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?