SP Kennel is a premier sled dog racing kennel in Two Rivers, Alaska, dedicated to the individual dog through excellent health, nutrition, training and specialized care.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throw Back Thursday: "Latino" Litter

Later this summer the "Latinos" will turn four and they will head into next season as experienced racing dogs. Last season really was a "coming of age" for them and with Quito and Biscuit as their parents, they couldn't help but turn out to be talented sled dogs!

L-R: left to right: Mismo, Pepe, Izzy, Felix and Nelson

Izzy has developed into a smart and strong "front end" dog and she is gorgeous too! Allen said this of her after her Yukon Quest debut: "She had a good attitude, ate well, climbed well, slept well… all of the above".

Mismo is a strong, motivated fellah and developed an exceptional working relationship with our other big fellah, Mac, during the Iditarod. He's finally growing into that big body and long legs and is a formidable team member. He even brought Aliy's YQ300 team home in single lead!

Felix is a carbon copy of his Papa Biscuit. That says it all!! Aliy and Allen have huge confidence in his abilities.

Nelson is a solid, hard worker and is full of beans! He will really come in to his own next season.

Pepe is… well… Pepe. He may not have matured quite as quickly as his siblings but he always tries so hard and we were happy to see him cross the finish line in Nome. He grew up before our eyes and we look forward to seeing him progress further this coming season. Of anyone, Pepe seems to take after his Uncle Tatfish and is a joy to be around as he always makes you smile.

It wasn't that long ago they were puppies! And because it's Throwback Thursday and because everyone loves puppies, here's a quick look back at them at one and five weeks old.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ginger Update

Ginger and her brothers (Ernie, Five, Rodney and Scooby) are 10 months old and all five are doing well. After Ginger's health scare this Spring, she has made a 100% recovery and is as sassy as the next pup!

Here is a video from today:

Monday, May 18, 2015

It's Summer!

As you can see, the Weather Forecast in for Interior Alaska certainly says… "Summer, summer, summer!"
The dogs hide in the shade and dig deep "cooling" holes in the dirt during the day. Throughout the day there is not much husky activity. However, the entire yard livens up at about 10 PM when the temperatures cool. And let the ruckus begin! Usually by about midnight we have to calm the playing down and tell everyone that it is now time to sleep. The response is "Why sleep when we can play?!"

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Throw Back Thursday: Baby Mac

As we head into our summer 'off season', we thought it time to restart our Throw Back Thursday (TBT) series. We'll take a look back at posts from the previous years to help fill in some blanks or remind you of when your favorite racers were puppies!

Our first one for this summer is about Mac. Mac is a superstar! He turns 6 years old August 21st. He is a Yukon Quest and Copper Basin 300 champion and was an important member of the Iditarod 2nd place teams. Mac is solid, dependable and energetic husky.

As we've mentioned before, Mac is the largest dog at the kennel - weighing 70 pounds at the peak of the 2014 - 2015 racing season. There are only a few dogs at SP Kennel who have even reached the 60 pound mark: Driver, Mismo and Woody and the 'soon to be' Yearlings: Five, Rodney and Scooby will most likely weigh at least 60 pounds as adults. So to have an athletic and gorgeous 70 pound dog at SP Kennel is rare!

But, remember Mac as a puppy? In this post, Macgellan had taken Mac out with Auntie Tig and Auntie Stella for an afternoon run.

Despite the fact that Mac is a very big guy, he is not a brut. He is a stoic, pensive and thoughtful dog. Yes, he has tremendous energy and when he wants to go… he goes! But, while at his spot in the yard he is a perfect gentleman. Mac will sit proudly on top of his house until you find your way across the yard and over to pet him. He doesn't often jump up and if he does, he will glide up onto your side gracefully, trying not to knock you over. He understands his power and strength. On the other hand, Mac will unceremoniously knock you over and drag you across the driveway when he knows that he is either going into the dog truck, put into a play pen for the day or loaded up for an afternoon walk. Then it is probably in your best interest to just let him go or you might find yourself being drug like a Yukon Quest dog sled across the parking lot.

"Hey you… get over here and pet me!!"; "When are we starting this race?"

Here is a video of Mac and the team at the Pelly Crossing Checkpoint during the 2014 Yukon Quest. You'll see the unbridled passion of being an SP Kennel sled dog.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day at SP Kennel

Mother's Day is special for every mother!

When it comes to selecting who the SP Kennel "mother" will be, we are very picky. We consider who to breed yearly after looking at her genetics, performance, and attitude as well that of her parents, siblings and puppies. Everything counts when making this important choice for the future of the kennel. The other issue to consider is timing during the year. Most of our kennel Mothers are active racing dogs, so breeding, whelping and raising puppies is a lot to ask in addition to their "other" job. Therefore we try not to bred any one too often or for too many consecutive years during their racing career.

Look a likes: Chica was a mother in 2014 with her pup, Scooby; Olivia was a mother in 2013 with her pup, Hotshot.

Congrats and THANK YOU to every Mother. We wouldn't be here with out you.

Sneak Peek: This summer, we hope to have a brand new Mother at SP Kennel. We will not know for certain until early June but, we'll let you know as soon as we do!

Friday, May 8, 2015

A 'Check in' from New Zealand

As Two Rivers is going through springtime melt and is welcoming the summer, here in New Zealand the leaves are turning and days getting chillier. Just like in Westeros… Winter is Coming.

But, it's not like winter here is anything like a winter in Interior Alaska. We live in Taranaki, on the west coast of the North Island, under the shadow of a mountain, and very close to the coast. It snows on our mountain in the winter but very seldom does it settle on the ground in my town. If it dips below freezing it's the talk of the town ("Brrr, cold today eh?") With a mountain so close we get a LOT of rain so our winters tend to be wet.

This climate change has been an adjustment for Spicy. She shed out much of her winter coat before we left Two Rivers in May 2014 and will likely never need to grow it back again. She looks even smaller now - I'd only really ever seen her during the winter with her thick coat on and without it she really is a tiny wee thing.

Another adjustment for Spicy is that she is now, very definitely, an inside dog. She sleeps on my bed and she and Lexie take turns on the couches during the evening. That didn't take long to learn! She is part of the family and loves my parents and is getting more and more confident around the rest of my family and friends.

She has also made a few friends (canine and human) that we meet regularly on our twice daily walks in the sports ground over our back fence. She loves the walks and she now knows every inch of the grounds and surrounding trees and streams - but there is always something new to sniff or pee on!

Occasionally we go to the beach and she loves to smell different sniffs and meet new friends there. Last time we went, the beach was almost exclusively people walking their dogs so much fun was had by all!

Lexie and Spicy at the beach

It's a far cry from her days as a SPK racing dog crossing under the burled arch in Nome, or leading a team of youngsters on a training run, but she seems to be enjoying her "retirement" very much indeed. Thanks Aliy and Allen for letting me bring her home!
- Moira

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

SP Kennel All-Star - ChaCha

Happy 14th Birthday ChaCha!

The successes that SP Kennel has had over the last few years have been partially due to very selective combination of genetics. The dog that has contributed most to the successful SP Kennel gene pool is ChaCha.

These days, ChaCha surveys the dog yard from her prime position on her dog bed in the lounge or outside from the deck. She has a "coffee table crate" in the lounge where she sleeps during the day and goes upstairs to Aliy and Allen's room at night.

There was a time, not too long ago when she was the kennel's top racing dog and "Queen of All The Things" (just quietly, she really is still the Queen of All The Things despite what Quito thinks). ChaCha has an attitude the size of Alaska with a heart to match. Aliy uses the word "sassy" often when describing her.

Currently ChaCha has a dozen of her children and 25 grand children on the Dogs and Puppies rosters. Can you pick them all?

Cha's "coffee table crate" in the lounge; upstairs during the night

ChaCha was born at Husky Homestead in the summer of 2001. Her mother, Alberta, whelped the ‘Dances’ litter: Rhumba, Lindy, Tango and ChaCha. Her father, Yuski, was originally born at Susan Butcher’s kennel.

ChaCha ran Iditarod eight times, won multiple mid distance races and was SP Kennel’s ‘go to’ lead dog for many years. She has always been smart, fast and ultra competitive. She would bark outloud for miles when she was excited or if she saw competition ahead of her. ChaCha is also exceptionally friendly and sweet. She wags her tail at everyone and kisses anyone who will let her. Even more amazing is the fact that during her successful years as a sled dog athlete she also had four litters for a total of 25 puppies. For the past six years, her puppies have been the core of every SP Kennel team. They are well known because they are smaller, happy and fast!

When the idea for a Kennel All-Stars page was first formed there were several dogs that immediately came to mind. ChaCha is one of these dogs. Quite simply, she is one-in-a-million!

There are few framed photos in Aliy and Allen's kitchen but one that has pride of place is this one (right) of ChaCha with her son Dingle at the start of 2011 Iditarod. It makes us all smile whenever we see it, such is the joy on both faces.

Back in 2003-4 Randy Chappel was training and racing at SP Kennel and one of the dogs on his team was a two year old he purchased from Husky Homestead. Here's Randy's story:

In the summer of 2003, I was coming off a 29th place Iditarod finish as a rookie under the fantastic tutelage of Aliy and Allen. In an effort to add a few dogs for 2004, I headed south from Two Rivers down to Jeff King’s place near Denali in my dog truck. He had put out a list of some dogs for sale, and I had a certain older leader in mind that I hoped could help out my 2004 Iditarod run. Unfortunately, when I got there, that dog and a couple others I had been thinking about had already been sold.

Well, I had driven a long way with cash in pocket and I really didn’t want to go home empty handed. And, I guess Jeff sensed that as well, as he thought for a while and then said he had one other dog that hadn’t really been for sale that maybe I would be interested in. This dog had great bloodlines but had spent her whole yearling season in some kind of a cast, unable to run. As I recall, she had just recently had the cast off. Anyway, he took this little 35 pound girl for a very short run with me, and then said he would sell her to me. Without thinking, and being intent on not coming home completely empty-handed, I forked over the cash. And, that was how I came to own ChaCha. Instead of the highly experienced 6 or 7 year-old good sized leader and a couple team dogs I had come intending to buy, I instead found myself loading my dog truck with just one dog - a barely two year old, tiny dog that had been injured her entire adult life to that point and never been down any race trail ever. Who knew if she would recover in time for my 2004 run? Who knew if she would recover EVER?

As I turned north on the Parks Highway to begin my 150 mile trip back home, buyer’s remorse started to set in, big time. I sheepishly called Aliy on my cell and explained what I had just done. “Broken leg all last year, huh?” she said. “Yep,” I replied. She asked about ChaCha’s bloodlines, which she immediately told me were fantastic, and then asked, “Is she spayed?” and I said, “Um, no.” Aliy said – “Well, you may have gotten lucky there. Jeff really never sells dogs with those bloodlines without spaying them or neutering them first.” Then Aliy summarized the whole deal with this: “Well you either just made the dumbest dog purchase you’ll ever make or the smartest dog purchase you’ll ever make – we shall see!” Of course, as time has shown, it was the luckiest, best dog purchase I ever made.

ChaCha immediately showed her amazing attitude, great speed, and despite her previous injury problems - she was always healthy! ChaCha really emerged at the 2004 Knik 200 in which I finished 5th, only 32 minutes behind the winner, Ryan Redington and only 29 minutes behind Aliy who finished second. I had no business finishing that far up, but ChaCha drove my whole team forward and demanded the rest of them keep up. At the finish line she was as happy as could be and ready for more, while my other leader, 8 year old Jazz looked relieved and exhausted as he laid down right as we crossed the finish line and looked at ChaCha like, “What the heck? Where did this youngster come from and why is she making us go so fast?”

A couple months later during Iditarod 2004, still as a two year old, she then led us in single lead across the Norton Sound from Shaktoolik to Koyuk when the rest of the team and I were really struggling. A star was born. The next year I moved back to Texas and ChaCha went to live with Aliy and Allen and the rest is history!

Congratulations and many thanks from me to ChaCha! - Randy

Kennel Mom Mickey has a special affinity with the other Kennel Mom ChaCha. She shares a particular memory from 2007:

I do have a vivid memory of her a few days before she delivered the Car Litter, her second litter. Cute little Cha Cha face, a wagging tail and strong little legs that looked like toothpicks under her huge balloon body. I was afraid she would burst before those pups came out the proper way. Finally she produced 8 pups out of that petite body. One mom putting herself in another mom's shoes. We were both relieved when delivery was over.

Below is a "Meet the Dogs" video from November 2008 with Cha as a seven year old superstar at the top of her game.

Congratulations ChaCha from all of us on your induction into the SP Kennel All-Stars Hall of Fame. You deserve it. Good girl!

Click the button below to go to the SP Kennel All Stars page!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Ton of Dog Food

We get this question a lot:

"How much dog food do you go through in a year?"

The obvious answer is… lots.
But, more specifically we feed literally, tons, of dry Eagle Pack Natural Pet Food.

One ton of Dog Food headed to SP Kennel from Coldspot Feeds.

During the summer months the dogs eat less. The temperatures are warmer, the dogs are less active and therefore they don't need the additional calories. We try to keep everyone fit (including the mushers) throughout the year, so overfeeding anyone is a bad idea. On a warm, lazy summer day, the dogs at SP Kennel may eat 40 pounds of kibble per day.

As you might guess, during the winter months the dogs (and mushers) eat a lot. Colder days when the teams are training long mileage are the peak feeding days. It would not be uncommon for the dogs at SP Kennel to eat over 100 pounds of kibble per day!

Of course, the key is to watch each dog individually. We weigh in the dogs throughout the year and keep accurate records. Keeping everyone happy and healthy is what's important!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How our Dogs learn on Iditarod - Part Three

Part One of this series talked about our sled dogs learning from their pack mates.
Part Two
talked about them learning from their experiences.
In this final post of the series: "How our Dogs learn on Iditarod - Part Three" we look a dog's most obvious educator: their musher.

Nacho and Aliy try to keep it calm at the Race Start; Olivia looks back for guidance; Chemo gets a pep talk.

Of course, a pack or a team must have a leader. In the world of dog mushing, that alpha is the musher. He or she is the pack leader. The musher makes all of the decisions for the team. The dogs expect this. No leader would ever put the decisions of the pack in the hands (or paws) of the team. That's how indecision, turmoil and arguments come about. The leader also needs to make smart decisions.

Aliy talks to Bruce Lee about her race strategy during a rest stop; The musher must take care of the dogs and they will take care of the musher.

Overall, there needs to be a complete and thorough understanding between leader and team. The biggest failure a leader could make is an unwise decision which causes the pack to loose confidence. That would be catastrophic.

This blurb is from Aliy's 2012 Trail Notes:
"This understanding consists of respect and love. It might sound cheesy but, to me, dog mushing is a fine balance between respect and love. I know what my dogs need, I know what they want, and I know what they will do for me. That’s where the respect and love come into play. I must respect their limits and abilities and only then will they continue to love me and do whatever they can to please me. I need to know exactly what I can ask from each individual dog. They are my teammates, my buddies, and the bottom line is this: their love and respect is my only mode of transportation through 1,000 miles of Alaskan wilderness."

At SP Kennel we have some musher guidelines:

  • Have fun. (This might sound silly and some dog mushers will surely scoff at this statement. But fun, to us, means: you stay positive, you smile and you always encourage your team. This creates an upward competitive cycle. SP Kennel is not a military Boot Camp. Our dogs were raised and trained in a positive, happy environment. Don't change this just because you are racing.)
  • Have high expectations. (Yes. We actually do want to win.)
  • Play no favoritism. (Every dog on the team can effect your race's outcome. Keep that in mind.)
  • Enforce Team rules. (During training there were rules that the team understood and expected. These need to be upheld during the race. The dogs know and respect these rules. A musher must never change the rules half way thru the race regardless of whether he or she is tired, cold or miserable. A musher must stay true to their team.)
  • Deal with problems quickly. (Bad things happen in life and certainly on the Iditarod. When there is a problem, fix it. Don't dwell on negatives. The best example of this is dropping a dog. It is never easy to leave a dog at a checkpoint, but sometimes it must be done. Out of respect for the team, make the decision and carry on. The team will be together again at SP Kennel after the race.)

All in all, there is a lot of pressure on a musher. As there should be. For goodness sake… everything comes down to the choices that he or she makes.

I was watching the Iditarod Insider videos from the 2015 race. I saw quite a few mushers mentally coming to terms with the decisions that they had made for their teams… good or bad… or wrestling with decisions that they were trying to make. I'm sure that with my true insider's perspective to the race, I had a different interpretation of some musher's strategies and race plans. But, overall it was great to watch the mental mindset of a musher during the thick of the 2015 Iditarod competition. And I will admit that I laughed outloud at a few videos, sadly some of them featuring yours truly!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spring Kennel Clean Up

Spring in upon us in Two Rivers. The trails are mushy, the fields are muddy and the south facing slopes are dirt.
More than anything this means…

Spring clean up is here!

The first few days of snow melt always brings us grand surprises: finding treasures that were buried in the very first snow on October 4th. We try our best to deal with these surprises quickly or at least before the final spring melt. We find it is best to feed the 50 pounds of hidden turkey skins or 30 strips of beef snacks before they thaw completely. The dog dishes, feed buckets and coolers that had leftover frozen meals need to be cleaned before the thaw as well. Nothing like washing several hundred dishes at once. Anyone have a very large, commercial grade dishwasher in Two Rivers? No… that means we need to stretch the water hose out again. ('Tis the season.)

Tidbits that seem to appear out of the thawing snow pack are dog booties, hidden dog toys and chew bones. The booties need to be dried and sorted along with the 2,000 used booties that came back from the Yukon Quest and Iditarod. (That will be an ongoing summer project!) But, the dog toys and bones are happily uncovered and thoroughly enjoyed by the pooches. We hope to resupply all the dogs with fresh bones later in the spring.

Each dog house was packed full of straw throughout the winter months. This straw has since been dragged around the yard and now adds to the muck and yuck. So a full day must be put aside to rake straw and clean out houses. Dog bowls need to be checked for any winter puncture holes. It will soon be the season when water can actually be left outside and not become an instant ice cube.

(L - R) Treasures in the melting snow; Wasn't that straw supposed to be INSIDE Mac's house?; a little late in the season to use a sled for clean up.

The winter dog gear needs washing and sorting. Our dog coats, wind jackets, leggings and blankets were used a lot during the two very cold 1,000 mile races this season. A long day at the laundromat is imperative. Why not wash the musher's gear as well? Perhaps we'll even be invited back to the races next if we don't smell like an end of the season dog musher.

It is the time of the year when a dog musher wonders… is it the end of this season or the beginning of the next? Hummmmm.

The exit trail from the kennel and across the field looks different but gorgeous in the Spring.