Hooking up a dog team
Tailwagger blend by First Paw Coffee Company
Have you tried our Tailwagger blend by our very own, First Paw Coffee Company?
First Paw Coffee Company is a small batch botique coffee company started by Robert and Michele Forto in 2019. Their first blend is a medium roast and it’s name was crowdsourced in their Facebook page. How cool is that?
Order yours today at www.ak.dog/coffee
New Sponsor: FitBark
We are Team Ineka, a 40-dog mushing kennel located in Willow, Alaska. FitBark has been so kind as to sponsor our team for the upcoming race season as we prepare to qualify for the biggest dog sled event in the world, the Iditarod!
Currently our A-team of 12 dogs is using the FitBark trackers for not only the miles we travel on the trails through the wilds of Alaska but also to give us great data on sleep cycles, activity levels in comparison between one dog and another but also we have found that by seeing the activity levels in the middle of the night we know when their might be a moose in the yard or the team is just singing a song under the moon!
It is a challenge to keep track of 12 FitBarks! We have come up with a system to use different colors of duct tape that we found at the local big box store. Did you know they have duct tape in paw print, leopard print, and even tye-dye? We also use these little pouches from a company that makes a product called Quiet Spot. They are intended to be hung off of your dog’s collar and you place the dog tags inside so they don’t jingle in the night. The FitBarks fit perfectly.
Did you know that you can set up your FitBark with your human fitness trackers like a Fitbit or even your iPhone? We did this and quickly found out that the dog team is getting much more exercise than the human’s on the team, the mushers.
Over the next few months we will spend hours and hours on the trail as we train our dogs for well over a thousand miles to prepare for our races. Did you know that a mile is 1508 points on FitBark? At least that’s how many it is for our dogs.
We are setting up something cool for our Sponsor a Dog Program. This program allows individuals to become a part of the team and they can not only get some cool perks from Team Ineka like a signed picture and a dog bootie but also they will be given access to their sponsored dog’s FitBark profile so they can follow along and even compete with their housedog against ours. How cool is that? In the coming days we will be adding stories and introductions to all of the dogs on the journal page of each dog’s profile.
We post lots of pictures over on our Facebook page and we are on Instagram and Twitter too. We would love for you to follow along and become a part of the team, it is going to be a grand adventure this year and we are happy to have FitBark along for the ride! We look forward to posting blog articles here to share our journey along the way.
Mushing Radio: Climate Change
Join hosts Robert Forto and Alex Stein as they present Mushing Radio. On this episode we talk about climate change and how it effects the sport of mushing.
Dog Yard Set Up
For most people when they see a dog yard they may seem quite different than what they are used doing with their own dogs. Once you look a bit closer you might find the yard is set up this way so that the dogs can foster healthy relationships and a social setting that provides ample exercise and freedom of movement.
Our dog yard is pretty social. We often keep groups of siblings together and dogs that get along well with their favorite friends close by. These dogs thrive on social bonds and family just like we do.
Our dog yard of 38 sled dogs needs to be specifically organized to ensure that each dog’s needs are met. It is not uncommon to see a dog yard set up just like ours throughout the sled dog world. Most dog yards use a tether system with individual houses for each dog laid out in rows. Our dogs are kept at their own house where they can enjoy their private space.
The length of the chain is determined by two factors. The first is to give the dogs tethers long enough so that they can interact and play with their neighbors in the yard. The second is to ensure that the tethers are not too long that they present a hazard to the dogs’ safety. We want to make sure that there is no chance of getting tangled with another dog.
The houses themselves are also carefully thought out. Our houses are build with a small entrance door that provides shelter from the elements (hot summer sun, rain, and cold winters). Our houses have a flat roof and, just like Snoopy this is the dog’s favorite place to be. You will often see our dogs perched on top of their houses catching some afternoon rays or watching the ravens and magpies dance around looking for leftover food crumbs.
We use straw in the houses for bedding and warmth. It is a very exciting time for the dogs when it is straw day. They all love having new straw in their houses and you will often find most of them burrowing their noses in it to make a comfy bed in their houses when the straw is delivered. Our rule is we add new straw for every 10 degrees in temperature change. So if it is -20 we have added straw at least four times.
Our dogs need a lot of mental stimulus especially in the summer when it is their vacation and they are not busy pulling sleds. In the summer months we often will move the dogs around to meet new friends in the yard and free run and play in our yard up by the house. We also have several pens attached to our kennel building and we use these for when females are in season, and on the rare occasion one of the dogs is sick or injured.
In our dog yard we do try to keep the boys separated (for the most part) from the girls. The main reason we do this is to prevent accidental breedings and to keep the young male’s hormones in check. Often they act just like teenagers when a pretty girl is around.
Most of our dogs are very social and the “pet me dogs” are closest to the perimeter. All of our dogs are friendly but some are more shy than others. These shy dogs need more personal space and are housed toward the back rows.
During the winter the fun begins. We have our chute right down the middle of the dog yard. This is where we hook up the teams and hit the trail. During hook-ups it is chaos with all of the dogs barking, jumping up and down off their houses and “yelling pick me! I want to run!”
Our dog spend eight months of they year in harness and most of them will run well over 1,500 miles. During the autumn months we spend lots of time on muscle development and conditioning, similar to how you would when you are trying to get into shape to run a marathon.
We always feed twice a day at Team Ineka. Each day we feed about 40 pounds of raw meat and 10-15 pounds of kibble mixed with water. Each dog is fed at their house using a ladle and a 5 gallon bucket. In the winter we will often triple their calories and feed lots of fish, beaver, fat, chicken skins, and moose. We have four large freezers in the kennel building an two large cans of kibble. We have a food bill of about $2500.00 a month!
Our daily chores take 3 or 4 hours every day, 365 days a year. This does not include running the teams. We are interacting with the dogs the whole time. We spend time each day petting, grooming, and you will often find us just sitting on top of a dog house talking to one of the dogs.
We try our best to keep the noise to a minimum. Usually when the dog yard is loud something exciting is happening. If we are hooking up or feeding the chaos is at full volume, other times, especially in the middle of the night the sound of an excited dog yard rouses us out of bed and down to the yard to check things out. On more occasions than we would like we have chased off a big moose or a pesky fox that likes to hang around. Since we do have a few neighbors that are not mushers we try not to rouse up the dogs past 10 pm and before 7 am. Dogs will be dogs however and there is nothing more cool than when the dogs sing together under a full moon.
People always comment on social media that what we do is cruel and inhumane to the dogs. I beg to differ. We spend hours with our dogs. It is our full time job and someone is here almost 24 hours a day. Our dog’s care is top priority and we spare no expense or time. If you think about it, do you spend all day with your dogs? What are they doing while you are at work?
A sled dog kennel is a dynamic environment with something always going on. We are constantly thinking of ways improving. The next time you see a sled dog kennel take a look around, you may see things differently now that you know what to look for.