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, December 18, 2014

Let's Race … kinda

Snow conditions are still not ideal for 40 amped up dog teams to hit the trails of Two Rivers in an early season race. Two Rivers has a confusing system of interlaced trails in multiple directions (see right) and even the folks who live on the 'north side' don't know all the trails on the 'south side' and vice versa.

The current options available for a 100 mile race meant that sections of the trail would need to be used multiple times in different directions. On good trail years during races there can be lost teams and head-on passing (which is confusing to someone who doesn't know our trails… Which way should I be going now?!) and maybe even a loose dog or two, so Two Rivers Dog Mushing Association made the conservative decision to delay the 100 Mile Solstice for two weeks to hopefully allow more trail options to be utilised. This was probably smart since finding lost teams and bummed out mushers is never a good way to start the racing season.

But… Ryne Olson has been chomping at the bit to race her awesome group of sled dogs. (Okay, let's be honest, we all have!) But Ryne and Derek -- Ryno Kennel -- have taken the sled dog by the harness and organized a small, neighborhood "semi-race". It will happen this Saturday on our local Two Rivers trails.

The catch is that all the entrants are local teams who know these trails like the back of their hands. We pass other dog teams constantly during training runs and I'm sure we will have multiple passes during the "race". The biggie is: if any team gets lost during the race, they can simply mush home, put their dogs away and sulk on their own. This takes pressure off organisers and is essentially a few teams on a competitive training run, all taking the same, unmarked route with neighborhood bragging rights going to the winners. We're excited to have our first "race" of the season - watch this space for the team rosters.

The Two Rivers 100 Solstice is now scheduled for January 3, 2015 and you can find information about that at TRDMA website and Facebook page. At that time SP Kennel will be preparing for the Copper Basin 300 that starts the next weekend. But, we will most likely still have a team or two in the Solstice.

Let's race… kinda!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

WBW: December in Alaska

What is December in Alaska really like? "Kennel Mom" Mickey explains in this post from December 6, 2007.
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People often ask, ‘What is Alaska really like in the thick of winter?’

SP Kennel is located in the heart of this great state – right in the center! We are 350 miles from an ocean to the south, 450 miles from an ocean to the north and nestled between two mountain ranges. On a clear day, we can see the huge mountain peaks to the south: Denali is the centerpiece. The "Interior" of Alaska is made up of endless rolling hills, wild valleys with little civilization and small pockets of humanity. So, why are so few people in this vast and limitless country?

It is the winter weather that keeps the human population to a minimum. The hearty souls who choose to reside in this winter wonderland make their homes here despite some chilly obstacles. It is the very existence of these cold weather complications that define our winter lifestyle and create our daily winter routines.

The COLD

How cold does it get in December? We expect 40°F or 50°F below zero several times each year. (On Thanksgiving Day 2006, it was 46°F below.) On a day to day basis, however, the mercury sits at about 20°F below zero. That first cold snap of the winter is often rough on the fingers and toes. A stiff breeze at 20°F below is a sharp reminder to thoroughly cover up. Frost nip can easily result when skin is accidentally exposed. And once you "nip" an area it will always be sensitive.

We at SP Kennel must bundle up for even the quickest outdoor chores. When we spend a full day outside training a dog team, we bundle up even more. We all have different layering methods to ward off the cold and they change as the mercury rises and falls. Suffice it to say, the layers involve wicking undergarments, fleece mid weight garments, arctic outerwear and chemical heat warmers. During the coldest of cold days, you will find us scurrying around the dog yard with speed and efficiency, totally unrecognizable under the layers (right: Aliy bundles up for December chores).

We do not train the dogs in the extreme cold. Our temperature cut off varies depending on wind, precipitation and other factors, but it is usually about 30°F below zero. We feed the dogs twice the regular amount during a cold snap. The typical Alaskan husky burns those extra calories to stay warm. We also have kennels in the basement for some of the shorter coated dogs or dogs with a high metabolism. We have had over 20 dogs in our 500 ft² basement.(EDIT: we now have a specially constructed insulated "dog barn" we use in this situation)

As the month continues, we all (humans and dogs) get acclimated to the cold. The funny thing is, when a Chinook storm brings in warm breezes from the South, it seems like t-shirt weather at 10°F above. But, when this happens, you smile because you are confident that you are now weathered and really ready for winter.


The DARKNESS

How dark does it get in December? During daylight hours, the sun is never far above the horizon. It seems to hover just above the mountains to our south. The views are spectacular for any avid "sunrise" or "sunset" photographer and gorgeous snapshots are commonplace. But, the delineation between sunrise and sunset is a bit blurred at times (right: Interior Alaska - Sunrise or Sunset in December).

Today, December 6, 2007, the sunrise was at 10:31 AM and the sunset was at 2:48 PM - 4 hours and 17 minutes of daytime. We have 15 days until December 22, the Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the year. On December 23, the length of daylight hours begins to increase.

The lack of sun does not always mean total darkness! For a couple hours before sunrise and after sunset, the sky is often a silver glow, since the sun is not very far below the horizon. But regardless of the light, most December days are spent outside. Photos typically show dog mushers walking around with a headlight affixed to their brows (left: Allen models his headlight, a critical winter tool).

Many people do use headlights while mushing or doing chores around the kennel. But, we try to avoid dependence on them. A headlight creates "tunnel" vision and limits the focus of our attention to the small, lighted area. Although this apparatus is a constant companion in the winter, it is not the only solution. Our eyes and brains get accustomed to seeing in dim light and exceptional "night" vision develops. This is similar to the temperature acclimation: our eyes and brains just adapt to the darkness.

Training runs in darkness are the norm. When the winter sky is clear and the stars are bright there is enough light to drive a dog team down a wintry trail and still be able to recognize all of the team members. Trails, through the rolling hills and wild valleys and past the occasional lighted cabin, provide an serene experience. Neither darkness nor cold diminishes that feeling.

Sometimes our trail is lighted by the Northern Lights, pulsing overhead in shades of green, red and purple, creating a spectacular vision characteristic of Interior Alaska. These are the times we realize how fortunate we are. We may be bundled against the 20°F below temperatures, but we are surely living in God’s Country.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Road Trip!

That's right - SP Kennel's dog trucks are up and running! So yesterday, we loaded up both trucks with most of the Racing Dogs and the three mushers and drove 50 miles to the White Mountains National Recreation area. It was our first trip away from our local training trails. It was great. Now we just need a race to go to…


The Mid Day sun in Interior Alaska; Sunset at 2:42PM (Sunrise was at 10:47AM).


A motley crew wait for their mushers to get going - rear to front: Nelson, Waylon, Wedgy, Izzy, Scout (hiding), Beemer, Boondocks, Chipper; Traveling down the trail.


Patience at the trucks; Sisters - Quito and Chica looking pretty!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Iron Wins The Fan Club Draw #5

Congratulations to IRON for winning his first fan club draw!

Peggy from California joined Iron's fan club in memory of Rae Long. Peggy will receive a package of Iron-themed goodies in the post.

Iron and his golf litter siblings make up part of our two-year-old class this season. Iron is such a handsome young man and resembles his Papa Biscuit in many ways - except for color! We're excited to watch him develop into a strong, hard-charging racing dog. Iron shared his extra treats with his siblings today.

It wasn't that long ago "the golfies" were pups, just look at them back in fall 2012.


L-R: Wedgy and Iron look like butter wouldn't melt...; Chipper, Woody and Iron are all legs

The next Dog Fan Club winner will be announced on December 26th ("Boxing Day" for our Commonwealth fans) and everyone who hasn't already won and all new members will be in the draw to win.

Click the button below for instructions on how to join:


Click this button below to take you directly to the Dog Fan Page.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December Yearling Update

The yearlings go through the same monthly health exams as the adults. There is much more humor involved in these exams and a great deal more patience is required.
These youngsters are sincerely happy, playful, exuberant and downright fun!

We brought all 13 yearlings into the garage - three or four at a time. Keeping up with them was like chasing rabbits: Spark tried to eat the foot ointment container while Violet ran off in the other direction with the lid. Commando and Amber wrestled in the work out room - now we can't find the sweat bands! Cayenne stole the dry erase marker and ran in circles with it so that we couldn't write down her weight. Chena didn't want to come out of the weigh-in crate, so Daisy and Champ decided to join her. FYI: all three of them weighed in at 121.8 pounds. Coal didn't want to get in the weight-in crate and howled desperately while getting weighed. Nomex had the most patience during his foot exam. Tinder stood by and monitored all of his siblings weights compared to his (Photo at right). Torch and Hotshot were the last to come into the garage and were so pleased to finally have their chance to run around that they were both "angels"!

L-R: Chena in the weigh-in crate; Champ joins Chena; Daisy joins the other two.

The Yearlings have had a very consistent training schedule thus far. They trained with the Adult Racers mixed into the same teams the entire month of September and through much of October. During November, they began to train in a predominantly "Yearling Squad". The focus of this young squad was manners and experience; not mileage. On average, the Yearlings have 50% of the training miles and 80% of the number of runs as the Adult Racers.

We have given many yearlings a chance to run in lead with a veteran adult. A few of them have really shined! In December, several Yearlings were "bumped up" to an Adult Racer team for a run or two. We watch their attitude very closely.
  • Amber really drives hard in harness and has never lost focus. She is a cocky gal and will tell all of her siblings that she is the best! She looks good at 37.8 pounds. Amber has the most mileage of all the yearlings and has been in lead once.
  • Cayenne was a little timid in the Adult teams early in the season. But, she has gained tremendous confidence in just a few months is now completely self-assured. She is a tall, thin-boned girl at 37.8 pounds. Cayenne went through a phase of not eating all her food but now she is back at her dish with gusto. She has average mileage.
  • Champ started the season as the loudest screamer and the biggest line chewer. Now that he understands the routine, he has settled down and can somewhat control his focus. He is a hard charging dog and has strength in his size. He has a habit of running out in the deep snow (so does Mac and Scruggs). Champ will be a big, sturdy boy and is the second largest yearling at a healthy 49.2 pounds. He has the second most mileage.
  • Chena is pensive and calm. But she runs in harness with complete dedication and resolve. She has been in lead on numerous training runs and trots with her head down and eyes forward. Chena doesn't like water in her food and picks out the solid goodies. She is a very picky eater and is thin at 33.4 pounds. She has average mileage.
  • Coal is a big, slightly goofy, boy. He isn't always comfortable with new situations: open water, overflow, ski poles. But, he listens when he's spoken to and immediately gets back to work. Coal is a strong, solid team player and weighs 47.8 pounds. He has average mileage.
  • Commando lopes with a lot of pep. He always keeps his tug line tight! He has run in lead but is still a pup and will leap off the trail to bite a branch. He enjoys his food but his consumption does't keep up with his energy level so he is a thin 45.4 pounds. He has average mileage.
  • Daisy is a chubby, plain faced girl with the most dedication in harness for a yearling. She is strong and never lets up. She will run in lead the same as in the team. She is tremendously furry and looks a lot bigger than she really is. She is solid at 39.2 pounds. Daisy has the third most mileage.
  • Hotshot is an extra playful, happy hound. He has big legs and a big body and hasn't mastered long distance miles yet. But, he was talented in lead and trotted down the trail with confidence. He is a solid 47.2 pounds. He has average mileage.
  • Nomex is proud. He is a tall, big dog with a 'coffee table-sized' head. He is a powerful team player and still must practice the art of pooping on the go. He is the largest yearling and looks incredible at 49.4 pounds. Nomex is a gorgeous boy! He has average mileage.
  • Spark is the ultimate sweetheart but what a worker as well! He pulled so hard at the beginning of the season that he would wear himself out. We moved him up into lead to lessen his drive and he is now a solid lead dog (except when a leaf blows across the trail!) Spark is a nifty dog and looks good at 45.4 pounds. He has average mileage.
  • Tinder is gorgeous and resembles his Daddy, Nacho. He has the same self confidence too. He seemed slightly unfocused early in the season on the first 1/2 mile every run, but he's gotten over this phase and is now a 100% powerhouse. Tinder looks super at 45.2 pounds and has the prettiest coat. He has average mileage.
  • Torch is the most vocal and enthusiastic youngster. He paces faster than many dogs lope. He is lighter-boned than his bigger brothers but seems to keep his body weight well at 45.2 pounds. He motored straight down the trail when he was in lead and will be in that position more in the future. He has average mileage.
  • Violet is a mini "Olivia" with crazed energy and a 'go-go-go' attitude. She has run in lead but only for short stints. She is a solid dog in swing or team and will be there in the long run. Violet is not a big girl but she looks good at 37.2 pounds. She has average mileage.

L-R: Allen with "the twins" Violet (left) and Amber (right); Cayenne wants her marker back!; Mark rescued the foot ointment container from Spark.


L-R: Nomex stands for his "mani-pedi"; Aliy gives some luvin' the angels: Torch (left) and Hotshot (right).

Monday, December 8, 2014

Trail Pics with Fresh Snow

We've had some fresh snow in the last week as you can see from these two pics captured by Spencer. He took the team out east on Baseline and then on a 30 mile loop.





The team is (front to back, left to right):

Kodiak and Beemer, Schmoe and Lydia, Viper and Clyde, Puppet and Woody, Wedgy and Sandy, Biscuit and Chipper.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sunrise at SP Kennel

Here's a "good morning" that may wake the neighbors!



Friday, December 5, 2014

Alpine Creek Excursion

Unfortunately we have had to withdraw our three teams from the Alpine Creek Excursion Sled Dog Race this weekend. We've had some ongoing "dog truck issues" and decided to make the call earlier this week to ensure those on the wait list for the race had enough time to prepare.

The good folks at Auto Trim Design Fairbanks as well as Gene's Chrysler Dodge have been working with Allen to decipher the cause of the problem. We hope to have all of the dog trucks back at the kennel today. Since our goal is always to race as many SP Kennel dogs as possible, we obviously need reliable transportation to get them to the starting line.

We will stay in Two Rivers this weekend and, as we have had a generous snowfall over the past week, we may just simulate the race on our own trails!

We are disappointed as we were looking forward to racing, but as is a favorite saying here at SP Kennel: "It's never easy". We wish all the competitors and organisers a safe and successful race on Saturday.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December Dog Update

As we welcome December and a few inches of fresh snow we wanted to update the world on the condition of all the SP Kennel Racers. Instead of doing an alphabetical update, we'll talk about everyone from the most senior dog to the youngest.

All of the Race Dogs have been in harness since September 1st. Their training mileage is recorded individually. All dogs have had very similar training regimes for these three months; however an individual might sit out a training run or two for a variety of reasons: stomachache or not eating well, neutering or other minor health issues, Mac's surgery or even tooth cleaning. Beemer was in Anchorage for several days and missed a few runs. It is all individual.

L-R: Kodiak and Scruggs lead a training team from the yard; a view of the team from a "Musher's Perspective"; Waylon at the peak of health, fitness and confidence during a 2014 race.

The two key elements in successfully training sled dogs is to maintain their overall health and continually improve their fitness level. How do we measure these elements?

A good indicator of overall health is a dog's body weight. So we monitor and record each dog's monthly weight throughout the season. As dogs gain more muscle in training, they also gain more weight. We look at these weights as a gauge of health. Each dog has an ideal weight.

A good indicator of overall fitness is a dog's mileage. At SP Kennel we have a strict regiment of training runs. We use different training techniques at different times of the season. Some times we use a "day on" / "day off" schedule and other times we "push" the dogs three days in a row. We try to increase their fitness levels gradually and positively. As you can imagine, each dog has his or her own rate at which they improve their fitness. So, you will notice in the comments below that each dogs has different mileage. This makes sense since each dog is different.
  • Biscuit is the oldest dog in training and looks GREAT! His coat has never looked better so he is ready for a cold winter. His mileage is very similar to that of last season. His current weight is perfect at 50.2#. Biscuit is still vying for a spot on the "winning team".
  • Chica shed her thick coat after whelping puppies this summer but it is growing in nicely now. Her appetite is fantastic and her mileage is exactly average for the racing dogs. Her current weight is good at 47.6#. Chica is, as usual, cool, calm and collected.
  • Nacho has above average mileage and is very excited to run. His thick grey husky coat is magnificent. He is heavier than normal at 56.6#. Nacho is ready to roll!
  • Quito is as confident as ever. She is training several two-year olds for the lead position. She has average mileage and looks GREAT! Her current weight is 46#. 
  • Beemer was neutered in October and therefore had some time off. His mileage is slightly below average but he is maintaining his weight better - currently 49#. He has been running in lead. Beemer has been the 'go to' man for all the SP Kennel social events. 
  • Olivia has the appetite of a starving alligator. She is chunky, currently weighing in at 45#. Her mileage is above average and has the third most miles recorded thus far. Olivia is always excited to go.
  • Rambler has some dry skin and coat issues. He is currently on both homeopathic and medical supplements to see if this helps. His mileage is slightly below average. His current weight is ideal at 48.8#. Rambler is happy and strong we just need to understand his coat issue.
  • Scout never wastes excess energy playing or acting silly in the dog yard. He enjoys the privacy of his house. But he is always 100% in harness and is one of our main lead dogs. His mileage is average. His current weight is good at 44.4#.
  • Viper has been leading the Yearling team a lot. He is vocal and sassy while running in the team and has average mileage. He is maintaining a perfect weight at 48.8#. Viper looks GOOD!
  • Boondocks is sleeping in her house this season - this is different from any previous year. She is still hyperactive and always ready to go. She has average mileage and currently weighs a pound less than her ideal at 37.8# Boonie is one of the more vocal characters in training.
  • Lester is steady and reliable. He has become one of the main SP lead dogs and is often paired with a youngster. He has tremendous patience. Lester has average mileage and his current weight is good at 44#.
  • Puppet has maintained a chunky physique despite steady training. She has average mileage this season and is very healthy with a current weight of 53.4#. Puppet got loose during a training run 5 miles from home and we found her tucked into her house - snug as a bug in a rug - I guess she's happy here!
  • Scruggs has above average mileage right now. He is running in lead often and paired with a novice two-year old. His current weight is a tad heavy at 47#. He enjoys the deep snow and finding his own trail - good thing it's finally snowing!
  • Waylon is muscled up and looks like he's ready to race 1,000 miles already. He is very excitable right now and can't believe he is ever left behind. His current weight is just under his ideal at 42.6#. Waylon truly believes he is the best dog at SP Kennel. 
  • Willie is happy and warm with his thick husky coat. He never stops wagging his tail. He has above average mileage and his current weight is normal for him at 43#. Willie is delightful.
  • Mac has recuperated from his salivary gland surgery but due to time off he is below average in mileage. But he has a great attitude and will soon work back into the thick of training. Mac is muscling up to be the biggest dog at SP again this year. His current weight is 66#. He is slender.
  • Schmoe is still the cheerleader on every training run whether he is in swing or wheel position. He was neutered in October and therefore had some time off. His mileage is slightly below average but he is maintaining better weight - currently 49#. Joe Schmoe will be a Rock-Star again this year!
  • Scooter is loud and excited to go… all the time! It's almost annoying. She has average mileage and is slightly heavier than normal at 50.6#. Scooter is a great gal who wags her whole hind end - not just her tail!
  • Sissy is high strung in the yard as well as on a training dog team. She seems to be frustrated when she doesn't get to go. She has average mileage and is currently at her ideal weight at 45#. Sissy is keyed up this season and will be a main player all year long.
  • Chemo is enjoying his job and is very strong right now. He will run in lead but seems to have some pent up nervous energy at times so we moved him to swing. He has average mileage and his current weight is just under his ideal at 50.4#. He is really a sweet dog.
  • IV has had somewhat of a relapse with her back injury from the summer. Her future as a Racing SP K dog is doubtful. She trained at 100% for 2 1/2 months and now seems less than par. Of course she is still happy, runs around and has fun -- she just probably can't win a 1,000 mile race.
  • Felix has become 'Biscuit JR'. All of the SP mushers have mistaken him for his father at least once this season and that's a GOOD thing! This means Felix is getting bigger, better and bolder. We have great plans for Felix! He is a little thin at 44#. He is a gorgeous dog.
  • Izzy has been running with her mother, Quito, up in lead, the last month. Since she raced 500 miles of the Iditarod in swing, we decided she should 'graduate up' one position. She has the most mileage of all the dogs thus far. Her current weight is an ideal 44.7#. Izzy is a high energy and full of sass. 
  • Mismo is a horse. He strength is remarkable. He is excited and dedicated too, which will bump him up to the main team this season. He has the second most mileage behind his sister. He is thin at 61#. Mismo is a fun, yet dedicated dog this year.
  • Nelson is the most high strung dog in the yard this year. He'll twist and twirl and will not stand still - even for one moment -- this is great considering he is slated to run thousands of miles this winter. His mileage is above average. Nelson has a great appetite and currently weighs 47.2#.
  • Clyde is a happy goon. He is still eating like a champion this season. He is fit and trim and has average mileage. Although he eats voraciously, he uses a lot of energy, so he is slightly underweight at 51.6#. Clyde will be super important in every race this season.
  • Outlaw seems to barks at everyone - he just likes to talk. He is really proving to be a strong team dog this season and is putting a lot of drive into his training runs.  He has average mileage and has been extremely healthy thus far. He is slender at 53.4#.
  • Pepe has enthusiasm and pep, but still no focus. This doesn't seem to stand in his way however. He has average mileage and is always excited to go. He is a smaller dog but seems to get his job done weighing in at 39#.
  • Chipper is a petite dog with a big attitude. Her little legs move at a supersonic rate as she easily keeps the pace with her bigger brothers. She is the second most hyper dog on the race team. She has average mileage and weighs a whopping 33#. She will surprise much of our competition this season as a steady team dog.
  • Driver is still all legs. He was neutered in October and therefore had some time off. He is thin at 58.4# but we expect him to gain from now on. His mileage is slightly below average. Driver is a BIG boy who needs to grow into his body and mind. He is happy and driven, he just needs experience.
  • Iron is the negative image of his father, Biscuit - similar gait and stature yet he is white and Daddy is black. We have been pairing them together this season in hopes that Iron learns from his All-Star Pop. His mileage is average. His weight is #49.6. 
  • Sandy is small and stout. She is mentally high strung, but has more experience than any of the two-year olds and it shows. Her mileage is average. She loves to eat so she maintains her weight efficiently. She currently weighs 39# and could gain a pound of two of muscle. Sandy will be important this season.
  • Wedgy has a large learning curve this season since she had a limited time in harness last year. However, she is really rising to the challenges and it's exciting to watch her! She is also a very pretty girl and eats like a true sled dog. Her mileage is above average and she is a bigger girl - weighing in at 46.4#.
  • Woody has stilt legs and a high stepping gait but he goes straight as an arrow down the trail. He has been training in lead with an older dog. He was neutered in October and therefore had some time off. His mileage is slightly below average but we hope this will help him to maintain a better weight - he is currently thin at 51#.
  • Dutch puts a lot of effort into his work. He has a strange gait that seems to work for him. He will be a very strong team dog. He has above average mileage. He is a little thin at 44.6#. Dutch is silly in the dog yard but serious in harness.
  • Junior has often been paired in lead with Quito on training runs. She exhibits inner drive and determination for such a youngster. She has above average mileage and has the most training miles of any two-year old. Her flaw is her finicky appetite. Junior is a tall thin gal and currently underweight at 37#.
  • Kodiak has often been paired in lead with Scruggs on training runs. He is a dedicated sled dog and maintains a fast pace. He is a 'mini version' of his Daddy Nacho. He has above average mileage. He looks great at 46.4#. He will be a key player this season.
  • Lydia is the youngest and smallest SP Racers but her attitude is HUGE! She has often been paired in lead with Olivia, her Mom, on training runs. She has above average mileage and the second most training miles of any two-year old. She is a slender 31.5#.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Welcome to the World!

River Reed Watkins was born at 10:45PM on November 29th.

We are so excited to welcome you to the Family little guy!

Aliy and Allen ("Gran and Poppa") were at the hospital to welcome the baby boy. Momma and son are healthy and happy.

River will be heading home today with momma Bridgett, daddy Scotty and big brother Timber.

CONGRATULATIONS and welcome to the world young man. We love you!