I grew up raising puppies. I wanted to be a dog. Literally. I envied the way they could run around on all four’s and interact in a pack. In the spring I’d sneak out at night to crawl into the puppy house so I could sleep with the puppies. My mom would come find me and pack me back into the house. She wasn’t too happy about it. We lived “out in the boonies” and rarely saw other people. The pups and dogs were my companions. I loved taking big groups of puppies deep into the woods to play in streams, marshes, and to see how far they could make it balancing on tilted trees before slipping off into the moss below. I watched them swim after me in creeks I could walk through, but their little legs were too short for. Being with dogs became my lifelong passion. Not just training and racing dogs, but being with them.
Raising pups is something we enjoy as a family. They’re born in the house with our family at mom’s side. Helping her and the pups if they need it and more so just being there to be in that moment supporting our girls. After a few days we will move them outside into a puppy house and pen. Basic puppy veterinary care is done here in the kennel. At 3 days old we remove their dew-claws. An important procedure for a future sled dog as dew claws can rub on dog booties. Then as they grow they will have three rounds of vaccines, deworming, and at four months their first rabies vaccine. We also employ the modern technology genetics testing has allowed people to learn from.
By 5 weeks of age the puppies are able to toddle along on their first adventures. When they’re this age you can see the different genetics come out. The high drive, strong leader, bloodlines are more confident. Often running ahead on their first outing. This is something that doesn’t change as they grow and it’s physically difficult to keep up with these pups. The gradual progression of distance, just like training them as adults, is a big focus for us in the summer months. It teaches the pups agility and confidence in many situations, crossing fast-moving deep water, passing loose dogs, develops their muscles, and builds stamina. It teaches us a lot about the pups we’re raising, too.
We put our pups in harness at 5-6 months old. We only run them a few times at this age. Spring is when the more serious work begins. We like to put each pup in harness an average of 25 times. I hadn’t thought about it much until recently and talking with others about puppy training. 25 times is a lot. We don’t just harness break pups we start developing them for work with the adults in the fall. These aren’t long runs. We go 2, 4, 6 and a few apex runs of 10 miles at the very end of the season. It takes a tremendous amount of commitment to develop a pup into a champion athlete. It takes many years of dedication and selective breeding to develop a competitive dog team.
In the fall our yearlings will mix in with our adult teams. If it’s cool enough we start training the first week of August. This continues to help mature the pups by learning from the adults, tests their abilities more to step it up to an adult level, and has worked really well for us rather than separate puppy teams. Our yearlings will go on camping trips and run with the adults for at least 4 months. As we start to seriously increase miles the yearlings will taper down. Then we put them in their own team, typically give them time off when we enter the racing months, and in February mix them back in with the adults. There have been a few yearlings who’ve kept training with the adults simply because they make it look so easy. We typically only race them in the shorter 50 mile type events because these are an easy distance for a young dog. Basically it’s not asking them to go above and beyond, but to keep it light and easy. We have raced yearlings at the competitive level in longer races, with success, but feel it’s unnecessary having a core group of 18 adult race dogs.
This spring we have had ample time and snow to run our pups. Last year we had an early spring melt and the Kobuk 440 to focus on and race. This year the 440 was canceled. We weren’t 100% sure we’d be going there this year, but I was looking forward to my first run in the area. Next year…