I often get asked what it takes to feed my sled dog team? How much food do I buy, how do I do it, what kind of food, and the list goes on. And I only have 4 dogs!!
Imagine a musher with some 30 dogs in her kennel. That is what Jaye Foucher faces every day at feeding time. Food is a huge issue for mushers with large kennels and there are as many opinions about feeding as there are mushers and dogs. Here is the routine in the Sibersong Kennel.
Choosing a dog foodFirst off Jaye doesn’t buy her food at the local Petco. She, like most mushers, has researched the kind of food that is best for her dogs and Jaye has settled on Inukshuk Dog Food. It is made in Canada but delivery is available in the US. Inukshuk is great for all kinds of dogs but it is popular with mushers because they make a High Protein/High Fat blend that is great during training season. Jaye uses a 30/25 blend in the summer months when the dogs are not training. But when September rolls around and training begins she switches to 32/32 which is a blend made specifically for high energy working dogs.(Remember this term!) In addition, on days when she is training and the miles start to build up, she also adds raw meat to the kibble which is common among mushers. Inukshuk is also a great supporter of mushing. A few years ago they started to donate the required dog food each musher must carry in his/her sled when running the Can Am International Sled Dog Race. Now any musher running the Can Am knows they won’t have to worry about having just the right amount of dog food they need for their bag check.
Dog Food Delivery Day
Here is what delivery day looks like when the dog food arrives at Jaye’s kennel..
Once a palette is delivered the individual bags have to be unloaded and it helps to have a friend like Ken Williams who is able to lend a hand.
Feeding Frenzy Time
My first task during my month’s “internship” as a handler for Jaye was to learn the feeding routine. All mushers have routines–in the kennel, or on the trail. The dogs get used to it and they quickly learn what’s about to happen as musher and handler start the sequence of routine activities. Put on a pair of Carharts or a particular jacket, or pick up a certain pail and the kennel rouses from its slumber and bedlam erupts.
Any dog owner knows what happens when you pick up a leash or put on a certain pair of walking shoes. Fido is at the door before you, tail and butt wagging or even jumping up in excitement. Some dogs will verbally utter their delight. Open a can of dog food or scoop up a cup of kibble and the same thing generally happens.
Multiply that by 30 high energy dogs and you’ve got the makings of a Feeding Frenzy at dinner time.
Jaye’s kennel is divided into 5 sections. Each section can accommodate 8-10 dogs. Two sections have dog houses and tie-outs. The other 3 have different set ups. The dogs living in each section form a pack and all get along.
The first section near the house is for the house dogs. There are generally 6 dogs in that section. 4 of them get house privileges and 2 stay outside under a shelter or in a dog house.
The next 2 sections have dog houses each with its own tie-out that revolves on a pipe secured into the ground.
The last 2 sections are used for a variety of reasons: for puppies or for intact females in heat Jaye wants to keep isolated. Or one may serve as a honeymoon suite for a female in heat and a stud if breeding a litter is on the agenda.
At the moment, a female in heat occupies one of those sections along with her mother, the chaperone, and my 3 neutered males and spayed female. Sex Ed 101 for my dogs!! They’ve never met an intact female in heat! But that is another story for another time.
Feeding the Frenzy
As luck would have it, my first day on the job I arrived just before feeding time. Jaye looked at me and handed me a plastic baseball bat. She saw the question mark on my face and went on to explain.
During the day the dogs run free in their section of kennel. They play together with their pack members and take afternoon naps on top of their houses.
Even my dogs feel comfortable among the Sibersong dogs and they relax in one of the pens with 2 of Jaye’s dogs.
But when 5pm comes around all the dogs start howling and barking and when we walk up to the fence they all storm the gate knowing it’s time to eat!
The only way to open the gate and sneak in real quick without one of the escape artists getting out, is to stick a hand in holding the plastic bat and waving it from side to side so the dogs will back away.
Once in the kennel and the gate is secured behind me the dogs lunge for me as if greeting a long lost friend! Leaping for joy they run circles around me thrilled and acting crazy as if they were one of those contestants just picked for one of those crazy game shows. Imagine 8 high energy dogs between 45-55 pounds all leaping on me, jumping on me, barking at me. 50 pounds of thrust may not seem like much to most people but multiplied by 8 it’s a lot for this handler. Oh and did I mention they are all smiling!!! Siberians smile!! They do! They lick me trying to tell me how much they love me for feeding them and they try to show their affection in every way possible. Rubbing up against me, jumping up on my chest, licking my face. It’s an incredible morale booster. But back to the task at hand.
We obviously can’t feed the dogs in this state. So each dog must be grabbed and tied to his/her tie-out while they are running around in circles, leaping over dog houses, barking and howling, barely missing me as they whiz by and jockeying for position as if in the stretch at the Indy 500. You would think it would be impossible to catch 8-10 such dogs. That would be the case if the dogs didn’t know that they won’t eat if they are not tied out. So although the scene is sheer chaos and onlookers in the other pen are chiming in with excitement, as I head for each dog house and tie-out most of the dogs leap onto the box. Some will jump on the box 2 or 3 times as I fiddle with the chain clasp. When I’m ready with the tie-out in hand they wait on the roof of the doghouse trying to quiet their wiggling body. They actually pause on the roof of the house and wait for me to hook up the tie-out line to their collar. And so it goes for all 8.
Then the process is repeated in the next pen. Once all dogs are secured, Jaye comes around with a pail of food and places each dog’s ration in the dish which is affixed to the dog house. Before long the only sound that is heard is the slopping down of food by the happy huskies.
All of Jaye’s dogs have a hearty appetite. Since she breeds for that trait, it isn’t surprising. A good sled dog has to be able to eat at assigned check points on the trail during a race so a finicky dog is not likely to make the team.
Super Pooper Scooper
Once all the dogs are secured and eating it’s now time for me to scoop up poop! Woo Hoo!
Dealing with poop is all part of the job of being a dog owner. And when you have 30 dogs in your yard there is a shitload of poop to scoop up each day. That could very well be a deal breaker for someone who had an interest in working with sled dogs. It isn’t for me. I just don’t see poop scooping as a chore. On the contrary when I do my dog chores I see that as a reflection of the good fortune I have to be in the presence of so many canine friends. Yes those high energy sled dogs are a handful but they are bundles of love as well and there is something very therapeutic about working with sled dogs. They have lessons to teach and I for one want to learn from them. I’ve made 30 new friends this week and if it means I need to scoop poop when I visit these friends then that’s fine by me. My own dogs have also made new friends and we are all learning from them.
Dog of the Day
Since food is today’s topic I thought I’d ask Jaye which dog she considers the most voracious eater. While all of them dive into their dog bowls, Weyekin is the one that Jaye says she would enter in a dog food eating contest.
Weyekin is a beautiful little Siberian and she eats with gusto! Read what Jaye has to say about her on her website: Weyekin. I love Weyekin because she makes me feel like I’m working with a wolf. Probably the closest I will ever get to that possibility.
Next up–My first hook up with the Sibersong team. Think feeding is a frenzy? Wait till you see what happens at the first hook up of the season!