Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Never Let Go of Your Sled

Woohoo!  We finally have enough snow to cover the gravel on the road, provided the township doesn't plow it again as they did on Saturday.  The puppies are now 25 weeks old, which is big enough for some short, easy runs with the adults.  They were introduced to harness a couple of weeks ago and again when I checked fit early Sunday afternoon. 
Dora Sally Wylie Digger Declan
Wylie and Digger were the lucky first two to go with mom, dad, and big sister Dora.  They were a little skeptical of the funny looking wooden object outside of their gate.  Dora's bouncy exuberance did little to reassure them, though it did excite them.  Declan returned to wheel position, where he did fine all afternoon, despite his scare with the cart the previous weekend.  Dora and Sally went in front, with the babies in the middle.  That didn't work.  They may be little, but when Digger and Wylie twisted around to see what I was doing, the girls couldn't move them.  So, I rearranged, putting Digger in wheel with Declan, Sally in the middle with Wylie, and Dora in single lead.  Fortunately for the experiment, she likes to lead once in a while and chose this trip to do so. 
Paired with adults, the babies were fine running out of the yard and down the road with the strange contraption following behind.  If I were a dog, I'd want my first pulling experience to be with a relatively silent sled, too, rather than with a rattling metal cart.  Digger appeared to be pulling the entire time, keeping his line tight and his head down.  Wylie was having a lot of fun bouncing around on, over, and around Sally.  If she were a real sled dog, she would have told him to quit.  Instead, she ignored him.  He did straighten out on the way back. 
Shady Dora Lichen Sally Declan
The next puppies to go were Shady and Lichen.  Using Wylie and Digger as examples, I decided to run Shady with Dora in front and Lichen with Sally in back.  Dora is good going solo sometimes, but I could tell she didn't want to do it twice in a row.  This left Declan alone, but he was fine with that as long as I was on the sled.  That puppy arrangement didn't work.  Shady tried to climb back to see what I was up to, then wasn't happy once we were moving.
Hm.  I didn't want Dora alone.  I had two other adults and two puppies.  Okay, I put Sally back with Dora, the kids in the middle, and Declan where he was.  Perfect.  They all ran beautifully until we turned around. 
Turning around with untrained dogs who were more interested in what the wind was telling them from across the road isn't as easy as it should be.  Don't get me wrong--I only had five dogs to deal with.  On top of that, I have a paranoia of losing my team again.  To make it worse, we were on the same stretch of road where I lost them last weekend.  Soo, I got them turned around.  They were untangled.  Dora and Sally were ready to go, as was Declan.  I walked back to the sled, hopped on, and called for them to go.  Shady and Digger both turned around to the inside to see what I was doing.  Oops.  Now I had to untangle them again.  I tried that twice more before inspiration hit me in the side of the head. 
I got them lined out.  I stood just behind Dora and Sally and in front of the babies.  I checked for traffic.  I eyeballed the distance to the sled.  I calmly said "hike" in a tone meant to soothe.  They took off in a flash, leaving me to hope I could grab the sled and leap on before they lost me.  I managed the grab part, but my feet hadn't been in mukluks for several months and weren't quite able make the leap.  In fact, my feet decided they didn't want to go with me.  I found myself in a new position:  I was watching my team run from below the handlebar and between my hands. 
I told myself I could manage the situation without begging for mercy from my happily running team.  I pulled my heavily dragging body slowly forward, trying to think of what I would do when I got my face closer to the back of the sled.  I needed to control my wildly bouncing feet and legs so that I could get my knees on to the runners.  Once that was managed, it wasn't terribly difficult to get first one, then the other knee onto the appropriate runners.  I was then thankful to be able to get my feet under me and where they belonged.  Yes, the first thing I did after checking for witnesses was look damage to my mukluks. 
The ride home at that point was uneventful, thank Dog.  I tried to reassure the adults that we only had one more puppy to exercise.  They didn't look impressed, but they were game enough once I brought Tucker out to join them. 

By the third attempt at gently introducing puppies to pulling a sled, I hadn't learned much.  I threw Tucker in front with Dora and had Sally and Declan at the rear.  The poor fellow didn't like being unable to follow and was very disturbed by the sound of the brake.  He ended up in wheel with his daddy and chasing his mama and big sister.  That worked very well. 

On the way back to the house, I happened to glance up into a tree on the east side of the road.  There, watching us with great skepticism, was a pair of Ruffed Grouse.  I would like to say that they have learned to distinguish between hunting and mushing, but the reality is that the wind was from the other side of the road--The greatest impediment to turning them all around was getting the girls to point their noses north, rather than southwest. 

Tucker Takes Command!
Getting back into and up the driveway to the dog yard is always a challenge.  Sometimes the dogs go by and have to be led into the drive.  Other times, they'll go in, but then they stop halfway up the drive.  One would think it possible to lead the dogs up the driveway--a bad habit to get into.  It isn't really possible with these guys, though, because Declan won't go if he believes whatever is behind him isn't under control.   

Returning with Tucker changed things a bit.  The three adults quit moving.  Declan had his feet planted and wasn't going to let that sled move an inch until I was on it again.  The girls wanted to graze on the dead grass.  Tucker wanted to move move MOVE!  If I can convince him to run in lead, I just might have what I need to get the dogs back to the starting point. (Video of Tucker's Run)

Happy trails!