Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Under the Hood of a Dog Team

or "What do you do when half the team won't go?"

What would it be like if 8 of your 16-dog team all refused to run simultaneously?

Or if you had a 6-dog team and 3 wouldn't stay on the trail?

Well, it happened to me. I have a 2-dog team and half of them balked.

Oh, did I mention I'm a rookie?

She doesn't LOOK like trouble...

Alice, my female, has always been nervous and skittish. She's fine while running, but anytime we stop, she acts scared of the quad. Last weekend, she just didn't want to go. She turned sideways, put her head against her brother's side, and pushed him off the trail. Repeatedly. Even when he wanted to go, we couldn't move. I left her behind, but after a single loop, Nick was ready to go hang out with her.

This went on for two days.

What's a musher to do? Look at the problem and come up with a solution.

I've been working them fairly hard, especially considering we're a 2-dog team. We have over 200 miles behind us, usually running 12 - 16 miles on the weekend, and maybe a couple of 8-mile runs during the week. Even though I don't have an actual race in front of me, I am trying to learn how to train for when I have a full team and want to run a 30 miler. So I gave them the week off.

I drove the quad every time I went to the dog lot, so they would associate it with good feelings. I parked it where they could sniff it and check it out. I left it there for hours some days.

I drove it around the farm, grooming trails, letting them get excited. I also lengthened the rope from the quad to the gangline to get them a little farther away from the noise.

My trail started at their houses, twisted around the farm and headed down a cornfield waterway, where it looped at .8 miles, and ran back. I straightened out part of it, avoiding the stretch where it ended right at their houses. I gave it a new half-mile stretch, and put the loops so that there isn't a true beginning or end, it is actually an endless loop for 2 miles.

I also decided to do some basic obedience work, so I taught them to "stay down". Alice is doing pretty good, she still wants to put her paw on my leg at first, when she is excited. After watching me work with Alice, Nick learned in 5 minutes!

After a week, it was time to put the plan into action. And once we got moving, it seemed to work. The new stretches are great, we are running fast when we pass near the houses, and we don't stop on the loops. There are still a couple of moments when we argue, at the new turns that they are learning, and I still have to stop and pull them on the new path. I'd say we are 80% improved.

But I know that in mushing, it is "2 steps forward, one step back" so a setback is expected.

Who knew that mushing would be so mentally taxing?