Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer Training

The above photo was a feature in the local paper taken out at Martis Valley near Truckee CA. I am lucky to live where morning temperatures are often in the 30s F all summer long. The Martis Valley near Truckee CA is often the recorded coldest place in North America during the summer months. At higher latitudes, the days are so long that the night temperatures do not vary as much. Truckee is at latitude 38 and 5800' in elevation. At Martis Valley I have a trail I like to use to train my team. I will rotate my three dogs and use two dogs while leaving one dog at home. The trail is a 4.1 mile loop that is mostly flat. The dogs are able to run at top speed. I use my scooter instead a mountain bike because the trail is not very technical. The trails just outside my front door are steep and rocky that require me to use a mountain bike. There are several creeks that cross the trail that have cold clean water that the dogs can refresh themselves in.
Recently I bought a helmet cam to record my rides. I can scrutinize each segment of the trail and know by the time reading just how fast my dogs are running. Because this is summer I am not pressuring my dogs to run fast and I am not running them as often as the other seasons. I stop at least once at a creek to let them drink and swim a little. Here is a recent youtube post of one of my runs.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Weight Watchers For Dogs

This is the "Little Sausage" at home

In 2001 I was a national team member representing USA in skijoring for the IFSS World Championships. Before the event I had had a pretty good season up until then winning races in Colorado, California and Oregon. I had ramped up my mileage leading up to the event because the worlds was a 20km race for the two dog event. Most of my races up until then were about 3 mile sprints. When I arrived in Alaska I trained for a week in Anchorage with my brother Kit before I went to Fairbanks. It was then that I noticed that one of my dogs was underweight. By then it was too late to get her weight back on. I think that that factor had a lot to do with her performance in the main event. She bonked in the final kilometers. It took about 3 more weeks to a month before she was back to her competitive weight. I was a little naive and was not watching her weight as close as I should have.
Tempo is the tricolor husky on the left that was underweight during the 20k 2 dog event.

Since then I have been a lot more attentive to the weight of my dogs. I learned from my old friend Al Magaw of British Colombia during the limited class sled dog races at the Worlds how to check for your dogs weight . I like what he told me and I use his advice to this day. He said to feel between the pelvic bones for the spine. If your dog is underweight then the bone is prominent. If you can barely feel the spine there then that is about right. If you can't feel it at all then your dog is overweight. If you check frequently enough then you will know before your dog gets a weight problem. With huskies and their thick coat then it is not always so obvious if they are under or over weight. I am using GSPs now and with their thin coats it is easy to see if they are underweight. I like to be able to barely see their ribs. It may depend on the dog. On my little sausage, ( Mojo) I like to keep a little more weight on because he performs better when I can barely see his ribs. My dogs Otto and Seamus are better when their ribs are a little more prominent but not obvious. Because I mainly run short distances I like to keep my dogs a little lighter than someone doing distance mushing.

This is Otto at home. Proof that a 60 lb dog can fit in a little bed made for a chihuahua

More often I see dogs that are overweight. Being overweight is a much more serious and detrimental condition than being underweight. Too much weight is an invitation for joint and heart problems just like in humans. The weight of your dog is so much easier to control than your own weight because you are in control of the food. If your dog doesn't eat what is served in less than five minutes then remove it. Ideally your dog is an eager eater and it should be inhaling it's food. Start with portions recommended on the bag and watch your dogs weight from there. Never let the dog feed itself with a full bowl left to eat at will. Maintain a schedule of feeding that your dog knows and can trust you to stick to. I recommend feeding twice a day.
My dogs love to eat as much as they like to run. If I let them eat all they wanted they would fart all night and gain weight rapidly because they are all neutered. Because they are working dogs they need a high protein and high fat food. The basic formula is 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat or 30/20. You may not be able to find a 30/20 food at the local store that only has pet food. That is the minimum formula that I will feed. Often I supplement that with meat over the winter depending on their activity level.

Seamus at home. All my dogs wear fence collars at home to keep them inside the fence when they go out the dog door.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Training Puppies using Belly Bands.

This Is George Attlas' book, now out of print.
Edited by Bella Levorsen.

To quote what George Attla said. "...The dog never makes a mistake. He does
what he does because he is a dog and he thinks like a dog. It is you that makes
the mistake because you haven't trained him to do what you want him to do when
you want him to do it."
The first time a dog backs out of a harness it is usually an incidental
accident. The second time, it is a learned behavior. I guess it is just my
style of training that doesn't allow me to use belly bands. I can see if you
have clients at a mushing clinic and the student dog is hundreds of miles from
home. A belly band is just cheap insurance. Even then, after training many
dogs for over 10 years at mushing clinics I never felt the need to use a belly
It has been a really long time since I trained a dog that had learned to back
out. I recognize the behavior the instant it occurs and that is far as it gets.
Perhaps it is the canicross work I do before I ever hook up to a wheeled rig
that makes the difference. Perhaps it is my voice and the dog listening to me
that prevents the behavior from escalating. I insist before I ever hook up to a
scooter that a dog always face forward with the line out taut. Turning to face
me is only allowed when I call the dog to let them loose or when I use the
command "come around" for a U turn. Even when I untangle a dog in the team I
insist that everyone stay facing forward. Of course this kind of discipline
comes from miles on the trail and not just puppy training.
When running a single dog there is no way he can back out of a harness unless you let your dog get behind you or if the dog turns to face you and backs out then. Dogs also can back out when there is a gang line attached to one or more dogs to pull back on. You have to anticipate what your dog will do and correct the behavior instantly.
Belly bands are often used by drivers that have more than one dog running without necklines. To back out, a dog in a team will usually have to slip the collar first. A dog can learn the behavior if you don't nip it in the bud from the beginning. Backing out is puppy behavior that is easily discouraged by a little gentle scolding . I never train using belly bands. It is better to avoid the scenario where you allow a dog to back out. That is more a lesson in training the driver and not the dog.
This photo was taken this past January at the Frog Lake Dog Races near Mt Hood Oregon. Mojo is in lead with Seamus in wheel.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dog Breeds I know for Skijoring and Scootering

Seamus Loves me

By now I have plenty of experience with Alaskan Huskies and German Shorthaired Pointers as working dogs. My first Alaskan Husky "Flash" recently died at 16 years of age. He was my first leader and a great dog that I took for granted.

Flash is the black Husky under my arm. From right to left is Kit Callahan, Jean Cleary, George Salmon, Cindy Samon and myself at the 1999 Limited North American Championships in Fairbanks AK

I used Alaskans exclusively for my first ten years of competitive skijoring. For the last five years I have been using German Shorthaired Pointers for my "A" team. My first GSP was "Otto" who I really like. He was just a garden variety GSP from an add in the local paper. He was a cull from a hunting kennel. I liked Otto so much that my next two dogs were also GSPs from the pound in Susanville CA that I found through Both Mojo and Seamus turned out to be great dogs for skijoring and scootering. They have good top speed that you need for competition and Mojo has the brains and ambition to be a great lead dog. Seamus on the other hand can really go but is as dumb as a rock. He has a very sweet and lovable personality though.

This photo show Tempo in lead with Streak and Flash following single file, breaking trail for me. Living the Dream!

As much as I love my GSPs I now regret that I did not stick with the Alaskan Husky. The main reason is that I love to skijor in the backcountry. The GSPs are so thin coated that they suffer from chafing when the snow is a little crusty. I can't use them for breaking trail in front of me. In my world, living the dream is having a three dog team in front of you breaking trail while you follow on skis. I took this for granted when I had Alaskans. I had no idea how much I would miss it when I went over to the GSPs. I can still run them in the winter because they have good feet and the stiff hair between their toes does not build up snow when the snow is wet like other bird dog breeds with fine hair. They just need a packed trail generated by a snowmachine or another skier ahead.
What I do like about the GSPs is that I can run them for an extra two months in fall and spring because they are not as prone to overheat. This gives me an advantage for scooter racing because I can start training them earlier in the fall than my closest competitors who are running Alaskans.
I can't say much about any other breeds for skijoring or scootering. I know my closest competitors are all running Alaskan Huskies. Other breeds are far behind in speed needed for competition. Any dog can be taught to be a good skijor dog but in the elite world of competitive skijoring and scootering the Alaskan Husky rules. Occasionally a German Shepherd, a Malinois a GSP, a Dalmation or a coonhound make take the day money but in distance sprint, freight and all other sled dog sports you can't beat the Alaskan Husky.
Notice I didn't mention the Siberian Husky. I love Siberians for their personality and independence. They make great scooter and skijor dogs. They are not very competitive though. You have to love the dog you have and there is nothing wrong with that.

This is my 2001 team of Alaskan Huskies on top of a mountan near Lake Tahoe

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Competitive Bikejoring Versus Scootering

I think bikejoring as a competitive sport is ridiculous. The profound mechanical advantage of the bicycle almost negates the power of the dogs. I can put a Chihuahua in a basket on my bike and win bikejor races simply by riding as fast as I can. I would not have to brake on the descents to check the speed of my dogs if the course was rough. I would be able to bomb downhills and at the finish, let out the Chihuahua to cross the line in front so I don't break the rules. Unless the course is all climbing then a team of good dogs will just slow me down. Bikejoring is great for training dogs but if you are allowed to pedal then the sport becomes a lot less sporting. When I train dogs on a bike I pedal as little as possible because my objective is to work my team.
I have a long history with bicycles. I raced road bikes during the late 1970s until the mid 1980s. I then changed my emphasis to mountain bikes and raced mountain bikes into the early 1990s. When I took up skijoring and bikejoring I phased out the bike racing in my life. I feel equally comfortable on a bike or a scooter when running dogs.
Scootering is a much more dog powered sport for competition. Pedaling a scooter has no profound mechanical advantage like a bicycle has. The person who wins a scooter race is a lot more likely to have had good dogs. The winner of a bikejoring race might have good dogs but you can't be sure because the rider may have had a slack line during the whole race.
The popularity of bikejoring races is growing. The reason is that many people already own a bike and use it to train dogs. Far fewer people own a scooter. I would like for more competitive dog drivers invest in a scooter. I would like all race giving organisations to emphasize the scooter class as the pro class for one or two dogs and make the bikejoring class a novice class. Racing dogs should be all about the dogs and not the rig. Pedaling a bike while racing is eqivilant to using a motor on your ATV when training a team of dogs.