Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ginsberg's first run with the team

We did 3 miles with the 4-wheeler today, and Ginsberg joined in for his first time in a 6-dog team. Lids and Greyling also got their first run since being spayed. And the whole team finally ran together. All and all, a good day.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tight tugs on the first run!

Miss Penya showed me how amazing it is to have an extraordinary lead dog

Claire and I hooked up 3 members of THREE BLUE EYES (Penya, Colt, and Elias) and 2 WOLFMOON dogs (Little T and Dutchess) for our first training run of the season early Thursday morning. Before the snow falls, in order to get the team trained and in tip-top shape, mushers often use a 4-wheeler/ATV to simulate the sled. That's what we did. It was our first chance to see how my new team performed. Lids and Greyling, who were spayed 3 weeks ago, didn't go on this run but will get a chance to run this weekend. (Lids loudly declared her displeasure at being left behind!)

It took me longer to harness everyone than I'd like, but Claire encouraged me not to rush so I can communicate calmness and confidence to the dogs. Excellent idea. And she guided me through the process of unhooking and unharnessing the team in a manner that keeps the line tight, keeps the leaders on their toes, and prevents the harnesses from getting chewed up. Claire is SO patient with me--such a fantastic mentor.

I am very proud of my pups. These are no-nonsense sled dogs who give 100%. One way to see if they're "honest dogs" (team members who don't slack off by letting others do the work) is to look at the tug lines, which attach the dog's harness to the gang line/dog line, which is the line that runs down the middle of the team. (Neck lines also attach the dog's collar to the gang line and help the dogs stay even with each other.)

Here's a nice illustration from Jersey Sands Sled Dog Association that shows the positions that dogs  and includes labels of the different kinds of lines.

I am happy to report that the pups kept their tugs tight and the run was delightful. All honest dogs.

Penya, my main lead dog, just blew me away with her dedication to doing her job right, ability to focus, and calm demeanor. Whenever we stopped to take a break, she just laid right down wherever she was. That's certainly one way to lower your center of gravity and keep your team lined out nice and tight. What a smart girl! Catch a break and do your job at the same time. Claire said Penya would teach me a lot -- and that is so true.

Here are the positions everyone had on this run:

PENYA + LITTLE T     [lead position, the dogs out front]
COLT + DUTCHESS   [swing position, the dogs right behind the leaders]
ELIAS                               [wheel position, right in front of the 4-wheeler]

CLAIRE                          [driver]
ME                                     [behind driver]

I hope that provides a frame of reference for seeing this awesome team in the video:

On Saturday, I'll be removing stitches from Greyling and Lids and administering shots and worm medications.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

'Love the life I lead'

I started humming the tune, "A pocketful of miracles" today -- for good reasons!

Drum roll please . . . Ginsberg met his team-mates today. And promptly freaked out. One stern look by a resident Aussie (Reilly), and Ginsberg retreated to the safety of the car. I didn't have all day, so I carried the poor guy to his own little house in the kennel and sat with him for a while. Dear sweet Elias, Miss Congeniality of THREE BLUE EYES, came over and gave him a little kiss on the chin. Later, Penya, ever the well-mannered girl, showed her behind to him. Thank heavens for female social graces!

Claire and I got all the pups fitted for harnesses, and the plan is that on Thursday we'll hop on the 4-wheeler for our first run of the season. Yee-haaaa! We'll put Little T (one of Chris' dogs) and Penya in lead so Penya can learn the trail, Colt and Dutchess (another of Chris' dogs) in swing, and Ginsberg and Elias in wheel. At least that's what I think we decided. There was so much commotion when we brought out the harnesses that I may not have caught that exactly right. But we'll see.

Claire and Chris had a long week because they had to travel up north to soak their cabin and take some trees down as the big wildfire in the Boundary Waters started to come way too close to "Dog Camp" for comfort. I took care of the dogs in Cambridge while they were away.

Just for grins on Friday I brought the THREE BLUE EYES team some bones to build the association between me showing and good things happening. Here's a little video of the results.

It's true! I really do "love the life I lead."


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm pinching myself

I still cannot believe it!

Five beautiful dogs have entered my life. And I have entered theirs. Yesterday, as I drove to Cambridge to see them and get better acquainted, I was quite surprised by my emotions.

I thought I would be giddy. But it was a deep sense of responsibility that I felt. A kind of heaviness, the likes of which I haven't experienced since the early days of my first pregnancy, when I realized a new life would depend on me for everything.

Except this is different. I am not alone in caring for these beautiful creatures. There's Chris and Claire. And yet, I brought them into this new landscape. I am responsible for them moving away from the home they know best, from the man and woman who've cared for their every need season after season. And I am the one who must lead them in our adventure together these next few months. I owe them so much.

Do I deserve their trust?

All I can say is I already adore them. Each with his or her own personality. They are each so different and so compelling. I wish I could do a mind-meld with each one, like Mr. Spock from Star Trek. I know I will learn so much from their body language, the way they hold their tails, their ears, their heads. I know I will be seeing a good deal of them from behind.

But this week, I just want to see them. Touch them. Feed them. Give them water. Keep their new homes clean. Walk with them.

And love them.

These are some photos I took as I visited with each one in the quiet of the dog yard, as temperatures began to cool off and a breeze picked up among the trees. Those few hours were contemplative, beautiful, and lovely . . .

Expressive Lydia "Lids"

Darling Elias, who has one brown eye and one blue eye

Big, sweet boy Colt

Gorgeous Greyling, my quiet girl

The divinely confident Penya, who is a born leader

And these are some photos Claire took of me when I first met these amazing creatures . . .  she truly captured the great joy that accompanied my great feeling of responsibility. Thank you, Claire!

Such a sweet boy, Colt.  He is "blowing coat" -- a phrase that describes the two times a year when huskies shed their coats in preparation to grow a new coat for the next season. The fur that is coming out is quite downy and soft. Colt was neutered a week ago, and he seems completely unbothered by his new "condition."

Lydia (Lids) is the "talker" in the crew. She will definitely communicate her wishes, as in "pet me NOW." I love a girl who speaks her mind! She was spayed a week ago and is a bit more interested in what is going on "down there" that I'd like. If she keeps showing too much interest, we've got at "bucket" ready for her to wear for a while. 

Greyling allowed me to scratch under her chin without shrinking away from me. I was surprised that we'd make that much progress the first day. Knowing she is shyer that the rest of the team, I wanted to approach her on her own terms. At first, I kind of ignored her but sat around in her space so she could get used to me. For a while, I simply sat near her and closed my eyes and pet her under her chin. At one point, I could feel her body relax into my hand. I suspect we'll repeat this interaction several times as we get acquainted. She is the hardest to read for me right now, but I think with time we'll grow to understand each other.  She is a beautiful, majestic dog.

Elias is a lovebug. She she seems to be incredibly comfortable "in her skin" and relaxed easily into her new environment. She accepted next door neighbor Lids' invitations to interact, almost as if she knew Lids needed a little extra attention to settle down. I have a sense she is a very intuitive, centered dog and will help me stay that way when it comes time to race together.

Penya, a confident, relaxed lead dog, looks like she can make herself comfortable anywhere any time. She definitely kept an eye on the rest of the crew and on what was happening among the other dogs that call Claire and Chris's place home. I set my water bottle and cap on a log next to her circle, and as I was getting acquainted with the other dogs, she checked out my belongings. I love how she gets her bearings and takes it all in stride. Frankly, I'd like to be a lot like her!
On my next visit I will introduce Ginsberg (who lives with me in Minneapolis) to the team. He's got his own little house and circle there, right next to Elias. I wouldn't be surprised if he falls head over heels in love with her. I'll have him in the kennel as I feed, water, and scoop the other dogs so he can see what it's like to be part of the team. I stopped by the butcher's today and picked up a nice big bag of beef bones with marrow inside. I plan to give each one a bone and watch how they react.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The pups are coming!

Five members of the team will be arriving Monday, September 12. (And I'm supposed to sleep tonight?)
SO excited!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First race!

The deed is done!

I just registered for my first race!

Here's the info:

Voyaguers Classic Sled Dog Race
(Previously called White Oak Classic Sled Dog Race)
January 6-8, 2012
Recreation Class
22 miles | Northhome (MN) to Squaw Lake (MN)
Follow on Facebook

And even better news:
My pups are arriving Monday (September 12)!!!!
Many more pictures and stories to come.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The making of a kennel


Team THREE BLUE EYES prepped a dog yard this weekend!

My 5 pups from Rita Wehseler's kennel will be boarding at the amazing homestead of Claire Seekins and Chris Johnson. Together with Claire, Chris, and my hubbie Randy, we readied a beautiful spot where the 5 canine athletes who'll form THREE BLUE EYES will live this season.

Here's how we did it:

Truth be told, much of kennel was really already there. It was just needed a little "pruning" to tame the hardy Minnesota wildscape that had taken it over ever since a big storm knocked down trees a while back.

So our job was to rescue the dog houses, find the hardware, clear out the greenery, level the ground, repair a few broken legs on the houses, reposition the house, and voila! -- a new dog yard is born!

So, I forgot to get some real "before" pictures, but this is an example of the wildscape we needed to take to build the dog yard.

Claire works her magic with the amazing Positrak, which turns a mortal human into a superhero with super powers! 

Oh yeah, Claire rather likes her Positrak!

While Claire clears out the wildscape, Chris taught me how to use a buzz saw-like thing so I could cut legs for the dog houses (which are cozy 55-gallon barrels). She also showed me how to use a power drill so I could attach the legs to the houses. I LOVE power tools! Randy was an ace builder, too.

Jake kept a close eye on Claire -- and did some nice supervising of our work. She also made sure no single drop of sweat trickled down to my eyes. She give great doggie facials!

Chris worked her tail off, in spite of having had shoulder surgery recently. She's amazing! But I don't condone that kind of behavior!

Randy helps spread gravel that Chris has brought in. We don't want water pooling in low areas either during fall storms or spring melts.

Axels and bowls we recovered from the overgrowth, then replaced after we cleared out the yard and repositioned the houses. 

We attached chains to axels, which we pounded into the ground. Each dog will have a 12 foot circle next to neighboring dogs. They'll be able to meet and greet each other without getting tangled. And they'll each have a big bucket of water nearby and a cozy house with fresh straw. They're personal yards are "scooped" each day to remove any of their "deposits."

The yard gets some nice afternoon shade. Claire plans to add sand so the area is easier to scoop. And houses will get plywood lean-to's for a little extra shade. The houses are configured in a circle, so the dogs will be able to see each other. An Claire has room to drive the 4-wheeler into the middle.

And now we just need . . . the pups!
Stay tuned!