Thursday, October 28, 2010

What have we been up to?

We have lots of training to do. And work has not been cooperating. The weather can't decide whether to stay cold or go back to summer. We have 3 out of 4 girls in heat, and the fourth looks like she's trying her darndest to join in the fun. Thank goodness we only have two unfixed boys.

Due to finances I decided it just wasn't practicle to go to Minnesota's East Meets West Dryland Challenge this weekend (/cry), but hopefully I'll be able to make it next year. This year I'll head to the Land Between the Lakes Dryland Challenge, The Music City Challenge, The Serum Run (hopefully) and the Mackinaw Mush. That should give me and my dogs enough experience to hopefully compete with the big dogs.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Six Dog Run

This goofy boy has made himself a solid member of the team.

Friday evening we tooled around on the ATV, taking turns to race around our fields. It was a lot of fun up until my son was having trouble shifting. When I hopped on to see why, the shift lever popped off. The bar had broken, and we had no way to shift. So the ATV was stuck in 2nd gear.

Saturday, I tried to rig the gear shift back on at about 06:30am with no luck. Failing that, I tried to start it in gear. No luck with that either. So I tried rolling it downhill for a start, but not being on the steep slope, it didn't want to roll very far or fast and no luck there either. I was pretty sure though that I could get 6 dogs to pull the ATV anyway, even if I had to keep in the clutch the whole way, so I pulled out the gangline and attached the extension I had found stuffed in the shoe rack in the closet. Rousting Jim and James, I set about harnessing up the dogs.

Samantha was just begging to go, and she had done really well with the puppy team. I thought that we wouldn't be going very fast, so it would be ok if she joined the team for today. Climbing up and down the hill though was not too fun, and I was puffing and sweating in the 39 degree temps. First out were Yukon and Samantha, Yukon in wheel and Samantha in swing. Then Princess and Buck, Princess went in swing with Samantha and Buck went in wheel next to Yukon. He still is a little wild to get moving, and was giving Jim a hard time, so when I went back up the hill to collect Freya and Bandit, I made sure James knew the urgency. Bandit was all excited and kept jumping up in the air as I took him down the hill. Man is he a huge dog! Eleven month old monster puppy and built for power and speed! It still blows me away how big he has gotten and he still isn't full grown!

Buck became unmanageable as I started hooking in Freya and Bandit, so I had to pause to help Jim control him. He was frantically chewing at the neckline and howling like a mad thing. Samantha was whining in anticipation, pulling on the line, and Princess was yowling most un-doggy-like (she has never sounded like a dog... weird puppy, or should I say wyrd puppy?). Freya was yowl-yelling and Bandit was jumping like a grasshopper on steroids. Once straightened out, I told Jim and James to get out of the way while I gave Freya the "Hike up!" command. WOW! I was barely prepared for all six dogs to leap forward in their harnesses and almost yank the ATV out from under me! Even without the engine assist, we quickly gained speed across the field. Before the hill, I dumped the clutch and started the engine to give them a boost up the hill.

Freya executed a perfect Haw when asked to take us out of the field and onto the mountain trail, then a perfect quick Gee on the trail. A hundred feet and another good Haw and off we went! I tried to keep the speed down for Samantha since she's not a very fast runner, and I could tell Freya was a bit flustered going so slow. But I also wanted to go a good distance, so wanted them to conserve their energy. We went all the way past the donkey farm and part way up the mountain to the chicken farm where I knew it was a good place to turn around. It took a moment for Freya to turn Bandit around, he didn't want to. But once he got the idea they both brought the team around in an untangled come around! They did excellent, and I was able to man handle the ATV in an untangled 3 point turn.

Coming back down the mountain, I had to hold the team back for Samantha, as she was starting to slow even more. This finally brought home to me that I need a rack to hold a dog bag and some way to get dogs back to the house on the ATV should they not be able to make the run. So, I encouraged her as I kept the team to her pace, but at the 4 mile mark, she put on the brakes. I had to stop the team and let her rest up a bit. We started up again after a few minutes, down to a slow trot back to the house. The last leg up the hill she started limping, and I had a couple of cars come up behind me back on the road. I called for a haw over and tried to get Samantha to trot the last tenth of a mile to get off the road, but in retrospec I should have stopped and got her on the ATV somehow. She rubbed a spot raw on both front paws when she tried to put on the brakes.

Feeling bad for my misjudgement, I got her up on my bed (her sleeping place at the foot of my bed) and treated her raw spots with antiseptic cream and bootied her up to keep her from licking them. I then snacked all the runners with raw frozen hamburger (they love that part!) and made sure Samantha was able to eat hers in peace. I checked her paws and re-applied antiseptic cream later in the evening. By Sunday morning her pad on her right foot had turned black again, and did not seem as sore, but her left paw was still sore, so I treated her again. Sometime during the night, she had shed both booties and the puppies tore them up. Ah well, at least Samantha was not limping any more, and seemed to be walking around fine. By Sunday evening even her left pad was black and looking healthy again. Samantha let me know she had laid down long enough, and went out in to the yard with her evening biscuit.

I felt terrible for allowing her to hurt her paws, and promised I'd not have her run with the team again. From now on, she either goes on hikes with me or on the bike solo so it is just me and her, and I can stop when she wants. It was two lessons to me, one that I needed a dog bag for my runs, and two that Samantha, no matter how much she wants to go, is just not cut out for the team. She's a great dog though, and my best companion, but I can't let that cloud my judgement again.

On the converse, Princess did fabulous with the team, and didn't even seem slightly winded by the time we got back. She's just an amazing good looking girl, and will be a great sled dog even if she doesn't sound like one. Her pads showed almost no wear even though she was tight and leaning on her tug the whole way. Buck once again proved his worth as a tremendous puller and a good wheel dog. He was solid on the entire way! His pads were perfect, very little wear and his love of running is obvious in his frantic need to get moving. He's one solid dog, and almost as big as his dad now that he is almost full grown.

Yukon is solid as ever, and has such a great personality. He has found new purpose in being a wheel dog, and runs much more consistently. Not sure if this is due to his 'demotion' or if he really enjoys being wheel better. I think it is the latter and not the former, mostly because he seems happier all around now that he has been running wheel. Guess he's not the responsible type.

Bandit! What can I say? He's awesome! He's a leader like his mother, has the drive of his mother, the strength and speed of his father plus some, and is just amazing! I can't say enough good things about this yearling. I'm ever so glad I got him back, and put him on the team! He has learned very well from Freya, and responds to commands as quickly. If I had sixteen dogs just like him, I think I would have to move to Alaska and see how he would do in some distance runs. For a Siberian he's huge, fast and strong, weighing in at around 70 pounds, he's solid muscle, yet gentle as a lamb when out of harness. He's a goofy love-bug and nothing phases him, not even fireworks (true story). It's a real priviledge to watch him mature.

Freya is still the backbone of the team, the prime mover and motivator, that wonderful running girl! She's filled out to 45lbs of rock solid dog. She has grown into a very warm and loving companion as well, and never misses a chance for a good cuddle. Her low howl is still one of the most compelling sounds, and she never fails to grab all of the pack's attention when she does it. She's incredibly smart, quick and cute, who could ask for more?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Saturday Show and New Lead Dog in Training!

Long before I should have been up on Saturday, I had packed up the grooming stuff, dog dishes, water, food, show clothes, shoes and dog treats while a frantic Princess kept wondering why I kept forgetting her every time I went through the front door. Howl-whining in frustration, she had the whole house up at o'dark-thirty. She was quite relieved when I grabbed her leash on the final forray out the door, and pranced around to the truck with a massive grin on her face. She was so pretty with her fur all fluffed up from the groomer! She was stoked as we left the house at 4am.

We were barely down the road an hour when Princess decided she had been in the truck long enough and that she was sure we were there. She whined a lot, making me think she had to go potty. Not so... She ran around sniffing everything for close to fifteen minutes before I put her back in the truck, grabbed a cup of coffee from the convenience store, and got back on the road.

Disappointed we were not actually at a place where there were dogs and people, Princess sighed and curled up in the passenger seat and fell asleep. She did not whine again until about thirty minutes out of Murphreesboro, so I pulled over in a rest area and walked her around. Only took about a minute for her to find a suitable spot to pee.

We arrived on site at about 7:45am local time (we went from eastern to central time along the road) and found a nice convenient parking spot. As soon as we pulled up, Princess was ecstatic! She could see lots and lots of people and dogs! We were where she wanted to be, and she couldn't wait to get out of the truck! I took her for a walk around the grassy area, and let her meet a few people and wag her tail at a few dogs before putting her in the crate so I could sign us in. I then walked her around so that she would get used to the people and dogs prior to our ring time and hopefully wind her down a bit.

I found Judy right after picking up the number from the ring steward, and she invited me to crate Princess by her dogs. She was nice enough to hold on to Princess for me while I ran to get her crate. We had about fifteen minutes to spare after getting her crate set up, just enough time to grab her blanket and get ring side. The ring was packed dirt, so I wanted something to keep her from getting dirty. Princess loves to roll in dirt, and I'm sure that would not help her score.

Princess was ecstatic to be in the center of so many people and dogs. She's such a wonderfully social little girl and nothing rattles her, not even an aggressive dog five feet away. She completely ignores them in favor of the dogs that want to play. It's tough to keep a ten month old pup from playing with other puppies at times, but Princess is a very good little girl, and if I tell her no, she pouts for a minute, but is good.

In the ring she did fantastic! This was the first show where she didn't crab-walk, but trotted nicely beside me with a loose lead. She was completely still when I told her to stay stacked! And she was happy to be touched by the judge, didn't shy one bit. I'm so proud of her! She's a winner in my book! She got a ribbon for our class, but not the group. She loves the crowds, and loved meeting lots of people. She's a funny little girl and plays shy when she thinks she can get some food out of it, but is downright outgoing at other times.

She was ok with being crated next to Logan, at least for a while as I met with the folks of the Middle Tennessee Siberian Husky Club. They were some really friendly and great people. After their meeting, they shared pizza with all the Siberian exhibitors. We shared stories and socialized a bit until Princess decided she wasn't close enough to the center of the entertainment. I brought her out for some social time too, and she loved every minute.

With a five hour drive ahead of us though, I had to cut short our visit and say goodbyes. Overall Princess and I had a great time, and we thank the folks of the GMKC for the show and especially the MTSHC for their excellent hospitality and warm friendship. Hope to see you all again next show season (for us)!

The weather has changed, and the cold brings fall training leading on to the race season! This is what puts fire in the veins of myself and the dogs! We live for this! Running dogs has been the greatest experience ever in my book.

The only thing that was close for me was riding hunter-jumper class with horses, but those horses weren't my companions. I loved them and they liked me, but they weren't mine, not like these dogs.

It's different when you live with a pack. Eleven dogs share our house, our land and socialize freely with us and each-other. We are the best of friends, and they are my companions and I their protector and provider.

When we run, it is as a team and something extraordinary happens. It is like being of one mind, and you really get to know what these dogs are all about. It is primitive, joyful, exhuberance, an unabashed love of running, chasing that imaginary prey, being one with the pack. It is timeless, a glimpse of the world before mankind, a glimpse of the silence, the cold and the snow, it is the hunt and the anticipation of a full belly and the warmth of companionship, the safety of the pack with a strong leader and protector. It is a feeling, a oneness that you'll never forget. It is like awakening a long dormant part of you that longs to be free. This feeling of oneness, of freedom and taste of the wild is like an addiction you crave, for it is life in all its gritty realism, not the fantastical unnatural world humanity has made. It's like finding a piece of your soul that has been missing all along, and you never knew you were missing it until you experience the wholeness of yourself. This is what it felt like to run the race team Sunday.

Since the weather was cooperative and in the 40's, I let the family sleep in until the dogs couldn't wait any longer and let me know in no uncertain terms that it was time to run! So, I went outside and put new gas in the ATV. It took about 7 kicks this time, but it fired up without having to be clutch started. So I let it warm up a bit before backing it up to the top of the drive in preparation of hooking up the dogs. I then let it run a bit more before turning it off and putting it in gear to help hold the dogs while hooking them up.

I then picked out the harnesses for the race team and rousted Jim and James to help hook up. Yukon had been dancing around the house for a couple of hours, but as soon as I picked up the harnesses, he started to bounce as well as jump and dance. Now I don't know about you, but a bouncing, dancing 65 pound incredibly athletic husky is an amazing sight! That Yukon can piroette in mid-air with such grace and style to miss the electronics, the TV trays, the chairs, counters and most amazing of all, all the other dancing puppies is simply astounding! He can clear five foot dividers with limitless ease, and yet has never once attempted to jump a fence. The strange dichotemy confronts me every time he does 'the happy dance'.

And yet this expression of pure joy is such a loveable aspect of Yukon's character. More and more he is loosening up and expressing his playfulness, which warms my heart. It only now begins to show me how much of a shell he had put around himself before I picked him up out of his situation. His happy howl is probably the cutest howl ever, his little "Oh!"

James started putting the dogs outside that we weren't taking as I harnessed up Yukon, Freya, Buck and Bandit and put their leashes on. Yukon is a very well mannered dog, so he's always the first one out, mostly to make it easy on Jim who holds them after I hook them up until the team is ready to go. Next is Buck, who is tough to control, but since he too is in wheel it is easier on Jim to keep the two dogs together. Bandit and Freya come out together, because once they are both hooked in, there is no stopping the team.

Hookup went pretty smooth this time and thanks to Jim, who has been teaching Buck and Yukon to keep lined out while waiting for the other dogs. As soon as Freya and Bandit were ready, we took off like a shot! I wish we had a speedometer on that ATV! I got the engine cranked and running within the first hundred yards, but let the team pull down hill. Bandit and Freya executed a perfect "Haw" at the bridge, and I applied a little power up the hill to help keep momentum. At the turn off by the mini-railroad, both Bandit and Freya did a sharp Gee on command, flawlessly.

We went all the way down to the donkey farm (about 1.75 miles) before I asked Freya to come around. She was reluctant to turn around, and wanted to keep going. Maybe next weekend we'll try the 5 mile loop, but I need to remember to grab the squirter to keep loose dogs away from the team. With a 3 point turn, we were headed back to the house, loping the whole way. Back by the mini-railroad, Freya and Bandit did another flawless Haw, and down to the bridge, it was Bandit that kept the team on course with a tight Gee, where it was obvious that Freya again wanted to go down the hunter's path. One slight tug on the neckline from Bandit though, put those thoughts out of her mind, and it was race up the hill to home.

One of our fastest and best runs yet!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Off to the Groomer Again

Princess was off to the groomer again this morning in preparation for the show in Murphreesboro tomorrow. Goind to be a loooong day starting at 0300 tomorrow morning. Our group judging is at 0830, but there are a quite a few breeds ahead of the Siberians. And there are going to be a ton of Siberians there! 15, the most I've seen yet. Of course there is a specialty from the Middle Tennessee SHC, so there should be a lot of beautiful dogs!