Voting and Reindeer

This blog should be relaxing, entertaining, and educational, so I try to keep this a “no politics zone,” but I hope everyone went out and voted yesterday! The dogs sure enjoyed our trip to the voting booth :)

The reindeer are settling in at their new home at the Co-op. Since they’re the start of our reindeer farm, we figured it’s about time we named them! If you have suggestions for names, please check out our Last Frontier Mushing Co-op Facebook Page and caption the photos of each reindeer with your suggested name. If we pick your name, then you get a Last Frontier Mushing Co-op t-shirt!

But first, a bit about the reindeer. Our farm is comprised of two cows and one bull. Each one has a distinctly different personality. The bull is fearless. He doesn’t shy away from ATVs, the dogs, or humans. While that makes it easy to interact with him, we have to be careful around him, especially this time of year (the rut). His confidence hasn’t translated to aggression, but he’ll protect his gals at all costs. The darker cow is the smallest. Even though she is small, she’s holds her own and will push the bull out of the way at the feeding table. She has a mischievious side too and will dip underneath the feeding table to hang out in the small corral by the gate. The white cow is graceful and reserved. We haven’t interacted with her too much yet. She’s at the bottom of the herd pecking order and is the first to shy away. That being said, I think once we gain her trust, she’ll be calm and docile. I’ve loved working with these three and learning about reindeer! While our three are still pretty standoffish, when handled and socialized, reindeer can become versatile, playful, and fun. I’m so excited to keep working with them and continue to grow our farm!

2 cows (to left) and 1 bull (right)

The Bull

Cow 1

Cow 2

Camping Trips

Over the past week, we’ve been on two different camping trips to prepare the dogs for life on the trail. Most of the team are veterans, so the second straw is laid down, they immediately curl up and catch some shut eye. The two-year-olds, however, aren’t quite as disciplined. They like to play with their neighbor, dig in the snow, or bark at mysterious noises. After a short while, they eventually learn that straw means nap time, and they settle in for a short nap. During both of the campouts, we trained with the dog truck. This means hooking 26 dogs up to the front of the Ford, and cruising down unmaintained back roads. On the one hand, I feel really detached from the team as I roll the window down to yell “Ready, let’s go!” over the roar of the diesel engine. But on the other hand, sitting in a heated cab, listening to music, and making hot, fresh tea with a Jet Boil stove is pretty plush! While I wouldn’t want to train solely with a truck, it sure was comfortable at times :)

Our first camp was with fellow mushers from Squid Acres Kennels and Trail Breaker Kennels. We drove Standard Creek Road just south of Fairbanks. After running for a few hours, we bedded down the dogs for a four hour rest while we chatted with friends, made s’mores, and laughed around a campfire.

A few days later, we went looking for snow and gorgeous scenery on the Denali Highway. The Denali Highway is one of my favorite locations. Take a look at some of these photos, and you’ll see why! We’d stayed the night at Alpine Creek Lodge, and then continued down the Highway the following day, traversing from Cantwell to Paxson. I was very pleased by several young leaders stepping up and charging ahead, even with the chaos of 26 dogs running in a mob. Elmer, Cooke, Wingman, Boone, Jana, Lefty, and Goblin all took turns leading the hoard. Probably my favorite part about truck training is the fact that the whole squad is running together. I can watch all the dogs at one time, and they run shoulder to shoulder, reinforcing the team unity. I feel like a coach, watching their team work side by side, smiling, joking with one another, charging forward driven by a common goal.

Truck training with 26 dogs

Yuker is always doing his own thing. (See black dog upside down in the back).

Wombat and Fenton

Elmer would rather enjoy the view than take a nap.

Starting off from Alpine Creek Lodge

Yearling Goals

The yearlings are doing great! They’ve been running anywhere from two miles all the way up to fifteen. Once the runs started progressing over ten miles, we separated the yearlings and the adults so that the yearlings would increase their mileage at a slower pace. Ham, Fire, Niagra, Frosty, Kindi, and Belle are responsible for training with the yearlings and being good role models. While we do hope to get the yearlings miled up enough to run a race or two, our goals are very different for yearlings than for the adults.

So what are the ultimate goals when training young dogs (8 months - 2 years old)?

1- Mushing is FUN!

Alaskan Huskies instinctively love to pull and run, but they all have different personalities. We have to ensure that each training run is structured so that the youngsters feel strong, confident, and ready for more. We never want them to question their own abilities. Running must be fun and rewarding in order to set a good foundation. For example, Mario can get overwhelmed running back into the yard after a training run because all the adults like to loudly bark, welcoming the team back to the kennel. We changed up the return trail so there is more distance between the incoming team and the kennel, allowing Mario to feel more comfortable and confident without the adults barking close to him as he runs into the yard.

2- Manners, Manners, Manners

The first year in harness is crucial to starting good habits and manners. Like- don’t chew the neckline, don’t chew the gangline, don’t chew your neighbor etc. We also teach the dogs to come when called. Not only in this useful if they were to get loose in a busy area, but it also makes hook up easier when we can just call each dog to the gangline and not get drug down to the gangline by a crazy, excited super-athlete.

3- Mushing 101 (Passing, Camping etc)

It’s important to introduce the yearlings to activities that occur in training and races like passing other dogs teams, camping in straw away from home, and traveling in a dog truck. Recently, we practiced passing with our neighbors at Smokin’ Ace Kennels. Youngsters can have several different reactions when passing another dog team. They can be aggressive (a rare reaction except with uber confident dogs like Drake and the Duck litter), they can be curious, they can be fearful, or they can be totally unfazed. In the past, most of the youngsters fall somewhere between curious and hesitant, meaning they might drift towards the other team, but they have no intention of actually interacting with them. This a perfect reaction, because with a handful of practice passes with adults in front, the pups soon learn to totally ignore other teams. A couple days ago, we arranged a training run where we’d strategically pass two teams from our friends at Smokin’ Ace Kennels. The planned passing areas were wide, with enough space for the youngsters to not feel intimidated, yet also room for us to drive away from the other team in case the youngsters were too curious and we needed to steer the team off the trail. Each team had 5-6 adult dogs at the front of the team to act as role models and show the youngsters how they should behave. All the yearlings did wonderfully! Here’s a short clip of passing Amanda’s team. You can see Mario (3 up on the right) is slightly intimidated and drops back a bit. He quickly gains confidence though and charges ahead. Yoshi (in wheel on the left) is curious, straining on her neckline to sniff at the other dogs. Thresher (wheel on the right) and Dusky (one up from wheel on the right) didn’t care at all.

Once the yearlings have mastered the above three goals, then we focus on conditioning and adding miles.

A bit about each yearling:

Faff- Faff is the biggest female yearling. She has an insatiable appetite and is cuddly and affectionate. She can be a little timid around older dogs, but she’s realizing that she’s not the smallest dog in the yard. She likes to run in the middle or back of the team.

Mako- It’s amazing how well Mako moves considering his massive size. He’s happy, works hard, and is showing lots of promise. He did get tired at the end of one run and had a bouncy tug (meaning he wasn’t pulling super hard), the last 3/4 of a mile into the yard, but otherwise, Mako has been a rockstar.

Thresher- Thresher is the strongest yearling at the moment. Tyler ran him in lead, and he did wonderfully! He’s not particularly smart, but he loves to run and will yip as he’s running for the first mile or two. He looks like his dad, Goblin.

Bull- I know I just wrote that Thresher is the strongest yearling, but Bull is actually right up there with him. He’s loud, excited, and ready to rock. He has Goblin’s goofy one ear up, one ear down look. Bull is a powerhouse.

Dusky- Dusky has an exceptionally smooth trot and good attitude. At the moment, she’s probably one of the weakest yearlings for a couple minor training hiccups. At first she had trouble entering the dog yard after a run. Once she overcame that fear, she now gets too excited and would rather look around when we leave the dog yard instead of pulling. She quickly gets in the zone once we hit the treeline, but she needs to mature a bit before we start bumping up the miles.

Bowser- He’s a smaller guy (like all the boys in his litter), but he’s focused and works hard. I’d like to try him in lead one of these days because he hardly looks around at all when he’s running.

Mario- Mario is about the size of Cartel! Even though he’s tiny, he has a lot of drive and is the best hugger of the bunch. He struggles the most when running back into the yard, but we’re working on it. It’s not due to lack of drive, more lack of confidence.

Toad- Toad’s name is very fitting because he weighs the least of all the yearlings. He doesn’t weigh much more than Katy! He loves attention, though is one of the more timid yearlings around strangers. He’s been going on most tours in order to get more socialization with new people. Once he feels comfortable with a new person, he won’t leave you alone! He demands attention.

Yoshi- Yoshi is leggy and athletic. Early on, she lacked confidence and would get nervous entering the dog yard. She has been improving with every run! She’s a little more immature than the other yearlings, so she has been running less miles.

Dogs, First Snow, and Reindeer

We’re having an unseasonably warm October (which the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer called a “thumbs up.” Mushers consider it a “thumbs down.”) We broke a record for the latest snowfall ever recorded in Fairbanks. The previous record was from 1920! Silver lining- the rain is creating some spectacular rainbows!

On this day in 2017 we were putting in our well. And I vividly recall that the ground was frozen and snow covered, I was wearing bunny boots, and the water quickly froze after being blasted out of the well by the air hose. It was poor weather for pounding a well, but fantastic weather for dog running. Currently the weather is 50F and sunny. Luckily, the dogs don’t mind too much as long as we run at the coolest hours of the day and take lots of breaks in the Chena River or enormous puddles, hence why they’re so happy in this video! Can you pick out your favorite dog?

Rain in October—- at least there’s a rainbow accompanying it!

Yuker

Thresher

Puppies soon to join RK! Photos compliments of Aliy.

Photo compliments of Aliy

First snow!- Although it all melted by the afternoon.

A cartoon to make you smile.

As a little girl, I always wanted a horse. I had wonderful friends who let me spend time with their horses, and I joined the Pony Club for a short time. But as with many kids, I also loved soccer, x-country running, nordic skiing, downhill skiing, hiking, backpacking, dogs (the list goes on), and you have to pick your activities. Well, it’s not exactly a horse, but tomorrow the Mushing Co-op is bringing home THREE REINDEER!! They’re not the reindeer in the photos below (these were from my recent visit to the Running Reindeer Ranch), but in no time at all, I hope our reindeer will be as social and personable as the reindeer I met on the tour. I’ll be sure to take photos and write a more informative blog about reindeer shortly after they arrive.

I always wanted a pony.

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