Having a break in the rain today, I decided it would be wise to accomplish a few things in the kennel. Since there are a surprising number of non-mushers who follow this blog (thank-you one and all), I thought I'd use the opportunity to explain some of the details that are common among dog mushing kennels in Alaska.
One task that absolutely had to be done before freeze up, and which might be needed to house dogs evacuated due to floods on some local rivers, was to set up three new posts for tethering dogs. Besides, with Lucky's litter coming along so nicely, I will need the additional housing within just a few very short months.
There is a HUGE difference between chaining a single pet dog on someone's back yard, and in tethering a team of dogs in a kennel. The most important difference is that the poor beast incarcerated in the back yard frequently receives no human attention at all, and very little environmental stimulation. The result is a wide range of abnormal behaviors, a canine brain that wastes away, and all too frequently a dog that becomes so fearful and defensive that it ultimately must be euthanized.
Mushing kennels that rely on tethering as a means of confinement are usually very carefully laid out to ensure that all dogs can interact with at least two of his or her teammates and can take full advantage of wide range of sensory stimuli, including the sights, sounds and scents of the world surrounding the kennel. As those who follow this blog are probably aware, sled dogs also enjoy a lot of interaction with their musher, even during the "off-season". A lot of time is spent doing a wide variety of kennel chores, and much of that time is spent just handling and interacting with each individual dog.
The tie-out system that is most commonly used in by mushers in my region is a post & swivel system. The post is simply a pipe, driven into the ground until only 3 feet or so sticks up. The swivel, frequently referred to as a "spinner" is a length of concrete reinforcing bar ("rebar") bent into an "L" shape and with a fitting welded to the short leg to attach a chain.
In use, the long arm of the spinner is inserted into the top of the pipe, and the dog is attached to the chain by his or her collar by means of a snap swivel.
This system allows the dog plenty of room to run, jump, trot, dig or engage in any other canine behavior. The amount of space available to the dog is determined by the length of the chain. Using this system a dog on a five foot long chain has an area of 78.54 square feet. My chains are at least 6 feet long, giving the dog at least 113 square feet of personal space, more than 10% more than a 'standard' 10' X 10' chain link kennel. Some of my dogs are on 7' chains, giving them an area of 154 square feet (Area = pi X the radius squared).
Swivel posts are spaced so that the dogs can just touch each other, but not tangle their chains. They can sniff noses or butts and engage in play, but can easily escape if a nieghbor wants to start a fight. Thus the circles do not quite overlap.
Here is a photo of part of the tether housing area of my kennel that shows individual circles fairly clearly.
While I was working in the yard today my dog Gump decided to hang out and watch the show. He gave me a pose similar to that of an Alaska Department of Transportation employee that I couldn't resist photographing. If he were leaning against a shovel rather than his dog house he'd be the spittin' image of a DOT worker.
Sheenjek wasn't quite so impressed by the work being performed near his house.
I lucked out. Just as I finished my kennel chores another rain shower came through, giving me just enough time to put my tools and camera away before the deluge.