A year in the life of an Irish sled dog kennel August 2015

I always think the term kennel is confusing in this context, as all of my dogs live in the house, and at the moment are all sparked out on various dog beds and human furniture. Dog team doesn’t fit right either, as some of the dogs don’t run in harness due to age, injury or general other dog crankiness. Pack unfortunately now conjures up old fashioned ideas of alpha males and females, dominance and submission, and as a force free trainer, I try to stay away from those terms. So maybe we’ll stick with kennel.

We are a sled dog kennel of 13 dogs on the West coast of Ireland, not a place most people would associate with huskies, sleds or snow. I don’t own a sled, the dogs and I take part in dryland mushing activities, using a 3 wheeled rig, a 2 wheeled scooter, a bike and I have been known to do canicross – running with the dogs using my own two feet. Most of my dogs are rescues, a legacy of the 7 years I have spent running a rescue for unwanted northern breeds, the ones here are those that were just never adopted, or that have come back into my care due to a change in owner circumstances. None of them are bad dogs, just misunderstood.

The beginning of August may seem like a strange time of year to start a blog on a working sled dog kennel living in the Northern Hemisphere, but our training for the new season is starting now. We are hoping to go to the ECF European Championships in Scotland in October to represent Ireland, and then have a full working season here in Ireland and in the UK, so summer is over – as if it ever really began! A new member of the team recently arrived, in the shape of a dog treadmill, which is bigger than anticipated, but room has now been cleared and the dogs have been introduced to it. At the moment they think it is just a long platform that they get treats on, little do they know they are going to have to start earning those treats soon. Later on today the treadmill will be switched on and they will again be rewarded for being in the same room, as they get used to the noise. Hopefully all of the dogs that will be working this season will be walking or running on it by the end of the week. The treadmill is not a substitute for outside exercise, they will still all go out for playtime in the fully enclosed field each day and for on lead walks, but hopefully it will help them to stay in great shape coming up to and throughout the working season. It is still too warm and/or humid to get them out on the trails in harness, the treadmill will help to get them fit so that they can start proper training in good shape.

As my memory isn’t what it used to be, I have to go through the dogs in alphabetical order, so I will start the introductions with Bear. Bear is a husky cross, we were told his Mum was a husky/English setter cross, but I think it is more likely she is husky/rough collie. We think Bear’s Dad may have been a husky, so he’s 3/4 husky and 1/4 something else. Bear is a nervous dog, always the first to hear a noise and bark to let me know about it. He and I have worked hard together to build his confidence up, doing agility, body awareness work, introducing him safely to new situations and people, but he still sometimes gets spooked and needs reassurance. We were at a pet show recently in Mullingar and Bear demonstrated some of the equipment that we use for body awareness and core conditioning. On the first day he was very confident, and enjoyed showing off his skills in the arena, on the second day he seemed to be troubled by something, possibly a storm off in the distance. He will be 5 in September, is an intelligent and willing dog, but his nervousness may prevent him being a fantastic lead dog. At a charity event a few years ago he was leading a 4 dog team when we met a cyclist coming towards us, he was very worried about this unexpected meeting, but hopefully, with all of the work we have done and continue to do, he will trust that he won’t be put into any dangerous situations and will have fun out on the trails. His Mum was adopted by a wonderful family and she takes part in bikejoring as well as having lovely long walks, and if recent photos are anything to go by, coffee breaks in dog friendly cafes.


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