mushing for the more experienced.

Other than a few minor difficulties of getting the dogs running up the road and not off it, today’s run was rather successful, especially it being their first without an experienced dog.  Keep checking our blog for more adventures this season with our team of three Siberians, a guy and a pregnant lady.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

New Sled

Much has happened since our last post.  We are going to be adding a new member to the team, but it’s not a dog.  In February we’ll be having a little baby boy.  This new addition has put the expansion of our dog team on hold for a bit.  As much as we would like to, it would seem almost insane to take on another dog right now in the midst of a little man soon to come. 


Nicki, the leader of our local dog sledding group Bitterroot Mushers, put on a pull clinic a few months ago and I decided to take our pup (almost 2 now) to do some leader training.  The training session turned out to be too much for him.  He’s too distracted by other dogs and things to pee on at this point in his puppy life.  We need to find a place with minimal distractions to train him and then slowly raise the distraction level.  I think he would also do well learning from a trained leader.


Something productive did come of the pull clinic that day, though.  We’d been waiting for a sled to just “come” to us and that day it did.  I think the best way to get into sledding is to wait for someone who is getting out of it to sell all their equipment at a very reasonable price.  We got a sturdy sled and with it came harnesses, ganglines, chains, and tieouts.  Now the only thing we're missing is some snow.