I was fortunate enough to roll out of bed at 6 AM today and stroll down my driveway to video SP's first training runs of the 2013/2014 season. The 3 mile 'early season' trail goes right by our house. The thermometer read 29 degrees, there were numerous icy puddles on the trails and a slice of raspberry sky in the east. Perfect!
Leaders of the first team out are Dingle and Waylon. Then come Viper and Chemo in swing, Schmoe and Clyde, Chipper* and Tatfish, Driver* and Iron*, and Woody* and Tug in wheel. Bringing up the rear on the ATV are Aliy and Meghan. Look at those canine and human smiles. (* = yearling)
(Yes, Meghan is back after a busy summer working for Alaska Fire Service and Allen is moose hunting today to stock the freezer for winter.)
I recently interviewed Aliy about the characteristics of these early training runs.
Her main September goal is to mesh the differing physical and mental abilities of the dogs in harness. She says they normally spend most of their time on the basics - harnessing, hooking up to the gangline, getting out of the yard, stopping on the trail, obeying commands, getting along with neighbors, learning the location of their doghouses and knowing to return there after the run. The youngsters will also be absorbing how to run in harness correctly and to pace themselves during the run. Aliy terms this entire list of skills 'Manners'. She is adamant about instilling manners for safety, efficiency and performance. All the dogs, even the older experienced ones, benefit from manners practice after a lazy August.
SP Kennel athletes in training, as of today, are 10 yearlings and 38 racing dogs, ages 2 to 8. Just imagine the differing levels of capability between, for instance, antsy Lydia (just one year old in August) and confident Quito (the serious focused professional). The dogs who participated in the Canine Warriors testing in July are in the best physical condition of all. And Olivia, the new mama, is temporarily on an individualized schedule. The challenge is to make September fun for all levels of fitness and experience.
Aliy says they will begin training using their traditional strong leaders, Quito, Beemer, Dingle, Rambler, Viper. A few weeks into training they will try younger, less experienced leaders. In each team they will pair yearling novices with mature, calm adults who essentially become examples and mentors. For instance, Junior might run beside Pud or Driver might run with Chica. These teaching pairs will be harnessed farther back in the team to be watched more closely. At other times, yearlings will be paired with siblings for comparison. Dogs two years old and older can be paired with anyone. Part of their ongoing training is to run effortlessly with different partners.
So, for this month, the trail will be easy and fun with lots of water to cool off. Each dog will run three to four times a week at 7-8 mph for about 30 minutes. There will be breaks along the way to cool down, to grab a drink, to learn to stand patiently and inevitably to untangle the youngsters who are ecstatic about this new experience.
Controlled chaos? Probably. Lots of fun? Definitely!