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.