Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Alaska Adventure #2745 Sled Dogs!

In order fulfill mom’s “Alaska Experience” I took mom to go dogsledding. We awoke early and met with one of my friends, Philip. Philip is a musher at the Dog Sled Farm. Arriving at the dog sled farm there are 18 individual house with the 18 dogs chained to a special pole that allows 360 degree movement around their dog house as well as jump on top of the roof.
The dog farm each with his own house

Up on the housetop

When the musher, Philip, arrived the dogs knew they were going out so they all came out of their houses and jumped up on top of their houses as they have been trained to do since it is their “Safe spot”. The first task of the day is to walked around with shovels and pales to scoop up all the doggie waste. Then the musher and the dog owners discussed which dogs would be going out today, and which trails they would explore.

As we walked around to each dog house the musher explained how shy and timid a sled dog really is. They are loyal only two their owner and one other person, and do not like other people. They are very shy. As I walked around to the houses the dogs each jumped on top of their houses. The musher was very surprised because this is a sign that they will allow you to walk up and pet them.

I was introduced to the dogs by name. This farm has four different litters. When a litter is born they are named by a theme. The litters on this farm included the Glacier Feature Litter (theme) which had dogs named; Cerek, Cole, Mulan, and Dryas. The Gemstone Litter; Ruby, Agate, and Sapphire. The Flower Litter; Ester, Elias, and Lilly. The Water Litter; Rapid, Shute, Falls, Brooks, Sweeper, and Eddie. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the doggies they are all very sweet and each have their own personality.

The special truck that carries the dogs has a kennel in the back with “dog stalls” to hold the dogs. They are 2-3 dogs high and 6-7 dogs wide. The musher unhooked 1 dog at a time while the dog is on top of his house, and when he gives the command the dog runs into the pick-up and jumps into his kennel.
Each dog in his/her own spot in the truck

When the dogs are harnessed to the sled they are brought out one at a time starting with the lead dog. Then the second dog on the opposite side of the first dog, followed by the third dog on the opposite side etc, until you get one dog alternating on each side of the cable until you get to the sled. They you start at the sled and work your way back up to the front, every other side.
 Harnessing up

3 down
Almost all ready

The dogs are barking because they are ready to go. The sled has huge hooks that get hooked around two poles or a vehicle while the musher is loading the sled. Just like a horse must have a door in front of him, the sled dogs must be anchored down or they will take off with or without the musher. The dogs want to run and have no problem running without the musher on the sled.
The large hooks that hold the sled back to prevent the dogs from running off without a musher

When the sled is loaded and the musher is ready he says “Ready” and the dogs all stand at attention in their position. He then says “Tight” and the dogs pick up all the slack, the hooks are then released from the pole or vehicle and the dogs take off.
Mother is ready to go-Thumbs up
There goes mom
Mom went on a 5 mile ride while I stayed behind to help with the next load team of dogs. The mushers over the years have looked for dogs that are obedient, loyal, strong, hardworking, and most importantly they have to eat even if they are sick, or injured. It is vital that a sled dog eats. When a dog is running he must consume 20,000 calories a day which as the musher explained is the equivalent of 20 big macs. On the trail the dogs are fed a mixture of fish, raw meat and kibble. It is vital that the musher starts a fire to boil water, in which he cooks their food and also so that both musher and dog has water to drink. The favorite meat this particular sled dog team is horse meat. Although horse meat is very similar to beef, it is the preferred meat for the sled dogs.
Lining up the team

Round up the pups

I love these dogs!
Optimum weight for a sled dog is 55 pounds or less. The typical sled dog is not what you think of as a husky, but rather a smaller, petite dog. Originally the Siberian husky was used due to their big boned, muscular working build. As things have progressed dogs are no longer used for transporting goods as a necessity but rather run races for sport. With that said, the dogs of 2011 are smaller and built for speed and endurance rather than for “working” as the natives once used the huskies for. In a race the dogs are trained to run speed 9-11mph for a minimum of 6-8 hours at a time.

In a race there are both lead and wheel dogs. The lead dogs are the first two dogs on the string. It is a highly stressful job for them and the musher explained that lead dogs cannot lead two days in a row due to the stress. Therefore you must have a minimum of 4 good lead dogs. A lead dog is your most obedient and most intelligent dog. They set the pace, and it is their job to keep the line tight.

The wheel dogs are the four dogs directly in front of the sled. Their job is to pull the weight. They are the muscle dogs. All the dogs in the middle are your “runners” their job is to keep pace and run. A lead dog can run in any position from lead to middle, and middle dogs may be switched out to wheel dogs if needed. A wheel dog can pull 150-800lbs per dog. That is over 3-10 times its weight.

As I reflect upon my internship in Alaska I realize how lucky I am. I mean, where else do you get to run with sled dogs? LOVE THIS PLACE!

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