Archive for October, 2010

How much is too much?

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

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Still no snow yet, but training is rolling on and the dogs are looking and feeling great so far. These two concepts are very important to us, especially during fall training. So often mushers will make every attempt to stack as many miles on their dogs as possible, but this can be a trade off. We have seen at least one Iditarod champion gain success by running 40 and 50 mile runs right now and going further on 75-, 100-mile, or even longer runs later in the season, but not everyone who trains this way will have the same success.
Pushing too hard, too quickly in the year can lead to lead to physical injuries. Often worse, it can lead to dogs that are physically strong, but mentally sour, and broken minds are much more difficult to heal than injured shoulders or sore wrists.
A good friend of ours, who is also an Iditarod champion, employs another technique. He runs 10, 15 or perhaps 20 mile runs through October and into November, and then will build to 30 mile runs once the snow flies. He rarely if ever exceeds 30 mile runs throughout the season, and yet he and his dogs still win races, and most importantly, his dogs are some of the most mentally fit dogs we have ever seen, especially late in the season when some dog tend to burn out.
A book written last year even described his dogs as “cyberdogs,” because they just seem to go and go and go in races. He has numerous leaders beucase of this training style and while he doesn’t run Iditarod himself anymore, he annually leases out almost every dog in his kennel, including many dogs to other Iditarod champions with 100 dog kennels of their own. And as the newspapers follow the race, we always see his dogs in photos, and always in the front of teams, and all the way into Nome.
We used to wonder why this was: Why would Iditarod champs with so many dogs in their own kennels, need to lease dogs from a guy who runs a fraction of the miles they do throughout the season. I still don’t know the answer, but I’m starting to wonder if it has to do with how many miles people are starting to put on their teams. Any system will have a peak, a top number that is as high as that system can go. Perhaps this been exceeded. Dogs are physically capable of running many, many miles, but mentally perhaps mushers have in the last few years surpassed what is the optimum amount.
I’ve started to see signs of this in my own neighborhood. We have a neighbor who must be trying something new this year and is running big miles already. But the more unusual thing than his big miles so early is, now that he’s done it for a few weeks, his dogs don’t even bark at hook-up any more. It’s almost eerie how we’ll hear hardly anything but his wheeler start and then his handlers run by with a team. Even the dogs left behind don’t howl out of being left out. I don’t like to knock people for different systems, since the one thing I’ve learn about mushers is that no two do anything the same, but I’d be very concerned if my dogs were not excited to go on a run, especially as early as October.
We want our dogs to love running with us as much as we love running them, so we have opted for running a strategy that is in between the two systems described, and hopefully our Goldilocks approach of not going too short or too long will pay off. And if it doesn’t, well, we may not always be able to beat people with more miles on their dogs than us, but I’d rather finish in the middle of the pack with a happy team, rather than win with a sour one.
Seeing our dogs barking and lunging from the moment they see the harnesses come out until the last dog get plugged into the team is a sign to me they really do love what they’re doing, and I hope that never changes. All for this week. Hopefully we’ll have some snow by the next blog post. Enjoy a few more photos.
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I like the reflection of Ibn and Pong’s smiling faces in this shot, but I will be happy when all these puddles finally freeze up.
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Here’s how a dog team should look while getting hooked up…barking, howling and unable to contain their excitment for the impending run. I hope this never changes.
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And here’s the picture a dog left behind. Waylon pouting on his day off, a few minutes after another team had left the yard.

Feeling Frisky on a Friday

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

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Yeah, we’re back. Sorry for the long absence. We have had lots of struggles lately. Let me begin with the computer problems. As many of you know, our website and blog we’re sponsored to us by a close friend who passed away from cancer last year. We didn’t learn all we needed to before his untimely death, which is what has been causing the hiccups. Fortunately, we have been working with Tom Walsh of Express Web Systems Inc. This guy rocks! He has worked like our web site was his own. He backed up everything so we don’t lose it, and has been transferring and streamlining everything so that we no longer have any problems and even two non-technology types like us can still make updates.
O.K. enough about computers, Lets talk dogs. As you know, we have been involved in an ongoing “wheezer” study. I’m not going to go into detail what this breathing problem is, read back through our blog archives if you want to learn more. Shagoo healed marvelously from her surgery and last week Coolwhip went up to Anchorage for her procedure. On Tuesday she had an esophogram which was really cool. They used a fancy machine to shoot realtime x-rays of Coolwhip’s throat while they feed her dry food, then wet food and liquids, to see how she swallowed. After the procedure she got the greenlight to have the corrective throat surgery the next day. Joseph and Coolwhip stayed in a hotel overnight, which was a long night with a dog as naughty and high strung as our little “Whippy.” They doctor fond some anomalies with her throat tissue, but in the end she pulled through fine and has been healing well. The hardest part is keeping her calm and not letting her bark for 4 WEEKS! This has been a constant battle and she has destroyed numerous houshold items in her frustration. (She gets really chewy when she’s not allowed to play with the other dogs.) She does O.K. when we’re there, but when we leave to run teams, she wrecks shop.
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As to running, things are going well. We have started to shift to training on the beach a few times a week (see photo above of the team just before sunrise). We’d prefer to stay on the woods trails a little longer, but there are just SO MANY teams using them this year that the trails have gotten completely turned to a gooey, slippery, mucky mess. The beach is fun for us since there is a natural beauty to it, but it is so much tougher on the dogs we have to be careful not to mentally burn them out. Also, too many runs on the beach in a row can cause foot problems as the course sand works into their toes. The runs are fun though and we haven’t seen many other teams out there most day, so we have been able to use some of our young dogs up front to do some gee-haw training, calling the dogs left or right to follow the good, hard packed sand, rather than just letting them run on the rocks or sugary sand.
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Our pup Dunkel, who while only 11 months is larger than every other dog in the kennel, but we must remember he is not mature. He LOVES, LOVES, LOVES running in the team, but he really lacks the muscles to go as far as we’re training, Running pups to hard and too far while they’re still growing and bones developing can do a lot of harm. As such, Dunkel sometimes runs in the team and sometimes runs along free with the team (see above). He enjoys both and when he is running free, it is good for the older dog because they learn to avoid distractions, as is clear by leaders Zoya and Screamer who aren’t even acknowledging him in this photo.
All for this week. Enjoy the pics.
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Here the team takes a break to drink some fresh water from a stream. Brick and Oaky are in lead.
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Here’s on last shot I wasn’t going to post beucase it is so blurry and poorly lit, but heck with it. For fun we often walk the dogs on a little half mile circuit we have in the woods behind our house. We usually only do three to five at a time, but now that training is taking up so many hours a day, we had to make some changes, so now we walk ALL the dogs at the same time. It’s a real rodeo, but they LOVE it. In the picture above I got as many as I could fit into the frame, but that’s not saying much since the dogs we just buzzing everywhere like bees on a hive. I promise to work harder over the next few weeks to get a crisper shot of this activity and with as close to all of them in the frame as I can fit.

Why Dogs are Better than Computers

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Hi all,
Some of you may have noticed our site was down for a few days. I have NO idea how it happened or how it got fixed, but we are in the process of changing hosts after that scare. It has been a long time coming anyway as we have been struggling since our web guru past away from cancer several months ago. Its time to do it before we loose everything we have worked on here for the past few years. If this site/blog goes down again, look for us soon by googling “roguesgallerykennel” instead of “rogues kennel.” hope you all follow us there.
Joseph and Colleen

Winterization

Friday, October 1st, 2010

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Sorry to be gone so long, but we’ve been spread thin lately. Winter seemed fast approaching as we finally got into the 20s for a few days. The dogs loved the cool weather and we were able to get in some very comfortable runs. Thinking we might actually have an early winter, we began rolling up hoses, picking up tools and finishing the millions of other things we still had on our “to do” list before the snow flies. Sadly, the winter turned warm again, as it often does in our banana belt of the state, and as I write this is it in the low 50′s and raining.
Still, we’re trying to look at the “glass as half full,” so we have continued with the chores. Mainly, finishing tuning up the fourwheelers for another rigorous season of fall training (see photo above). Despite how it may appear, the dogs are pulling the wheelers just like they would a sled. The motor is running, but we really don’t use the throttle at all. Instead, we are actually using the brakes and low gears to hold the dogs back by creating resistance. Since brakes are cheaper and easier to replace than gears, we tend to use them more often for drag, but they must be changed regularly as a result to stay safe when it comes to needing to stop for road crossings and other dangerous situations. Joseph’s Dad, who is so mechanically inclined he may very well have motor oil rather than blood pumping through is veins, came up earlier this fall and helped get things started. Together they tackled many tasks including replacing front and rear brakes, and draining and replacing the oil, filters and all the gear fluids. They also got the dog truck tuned up in a major way as it was long over due for some under the hood TLC. A few pieces needed to be ordered and those last few things got put in this week, although without Joseph’s dad there was a lot more swearing and banging of the tools.
With the equipment in place, and the temperatures so warm, we are primarily just focusing on short, fun runs to lay a foundation for some of our young dogs. Klause and Boo, the two castaways we brought into the kennel last year are now one year olds, so they can start conservatively training with the adults. So far they are looking very sharp. Klause is a long-legged guy who is still lopping his way through the runs. He looks like he is still developing, so we’re not pushing him too hard. HIs borther, Boo, is already an animal though. He is not running with the A-team yet, but he easily could be. He has a drive and determination that reminds us of Penny when she was his age. Boo is already leading runs home with confidence and poise and we will be watching him closely over the season.
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Our youngest dog in training is Dunkel. He’s our 10 month old house dog who despite his young age is already the largest dog in the kennel (see pic above of his massive head, we can barely get harness over it). It’s hard to believe since he was such a chubby little spud as a puppy (see old picture below), but his best buddy is Metoo and she loves running like no dog I’ve ever seen. It seems some of her passion has been spread to her young apprentice beucase so far Dunkel loves running too. If he sees the harness comes out, he’ll run over and sit on our feet hopefully waiting to be harnessed. He’s too young to do many miles this season, but he enjoys the few miles he gets.
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In addition to all the work, we also recently slipped away to take part in the Alaska equivellent to the lottery. Once a year 1,600 people are picked to drive their own car into Denali Park and Preserve (usually you have to take shuttle busses). A close friend of ours was picked and invited us along, and the trip ending up being great for wildlife watching as well as getting glimpses of Mount McKinley. Here’s a few pictures from our journey.
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A wild wolf running with the leg of a fresh kill: a Dall sheep.
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A brown bear with it’s winter weight and coat on.
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Getting close to some Dall shep.
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A Dall sheep with an impressive curl.
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Mount McKinley: the tallest mountain in North America.