It's another beautiful day on the trails up here. I took out a team of six today, in hopes of learning something that will help me decide who to take to the Valley Funale Race on Saturday. The most important thing I learned is that it may not matter a whole lot.
The last three runs, all to the same destination and return, with different combinations of dogs in the teams, have been unbelievably consistent. In all three, we hit a maximum speed (during the launch) of 13.1 mph, with me riding HARD on the drag mat. In all three, we averaged 8.3 mph on the trail. The only variables have been the various adventures we had, and the amount of time I spent cooling dogs, changing team configurations, and so forth. For example, today I gave them a good, long break and some snacks while we were out, unsnapping neck or tug lines so they get some "wriggle room".
So, the good news is that such consistent performance tells me that the team truly is working as a team. It's not just a bunch of individual dogs and the stray primate all going in the same direction. The bad news is that I have 9 dogs capable of running on Saturday, but I'm restricted to 6 for the race.
While I might be tempted to run those 6 tomorrow and then pick and choose, the consistency with which they've all been working is a hint that I probably wouldn't gain any data that would help make a decision. So, here is what I'm thinking tonight - but please keep in mind it is subject to change as I can be a fickle feller from time to time.
Just has to go. He's my most competent and consistent gee/haw leader that can truly race over a 10 mile course. Cassie and Capella qualify without question - their performance on the trail has been consistently excellent as has their recent demonstration of leader potential. They are on the team without question.
That leaves 3 more dogs to select from a pool of six. Here are the choices:
Amazing Grace Rose Nels
Seamus Beau Orion
Grace is a pretty good gee/haw leader, so that is in her favor. On the other hand, I had difficulty with her behavior issues recently, and have been running her back in the team. I think I've figured out a way to resolve the worse of her snarky behavior. When she misses a cue, she's good about offering a variety of other behaviors until she hears the marker word, which can be a huge time saver if there is a problem at a trail intersection. She also prefers to run at a mile-eating trot rather than loping, so she would be likely to slow an excited time shortly after launching. With temperatures expected to be near or even a bit above thawing, that could present a considerable advantage.
Rose has also run in lead a lot this year, and has done a very nice job of it. No matter where she is at in a team she works well, maintaining a tight tug-line and working at whatever pace the team is setting. Rose is incredibly shy with strange humans, though. This could be very distracting and difficult to manage at the start line.
Nels is not a leader, and shows no inclination of wanting to be. He's a solid working dog in any other position on the gang-line, though. Like his sister Rose, he always has a tight tug-line and he's willing to work at the team's pace. Completely opposite of Rose, Nels LOVES people and is very bold about seeking human attention.
Seamus is a very tractable dog who prefers to pace rather than trot. Nonetheless he paces along at the team's speed and always keeps a tight tug-line. Because of the Anatolian Shepherd in his background I have to be very careful about allowing people he doesn't know well to handle him. If he feels like someone is up to no good his instinctive reaction would be quite violent. On the other hand, he's played well in this venue before.
Beau is a "plug and play" dog, running well in any position in the team, and can sometimes be a pretty good trail leader. He's also a hard worker that keeps his mind on his job while out on the trail. I've never had to intervene between him and another dog and only rarely seen him come off his tug, and even then it's been very, very briefly.
Orion is a very hard driving dog early in a run, too hard for his own good. Recently he's come off his tugline late in longer or harder runs due to heat, fatigue or just weird things that have happened on the trail. Today he was just as hard driving on the outbound part of our run. Coming in-bound for home, I put him up beside Just and he maintained a tight tug and a surprisingly quick pace as we came off the Swamp Trail toward the home trails.
It boils down to which dogs will benefit most from the experience. We are a traveling team, not a race team. There really isn't anything at all 'serious' about the Valley Funale, it's just a fun race and get together. Rose would have fun once out on the trail, but no fun at all during the pre-race and post-race activities. So, we can take her off the list.
That still leaves 5 to choose from. Grace loves to run in lead, and with her snarky behavior apparently adequately managed, and her willingness to offer 'corrective' behaviors when we make a mistake I think some more "gee/haw" work would benefit her, so I think I'll put her ON the list.
I think Orion would benefit greatly from the experience. He loves people and other dogs and though he works too hard at first, I think (hope) he's learning to pace himself better. He showed so much improvement today that I think I'll take the risk of him tiring early, and let him run on the race team.
To help Orion figure out how to pace himself, I think I'd like to put him to the right of Beau. Nothing phases Beau, and we are likely to be passed by one or more teams, so having a steady, experienced dog between Orion and the distraction of passing teams strikes me as a good idea.
So, here is who I plan to run in Saturday's 10-mile, six-dog fun race:
Just and Grace in lead
Cassie and Capella in swing / team
Beau and Orion in wheel