Now on the the fun stuff. I ended up sitting around the house doing very little yesterday. On Friday one of the dogs clipped me in the left leg, hyperextending my knee and causing a bit of a strain to my ACL. I felt it prudent to give the knee a day of rest, as it was being painful and a bit unstable. Today the knee felt more stable than yesterday, and with the help of my friend Trish and a lot of care I figured I could safely run two teams of dogs over our short little "head run" loop.
As I wrote last year, these early season runs are done primarily to help the dogs remember how to do their jobs. This year they are also being used to introduce the puppies to their life's work. While we dog get some conditioning benefits, these runs are generally too short for building up a lot of muscle or endurance, but they are very helpful in terms of mental and psychological training.
One of the 'behind the scenes' things I don't often write about is the process of deciding which dogs to run in a team, and how to pair them up. For that process, I use a dry-erase board to write down which dogs I want to run. I can then hang that up on a tree near our hook-up line as a quick reference while shuttling excited dogs back and forth and getting them ready for their adventure on the trail.
I usually choose my leaders first. I am fortunate to have a nice selection of leaders from which to choose. Orion, Cassiopeia, Just, Capella and Rose are all very consistent leaders, and Grace, Beau, Denali and Nels can all help up front when running beside a more driven or more highly trained dog. Today I decided to give Aumaruq a trial up front, to see what sort of leader potential he might show.
For today's teams, which included two puppies in each, I wanted to match puppies up with experienced, steady dogs to serve as role models. The most laid-back dogs during hook-up include Denali, Selene, Nels, Seamus, Rose and Beau.
That leaves more exuberant young dogs to run in the wheel position. During early season training with the four-wheeler I don't have to worry much about the size and strength of the wheel dogs, as they aren't required to horse the nose of the sled around obstructions. Orion, Midnight's Son, Amazing Grace and Aumaruq are the wildest and most difficult to manage during the hook-up process.
So, for the first team today I chose to run Just and Orion in lead, knowing that Orion is difficult to harness and hook-up. Mild mannered Selene ran beside 11 month old Chetan. The old professional Denali ran beside Trish's little rescued dog Maggie, who benefits greatly from the exercise of mushing. Grace, who has a bad habit of grabbing and jerking on the mainline during hookup ran beside Rose, who in spite of her shyness is a very steady dog on the line.
|The "run board"|
|The first team of the day. Just and Orion (leaders), Selene and Maggie (swing), Denali & Chetan (team), Grace and Rose (wheel)|
Here are some video clips from our first run of the day.
I was a bit bolder in putting together the second team. I haven't yet run Aumaruq in the lead position, and wanted to give him a trial up front. I put him beside Cassiopeia as she is an exuberant young leader with a good grasp of the basic cues. I put Animosh, who is in season, beside Beau who is neutered and one of the most easy going dogs you'll ever want to run. I put 10 month old Vladimir beside Seamus in the team position and then wild and wooly Midnight's Son beside Nels.
With an intact young male in lead and an estrus female puppy in swing, I didn't dare stop long for photography, but I did capture this view of dog butts.
|Second team with Cassie and Aumaruq up front, Beau and Animosh (swing), Seamus and Vladimir (team) Nels and Midnight's Son in wheel.|
So how did it go? Much the same as Friday, only less extreme. The first team performed almost flawlessly even though I mixed things up by cuing the team to take the hill top loop clockwise rather than the counter-clockwise direction we've been doing. This shows me that the leaders really are getting their heads back into the game and paying attention to me rather than running the trail by rote. Maggie and Chetan were a challenge to harness, but that's to be expected with inexperienced young dogs. Amazing Grace did NOT try grabbing and jerking on the gangline today. That's because of a bit of an equipment modification.
I put a length of chain in the gangline between the wheel and team dog sections. Most dogs don't like the taste or feel of metal in their mouths, so this an expedient to help extinguish the unwanted behavior. I may have to leave it in place all season, but it's worth while to try to break this bad habit.
|Chain in between gangline sections.|
She ended up in a big puppy pile, and once she extricated herself had to clear a harness tangle on Cassie, but after that the run went just as smoothly as the first. Aumaruq passed his leader trial with flying colors so he'll be spending a LOT of time working up front with Orion, Cassie and Capella as the season progresses. Both puppies had a great time running and pulling hard.
Here is some video from our second run.