Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dog Yard Maintenance

It's a fall tradition! Every year, in late September, one day is set aside to gravel fill and grade the dog yard before the heavy frosts.

In spring and summer, when the ground is free of ice and snow, the dogs 'play' with their environment. Some collect rocks and branches to pile around their dog houses. Some play with their neighbors so enthusiastically that they wear deep tracks in the dirt. Some simply dig with abandon to depths of several feet. This canine activity, plus the flooding rains in July and August, has left the dog yard looking like a battlefield.

The grading job must be completed before the ground freezes for winter. We expect a high temperature of 40 degrees F today, but the nights will freeze to the high teens this week. So today is the day!

Aliy and Doug (Aliy's dad) will relocate half of the dogs into Big Red, our trusty F-350 dog truck, and various pens. The corresponding dog houses are then moved into the woods. Allen, meanwhile, is off renting a big ole tractor equipped with a bucket loader and a box grader. When he returns with the equipment, Allen's job is to break up the soil several feet deep and then smooth out the yard without destroying any pens, posts or small structures. Sometimes that is the biggest challenge!

And, of course, everyone wants to take a turn driving the tractor. We try to make the day of hard labor into something fun.

When the first half of the yard is complete, we repeat the above steps for the other half. The project normally takes a full day, but the results are always dramatic. We end up with a smooth, safe and debris free yard when the ground freezes solid (probably later this week).

Doug takes a turn during the dog yard grading project.

Training Tidbits:

SP Kennel is into the third full week of training. This week, the duration of each training run is just under one hour. Adults will train 4 times this week and yearlings will train 3 times.

The puddles that existed during the first week of training are now ice and the golds of early fall have turned into bare branches. The first snow could come at any time now.

Due to recent logging, we have lost access to some of our favorite old trails. As we get into more intense training we will need new trail segments for hill, speed and interval work. Next week we take the teams exploring, with the hope of finding different trails to enhance our training options. We'll let you know the results in the next post.

Minnie, 2 years old, is a Chacha/Oddball pup, and a rising star at SP Kennel.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Training Time

The dogs know that something is different! The nights have gotten cooler...35 to 40 degrees F. The days now have a beginning and an end. The sun rises at 7:30 AM and sets at 8:00 PM. Do the dogs notice that the aspen and birch are brilliant gold and their leaves twirl downward in the slightest wind? Do they see the squirrels filling their winters caches or the snowshoe hares transitioning to their white winter coats? We'll never know.

What the dogs surely know is that their bodies are telling them that it's time to RUN...!

They bounce and jump....they run in circles around the yard....they call to each other excitedly.....they dig holes to China with energetic abandon. Somehow they know that serious TRAINING SEASON has begun. And they are beyond ready!

Hunter and Stella.

Is summer over yet? I need to pull a sled!

Aliy and Allen are ready too. Tons of hi protein kibble are stored in the barn. Harnesses and ganglines have been organized and repaired. The ATVs have been checked for tire pressure, oil level and fuel. The dog truck is coming out of summer storage. Training record forms have been printed for each potential race dog. Lists of animals due for Rabies and 5-Way vaccines are posted and waiting for vaccination day. Even Aliy and Allen have begun their own training regimes with the help of a treadmill and Bowflex in their 'training cabin'.

Last Sunday was the first real day of training dogs for the 2008/2009 long distance sled dog racing season. The main focus was to get the experienced adults harnessed up with a minimum of confusion and to begin to teach the youngsters the manners and behaviors expected of a professional racing dog. They are all so excited to be in harness again.

At this time of year, the ideal time to run is in the early morning when the temperature is still in the high 30's. On Sunday it was 38 degrees F and drizzling. Perfect to keep the dogs cool. Each team of 16 dogs was secured to an ATV and ran about 3 miles in a huge loop around Fireweed Field. The dogs were given several short rest breaks and their speed kept slow. This week the dogs will increase to 5 miles and travel the trail to Moose Slough and back.

During this early stage of training, the proven racers are used to teach and mentor the youngsters. For example, on Sunday, Hoss and Stormy lead one of the teams. Hoss, 6 years old, is a race hardened veteran. Stormy, age 3, is honing her leader skills. In the swing position, Manny (age 7) was tied with Hunter, a very excitable but bright 2 year old. And Dolly, a bit unfocused at age 2, was at the side of our very responsible, 5 year-old Snickers. All adults, age 2 and up, will train together in preparation for racing.

Two year-old Dolly. An adult body with a teen's focus.

The yearlings will run a less aggressive training schedule than the adults. Their job this season is to learn the basics of mushing, to muscle up and to calm down. Many of them were in harness for the first time on Sunday. Even though each yearling is paired with an adult on the gang line, the scene was pandemonium. This is the time for the musher to exhibit extreme patience, understanding and a sense of humor. The amazing thing is that each of these year-old, unproven Alaskan huskies knew exactly what to do when the team leaders started down the trail. Their championship genes shone through.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, is our third day of training. Think of us on the autumn trails of Interior Alaska. We'll update you on our progress!

Late Summer in Alaska

Summer is slipping away into fall in our corner of Interior Alaska. Aliy and Allen have spent the past few months in a flurry of activities related to dog mushing, making a living and having fun.

In May, Aliy presented an informational talk at the Horizon Lines Town Hall Meeting for the Dallas management center. Horizon Lines, a domestic ocean shipping and integrated logistics company, is a major SP Kennel sponsor and friend. Aliy makes presentations annually for the Anchorage Horizon Lines Terminal. It was a great honor for her to be recruited as a featured speaker in Texas.

In June we welcomed 8 new puppies to the SP Kennel family. The proud parents of this litter are Chacha and Oddball, both accomplished racers and multiple Iditarod finishers . The pups are named after Ole Time Country performers: Willie, Waylon, Scruggs, Lester, Hank, Reba, Bubba and Boondocks.

Lester, Bubba, Scruggs, Boondocks and Reba wait eagerly for breakfast!

Sign ups for Iditarod 2009 took place in Wasilla on June 28. Both Aliy and Allen were among the first to register. The cost of entering the race has risen significantly this year, due mainly to the increases in fuel and transportation costs. At this writing, 70 teams have signed up, down from about 90 this time last year.

Each Monday, since the middle of May, Aliy and Allen have welcomed about 500 tourists to Denali National Park as Alaskan ambassadors for Princess Cruise Lines. On the Alaskan Railroad trip from Whittier to Denali Park, the SP Kennel team introduces the travelers to Alaska's state sport, dog mushing, and to the dogs and mushers of our professional racing kennel. By mid September they will have spoken to over 8000 visitors.

Aliy, left, greets Princess Cruise Lines employees after Monday afternoon presentations on the Alaska Railroad.

Aliy and Allen usually build a spec house every summer to generate income for living. This summer is no exception and, fortunately, the Fairbanks vicinity housing market has not suffered like the rest of the US. They are now completing the building of a small "Alaskan style" cabin on 4 secluded and forested acres. It is located in Two Rivers, Alaska.

But summer is about gone. The days are shorter, the temperatures are cooler and the training of both our canine and human athletes is about to start in earnest. Stay tuned to this blog for updates on the 2008/2009 mushing season......training, racing and living in Interior Alaska.