Monday, September 30, 2013

Bulldozing the Dog Yard

Every year it's a three-way competition between Mother Nature, the dogs and the mushers. Most of the time, the dogs and the mushers are on the same side ... but not this time!

Dogs are dogs. They like to dig, run around, bury bones and generally - act like dogs. This creates a yard full of holes with hidden bones, holes with out hidden bones (hey.. where'd it go?), holes with poop, holes with rocks, holes with anything that seemed like a good idea to bury at the time. Therefore by the end of September the yard resembles a exploded mine field.

The Top Five Hole Producers of 2013 are: (drum roll please...)

L-R: Izzy; Lester; Pepe

L-R: Fang; and the winner is... Tatfish (his house actually levitated between two holes)

By October (that's tomorrow) Mother Nature swings by, elects a winner and immediately freezes the results in the yard as they lay. So these holes stay where they are - frozen in time and space - unless we fill them before then! This situation can be bad. Real bad. Actually, a few years ago, an SP Kennel visitor (dog lover and musher fan) walked through the yard, loving the dogs and ladling out the morning kibble. She slipped into one of the holes and broke her ankle and had to visit the local hospital. OUCH! Therefore, we try desperately to avoid that kind of thing.

Yesterday, September 29th, Allen and Aliy rented a skid steer bulldozer and "took back the yard". It was more than an all day affair for two people. Aliy moved all of the dogs and all of the houses. The houses were washed and cleaned. Allen spent 8 hours on the bulldozer filling holes, back dragging the yard and re pounding posts. Needless to say, it was a night for Ibuprofen.


Collecting all of the houses; Willie has a nice clean house

Allen smooths the yard with the skid steer; Pretty smooth!

All of the houses and most of the dogs returned to their homes yesterday evening. Several top "hole performers" are staying in temporary accommodations until the ground freezes solid. Tatfish, Fang and Pepe got kennels in the Dog Barn last night. Waylon and Tug were moved to the Barn this morning.


L-R: Viper speaks his mind "You RUINED Everything!"; Mac says "You do realize that it took me all summer to get that hole how I wanted it?!?"

Come on Mother Nature. Tomorrow is October. Let's freeze it up!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Times They Are A' Changing

All the signs are here that summer is gone and winter is on its way. Dog training is in full swing. The thermometer hovers around 20 degrees F in the mornings. We have had two snow events - about 2 inches of wet stuff that coats the trees and makes the morning roads slick. And I unearthed my long underwear, down jacket and winter gloves last week.

Aliy and Allen made their last presentation of the season for tourists on Princess Cruises' Denali Express train. Their focus now is late fall maintenance projects and training, training, training!

Meghan's summer stint working at Alaska Fire Service ended last week and she is back living in the handler's cabin down the driveway at SP.  She is running teams, feeding and scooping, and bonding big time with the Fire Litter. She has even managed to match names with individuals, a real challenge with this huge, wiggling mass of puppies.

Snow dusts the porch at the SP Handlers' Cabin

And in mid October, Moira returns to SP Kennel from her family home in New Zealand. More on her time in the Southern Hemisphere  later, but suffice it to say that during the past year she has lived in winter in Alaska, then winter in New Zealand and back to winter in Alaska. Now there is a trooper!!

Moira, left and Meghan, right. M&M return to SP for the 2013/2014 Racing Season.

All of these changes point in one direction for Doug and me. SOUTH! Our little house in the woods is almost ready for winter. Just need to drain the water system and turn the heat off. On Saturday, right after Sammy's 6th birthday party, we hop a plane back to our winter home in Florida.

What a summer it's been here in Interior Alaska - the Canine Warriors Testing, a forest fire evacuation, weeks of 80 degree temps, prolific veggie gardens, a litter of 11 pups and building projects galore for Doug.  But mostly it's been a time to enjoy our kids (Kaz and Aliy) and their families. Many thanks to them - Kaz, Ray and Sammy and Aliy and Allen - for being the best!! This is a pretty great family to be part of.

Mickey and Doug heading off to FL

So, we're off to enjoy our beach, pool, golf and kayaks for a few months. See you all in March for Iditarod  2014.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fall Training with Mickey

Mickey is headed back to Florida soon. She enjoys seeing the dogs in action, so she jumped on the back of the ATV 4 wheeler a few days ago to join Aliy. She quizes Aliy about the dogs. So... listen up!

During Fall Training, obviously we can’t use a sled. There is no snow and probably won’t be for several weeks or a month. But, since we consider early training miles very important, we need to get out and train. Therefore we use an ATV 4 wheeler to simulate a sled.

The plus is that the dogs really don’t care... they just want to run and pull! The minus is that an ATV is loud.

We use the ATV with the motor running and in gear. Yes, the dogs could pull the 500 pound ATV down the trail, but they would actually pull it too fast. We are trying to establish base miles at 7 to 9 mph. If the dogs were left to their own desires they would lope down the trail at 14 mph. So, in order to keep the speed reduced and not cling to the brake  for the entire training run, we gear the ATV into a lower gear and let the engine slow the dogs. It’s like using a “Jake Brake” on a dog team.

So, on many of the videos you will hear the ATV engine purring in the background. We apologize for this, but imagine how our mushers feel! (VROOOOMMM!) Anyhow, at least they are out with the dogs!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sled Dog Trade Fair & Seminars

Aliy and Allen have been invited to speak at the Northern New England Sled Dog Trade and Seminars on October 5th and 6th. Johnn Molburg and Dr. Donna Gigliottii will be presenting as well. Check out the entire seminar schedule at

Aliy and Allen are excited to be part of the entire weekend event including the Saturday BBQ Potluck and camp out afterwords. There are rig races early the next morning. What better way to start off the day?

If you find yourself in New England the first weekend of October, stop by and give them a "Howl!"

Monday, September 16, 2013

8 Week Old Puppy "Shots"

Puppies are routinely vaccinated at 8 weeks of age. But, that's not the kind of "shot" we are talking about!!

Here are the FIRE LITTER 8 Week old Glamour Shots.

Amber; Hotshot

Coal; Commando

Daisy; Chena

Violet; Nomex

Torch; Tinder

Mickey & Spark; Spark

All puppies are sponsored.

SP Kennel Dog Sponsor Program

All SP Kennel Dogs and Puppies are currently Sponsored.

Our Dog Sponsor program is by far our most popular. We have often been asked "Why don't you allow a dog to have more than one sponsor?" But, our kennel policy has always been about bonding with our individual dogs. An individual dog, deserves an individual sponsor. Many of our Dog Sponsors have had long-term commitments to "their" dogs and have personal connections. We have no desire to lessen this connection by adding multiple sponsors.

The program runs on a seasonal basis, from October to April. If you are a current Dog Sponsor, we will contact you in October about renewing your sponsorship. There is a wait list for future available dogs and puppies. Please email us at to put your name on this list.

Dog Sponsors annually receive a custom dog sponsorship package. This package varies from year to year and always includes personalized photos, cards and SP Kennel team gear. We'll share details about "your" dog's personality and quirks, giving you an insider's look at the dog in the picture. As the sole sponsor of "your" dog, your name will be displayed on all dog team cards, brochures, website posts.

In addition, if your dog runs the Iditarod or Yukon Quest, we will send you his or her unique Race Dog Tags... Truly a treasure!

Lastly, you are welcome to visit the Kennel and spend some time with your dog. If you're strong and sure footed, you can even take your dog for a walk! Sponsors who find themselves at races -- even the Iditarod Start in Anchorage or at the finish line in Nome -- will have access to their dogs for personal pep talks or congratulatory hugs!

All of our dogs are listed on The Dogs of SP Kennel Page. This page will be fully updated with new Dog Portraits in October.

Although Racing Dogs are the most likely to see action in the current season, don't overlook the Yearlings and Puppies! They are the future of SP Kennel and offer the longest-term opportunity for you to participate in the life of an SP Kennel sled dog.

There will be a new Become a Dog Fan Program starting at SP Kennel in November 2013. People will be asked to become a "fan" of their favorite dog or dogs. For a small fee, a Dog Fan will then become a voting member of the SP Kennel Dog Fan Club. At various times of the season, there will be Fan Awards given out to the dogs with the most fans. At the same time, the names of all the Fans will be put into a drawing for SP Kennel Fan gear.

-- About The SP Kennel "Dog Sponsor" Program --
The program runs on a seasonal basis, from October to April with sponsorship packets sent out starting in November.
Current dog sponsors will have first "dibs" on renewing their sponsorships by submitting funds in October or November. Any dogs whose sponsorships are not renewed by November 15th will become available for new sponsorship.
Sponsorship of Racing Dogs and Yearlings is $500 per season. Sponsorship of Puppies is $250 for their "puppy year." Payments may be made by check or we can email you an invoice to pay by credit card (V/MC) via PayPal online.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Unhook the Team!

We came back from a training run yesterday and set up the camera to capture the actually Unhooking. We always show the running... what about when they get home?

Friday, September 13, 2013

It Just Ain't Right

SP Kennel needs about 50 bales of straw each winter for dog bedding in dog houses and in the dog trucks. September is usually the perfect time to buy it from local farmers. What a surprise we had this week when we went to buy our bales.

The price is $12 per bale! For local straw! We usually pay between $5 and $7.

Alaska's crazy summer weather took a toll on large scale straw production. Extreme heat and no rain was the first blow. Wildland fires burned fields as well as forests. Then, just as we hit harvest time, the rains came in torrents. There is little straw around and Alaskans with livestock and dogs are panicking. And the price skyrocketed.

"In the past 15 years, the most I've ever paid for a straw bale was $11 and it was shipped from Washington state," said Aliy.

Allen unloading precious bales. Though a small item in the SP budget, the price shocked us!

As Allen tucked the solid gold bales in the back of the dog barn for maximum protection, he shook his head. "It just ain't right!" So true.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Socializing the Puppies

SP Kennel dogs are great sled dogs because they love to run, love to pull and love their mushers. The best way to raise these puppies is to love them back. Eleven puppies is a lot to love, so we do the best we can to share the wealth! Here are some photos from the last few days at SP Kennel.

L-R: Mickey watches as Allen entertains Daisy and Spark; Sam and Tinder

L-R: Linda seems to have collected all eleven puppies!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fall has arrived at Denali National Park

Allen and Aliy travel to Denali National Park twice a week through out the summer. However, summer is no longer there!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ranger's Enthusiasm

Most sled dogs are relatively quiet when they run down the trail. They might pant or bark at an occasional animal. We have one rather distinct exception: Ranger.

Ranger has spoken his mind ever since he was a tiny puppy. He used to run in the puppy wheel (a slightly larger version of a hamster wheel) barking constantly. We thought it was funny then, so we would urge him on. Then as a yearling, he barked occasionally while in harness. We thought, he was probably still learning to be a real sled dog. As an adult, Ranger now barks constantly. It’s actually amazing to think that he can still breath and yap the entire time he is pulling and running.

The bottom line is some dogs, and people, were meant to speak their mind.

Tell them how you feel buddy!

Scooter is the black dog who chimes in with Ranger on the second pass. And funny enough, guess who is Scooter’s Daddy? Yup!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

First Training Run

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!