Northern Blast Sled Dogs

Carol & Alan Pepsick

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Blog Time Again, Part 3

Posted on December 7, 2013 at 4:00 PM


14-dog team parked at our local quarry for a break. It's a long climb to this point.

After we returned from the Brent Sass weekend, it was time to focus on training the race team as 1 group. That's 14 dogs, something I had never done before. Hook-up was insane. 3 of my 4 quietest dogs were dropped to the rec team, the remaining were all crazy. Since Faith is my remaining quiet dog she always gets hooked up first where she just stands so calmly sometimes just humming lightly to herself. Meanwhile the rest of the dogs on the drop chains are going berserk. Jumping up and down and screaming their heads off. Some dogs cannot be harnessed ahead of time as they will shred their harness while waiting. We keep Lizzy, our rock eater, in her box since she can't be trusted on the gravel road. She is also higher maintenance needing 4 booties on her feet so all of this is done when she is taken out and then hooked directly to the gangline. We were also keeping Eagle in his box until the last minute because he is the absolute worse on the drop chains. All the dogs on his side would get whipped in their faces with the chain because of his bouncing around and he is also the loudest screamer. But with his anticipation he has been very destructive to the inside of his box and several repairs have been made so currently we are bringing him out to the drop chains again.

It takes so long to hook up 14 dogs that we have to constantly watch for certain problems to occur: 1. the dogs tangling themselves as they bang in their harness and dodge over and under the gangline repetitively during their (long) wait. The newbies were the worst. 2. line chewing. Dogs release their anticipation by chewing, in this case the closest thing next to them is the gangline. Although we use a cable core they can still bite through the rope and then damage their teeth on the cable. They also chew on their necklines and if they bite through, then they would work on their partners neckline. So before taking off we would have to replace necklines. We started off using cable necklines on the worst chewers, now we use cable necklines on all the dogs, which has helped some. Without being able to chew on necklines, the more desperate dogs would then reach forward and start chewing on the tugline of the dog in front of them. Just never-ending insanity. 3. harness chewing. With the need to chew, a dog (such as Orbit) will reach behind them and chew their own harness to pieces. Sometimes they will chew on their partner's harness. 4. harness tangle. This is the worst to try to correct when a dog is hooked up. Somehow during their jumping, banging, dodging and chewing, they get tangled up in their own harness. You pretty much have to unhook them and redress them to correct this problem. 5. an excited dog can get mouthy and bother their partner. It has only happened on occasion to us but you really want to avoid a dog fight on the gangline. Because of all this I have created an order of hook-up, starting with the easiest dog, Faith, and working our way to hooking up the worst dog last, Orbit.

When we are finally able to take off, the insanity doesn't end. The first mile is the MILE OF CHAOS. Booties are flying which I try to stop and pick up but stopping means everyone goes back into jumping, banging, dodging and chewing mode, so the stop has to be quick. Generally a number of dogs are on the wrong side of the gangline often putting their neckline across the back of their partner's neck making running for both uncomfortable. Some have their lines wound several times around the gangline leaving them little slack. I have learned to wait at least a mile before dealing with the mess. When I finally do stop I have found with this large team that I also have to set the handbrake as one time the team took off dragging the parked 600 pound quad! I quickly replace booties and put dogs back on their proper side, undoing and reclipping lines. Our second attempt at going is usually better but there can still be minor problems. Generally I have stop by the 3 mile mark to offer them water because they have expended so much energy during the harnessing and hook-up process that they already need water even though I hydrate them the night before as well just before we hook them up. I also use this time to make any more needed adjustments and finally we are off to a calmer and cleaner run. We go through this on every training run.

(All videos in this blog can also be seen on the Videos page. And remember for best viewing click the YouTube icon in the video box.)

CLICK HERE to see the video of my first 14-dog run after the chaos.

When I would return to the truck with the race team, we would water them, take their harnesses off, give them pets and snacks, and put them back in the truck. Then we would get the rec team down, harness and hook them up to the quad and I would go right back out again on a short run with them.

Joy runs in single lead and does an outstanding job. It is painful that she can't be on the race team. In wheel is Rosie and Spirit and Rosie seemed to have to work harder to keep up with the other two. She also didn't seem like she was enjoying herself anymore and that she would probably prefer to stay home. But running only 2 dogs in front of the quad would be ridiculous so we made some changes. I'll come back to this story later in the blog.

Ana loves training so much that she found a clever way to convince me that she belonged in lead one training day.

CLICK HERE to see the video and hear me tell Ana's story.

Funny Apache and Bounder in lead on a 10 mile run.

CLICK HERE to see the 10 mile run video.

With Kwyta doing quite a bit of the leading, and training the younger ones (her kids), I recently decided to put Ana and Nezi in lead to see how they do together, without a trained adult directing them. I did put the trained adults right behind them as a backup and they occasionally helped from their position. The girls did really well and they are so strong, I think that is the fastest we have ever done the more strenuous uphill quarry run. Watching them make decisions on their own was exciting and very encouraging with every correct decision they made. Also, I should mention their brothers Apache and Cree were in the physically demanding position of wheel doing well keeping their tugs tight the whole time. I am very pleased with this incredible litter.

Nezi and Ana holding out an 11-dog team on a break.

Due to several circumstances we have been able to get in a bit more training than usual. Unfortunately the dogs are not conditioned for it so many are coming up sore or have minor injuries. On a run just the other day, adding to all the normal chaos, I had to stop quite frequently in the first 4 miles to switch dogs around trying to find the right combination of dogs to move strongly down the trail. When I just about ran out of options I decided to try Ana and Nezi again since they did so well on their first run together. This was the right choice because they saved the day! They did even better than before, showing more confidence with commands. Their strength came through again as the rest of team finally fell into step looking smooth and strong. These two girls are turning out to be a great leading pair.

CLICK HERE to see Nezi and Ana's first lead together on video.

Teaching dogs how to run faster stumped me when we used to train on carts. Even getting off the cart and running while pushing didn't produce the desired effect from the dogs, and a person can only do this so far anyhow. When we switched to the quad 5 years ago it all became easy. Give the dogs more gas, they automatically run faster. I started attaching the command "pick it up" and it wasn't long before they got it. The proof was when we switched to sled. I want the dogs to run faster up short steep hills especially since we run a loaded sled, I don't want them to stall before we get to the top. The first time I asked them to pick it up on a hill on sled and they charged up it, I was very pleased. So here is a video showing this training. Although the hill is small it doesn't look like much at all in the video but watch the dogs. Some of them see the hill coming up and start to run faster before I even give the command.

CLICK HERE to see the hill training video.

New Gadgets For Northern Blast

As the need arose, we had to try a number of new gadgets and toys for this years training season:

*Balanced Fat

I was looking for a new product to bait the dogs water with. In the past I had used Energy Pack by National which is a simple powder like Kool Aid that I could easily sprinkle in their water but by mid season half of the dogs wouldn't touch it anymore so I switched to baiting their water with meat.

Balanced Fat, made by Red Paw where we get our dog food from, comes in different size tubs and is a very different product. (https/ Frozen it is much like sherbet, refrigerated it is like shortening, and left at room temperature it turns into a liquid which is what I needed to bait their water. If I forgot to pull it out early enough I would have to soak a bowl of it in hot water so it would be liquid before we left. I then would have to keep it in the cab of the truck so it would stay a liquid. I would add this and warm water that I also brought in a jug, to each dogs bowl for them to drink. Right from the start about 3 of them didn't like it so I had to use meat again for them. Then others stopped drinking it and when those that drank it were done, an oily residue was left behind so all the bowls would have to be cleaned. That's a lot of bowls and a lot of cleaning each time. The product just didn't work out for us as well as I had hoped, so we are back to baiting everyone very successfully with meat, which I always have available.

*Meat Grinder

Speaking of meat...I am a bit disapointed on our meat situation this year. At the beginning of the fall we have always purchased ground, made for sled-dogs, frozen meat in 50 pound bricks. That option is no longer available. For the distances we run I really like having raw meat in their diet adding extra fat since they will be burning so much, and extra protein for quicker muscle repair, so we had to come up with another idea. So we purchased our own meat grinder but we still needed to find meat. We were in contact with someone to go in on a half of a cow with but that fell through. I called several meat companies trying to get meat at a bulk rate but could not find any. So now we just purchase whatever fatty beef and chicken we find on sale at the grocery store and grind it ourselves. The grinder works really well however the meat is not as juicy as I would like for making soup, and of course we have to keep up on the grinding so we always have meat ready to go. We will do several large storage bowls at a time, keeping some in the freezer. Then of course the grinder has to be cleaned each time and I don't think we are saving any costs this way. Bottom line however, is we have meat and the dogs love it:

*New Tent

We purchased this new tent after we came back from the Brent Sass weekend (see previous blog) where we used our mountaineering tent. That mountaineering tent is really built for extreme elements and it served us well nearly 10 years ago when we were stuck in a winter storm for 4 days at 10,000 feet on Mt. Rainier. But it wasn't as useful this fall in the manner in which we used it. In fact, it was rather inconvenient. Getting in and out of the narrow opening, laying down to get dressed, and we were practically on top of each other when we were both in it, well it just wasn't as fun as I remember.

So we picked up this new tent but also to serve another purpose. I thought this year when out on the longer runs, Alan might want to set up a tent to stretch out in while waiting for us and this would be a much better tent for that. We have already used it once on a disastrous overnight. The overnight may not have gone well but the tent was definitely roomier and was easier to maneuver in. We also picked up a Mr. Buddy propane heater which heats the tent quickly.

*Dog Scooter

I didn't think we would ever own one of these. Generally scooters are used for training 1-2 dogs at a time so we didn't have a need for it until this year. Picking up where I left off regarding the rec team; with Rosie off the team leaving just Joy and Spirit, I felt a scooter would better serve us and them. Also, Alan decided to take over the training with this team which works out really well as he can easily hook them up to the scooter on his own and take them out for a few miles after I leave with the race team. Then I don't have to run them when I get back. He absolutely loved his first run out with them. When we got home Rosie didn't seem too happy to be left behind so we brought her on the next run and Alan ran all 3 dogs together on the scooter. He was still able to manage them on his own and it sounds like Rosie had a nice run too. It may be that she just did't like being in wheel position in front of the quad. Unfortunately I have not been able to see him run his team nor have I tried this out (other than 1 dog on our driveway loop the first day we got it). Somehow however, Alan managed to take a short video on his phone of his team in action.

CLICK HERE to see the video of the rec team out scootering.

* Dehydrated Chicken Breasts

We have had the dehydrators for years, but this year we started dehydrating chicken breasts for high protein snacks for the dogs and they love them. These might look like the ones you can buy in stores but they are not dangerous to dogs.

A new issue has come in to play that has already had an impact on our schedule and may have a larger impact later. I mentioned on an earlier blog that Alan has been having issues at work and working a lot of overtime because of it. Long story short, this has affected him in many ways including the return of toe pain in the toe he had surgery on last year. His doctor said he needs another smaller surgery that Alan was going to wait until spring to do but that has changed. He is now off of work and his surgery is scheduled for later this month. Right now this has been helpful in allowing for more training and he has time for the extra things, such as grinding meat, dehydrating chicken breasts, or preparing satin balls which is a high energy, high fat snack that we mix and freeze for the dogs. But we don't know what will happen once he has surgery. He will need recovery time but it isn't supposed to be quite as severe this time. We will have to wait and see how this affects our training and whether we will be able to continue down the racing path.

We are cutting it close as it is with training. We were still battling warm days and still trying to put mileage on the dogs. With Alan and I both having time off together recently we tried to make up some lost time but this resulted in tired and sore dogs, and one sore wrist. Then this week we had a complete change in weather but it didn't help. It started off with very intense rainfalls that caused flooding. This prevented us from utilizing a few trail options as the puddles would be much too large to go through or even worse - very large mud puddles. Then snow arrived marking the transition period for us. Meaning there was too much snow on our lower elevation dirt runs (non-maintained roads) to safely train 14 dogs. I tried on Tuesday and we only got 3.5 miles out before having to turn around, which is not easy to do on snow with 14 fresh, fired up dogs. If I continued further the conditions would have worsened with continued elevation gain and I might have gotten into trouble when trying to turn around.  Of course the transition works the other way on our sled trails meaning there is snow but not enough to safely stop a sled or hook a team down. The transition time just eats as me as I always feel we are wasting time. The worst part this time is temperatures have dropped wonderfully into the 20's, this morning it was 17 degrees! We all love these temps but we can't take advantage of it. :(  We might try the dirt trails again tomorrow and see if there is any improvement.

So with each day, I feel less confident that we will be prepared enough to meet our racing goals. Final decisions will be made at the end of December. For November I had 16 training days marked down, we were able to train on only 9 of those.

Well that finally catches us up. I'll end the blog with a few yard pics:

Cute pick of Nezi (L) sharing a hole with her mother Kwyta.

Nezi (L) and her great uncle Tundra (R) with her grandmother Spirit (Tundra's sister) in the back.

Dog mix: Cree, Faith, Ana, Lizzy, Apache, Orbit, and Cheyenne.

Ana is always looking for the kitty.

Ana (L) spending time with her dad Orbit.

Proud parents Kwyta and Orbit.

And playful parents.

And lastly...

A cute picture of Rosie who created this straw pillow for herslef. This is how I found her one morning.

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