First Run of the Season With A Glitch

When you arrive at a trail head with a truck filled with eager sled dogs there are lots of chores that have to be done. And thanks to the adrenaline coursing through them the dogs are revved up physically and verbally so Ken Williams and I are craning to hear Jaye’s soft spoken voice as she gives us directions over the clamor.

Unloading the dogs


Before the dogs can be unloaded, the outriggers on the back and front of the truck have to be unfolded and then a chain with drop lines is strung between them on both sides of the truck.

Once the chains are in place we can start unloading the dogs one at a time. Top ones come down first and are secured to a drop line on the chain. This is where it’s critical to keep a firm hand on the dogs so they don’t get loose. Some dogs might stay close to the truck if unsecured, but many will bolt and we don’t want to lose any dogs!!

Here is a picture of Yours Truly doing what I do best, scooping poop with 8 of my new best friends looking on with interest.

Pooper Scooper

Harnessing and Hooking-Up

Once we have all the dogs unloaded it’s time to put on their harness.

Dogs in harness waiting to be hooked up to the ATV

Dogs in harness waiting to be hooked up to the ATV

Then it’s time to hook up the dogs. The leaders are hooked up first because part of their job is to hold the line out tight while the other dogs are hooked up behind them.

The command “line out” is a common command used at this time for the leaders and their job is to stand still and pull on the line so it is taut while the remaining dogs are hooked up behind them. That’s why a good leader is invaluable to a musher.

Here is a picture of a subsequent run showing how the 2 lead dogs, partially seen here in the photo, are leaning into their harness to pull their tug line nice and tight while Ken Williams is hooking up dogs behind them.

Line Out during hook-up.

Line Out during hook-up.

For Jaye’s team this is a frenzied moment. A lot of the dogs are hyper at this point. Many are jumping around while on their drop line or on the gangline which is the center line all the team dogs are hooked up to when they run. For some reason the dogs want to make sure we don’t leave them behind! It doesn’t dawn on them that had Jaye not planned on running them they would be back at the kennel in the yard. The mere fact that they are on the drop line means they are going to run. But I guess they don’t trust us so the clamor goes on! The term “four off the floor” is used for a dog literally leaping straight up in the air with all 4 feet off the ground. Jaye has a couple of those but I was a bit busy at hook up and unable to take photos when I witnessed it! =)

It’s also at this moment that the handlers have to act quickly. Jaye tells us which dogs are compatible so we can place them next to each other but even dogs who get along well in the kennel can sometimes get testy when all of them are clamoring to go! Some dogs will talk trash to their neighbor and get a growl as a response. So the objective is to get them hooked up quickly.

Jaye had finally decided on running an 18 dog string on this first run. Most probably out of pity for me and Ken who were newbies at handling at this level. By the time we get to dog number 17 Jaye looks at me and says “We’re missing a dog!” My heart sinks.

There are no dogs on the drop lines and all the dog boxes are empty!

Jaye goes to her board to see who is missing and says “Where’s Spook?”

Spook is nowhere to be found so we have to assume he was left back in the yard.

The dogs are ready and clamoring to leave so all three of us jump on the ATV, I pull the line securing the ATV to a tree, Jaye releases the brakes and starts up the engine and in spite of the noise softly says “Ready, Let’s Go!” That’s the cue they’ve been waiting for and we’re off! Once the dogs start working, the yapping stops and all you hear is the sound of the ATV’s engine as we move along the trail.

Sure and Steady

Since this is the first run of the season, Jaye wants it to be nice and slow. She helps them up hills initially and the rest of the time she just lets the team pull us while the ATV is in gear. The objective for now is to get them to burn off some steam and to get them to muscle up. As miles are added and dogs get stronger, there will be less help from the ATV and longer runs.

Here is a video clip Ken shot during the run. Notice the missing dog in wheel position directly in front of the ATV. That’s where Spook should have been! My first day on the job and already I’ve screwed up!

First Run of the Season

Jaye generally trains for 100 or 200 mile races but this year because of her surgery she will not be able to train for those long distances so she will only be training for 30 mile races. Her hope is that she will still be able to have a productive season but at the shorter distances and that her shoulder will be ready for next year.

Water break for the dogs

Water break for the dogs

Because the temperatures warm up quickly at this time of the year and because humidity can still be a factor, it’s important to hydrate the dogs often while out on the trail.

Here is a photo of Ken giving the dogs some water during one of our breaks.

The first run was a 4 1/2 mile run with 18, I mean 17 dogs. At the end of the run all dogs were given water again and then each one was loaded back into their dog box and brought back to the kennel. And sure enough when we got back there was poor Spook, still on his tie out. I’ve been apologizing to him ever since.

The first few runs of the season made it possible for all the dogs to go out for a run. On a subsequent run we were able to run 2 smaller teams, one team after the other. Spook hasn’t missed a run since! Running 2 teams made it possible for Ken and I to run our dogs with Jaye’s. It was the first time in harness for Ken’s dog Luna and she did very well and seems to like this sled dog life. My guys were delighted to run with a larger team and it was great to be able to run them in September, a whole month earlier than I can generally run them at home in Md.

Here is a picture of Luna resting after her first run with a team of sled dogs. She appears to be very proud of herself and she seems a bit smitten by her running mate, my brown-eyed loverboy Kodiak.

Luna seems impressed with herself and with Kodiak

Luna seems impressed with herself and with Kodiak

Until next time.

Happy Trails!

  1. Nice job on the blog! Very interesting!


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