Dienstag, 11. Februar 2014

day no. 23/24 - how a sledging puppy becomes a sledging dog: first riding lesson for the little ones

Erä-susi Huskyfarm, 0°C misty, foggy

When the puppies are about one year old it's time to let them run! I recently described the preparation of the youngsters for the work with the sledge. First of all we train to put the collar on and bring them to the trail to give them the time to check everything out and get used to smells and surroundings. There was nothing difficult or surprising about it, but I was wondering how the real training with the sledge is done. How do they learn to pull a sledge?
Yesterday I had the change to find it out: we got one step further and put them for the first time in front of a sledge, but that isn't that easy as it might sound! you can't just put them randomly in a team. First of all you need a good team to pull the sledge: It is important to have the most calm leaders in front who won't do unexpected  movements and won't even bark or jump as soon as the sledge stands still for a moment. Furthermore we put just a team of 3 dogs and not as usual 5 dogs where to integrate the puppy in, because less dogs means less power and it is just more secure and easier to control since one can hardly predict the youngster's reaction- if it doesn't start to run with the others we could have easily drive it over. So every avoidable source of  disturbance or danger has to be eluded to create a less scaring atmosphere for the puppy as possible. We had to avoid to scare the puppy of us and the sledging activities. The first challenge is to separate the puppy from its fence mates and put the harness on. The other dogs have already checked that some of them are going to run and jump excited, bark as crazy and make a lot of noise which is actually not helpful for the training, because the puppy gets nervous, too. So we took it out of the fence and brought it to the now quite  and empty trail where the sledge with just one 3-dogs-team was already waiting to put on there the harness. The puppy was put on a middle position next to a seasoned and calm dog after they got the chance to say hello. Then you try to entice the puppy and encourage it move towards you. You have to stand not directly in front of it, but it needs to see you and the dogs in front. It is quite evident why: the youngster has to learn to run without having the beloved human in front of it (even thought in the very beginning it is necessary to have a supporting person it likes) getting used to the view of the running dogs in front of it it is suppose to follow.

We moved half a meter forward inspiring the puppy moving towards the front man while one companion is driving the sledge stopping it immediately if necessary and the others runs in front of the leaders  in order to hold them on the trail, since the speed is so low that they get bored soon. You can't do that alone! And you need a lot of patience...
So we moved meter per meter taking 30 minutes for about 50 meters trying to make the puppy move in the right direction by itself. We trained 4 puppies that day, one after another. The first one was terribly scared of everything. He panicked right in the beginning and if young dogs are really really scared their muscles get stiff. They can't move anymore. They are in shock. So the training was over before it could really start. The second puppy started well running a little bit, but was confused, too, and seemingly overstrained because of all that new impressions. He will need one or two other tries to start running properly. The last two puppies instead were unstoppable! The first 10 meters they marched to a different drummer, but then they fit perfectly in the team and just followed the other dogs. We went with them about 2 km before they were send back home. I was told that normally the team takes them out to run in the same constellation the 5 km trail after the first successful run. If it works without any problems they can be integrated in a complete team and start running short distances leaded by our guests. They learn fast, but it always depends a lot on the young dog's nature. Our first 2 puppies were a little bit spooky, whereas the last two ones weren't scared about anything and very very curious. The gender of the puppy is not telling anything about its attitude or braveness. It can happen that they start running directly the first time, but sometimes it takes much more tries. So far every new dog started running more or less as wished. 
Actually this experience was a good proof of the fact that this dogs are born to run- they really want it! Even the so far untrained youngsters start running with the other dogs after short time not being threatened, but shown patiently HOW and not that we want them to run. They run in any case...:)  If you get them to run with the team most of your work is done. Most of the things the puppy has to learn concerning the sledging it learns by doing it from and with the other yet proper sledging dogs. They learn fast and you can imagine soon which them brings the qualities a good leader is made of. One of the youngest dogs running on a front position is not even 2 years old (by the way, she is my absolute favourite..).
The only thing which could be problematic is the collar. They really don't like to be pulled at their collars. All of them started to fight against it before some of them got the point and understood that as far as they keep moving everything is fine and nothing is pulling them anymore. I don't know how one could explain it to the youngsters making this experience easier for them. I guess they just have to get it themselves, but my heart was bleeding for compassion seeing them fighting against the initially unloved collar.

Huskies are amazing dogs. Perfectly adapted to their living conditions they can brave a real winter feeling best when it is about - 20/-25 °C cold. The most funny attribute of their adaption are in my opinion their feet! Why? Even the sole of their foot is covered by long fur growing out of the space between the typical balls of paw protecting them. Some of them have such a thick fur under their paws that they don't even leave the recognizably typical dogs' footprints.

Miia's paw
Something else happened: famous, international known VIP's visited our farm and did a, especially for them arranged night Safari on Sunday evening (normally we don't have customers on Sunday at all...).
It was funny to observe the change in the team. We got to know who it was 2 hours before their arriving. Suddenly the relaxed happy hour atmosphere changed into wide awake excitement, tired faces started to glow and the most absurd stories and possible upshots of this trip were invented. We laughed a lot that evening imagining most embarrassing fauxpas to step in handling our famous guests. We had to prepare just one team, a work one or two persons could do easily, but in the end we have been 6 waiting for our stars who have been late. In the end two small, suntanned, young and pleasurable guests in ridiculously warm jackets found their way to the farm, entered the sledge and vanished in the night. They have been really friendly and shy, but really interested. And that was it!

the guest book
I guess North-Finland is one of the best places to make holidays if your face/voice and your story is well-known all over the world and you want to spend some undisturbed days. Since nobody lives here, nobody will disturb you. Based on my limited experience I can say that Finns are really calm people, who don't really seem to care about other people's private life and respect one's privacy. I was rarely asked about my family or background and it passed more than 2 weeks before people started to tell me more about themselves than their names. I tested carefully the reaction to questions about more intimate issues and noticed that you'd better don't ask. If people respect you and appreciate your presence they start to tell about themselves when they got to know you better. It takes time to warm up with the Finns, even though I've been always treated more then friendly and obliging since my very first days here. But one has to proof that one can be trusted.
In Italian surroundings I would know already a lot about my Italian team members life and family including most probably really intimate details.

The days are running and still every day offers new challenges and chances. My last week in nowadays melting icy wonderland has already started and will pass much to fast! 
But before I leave I will have the possibility to show what I have learned on a two days Safari with 5 Italian drivers and 30 dogs. I'm really looking forward to that nice trip and I'm glad and grateful that I've been chosen to assist the guide (my language skills might have been once again a convincing argument to offer me that great possibility, too-my hint to everyone: learning languages is never a waste of time!)


Knowledge of the day: Shit happens! And still every day some has to clean it up, even though the warm weather make it become a disgusting concern. I really don't want to imagine how that must be in summer...

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