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Swanny 
Posted: 24-Aug-2006, 02:51 AM
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Monday, while still at work, I received an Email from a shelter volunteer describing three sled dogs that had been relinquished to the shelter due to a sudden, extremely serious illness in the family.

They are older dogs, but come from highly respected frieghting lines - and freighting lines are rapidly disappearing in Alaska and elsewhere. The description of the dogs sounded perfect for the kind of mushing I want to do, just touring through the woods, camping. Because I want to run small sized teams (six to eight dogs) and since speed is not an issue, I decided that larger, frieghting type dogs would be most efficient for me. The problem is that those big old-style freight dogs are becoming fairly rare even in Alaska, where the emphasis is on racing rather than general transportation, trap line work and hauling freight.

I stopped in at the shelter this morning. The first of these dogs that I saw was Sheenjek, one of Daisy's pups - a 7 year old who I swear is the most visually striking sled dog I've ever seen. Dogshirt, he's real similar to Lance Mackey's big leader Hobo only bigger. If you think of the dog you see in your mind's eye as you read Jack London's stories - that is Sheenjek. At 85 lb he would make two middle or long distance racing sled dogs, and outpull four of them though only at about half their speed. He is a leggy, sable colored dog that one could easily mistake for a wolf or wolf hybrid until you meet him, at which point his friendly temperament, brown eyes and impeccable manners prove that he is all dog, and a well trained and cared for dog at that. The moment our eyes met we "clicked" and there was no doubt he was coming home with me.

I then met Daisy, who is Sheenjek's dam. She's the 'older lady' of the group. Daisy is 9 years old, weighs in at about 80 lb, and is black & white. She is a bit stockier and shorter than Sheenjek, but she moves very nicely and has excellent conformation - decent teeth for a 9 year old, well developed musculature and the shocking ice-blue eyes of an old-style Siberian. When you look into those eyes there is no doubt that she is a very intelligent, thinking dog quite capable of making her own decisions, thank you.

On meeting she is a bit more reserved than her 'son' but not at all shy. Once she's decided that you are okay and warms up to you she is tremendously easy to handle. I gave her a very thorough going over and it didn't bother her in the least. Best of all, she is a proven finished leader - not just a finished leader mind you - but loves to run single lead and even skijor. Although an older dog she seems to be in excellent health.

The third dog from this kennel is Blackie - Skeenjek's sibling. Now, if I saw Blackie on someone else's team I would probably respond "cool dog", but we didn't have any chemistry or attraction between us at all. We just didn't quite "click".

So, Daisy and Sheenjek are coming to my house in the morning and I count myself incredibly lucky to have been steered their direction. Dogshirt would probably agree that you just don't find good older leaders in rescues or shelters - because everyone seeks them out to help train their younger dogs. I asked the shelter to hold them over night so I could set up the yard for them, and then busted my butt much of the afternoon and well into the evening to build houses and set up swivel tethers for them.

I feel badly for their former owners, though. Someone has clearly put a lot of time, skill and work into breeding and training these dogs. I can't imagine having to give up my dogs for any reason - and it must have been an agonizing decision to do so.

Swanny


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Stardancer Historical Freight Dogs, Two Rivers, Alaska.

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stoirmeil 
Posted: 24-Aug-2006, 10:56 AM
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They sound great. Sounds like you and the two dogs all had a lucky day. It really is a shame that their old owners couldn't keep them. What's going to happen with the other one, Blackie, do you think?
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Swanny 
Posted: 24-Aug-2006, 04:42 PM
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I really don't know for sure what will happen to Blackie. Word of his availability is being spread on several of the mushing Email lists and message boards and Carol Kleckner has taken a personal interest in making sure he gets rehomed, so I imagine he'll be just fine. If nothing else the Second Chance League may pull him from the shelter to prevent euthanization, and then place him at their convenience.

Meanwhile, Daisy and Sheenyek came home today. As I took them over to their new digs, the and "the boys" barked at each other for about 30 seconds, everyone touched noses, and then they all settled right in.

Daisy showed me a really interesting behavior that I know had to be trained. As we were loading her into a vari-kennel in my truck she got a bit freaked and slipped her collar. The moment her collar pulled free she dropped into a down-stay. That HAD to be trained, and I'm sure took a lot of skill and time to do so.

I've posted some pics of these guys on my website, you can see 'em at http://www.norwestcompany.com/swanny/Daisy...%20Sheenyek.htm. They are shedding their summer coats already so they look a bit rough. The green ears are from their brand new identification tatoos.

Swanny
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stoirmeil 
Posted: 24-Aug-2006, 05:09 PM
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Beautiful, both of them. You're right -- she looks very shapely and perfectly balanced on her legs, and he's going to look just like a big wolf when he bushes out with his winter coat. They have a wonderful alert, cooperative look, too, just like you said -- well trained and well treated. I'm glad the other brother is going to be placed eventually. It must be some comfort to their old owners to know the dogs are going to keep working and living well.

It sounds like they got accustomed to your other animals really quickly. I don't know how working dogs are about attachment -- will they miss their old team mates and their people?

I know bigger dogs typically live fewer years than smaller ones -- what is an average life span for dogs like this? Neither one of them looks really "senior."
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Swanny 
Posted: 24-Aug-2006, 09:02 PM
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Some very interesting studies have been done on the various north breeds the past few years by some incredibly bright people. It helps that some of those bright academians happen to run sled dogs.

Among the things they've found is that Northern breeds tend to be demonstrate considerably less dog-directed aggression and less dog-directed fearfulness than most other breeds (I'm quoting Serpell's CBARQ studies here). They also tend to demonstrate a bit more stranger-directed fearfulness than do most other types or breeds. Musher's refer to many dogs as being "shy", but that "shy" behavior is considered to indicate mild fearfulness by professional behaviorists.

I saw some of that in Daisy this afternoon. One of my mushing mentors came over to check out the new dogs. Daisy shied well away from him at first, but very quickly warmed up to him. She was much the same way with me when I met her at the shelter.

I am truly amazed by their temperament. I have the privilege of working with quite a few sled dogs from three and sometimes four different kennels and these two definately score very, very high for 'good manners'. I imagine that is something that is intentionally bred for and trained at Denali, as their dogs meet lots of visitors every summer and the last thing NPS needs is a tourist being bitten or even severely frightened.

Oh, and I learned this afternoon that they sing beautifully, along with Chinook. Seamus still has a bit of a barky, puppy voice but he tries his best to join in the song.

How long-lived? That's a good question, and I can't honestly say I know when it comes to these big freight types. I do know that one of the dogs I ran last winter, Lacy, is fourteen years old and still loving it. Two other dogs that I know, Ice and Pinky, are both twelve year olds and are still reasonably compeitive in 8-dog sprint races. This year they will be running in the AARP class in the Anamaet Challenge Series.

Maybe Dogshirt knows more about the lifespan of these larger freight dogs.

Swanny
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DesertRose 
Posted: 25-Aug-2006, 08:05 AM
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Hello Swanny, the sled dogs are absolutely magnificent looking! How lucky are you to be able to rescue them and put them to work! I so love stories such as this. Keep us posted on how they are all doing? How many dogs do you have now? wish I could be there to love on them all!


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Swanny 
Posted: 25-Aug-2006, 10:10 AM
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This makes a total of four in my yard, Chinook (St. Bernard / Alaskan husky mix), Seamus (Anatolian / Alaskan husky mix) and these two new ones. All were rescued from the shelter and are in about the same size range. Seamus is an excellent wheel / team dog. Chinook is an awesome weight-puller but I've not tried running him with a team. Once I know what these guys will do I'll consider putting "the big guy" on the line as well to see what he's got.

I need to take some current photos of Chinook and Seamus and get them posted.
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DesertRose 
Posted: 25-Aug-2006, 10:19 AM
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Oh I am sooooooooooooo excited, Swanny! Anytime anyone takes in rescue dogs, I just melt. What a wonderful heart you have to save dogs. I am very anxious to see photos of them. I may change my signature to a photo of my doggies. I have been taking a lot of photos of them lately.

Really cool names you have for your dogs. I love it! wish I was up there to hug them all! Thanks Swanny and keep us posted!
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Swanny 
Posted: 25-Aug-2006, 04:54 PM
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Thanks Rose. These guys truly are magnificent sled dogs, but they are sled dogs none the less. Sheenjek (named after the Sheenjek wild and scenic river) is a house-tipper and Daisy is a digger. I'm grinning because although house tipping is a bit unsual and quirky, it's not unheard of and digging is just one of the things that Alaskan huskies, regardless of their bloodlines, do.

Actually, I think she and Seamus are in cahoots and she is trying to dig him an escape tunnel.

Here's a training tip for those with diggers. Digging is instinctive, genetic behavior and with repetition it quickly becomes ingrained. It's not a behavior that is easily extinguished, but it can be directed by training the dog to dig only in "approved" areas. If your dog digs where you don't want him to, fill in the hole burying one of his turds just under the surface. The dog won't dig in that spot any longer - but be sure he has someplace else because he will dig, just not right there.

There was some confusion about the big boy's name but I was contacted by someone who knows the original owner, and I'm assured it is actually "Sheenjek", named after the Sheenjek Wild and Scenic River.

S
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Dogshirt 
Posted: 25-Aug-2006, 05:37 PM
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I WISH some of mine only tipped the house! I have house EATERS. At first I thought it was boredom, but even in training they eat them. I've had dogs that go through 2-3 houses a year! The LAST thing I want to do after building all week is go home and build dog houses! dry.gif


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Irish Stepper 
Posted: 26-Aug-2006, 06:08 PM
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laugh.gif Both of my Sibe's eat dog houses too. Both wooden and plastic. Actually, come to think of it, they'll eat just about anything they can sink their teeth into. I have a fenced yard plus an invisible fence barrier, so they can run loose in the yard and I don't bother with dog houses anymore. When they're not outside, I keep them kennelled in the laundry room in my basement. It's nice a cool down there, and during this time of year, they prefer to be inside. But as soon as it starts getting cold, I have to bribe them to come in. rolleyes.gif


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Swanny 
Posted: 26-Aug-2006, 09:44 PM
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During winter Chinook (St. Bernard / Alaskan husky mix) can't stand to be inside for more than a couple of hours at a time. When he is fully in winter prime he has such a thick coat that you would swear he is grossly obese until you run your finger through his fur and count ribs. I imagine your Sibes probably have equally plush coats and just feel uncomfortably hot when they are inside.

So far I haven't seen any tooth marks on either SheenJek's or Daisy's houses, so I may luck out here. Actually, I have seen very little in the way of common unwanted sled dog behaviors, other than recreational house tipping and digging - and those really don't bother me at all. It's a minor inconvenience to fill in holes and put the darned
doghouse back into place. Much better than having to replace houses two or three times per year. Plywood is getting to be stinkin' expensive and time is valuable as well.

I'd bet dollars to donuts that Daisy and Sheenjek have probably never been inside a human house in their lives. I'll introduce them to the house once they are well settled, and make it a special event by ensureing they find lots of goodies to eat and toys to play with. A lot of mushers rotate dogs into the human house and they report than if a dog does get loose in their yards they will almost always run straight to the door and beg to be let inside. That makes me think that it is probably a smart training practice.


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Irish Stepper 
Posted: 27-Aug-2006, 02:41 PM
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I wish that would happen with mine! My male sibe got loose one day when his collar was dead and I didn't know it. He's a fence climber, so he was out for a couple hours and I wasn't even aware of it. A lady called me saying she had my dog and she gave me directions to her house. He was about 4 miles away! laugh.gif

I'm just glad he wasn't hit by a car or anything. rolleyes.gif
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Swanny 
Posted: 27-Aug-2006, 11:14 PM
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Chinook is the worst escape artist in my kennel. I sometimes refer to him as my St. Bernard / Fence Jumper mix who takes after his father, the fence jumper.

At less than one year of age he was able to clear a six foot fence flat footed - and was caught doing so. I modified the fence to stop that behavior, and he dug under it. I buried galvanized hardwire cloth all the way around the fence to stop that behavior, and he chewed through the fence. I put him on a chain with double swivels so it wouldn't tangle, and he figured out how to force the gate on the snap against his doghouse door to open it up.

Last year I swapped out the original kennel fence with nice chain link fencing panels, and he hasn't left the yard since. He could clear it as easily as he did the original, but for some reason he has never tried.

Seamus is tough on hardware. I board my dogs with a mushing friend while I'm at work and over in Mike's yard Seamus has broken two or three chains, bent a swivel post, broke one of those expensive Swiss snap swivels that truly are the best made in the world, and most recently broke the "O" ring on his Taiga brand neck collar. Mike has been running dogs ever since the animals were first domesticated (well, almost that long) and says he has never seen nor heard of that happening before, but he handed me the broken "O" ring as proof.

Fortunately, he never goes very far, just visits all the other dogs in the kennel, eats the pet dog's food on the porch and as soon as he can dash through a doorway harasses the cat and eats the cat's food.

Seamus is just a monstrous strong dog and I'm really looking forward to putting him beside Sheenjek at wheel. I'm pretty confident that the sled will move in whatever direction they choose to pull it.

I was given a freighting harness by a lady who used to run Malamutes, so decided it was time to fit the new dogs this evening. That huge frieght harness fits Sheenjek perfectly, so he's good to go. A medium ManMat freight harness that fits Seamus just fine is way too tight on Daisy's neck, so she'll have to go into a large, if I can find one. I may have to order it from Outside.

When I came into the yard carrying harnesses the new dogs practically jumped out of their skins to get into them. Both of them practically harness themselves. They are anxious to get out and run and I'm going to try to get them on the trail with the fourwheeler before the end of this week.

Swanny
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Irish Stepper 
Posted: 01-Sep-2006, 10:01 PM
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I wish I could get my sibes into a harness and see what they can do. Obviously, Maryland isn't the best place to do this. There's no where to run 'em, and I don't want to harness them up by themselves since they've never done it before. I'd love to get them in with another team first so they can figure out how to do it first. I even have the harnesses and lines...just nothing to hook them up to, and no where to run em. unsure.gif Not to mention, no experience on my part! wink.gif
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