28 December 2013

Shelia's gloves and skis

Here is Shelia's great idea!  

"Yes, I admit it, I wrote G and H on my skijoring/kicksledding gloves, and also on my ski tips....we use our skijor bungee line for hiking and snowshoeing, so the dogs get lots of practice with gee and haw year round. ( Though sometimes other hikers have questioning looks on their faces when they hear us)". -Shelia

Well Shelia, let them stare! I wanted to share this great idea!

Shelia got her idea from coaching mini-mite hockey, when  the 5 and 6 year olds needed help with R/L in terms of ice position.  She often thought of marking their gloves to help them, but never did. 

A little more about Shelia

Shelia got into skijoring, after she adopted her yellow lab/chow mutt, Gryphon, from her local shelter in the spring of 2010.  

Gryphon was planned to be a snowshoe and hiking buddy.  That winter, she was sitting in a pub, listening to her son's jazz group, when she saw skijoring on the pub's TV!

The Outside Channel had a piece on the sport,and Shelia thought that would be great to try. A long time ski patroller/downhill skier, she had not done cross country for many years!

She got a nice pair of skis and boots, from local re-sale sports store, found Nooksack Racing supply in Maine... off she went. 

She got some advice from friends who skijor, read "Ski Spot Run" and "Skijor with your Dog" and lots of online info.  Her husband adopted Edgar, a black lab cross last year, who is a fast little skijor dog!  Now they get out skijoring or kicksledding a few times a week!

Thanks for the handy tip Shelia!  Happy Trails to you! 
Edgar and Gryphon are not only skijor dogs, they also spend lots of their time in front of the kickslet, in tents and in the canoe! 
Check out more of Edgar and Gryphon's adventures here

26 December 2013

Tales from the Sophomore Skijorer: Gear Review

Gear in Review

By: Carly Lodewyks

One of my favorite parts of any activity is GEAR!  You don’t really need a ton of stuff to get started with skijoring, but I have learned over the last year that there are definitely items that make it better.  In this post, I am going to review my current favorite items in my skijoring toolkit.

1. Everyone needs a harness

When we first started skijoring last winter, Ember was about 50lbs and still had her skinny puppy body. The traditional X back harness was far too wide for her slim waist so we went with an H back. It fit much better and allowed me to run a short line under her belly just in case she decided to try and wiggle her way out of it.  This worked really well until about late winter/early spring when she started to fill out.

Now Ember is about 75lbs and quite a bit wider across the chest. She has also filled out a bit more around the waist but still has a relatively long and lean body.  I decided to order her a new harness from Howling Dog Alaska. Ivana was very helpful with sizing and we went with the Light weight X back harness. I also purchased a new gangline to match.

I can’t say enough about how awesome this new harness and line are!
The harness is very light weight, and the padding is closed cell instead of fleece like the H back. I find the closed cell dries much quicker and is not as hot as the fleece when we are scootering in the fall.
The fit is perfect. The loop on the end sits right about the base of her tail and it stays remarkably well centered along her back when she is working.
The gangline is very durable and easy on the hands. The bungee section is solid and the knots surrounding are not too bulky. It is nice to have a snap on each end so you can adjust your attachments at your belt/scooter as needed. 

Also, how can Ember not look sharp in the great red design

Ember sports her new Howling Dog Light Weight Harness while out on a beautiful fall scooter.

2. Water and Energy

Everyone has a different routine for watering and feeding their working dog. It is important to make sure that dogs are well hydrated before, during and after a run.
Sometimes you need to bait water to ensure your dog is drinking enough. 
During working season, I add water to Ember’s kibble and then feed her baited water a couple hours before our run.
I have tried many things for bait but Ember’s favorite by FAR is the K9 Restart Techmix.
She drinks a whole bowl of the stuff without even stopping for a breath!
It is a great mixture of protein, easily digestible carbohydrates, electrolytes and vitamins. In warmer temps, I mix up a couple bottles of it to take out on the trail as well and then also use it for rehydration following a run to help with muscle recovery.

Also by K9 Restart- Energy bars. When we are going on a long or fast run, I pack a couple in my pocket for fuel on the trail. They are dense energy filled treats which help keep Ember going.

Finally, at the end of a run I make sure to reward my hardworking girl and bring a long a little baggie of her favorite treats from home. When we turn around on the trail to head back to the car, she knows what’s waiting for her and kicks it into high gear!

3. These boots are made for running

One of the best products for active dogs in my opinion is Pawz disposable rubber booties.  I have tried trimming her paw fur and putting on paw wax but it seems no matter what I do she still accumulates snow balls. These boots are the best! They are easy to put on and they stay on! Ember seems to tolerate them much better than the expensive fleece lined boots. Maybe because she can feel the ground better? I’m not entirely sure.
They also keep her feet safe when we are out skiing in extremely cold weather (we Outlaws don’t let -40 stop us!)

Generally a set of four lasts a couple weeks, depending on how often we are running and the conditions. It is important to keep her nails short or she pokes holes in them. I also find if we are out chasing down the Oxford Dogs on the trail, she tends to rip through the back ones because she pushes off with her hind legs so hard.

Ember stops for a quick bootie adjustment

4. Every good dog needs a good coat.

Howling Dog does it again!
I have had a tough time finding a good quality, warm winter coat for my 75lb dog. Most pet stores cater to little pups and don’t always have coats made for frigid temps.
I ordered a Duracoat from Howling Dog about a month ago and it is amazing.
It fits her entire body and is cut almost like a horse blanket so the back comes down over her rump and ends just above her tail. There is one big belly strap making it super easy to put on. The fleece lining is nice and soft and the outer shell is wind proof- so nice and warm.  The price is also affordable at $30 + shipping.
It is the perfect coat for pre/post run or just a walk on a cold, cold day.

Ember looks spiffy in her new Howling Dog Duracoat. Perfect for a chilly winter walk.

Notice how the coat covers all the way down her back to just above the tail!

There you have it!   So much good stuff out there, but right now these are our favorites.
Leave a comment and tell us a few of your favorite things!

24 December 2013

We Wish You a Merry Christmas!

The Oxford Dogs Wish You a Merry Christmas!

A letter to Santa, from River-dog
Dear Santa,
Belle and I have been very good this year!  We have been very busy!   In July, we helped at the guy's wedding, by being the flower girls, and sitting so nicely in the canoe for pictures!  We both came to the wedding party, and while Belle lay on the stag with the band, I got to dance with Kev.  It was a pretty special moment, I have been teaching him some moves! 
I kept the guys safe on their travels to Alaska, and warned them when any bears were near.   It was fun to run on the trails the big dogs use, and it was even more fun not to have any problems with moose!  I was a good girl, and stayed in the tent, most of the time.   Zippers are only for humans to use! 
When we came back to Canada, Belle got to finish her Dig Dog Champion Title!   She is very proud of herself!  I got to wear tie-dye and dance around to Cher.  I guess she won that round.
But mostly, I have been very busy teaching Burger how to pull, and be a good dog!  It's a lot of work, so for Christmas, please bring me a cat! 
Just kidding.
Love River-dog
P.S. Two cats?
 Here is a video of heading out with friends for our Christmas Day run!

23 December 2013

Shannondale Trails

We loaded up Ember, Riv and Belle and  headed out to some of our favourite trails... the trails at Shannondale.  These are ski trails, on private land, which are open to the public to use.   As soon as you drive into the driveway, you see a large sign "Fresh Air is Health Care, Come Help Yourself". 

The trails are on a rolling section of land, which was formerly a cattle farm.  The trails are meticulously maintained by the landowner and visionary, David Lumgair.    Rolling hills, cutbacks, and a beautiful forest, we were in for a real treat!

David's dog, Roger, joined us as a wonderful tour guide for most of our run.  There are some very steep sections, and Roger knew where all the short cuts were!  So when we were headed for a steep section, I knew, because suddenly our guide would disappear, only to reappear at the top again!

Roger, the Friendliest Trail Guide!

Shannondale is truly a skiing gem!  We are headed back with our Classic skis, to take in all that the trails! David has done fantastic work on developing his trails, and maintaining them.   

Anytime you are skijoring on private land, or ski trails maintained by a club, get permission first. It takes a lot of time to put in a trail, and maintain it.  Not everyone wants to share their trails with skijorers, so ask first! 

19 December 2013

Meet the Musher: Karen

Meet Karen.   Karen Ramstead, 49, was born in Toronto, Ontario, and raised in Alberta.  A good Canadian!   She began running dogs in the early 90′s after obtaining her first Siberian husky. She and Mark moved to Perryvale in 1998 for Mark’s job and so Karen could run dogs full time. She became interested in running the Iditarod after reading Libby Riddles’ book, “Race Across Alaska.” She’s run ten Iditarod’s and numerous mid distance races.


What dog powered sports have you been involved with?

On a 'serious' scale, just sled dog racing - sprint racing to begin with
then moving into longer and longer stuff.

How  did you first get started in the sport?

My husband wanted to move to northern Alberta but I was reluctant to
leave my job and family. He offered me a purebred dog as a bribe to
move. I settled on a Siberian Husky and the kennel I bought her from was
into sledding.

 For many of us, running dogs is a lifestyle.  When did you know you were hooked on the sport?

The second I first stepped on the runners of a sled, I knew it was going
to be a 'big deal' in my life.

 What is mushing like in your neck of the woods?

I don't mush much in my 'neck of the woods'. I train here till January,
then head to Alaska or travel around the lower 48 and Canada racing for
the rest of the winter.

What is your favourite activity to do with your dogs?


What other kinds of training have you done with your dogs?

I've done conformation showing, obedience, and a bit of tracking in
addition to sledding.

Tell us about your current dogs.

I currently have 48 purebred Siberian Huskies, a Border Collie and a
Great Pyrenees cross. The Siberians range in age from 1 1/2 to 14 years.

 What characteristics do you look for in a new dog?

I sort young dogs by performance. We let them have a lot of time to
'find their feet' and figure out if this lifestyle is for them. I put no
pressure on pups until they are at least 2 years of age.

What is your favourite piece of gear? 

Hard to pick one piece. My life is frequently in the hands of my gear
due to the extreme conditions I run dogs in.  A good sled, good
clothing, well fitting harnesses, and a solid gangline would all be near
the top of my list!

Describe a perfect run with your dogs.

My runs are long enough that they are rarely 'perfect' instead I cherish
the perfect moments - which might be a young dog figuring out something
new, a beautiful trail, a fast stretch, a special encounter.........

 What is the best advice you have ever been given for mushing?

I've been blessed to have a lot of great mentors that have all shared
all kinds of fantastic advice with me. The advice I always share with
those new to the sport is to grow slowly and thoughtfully. Too many
folks just dive in without thinking about long term welfare of their
dogs and without thinking about how they will care for them 'if'.

What resources have you used to further your training?

Everything I can. I used to read and watch everything I could find on
the sport. Now a days I mostly search out folks I respect watch and ask
questions directly.

Why do you run your dogs?

Because it fills my soul!

Follow Karen on Facebook!


16 December 2013

Dear Skijora: Tender Toes

Dear Skijora,

When should paw wax be applied? Is there a certain temperature or type of snow? I have seen many dogs wearing boots. Are there advantages to using boots versus paw wax? Is it ok to go au naturel?


Tender Toes

Dear Tender Toes,

Boots and wax pretty much do the same job.  They protect your feet.  

It is your job to make sure your human is checking your feet on a regular basis.  Before and after each and every run, at the very least.  If your human isn't doing this, it's time to train them.  (Skijora recommends using mostly positive training methods when training humans).  Your human is looking for cracks, or tears in your feet.  

Some dogs have awesome feet, either through genetics, or through good conditioning.  Other dogs, have not-awesome feet, and are prone to cracks or iceballs forming in the ball of the foot.  Both can be at the very least distracting, and at the very worst painful.  

Skijora recommends paw wax to help smooth any cracks, kind of like some humans use hand lotion. There are plenty of brands out there on the market.  Most are safe if we ingest them, but have your human ask at the pet store, just to be sure. 

Wax should also be applied anytime you are running in snow that is sticky, or fresh and likely to stick to your feet.  Of course your human has already read all about getting ready for winter.  

Boots can be applied anytime that you are running on colder snow, that is not fresh, and has hardened.  Boots offer a stronger layer of protection against the risk of cutting your paw pads on sharp ice crystals.   They come in many styles.  Look for a style that stays on your foot. It should be tight around the leg, and have enough room to allow your toes to spread.

Skijora tries to not give recommendations based on temperatures, as it's all relative to what you are used to.  

Have fun out there!

15 December 2013

History Lesson: Gee Pole

gee pole

Definition from Wiktionary,
gee pole
  1. a sturdy pole, lashed to the side of a sled, and used for steering and support.

As Buck watched them, Thornton knelt beside him and with rough, kindly hands searched for broken bones. By the time his search had disclosed nothing more than many bruises and a state of terrible starvation, the sled was a quarter of a mile away. Dog and man watched it crawling along over the ice. Suddenly, they saw its back end drop down, as into a rut, and the gee-pole, with Hal clinging to it, jerk into the air. Mercedes's scream came to their ears. They saw Charles turn and make one step to run back, and then a whole section of ice give way and dogs and humans disappear. A yawning hole was all that was to be seen. The bottom had dropped out of the trail.

The Call of the Wild- Jack London

Reading Jack London' stories, for nearly 20 years, I never really knew what a Gee Pole was at all!  I had some idea they were dangerous, and I had some idea they attached to a sled. Let me give you a short history lesson!

Gee Poles, attach to the front of the sled, on the right hand side.  Gee.   That makes sense.   Its a long pole lashed to the sled, in which the musher holds on, and steers with while on skis, on foot or snowshoes.  Sometimes mushers even stood on a single board called the "Ouija Board", more like a snowboard than skis!  

The skis were attached to the gangline, and had no bindings.  The musher stood on the skis, and leaned their weight into the pole to control the sled.  As the skis were attached to the gangline, there was no slowplowing to slow down!

There were no bindings, so when the musher needed to jump off they could.   Mushers would jump off to push harder on the Gee Pole for tight turns.   But as the skis were attached to the gangline, they would have to jump off, being mindful not to trip over the gangline itself! 

There are stories of Gee Poles snapping under the pressure, and them impaling a while the sled runs out of control down a hill.   Keeping in mind, that Gee Poles were used when teams were pulling very heavy loads.   Not a fun run! 

Gee poles were employed by single mushers, as well as mushers working in a team.   With one musher working the brakes on the sled.  

Gee Poles were, and in a few cases, still are used, to help manoeuvre heavy loads around turns on the trail.  As most modern time mushers are focused on races or recreation, the need to move heavy freight by dog sled has diminished.   Hence, so has the Gee Pole.  

Here is a video clip from Husky Homestead.

Watch Jeff King as he navigates the trails using a Gee Pole.


11 December 2013

How to ruin a dog

Sounds harsh, I know. And I don't want this post to take on a bitter tone. I  just want this post to be a warning for bad habits we can pick up.   So here we go, how to ruin a good dog!

Please, don't try this at home!

Hiding from skijoring.

1.  Ruin their confidence.  

Pretty much all of the ways to ruin a good dog, ruin their confidence.  The most common one I see is stressing a new dog too fast.   Going on crazy trails, or pairing them with a fast team, while they are still learning the ropes.   Everything you want for a dog new to the sport, should be to show the dog what they CAN do, not what they CAN'T.

2.  Nag Them

 Some dogs, depending on a variety of factors, also need to slack up a bit on the tugline, and coast, catch their breath, and then keep going.  This is normal.   The other dog on the team will pick up the slack so to speak, or the skier works harder, while the dog catches his breath.  This is a team sport, and your dog will do it back for you, when you need to coast for a bit then catch your breath.  If you see an honest dog slacking up a bit on the tugline, then let them breather for a bit, they will be back at it in a bit.

3.  Talk too much.  

Tell your dog what you want them to do, Hike, Gee, Haw, and then ski.


And quietly!

4.  Run with an alligator dog.

Another ill behaved dog, who is going to reach out and attack your dog is a quick way to ruin your dog's confidence.  That's an alligator.  No one likes an alligator.   But they do make fine purses.

If you and your dog can't get over the attack, then you might end up fostering an alligator yourself!  Or a dog who shies away from passing or being passed by other teams.

Further to this point, it is your job to keep your dog safe while out skijoring.   Your dog should not be in a position that he feels the need to defend himself, not should he feel that he needs to teach another dog a lesson.   That's where the handlers come in.

5. Don't lead them.

Your dog looks to you for direction.  Literally.   When you take Fido out for a skijor be confident and in control.  Shoulders up, deep breaths.  You are in control of this operation and your dog wants to know that!   Go out with a plan for your run.   If you see your dog getting tired, slow him down, or give him a break before they decide to quit on you.  Make the decisions that are best for your dog and he will learn to trust you.

Tell him with enough time when to turn.  Some dogs need more time to process the command than others.  So be ready to help them out.

6.  Chase rabbits.  

Chasing rabbits is a bad habit.  It most often leads to a dog who is dependent on chasing other teams, and may lack the motivation to go out on their own.

The chase instinct is part of prey drive.  Encouraging your dog to chase another team, is encouraging their prey drive, towards another team.   So while you may enjoy the free ride, what happens when you catch the other team?   How will you get your dog to pass teams sitting on the side of the trail, if your dog considers them to be prey?  Skip the rabbit, get out and teach your dog properly.

There are no short cuts that are worth ruining a good dog.  


10 December 2013

Meet the Musher: Al

Meet Al Magaw.  Al makes his home in the outskirts of Salmo, B.C.  He is a retired painting contractor, and is now a full time dog trainer.  

What dog powered sports have you been involved with?

Dog sledding, including racing, training, and recreational sledding - I've also taken part in weight pulling contests done some skijoring, bikejoring - I've been part of and conducted seminars on skijoring and mentored many people on the art/passion of dogsledding.

How did you first get started in the sport?

Our local village decided to have a media challenge dog sled race as part of the Winterfest activities - I was publishing the local weekly newspaper and so I sponsored a team to represent my newspaper - I'd never been up close and personal with a dogsled team before - that team impressed me so much that I wanted to try it myself - I gathered up some dogs from the dog pound, along with 2 or 3 dogs that were given to me by the musher I had sponsored for the media challenge race - once on the runners behind my team of mismatched mutts, it seemed like I had "done this in another life" - the first race I went to with my pound dogs, I had the 2nd fastest team of 35 teams in the 5 dog class - if I wasn't hooked before, I certainly was after that first race

When did you know you were hooked on the sport?

After that first race - it became something I could not not do.

What happened from there?

There was no support for mushing here at all in the beginning - I had to build my own trails through the bush, train my own dogs through a hit and miss process - more likely it was the dogs training me rather than the other way around - I designed and built my own sleds, again through a hit and miss process until I came up with a design that suited me - I made experiments with breeding until I had a line of dogs that did their job well and had dispositions that worked well with mine - I read what ever I could get my hands on and paid attention to what my dogs were telling me - in 2000 I made the top 6 mushers in Canada, with points taken from the 3 races I was able to attend, rather than the best 4 races counted by the other top Canadian racers, and was named to Team Canada for the 2001 World Championships - today I mentor others who want to get involved in dogsled sports - I do behaviour therapy with dogs with behaviour issues, such as aggression, separation anxiety, aggressive possession issues, excessive barking, and obsessive behaviours, etc


What is your favourite activity to do with your dogs?

I enjoy pretty much all aspects of working with dogs, but if I had to choose one favourite thing, it would be when I take 6 month old pups for their first run in a team - I love watching how quickly instinct kicks in - very often the pups hit their harness as the team leaders take their first step as we leave the start chute - the pups leave the start chute as puppies and come back showing the confidence of young sleddogs, and still bouncing and barking in the excitement of the run!

Besides mushing, what else have you done with your dogs?

I've done obedience training for my own dogs and other's dogs - I've taught some of my own dogs numerous tricks - I also do therapy training for dogs with behaviour disorders - I've learned over time that dogs that have learned well established boundaries are very adept at learning new things to do on their own that can be very helpful in a variety of ways – for instance, I have a small pack of formerly problem dogs that now perform as therapy dogs for other dogs that have many of the same problems that mine had at one time - they are an important part of my therapy program

Tell us about your current dogs.

I have 38 sleddogs ranging in age from 7 months to 13 years - 10 of the sleddogs are retired from steady "employment" - 5 house dogs.
One is an old dog (15) that I saved from being euthanized by the SPCA - it had been "rescued" by them and charges were pending against the owner last I heard - his age and condition were such that the SPCA didn't want to take him on, so I signed the papers and my helpers and I decided to sponsor the sweet old guy - he's enjoying life now - much of his time is spent sleeping on my couch - 4 other house dogs, 3 of whom came to me with serious behavior problems
"Ebony" the 91 lb black lab/rottie was the most vicious dog I've ever come across - completely out of control and eager to attack man or beast - I had to use a 1/4 sheet of plywood as a shield to be able to safely feed, water, or clean his pen - after a period of time, the shelter he came from and I agreed, the best permanent home for him would be right here - he is now one of my most valued therapy dogs.
"Jerry", a german shepherd, was another dog with aggression issues towards humans ( especially children ) and other dogs - like it was with Ebony, the shelter that Jerry came from and I decided that here was the best permanent home for him - he is also now one of my therapy dogs - Jerry's best asset is recognizing when another dog is about to do something wrong and warn it, and me, about the problem.
Abby, a border collie cross, is the most recent addition to my therapy pack - she too came from a shelter with her own set of problems - when the shelter and a previous long term foster home saw how well she was fitting in here, they urged me to keep her  Abby brings a joy of living and a never tire playfulness that is needed in my therapy program.

I know you have a special place in your heart for Tara. Tell us about her.

Then there is "Tara", a Groenendahl Belgian shepherd - she first came here from another trainer with a relatively minor behaviour problem that the trainer was having difficulty overcoming - Tara is the most intuitive dog I have ever dealt with, more so even than some of the wonderfully amazing collies I've had in the past - she can tell me more about what's inside a dog when it emerges from it's owner's vehicle in 30 seconds than often the dogs own owner can tell me in an hour long interview - Tara makes me look like I know what I'm doing! At times Tara will see problems about to happen before I can and know what to do to help the situation - she's been known to give a nose poke into a dogs ribs that was about to be aggressive to another dog - she'll run shoulder to shoulder to lend confidence and support to a new dog that is shy or frightened - when a sleddog gets loose and is not coming when called, she'll grab it by the collar and turn it towards me, or if puppies running loose in the field are getting to close to the road, she'll run out to them, invite them to play with her, then lure them back to the kennel - occasionally in the evening, when I'm stretched out in my chair, she'll stretch out in my lap, laying on her back, and have a nap with me - such a gentle, smart, intuitive dog!

Your dogs are so beautiful, and they perform well.  Tell us about the line. 

My dog's trace back to John Ruud blood lines in the beginning as well as a little silvery looking female with indistinct ancestry who was very quick, but unreliable in her performance - my first cross was with a pure bred dalmation who was as tough headed as Minnie was soft headed in hopes of getting dogs as tough headed as their father and as quick as their mother - the cross was surprisingly successful - then I made crosses with the John Ruud lines- ( worked well ), a cross with Geo Attla's "Whitey" ( didn't work so well ), then over the years, crossed in some greyhound blood and added in some saluki bloodlines - in the last 15 or so years, I crossed in some "Burner" blood lines ( Reddington, Carson, Saunderson ) and that has worked out very well - the dalmation, greyhound and saluki content is down to about 1% now, but the dogs are still quick to condition ( dalmation ), have the greyhound rear quarters and carry above normal red cells in their blood - ( an attribute of alaskan huskies and the saluki ) my dogs are quite distinct in their appearance and carry a strong family resemblance to each other

Have you noticed a change in the relationship with your dog since you started? Have you noticed a change in the dogs relationships with each other?

I notice changed relationships with all of the dogs that come here for therapy - it still impresses me how quickly a bond between a handler and a dog develops with guidelines are established - it seems to be a relief to the dog when it no longer feels it has to be in charge, that someone is looking after it rather than the other way around - 36 years ago, when I started with my sleddogs, it surprised me how quickly the new dogs bonded with me after they were run in my team - the dogs consider that the driver is one of their pack - the bond is as strong as the one a pet owner has with their family pet, but different in the way that a team mate on your football team is different from an old friend, but still as strong a bond.

What do you look for in a new dog?

I look for a variety of things in a new dog - because I have a fairly solid kennel now, a lack of any one thing would disqualify a dog from my buying it - some of the things that would lose my interest in a dog, in no particular order, are -- type of coat - a coat needs to be short and dense - a dog with no undercoat is as undesirable as a dog with too heavy a coat - bad feet - it doesn't matter if a dog can run 100 miles an hour, bad feet would prevent it from finishing a race, let alone get it through a season of training - size - not too big or too small - not under 40 lbs for a female, and not over 55 - 60 lbs for a male - big dogs often tire too quickly in a longer sprint race and small dogs may lack the power needed in limited class sprint racing - a high set tail indicates poor rear extension - a dog with less than the best extension "may" be able to run as fast as a dog with good extension, but is more likely to tire more quickly and is more prone to injury over time - front shoulders should have good angulation, also to prevent injury - hound crosses often have straight(er) front ends but make up for that fault by having a more flexible spine than other types of dogs - a short necked dog is more likely to have a choppy gate than a smooth running long necked dog - smooth = efficiency of motion - less tiring for the dog and the rest of the team when it doesn't have to deal with a bouncing gangline - proportions - a racing dog should have good long legs, with a correspondingly long back - attitude - even the fastest dog can cause you problems or lose a race if it's aggressive to other dogs, in it's own team or other teams - I want a dog that is friendly, but not too friendly - a standoffish dog is fine - a shy dog can also be a problem - more than one shy dog has become lost and never found again when it got loose in a strange area - of course you are always looking for the kind of confidence in a dog that could allow it to become a leader, but even the shyest dog gains confidence when it's part of a team - I'm also looking for the type of personality in a dog that gets along well with my style and personality - that's a very personal thing, hard to describe, but one of those things that you recognize ( feel ) when you see it - you also want a dog to have speed and endurance, a desire to run in a team, and the joy in running that makes spectators ( and drivers ) smile!

Tell us about a perfect run!

A perfect run would be one where I never said a word except perhaps a directional command - one fast enough that sweat is running down your spine in -10c weather because you were working so hard just to stay on the sled in the corners - where the moisture in the dogs breath covers the team in frost, where the silence is unbroken except for the swish of the runners as they glide on the snow - where sunlight makes bars of light on the trail as it shines though the trees, preferably with the odd puff of snow falling from the tree branches where it landed during last night's fall of powder snow - a run where 10 of my white and gold huskies are running, heads and tails down, driving, shoulder to shoulder as a well matched, hard working, fast, unified team - a run that makes you feel glad to be alive - one where on one hand you are glad to be alone in the wilderness with your team, and on the other hand, wishing you could share the glory of the run with others!

That sounds beautiful! Thank-you for sharing this with us!

8 December 2013

Brrrrr! - Video

Dec. 7, 2013
It was a cold, cold, cold morning.  We headed out to Bird's Hill Provincial Park, just North of Winnipeg to meet a friend for some skijoring.  With the wind making the temperature feel like -40, we planned on a short easy run for the dogs.   When the air is this cold, the snow has no glide.  So even with colder temp. glide wax on, it was a ton of work for dogs and humans.  It was work that was well worth it. 

Burger is getting the hang of skijoring, and gets very excited when we pull up to a trail he knows!   He decided to climb into the front seat to help DrĂ©  get his boots on.   Burger is still learning how to work ski boots, so he wasn't all that helpful.
We ran the dogs in different orders. On the left, Money Penny runs with River Dog, as Ember leads out.   The picture on the right is Burger and Money Penny.   Burger is really coming along, he waits at the end of the gangline for the command to hike.  He is becoming a Gee Haw leader, and he will happily run with any dog.  We keep his runs in harness short, and fun, and never push him for speed, as we are working on confidence before speed.  No need to burn him out!

Near the end of 5 K, Ember decided to take a break and cool off in a snow bank!   She is an awesome dog, who works hard.  She is also a hair monster, and needs to cool off!  She happily digs and rolls in the snow on the side of the trail.  
To see the video footage of the run, click here.  

6 December 2013

Dear Skijora: Trail Etiquette

Dear Skijora,

I am fairly new to skijoring. My dog and I have the basics down, and we are ready to head out on the trail, and be seen skijoring in public!

What do I need to know, so we don’t make fools out of ourselves?


The Nice Newbie


Dear Nice Newbie,

Skijora is proud of you and your dog for all your hard work!   The etiquette is pretty simple and straightforward for skijoring.  But it can take some training for humans to understand.    Good thing they all have a dog to guide them! 

Skijor on approved trails only.   Meaning obey “No Dog” signs and stay off of any trails that are groomed for classic skiing. 

Harness time is business time.   Many dogs, like myself, love to meet and make new friends, but skijoring time is business time.  Stay on your leash, and give other teams in harness space.  They have a job to do. 

The trail is not a bathroom.  Get in the habit of going to the bathroom before you come to the site.  Leaving your scent behind is interesting and exciting, and encourages other teams to do the same.   Pretty soon we all get carried away, and the trail is just a mess. We are here to work, so work, and take your bathroom break somewhere else.  Just remember to allow your human to pick it up.  They always feel so proud carrying around a little bag of treasure.  It makes them feel important!

Be a good passer.  This means letting your human think they are in charge of the pass.   They have fun calling out “Trail” to the other teams.   So let them, and only allow your human to pass once you see the other team is ready.    Shorten your gangline on the pass, so your human is not tempted to stop and socialize with the other team. 

Have fun out there!




4 December 2013

Meet the Musher: Dallas

Meet Dallas.  Dallas is a 48 year old self employed Minnesota native.  He is  married to Amy Johnson, together they have two kids Austin and Avalon.  Dallas skijors with  Comet.   You can see Comet's interview here

What dog powered sports have you been involved with?

Skijor is it. Our background is skiing, and we wanted a family dog that could share the sport with us.

How did you first get started in the sport?

I was pushing 240lbs and desperately needed to get back into calorie burning sports, and the kids wanted a family dog. We'd seen the Skijor Loppet and that seemed like a fun. With the assistance of John Thompson at Skijor Now we found Ivana Nolke of Howling Dog Alaska and reserved the “smallest and least energetic” puppy in her dog's litter. Comet's been proving her wrong ever since, but otherwise Ivana has been a huge help with tips and advice to ensure Comet's success. Comet motivates me to exercise and I'm now 160lbs.

For many of us, running dogs is a lifestyle. When did you know you were hooked on the sport?

After the first 200 feet of our first mass start race. Comet lives for the hole shot (leading at the first corner).

Tell us what the local scene is like for you. What is mushing like in your neck of the woods?

The Twin Cities are fortunate to have both Skijor USA (mass start events) and Midwest Skior (timed events) along with very cooperative local park systems. But we don't have an active mushing scene in the cities. Most people have recreational class dogs and are just having fun.

What other kinds of training have you done with your dogs?

There's always the morning canicross run. We get some speed work in on a pubic bike trail next to our home were we regularly bike and rollerblade. Sadly we don't have anyplace for significant off-leash running time.

Tell us about your current dog.

Comet is our one and only dog. She's a family dog by day. She's from the Nolke line of Alaskan Huskies out of Alaska, and she's more on the Eurohound end of spectrum than husky. At 42lbs, she's a bit on the small side for Skijor, but she's fast.

What is your favorite piece of gear?

I've made some of my own gear I love tinkering with gear, but I'm a fan of the Howling Dog Alaska gear. I love their belt because it's simple and light, and priced right.
What is the best advice you have ever been given for mushing?

Jim Benson of Midwest Skijor says “It's never the dog's fault”. So Comet and I always tell ourselves it's Jim's fault.

What resources have you used to further your training?

The local clinics by Midwest Skijor, Skijor Now, Midwest Mountaineering, and Three Rivers Parks are all great resources, as are the common skijor books on the market. But really, it's just gee, haw, and whoa, with a belt, a bungee, and a harness. We've just gone with the flow and tried to have fun.

Why do you run your dogs?
I can assure you of one thing, Comet has NEVER asked herself why she runs or races. But every morning she does ask “why aren't we running yet?”

Meet the Dog: Comet

Meet Comet!  Comet is a four year old female Eurohound Alaskan Husky, bred by Ivanna Nolke of Howling Dog Alaska. She is a kennel of one (family dog). Hobbies: Sleeping, stealing pizza, and running. Greatest dislike: sailing. She remains ever vigilant protecting the world from the imminent squirrel apocalypse.


2013- Palmares:

First - Birkiebeiner Barkie Birkie
First - SnowBowl Skijor
Third - Loppet Skijor Nationals, male 

What dog pulling sports have you been involved with?

This is our family's first dog sport. They were all nordic skiers, but Big Guy wanted to go faster and that's where I make the magic happen.  (To see Big Guy's interview click here)

How did you first get started in the sport?

I started training Big Guy from the very start. He had a little puppy harness we used for walks and I've trained him to use gee and haw type commands from day one. I've also trained him to pick up my poo, which is the funniest thing EVER.

When did you know you were hooked on the sport?

Protecting the world from the coming squirrel invasion is obviously my first priority, and I love my job. But that first mass start race with the other squirrel guardians was something I'll never forget. I live for the hole shot!

Tell us what the local scene is like for you. What is mushing like in your neck of the woods?

Well, most of my buddies are into hunting birds. Some of the little dogs in the neighborhood...I have no idea what they do besides yap yap yap.

What is your favorite activity to do with your people?

Big guy thinks I like to run, but really that's just training for the World Sleeping Championships. He just picked up a new leather couch I've been testing out when he's not around.

What other kinds of training have you done with your people?

Every morning I wake up Big Guy for the morning squirrel patrol. That's always the hard part. It's a ton of work keeping him moving and in decent shape.

Tell us about your current people.

I mostly run with Big Guy. Big Lady is a fast skier, but thinks I'm a bit nuts. I absolutely love the power to weight ratio when I run with Little Guy or Little Girl, but they are not yet ready for a race.

What characteristics do you look for in a new people?

New people. Hu? What! No. This is my family! I love them and I'm not leaving. Grrrrrrr

What is your favorite piece of gear? Why is it your favorite?

Big Guy has an oversized treat bag from Howling Dog Alaska that he keeps on his belt.

Describe a perfect run with your people.

The one that's starting now.
Can we go now?
How about now?
How about now?

What is the best advice you have ever been given for mushing?

Jim Benson of Midwest Skijor says “It's never the dog's fault”. He's right.

What resources have you used to further your training?

I'm not into heart rate monitors, books, or a big discussion. I'm more the “just do it” sort of dog. This leaves me more time to prepare for the coming squirrel invasion.

Why do you run your people?

Big Guy used to be called that for reason. I've run 1/3rd of his body weight off so far. It's all about power to weight ratio, baby.

To read about the other half of this awesome team click here for the interview with Dallas, Comet's Big Guy.

Comet Johnson has a fanpage on Facebook where she's a superhero saving the world from squirrels.  Be sure to check it out!

3 December 2013

History Lesson: Jack London

This past summer, we took a road trip for our honeymoon, to Alaska.  We got to see so many interesting sights and places.   It was the trip of a lifetime. 

To be able to travel to Jack London's cabin, in Dawson City, Yukon, was a dream come true! 

I don't recall how old I was when I got my hands on a copy of Jack London's Call of the Wild.  But I read that and White Fang in short order. 

Reading London's books made me fall in love with the idea of mushing dogs.  I would walk my poodle through the snow, one day dreaming of having a dog team of my own.  
I believed every word in those books, soaking in every detail.  The rest they say, is history.  

Outside Jack London's Cabin, in Dawson City.  He wasn't home.
As a young man, Jack London wrote and prospected for gold in this cabin.  Which was built in 1898, a year after arriving in the Yukon.  He lived in the cabin, and abandoned it after the gold rush.  Jack never made it rich by prospecting for gold, but he certainly struck it rich with his stories. The cabin was found later, in 1936 by trappers,who saw the author's signature on the back wall.

"Jack London, Miner, Author, Jan. 27, 1898.”

In 1965 the cabin was dismantled and taken out of the bush, by dog sled. Two replicas were made from the original logs. One is in Dawson City while the other was re-made in Oakland, California London’s hometown.

River-dog and I try out luck panning for gold.

While we were at London's cabin, it started to rain.  So we biked back to camp with the dogs.   Biking through Dawsome City with our own dogs, caused a group of local dogs to chase us down the street.  I felt like I was right in the story, being chased by a pack of local huskies.  What a thrill!

If you go to Dawson City, you can find out more about London's cabin here. 

I still read London's books, while I know that not every detail is true, on a clear winter night, when the dogs are running hard, and our breath hangs heavy in the air, my mind often wanders and I can hear The Call of the Wild.