Run, Puppies, RunPosted: March 30, 2012
Yesterday I felt like a proud parent. The 8 month old puppies I have been working with since January helped pull a dog sled for the first time! And they did so well.
It’s funny, I didn’t expect to feel so emotionally invested in their “success” transitioning to full-time sled dogs, but I did. My pups are growing up.
It was also neat to see how puppies are trained for this next step. In a lot of ways it is a little like throwing them into the deep end and saying, swim. But they didn’t seem to mind.
To train puppies, you run them with experienced dogs that you want them to be like. You place them in the middle of the team so they aren’t pulling to much weight and all they have to focus on is following the dog in front of them. So we hooked up a ten dog team, with three slots for puppies in the first run, and two slots in the second run. We had all the experienced dogs already hooked up before we harnessed the puppies.
The puppies were not thrilled about being put in a harness. They squirmed and wiggled and howled while we slipped the tiny harnesses over their heads and around their chests. But once it was on, they didn’t even seem to notice any more. We hauled them over to the sled. And when I say hauled, I mean it. We sort of lead/carried them over. Once they were hooked to the main line, next to their older partner, they started getting excited and rightfully, a little confused.
One of the things they have to learn in this new phase of their life is to “line out.” This is a lot like teaching new kindergartners to stand in line to go out to recess. The puppies don’t want to hold the line tight and face forward, they want to sniff and circle and explore. And if you let them, they will tangle themselves and any other dog within a short distance in a giant knot of ropes and harnesses. So they have to learn to line out. Patience, repetition, and surveillance.
But this is also where the fun begins. The puppies are hooked up, read to go, and we just start. The owner of the kennel drove, and I rode in the sled, so I could jump out and untangle the puppies when needed. Our first group, Tanana, Pebbles, and Gopher were so easy. They didn’t miss a beat. The sled started moving, and they started running. It was all instinct. We cheered them on, like a little league game, shouting their names, encouraging them to pull. Go puppies!
We took them on a really short loop, about fifteen minutes, and by the end they were exhausted. Tongues hanging out, ready to fall asleep, exhausted. We took them back to their houses with no squirming or wiggling this time as we removed the harnesses, and they laid down in the snow, tails wagging.
Nest, we harnessed up Silver and Stubby. Stubby is whiny and lanky. I was a little worried about him to be honest. But surprise, surprise, he was great, and Silver, my usual running all-star, struggled. When we started the sled, she pushed all four paws into the group, refusing to run. It was the strangest thing. But the owner of Paws said that their is always one in each bunch of puppies. Silver was being stubborn. She wanted to run on her own terms. So we made switches. We put a new dog next to her, then we moved Stubby next to her, and finally, we put her by herself and this did the trick. She started running. And kept running all the way back to the dog lot. All five puppies made it through their first day of training!
Now they will practice. Before the snow melts this year, they will run five or six more times. And in the summer and the fall, they will practice with the four wheeler, so next season, they will be full-time working dogs. How quickly they grow up… but they are still so cute!