Archive for April, 2010

Who Are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? Special Sled Dog Breeds

Who Are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? The Alaskan Husky and Village Dog

By Robert Forto, PhD

Are they purebreds or mongrels? What sets them apart from other dogs and enables them to work with man under brutal weather conditions? What sort of strange dog is it that yammers and yowls to be a part of a team, preferring to work or race than rest in a warm kennel?

Written pedigrees are not required to enter a sled dog race, nor does the dog have to be a northern breed, although a majority of dogs on the racing trail are related to working dogs of the North. These dogs have a strong instinct to pull. These dogs can be everything from an American Kennel Club registered Siberian Husky, a “one-quarter husky” mixed breed, or any variety in between.  These dogs can be Irish Setters, Walker Coonhounds or even a Border Collie. In search of an unbeatable dog team, dozens and dozens of cross-breedings, in-breedings and line breedings have been tried. Some breeders work within a recognized breed, seeking to refine that breed’s natural talents; others select the fastest and strongest or whatever dogs come to their attention, caring more about performance than good looks or a fancy pedigree.

Special Sled Dog Breeds

South of Alaska other dogs have been interbred to make up special sled dog breeds. Arthur Walden’s Chinooks, the Targhee Hounds of Idaho, and the Quebec Hounds of Canadian breeders are examples of these special racing dogs. The original Chinook’s ancestry is somewhat subdued in public relations mystery, but his offspring, many resulting in a breeding with a husky, served as credible sled dogs for Walden in eastern races during the 1920’s. Chinooks are still bred at a kennel in Maine, but most are sold to recreational mushers or strictly as pets.

The Targhee Hound was originally bred in Idaho, the result of a cross between a Stagehound and an Irish Setter. These were fast, sprint dogs who dominated the American Dog Derby held in Ashton, Idaho for years. They were also capable of hauling a sled full of mail after a blizzard. Targhee Hounds still appear on teams in the west, not only in their “pure” form but also as offspring of further cross-breedings.

The Quebec Hound, also called the Canadian Hound or the Canadian Greyhound is a name that describes the dogs resulting from the propensity of Canadians to breed a lot of sleek, racy-looking hounds into their northern sled dogs. These animals have short hair and long, strong legs. Their racing record is exceptional as evidenced by Emile St. Godard’s many victories in the 1920’s and through Emile Marlett’s top team of the 1930’s, to most of the Quebec teams of today. Quebec hounds race annually at the World Championships in Laconia, New Hampshire, placing well in the standings.

Tags: Robert Forto | Michele Forto | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works | Minnesota Dog Works

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Robert Forto is the training director of Denver Dog Works and a musher racing under the banner Team Ineka. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com

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K-9 Communication by Al Magaw

K-9 Communication

by Al Magaw

I think every dog owner has experienced incidents when their dog seems to know, without being told, when the owner is going to be doing something that the pet will be involved in. Much of this recognition can be put down to clues like a break in routine, body language, verbalization, etc.  There are times, though, when none of the above apply. Times like a Saturday morning when the owner gets up at the same hour as normal, puts on the same clothes as normal, goes through the same routine as they do the rest of the week, yet the dog is filled with excitement because they “know” they are going too. There has been no verbalization, no change in routine, yet the dog knows. How is this possible?  I’ve always wondered about this phenomena. I didn’t pursue this line of thought though, even when I was demonstrating how my dog would do tricks as I silently read a list of tricks scribbled on a scrap of paper. I did my best to not move my body, nor give any clue, even avoiding eye contact, but “Cylus” would reliably roll over, sit up, speak, etc., as I read what ever trick was written on the list. It made a great parlour trick to show off to friends and family, but it wasn’t until I got my little border collie, “Quick” that it dawned on me that this phenomenon of silent communication went much further than a parlour trick.

Many mushers have experienced having leaders that would go down the wrong trail, perhaps a dangerous one, no matter what command was being given. The common advice given is to keep your thoughts on the trail you want to be on, rather than the one you don’t. I’ve heard mushers claim that all they have to do is to picture in their mind what trail they want to travel without giving a command, and that’s where their “in tune” leader will go. Many obedience trainers will advise “picturing” the behavior you want from your dog, rather than fearing the behavior you don’t want.

To get back to “Quick”. Quick was a rescue from the pound. I’ve always admired the intelligence of the border collie, the dedication to the job they have, their alertness and awareness of what’s going on, but I had no expectations of what was going to happen with Quick. Quick assumed the job as caretaker of the kennel, a self imposed job that she has dutifully fulfilled for the past 13-years. She treats the kennel dogs as her charges, much as a dog like her would be expected to treat a herd of sheep. Not only does Quick do her best to keep order in the kennel, and does her best to help bring dogs from the kennel to the hook-up area,  she has brought loose dogs back to the truck when we were traveling. Quick never leaves the kennel to follow a team when we’re training at home.  When we return from a run, she goes up the side of the team with me as I give each dog a pet and a “good dog” for a job well done. Quick will nuzzle an ear as I give each dog a pet, as if she too was saying “good dog”. That is until we come to a dog that screwed up on the run. To me, once we are home, every dog is a “good dog” and they all get their pet, yet Quick will start to scold and nag that dog with a series of sharp yips and barks. How she knows what a dog did on the trail, I could only surmise. It took a friend of mine to point out the most remarkable thing about Quick and the sled dogs though. Occasionally, Quick will scold a dog on it’s way from the kennel to the hook-up area, and sure enough THAT dog will screw up during the run! That’s when I realized that dogs have a way of communicating well beyond mere words. Not only are they able to silently communicate complex things, they have an awareness of the future, and can make plans and follow through with those plans.

Some humans have admirable intuitions about people or events. Watching my dogs for all these years has made me wonder if what is commonly called “intuition” is a vestige of what animals do all the time, much as our tail bone is a vestige of a tail.

We would love to hear your comments regarding this article. Please let us know at live@dogdoctorradio.com

Tags: Al Magaw | Robert Forto | Michele Forto | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works | Minnesota Dog Works

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Al Magaw is a musher from Salmo BC. Al keeps a medium sized kennel of 20 – 45 alaskan huskies as well as several pet dogs of various breeds. Al has been training and racing for the last 33 years. Before becoming involved with sled dogs, Al, along with his family, kept and competed with horses for many years. Al can be reached through his website at http://www.spiritofthenorthkennels.com Al is a guest blogger for Denver Dog Works and can be reached through our website at http://www.denverdogworks.com

Who Are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? The Alaskan Husky and Village Dog

Who Are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? The Alaskan Husky and Village Dog

By Robert Forto, PhD

Are they purebreds or mongrels? What sets them apart from other dogs and enables them to work with man under brutal weather conditions? What sort of strange dog is it that yammers and yowls to be a part of a team, preferring to work or race than rest in a warm kennel?

Written pedigrees are not required to enter a sled dog race, nor does the dog have to be a northern breed, although a majority of dogs on the racing trail are related to working dogs of the North. These dogs have a strong instinct to pull. These dogs can be everything from an American Kennel Club registered Siberian Husky, a “one-quarter husky” mixed breed, or any variety in between.  These dogs can be Irish Setters, Walker Coonhounds or even a Border Collie. In search of an unbeatable dog team, dozens and dozens of cross-breedings, in-breedings and line breedings have been tried. Some breeders work within a recognized breed, seeking to refine that breed’s natural talents; others select the fastest and strongest or whatever dogs come to their attention, caring more about performance than good looks or a fancy pedigree.

Alaskan Husky and Village Dog

Mixed breeds ran the first sled dog races in Nome, Alaska, and today’s best teams are still made up of mixed breeds, although of a vastly different genetic composition.  The first racing sled dogs were “working animals first and racers second.” The Eskimos and Indians of Alaska had their natural breeds of sled dogs when the gold “stampeders” arrived in the last years of the 1800’s, but there were not enough dogs to support the thousands of men and women traveling around the territory.  As a result, large, strong dogs were brought from the lower 48 states, mixed in with the northern dogs, and the result was mongrel sled dogs like those of Scotty Allan. These were the dogs that won the early All-Alaska Sweepstakes races, but were rapidly replaced by the fast, more intelligent and more eager to please Siberian Huskies on the racing trails. Then as sled dog racing became popular and profitable in Alaska, drivers bred their working stock with the fastest native dogs they could find. These tough hybrids provided a speedy tenacity, and when interbred with the bigger Alaskan Malamute or the Mackenzie River Husky (the biggest of the natural sled dog breeds from Canada) produced a racing sled dog to suit most early competitors.

The most frequent canine winners of sled dog races today are Alaskan Huskies and another indigenous Alaskan marvel called the Village Dog. Neither of these types are purebreds but they are recognized as distinct nevertheless.  The Alaskan Husky is essentially a mixture of northern dogs, and would be called simply “husky” in Alaska. The Village or Indian Dog is the chief racing dog in Alaska and has been for many years. Basically a northern dog, but in his background is anything from domestic stock, to wolf, to whatever the interior villages of Alaska had around.

Alaskan Huskies, bred mainly by white men in the north, reveal their dominant arctic genes in their appearance; a nicely marked face, curled tail, pricked ears, and perhaps blue eyes. The larger of this type have been bred from Malamutes or Mackenzie River Huskies or even wolves. The smaller ones reflect their Siberian Husky or Samoyed background. Siberian-Malamute cross-breedings yield the most common Alaskan Huskies, but there can also be Eskimo or Greenland Husky, or any other northern breed mixed in. The average Alaskan Husky stands from 24 to 26 inches high, weighs between 50 and 70 pounds, and can be quite handsome. This breed is taller than the Siberian, lighter and rangier than the Malamute and stronger than almost any other bred on the snowy racing trail.

Ever since the mid-fifties when John Huntington surprised the racing world by winning the Dual Championship with a dog team from Huslia, Alaska, the dogs from that area have been deservedly famous for their racing abilities. Neither Huntington or George Attla can definitely pin down the origin of this village dog, but they are aware of variations from village to village. According to Attla, “the average production of good dogs in Huslia is much higher than any place I have been to. I have gone to a lot of places and gone through a lot of dogs, just buying dogs generally, but I still get my best percentage right in Huslia.” The Huslia strain shared with other Koyukuk River villages of Allakaket and Hughes, contains some hound, collie and Labrador Retriever, since that is what is in the village.  They are fast, strong sled dogs and have earned the title of “Huslia Hustler” for several of the local racers.

Efforts to keep track of sled dogs in their own registry are more popular in the lower 48 states than in Alaska. The Alaskan Husky Club provides a registry for the non-pedigreed Alaskan Husky and the International Sled Dog Racing Association has developed guidelines for registering sled dogs. Qualifications for dogs on these registries are based on performance, similar to the Border Collie registries for herding, and not on appearance. A dog’s ancestry becomes significant and valuable only when it can prove itself on the trail or as a producer of other good sled dogs.

Tags: Robert Forto | Michele Forto | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works | Minnesota Dog Works

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Robert Forto is the training director of Denver Dog Works and a musher racing under the banner Team Ineka. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com

Who Are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? Other Northern Breeds

Who are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? Other Northern Breeds

By Robert Forto, PhD

The Dogs

Who are these dogs that pull sleds?  Are they purebreds or mongrels? What sets them apart from other dogs and enables them to work with man under brutal weather conditions? What sort of strange dog is it that yammers and yowls to be a part of a team, preferring to work or race than rest in a warm kennel?

Written pedigrees are not required to enter a sled dog race, nor does the dog have to be a northern breed, although a majority of dogs on the racing trail are related to working dogs of the North. These dogs have a strong instinct to pull. These dogs can be everything from an American Kennel Club registered Siberian Husky, a “one-quarter husky” mixed breed, or any variety in between.  These dogs can be Irish Setters, Walker Coonhounds or even a Border Collie. In search of an unbeatable dog team, dozens and dozens of cross-breedings, in-breedings and line breedings have been tried. Some breeders work within a recognized breed, seeking to refine that breed’s natural talents; others select the fastest and strongest or whatever dogs come to their attention, caring more about performance than good looks or a fancy pedigree.

Other Northern Breeds

Other purebred Northern breeds have been used on dog teams, but mostly in Europe, include the Japanese Akita, the Norwegian Elkhound, the Finnish Spitz and the Canadian and Greenland Eskimo Dogs. Only the first three are recognized by the American Kennel Club, but all are recognized by other international kennel clubs such as the Canadian Kennel Club, Federation Cynologique Internationale, The United Kennel Club and The Swiss Club for Northern Dogs. The Akita is large for a racing sled dog, averaging 26 ½ inches and 85 to 110 pounds, but have a double coat, tough feet and a love to work that enables them to pull well in cold climates. The Akita is a versatile dog used for sentry duty, guiding the blind, protecting children and homes, hunting everything from bears to ducks and companionship. On the Northern Japanese Island of Hokkaidó the Akita is used for sled work. In Europe he has pulled in Scandinavian-style races and in California he has been trained in front of wheeled rigs for racing.

The Norwegian Elkhound resembles a small, stocky husky. At 20 ½ inches and 50 pounds he is smaller than the Siberian, and not as speedy over long distances. The Elkhound was bred in Norway for tracking and hunting. He is a bold, powerful, agile, fast, dignified, independent animal. He is amenable to intelligent training, serving as a popular “pulk” dog in Norway. The Finnish Spitz has been used as a sled dog, but more popular as a pet. The Canadian and Greenland Eskimo dogs are rarely seen on racing teams. Roald Amundsen took one hundred Greenland huskies with him on his successful South Pole expedition of 1910-12. Much to the expense of the dogs, many died along the expedition mostly due to lack of training and sometimes were even used as food for the explorers.

Next Week: The Alaskan Husky

Tags: Robert Forto | Michele Forto | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works

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Dr. Robert Forto is training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com

Who Are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? The Samyoed

Who are These Dogs That Pull Sleds? The Samyoed

By Robert Forto, PhD

The Dogs

Who are these dogs that pull sleds?  Are they purebreds or mongrels? What sets them apart from other dogs and enables them to work with man under brutal weather conditions? What sort of strange dog is it that yammers and yowls to be a part of a team, preferring to work or race than rest in a warm kennel?

Written pedigrees are not required to enter a sled dog race, nor does the dog have to be a northern breed, although a majority of dogs on the racing trail are related to working dogs of the North. These dogs have a strong instinct to pull. These dogs can be everything from an American Kennel Club registered Siberian Husky, a “one-quarter husky” mixed breed, or any variety in between.  These dogs can be Irish Setters, Walker Coonhounds or even a Border Collie. In search of an unbeatable dog team, dozens and dozens of cross-breedings, in-breedings and line breedings have been tried. Some breeders work within a recognized breed, seeking to refine that breed’s natural talents; others select the fastest and strongest or whatever dogs come to their attention, caring more about performance than good looks or a fancy pedigree.

The Samoyed

Less evident on the racing trails and the most striking when they are, are the Samoyeds. Pure white with dark eyes and curled, bushy tails, the “Sammy” is similar in size to the Siberian, but gives the impression of more hair per pound than any other sled dog.

Originally bred by the inland Siberian tribe called the Samoyed, the Samoyed dog served as a general-purpose work animal which hunted, drove reindeer herds and pulled loads at such times when reindeer could not be used. The dogs also acted as companions and watchdogs, and were used for both food and clothing.  It was said that a good dog was worth more than a wife to a Samoyed herdsman, and when British explorers first came across this amazing white dog it took all their bargaining talents to accomplish a trade.  In 1899 the first Samoyed dog was exported to Britain and from there his popularity has grown. Today’s Samoyed closely resembles the original sled dogs, for attempted improvements on such a dog as Moustau of Argenteau, the American Kennel Club’s first registered Samoyed in 1906, could have been to this natural breed’s detriment.

The best racing and working Samoyeds of recent times have been dogs of medium stature and structure, perhaps somewhat taller than the standard, which is 19 to 23 ½ inches at the shoulders but never exceptionally heavy in body or bone. The ideal working Samoyed ranges from 22 to 24 inches and weighs 42 to 55 pounds. Males have more “punch” and are ordinarily a more useful size for work, but smaller, racy females can certainly add to a racing team.

On the average, Samoyeds possess a more concerned personality than other Arctic breeds; they are capable of great loyalty and have a pronounced desire to please. They are somewhat more apt to stand up to pressure that is typical of a natural runner, and they often excel in less-than-perfect conditions, where other dogs lose heart. They have a natural stubbornness and a strong will which once tuned to the driver’s advantage will keep them working hard. Although most Samoyeds are not fast enough to compete in speed races against Siberians or Alaskans, the Samoyeds heart and loyalty make him an exceptional dog, and drivers of Sam teams will break no despairing comparisons with any other dog team.

Breed clubs, traditionally interested more in show or obedience activities, have begun to recognize racing teams or weight pulling accomplishments of purebred dogs. The Siberian Husky Club of America, The Malamute Club of America, or the Organization for Working Samoyeds, for example, seeks to reward those dogs, which excel at tasks they were originally bred for—pulling sleds.

Next Week: Other Northern Breeds

Tags: Robert Forto | Michele Forto | Iditarod | Team Ineka | Dog Training Denver | Dog Doctor Radio | Denver Dog Works | Mushing Radio | Duluth Dog Works

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Dr. Robert Forto is training for his first Iditarod under the Team Ineka banner. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com


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