Life of a dog musher: Lesson #1: Patience

To be a good dog musher one learns patience and how to be alone with oneself.

Right now, I am practicing patience on a daily basis as mother nature plays with my heartstrings. A week ago, my home in Willow, AK received a few inches of icy snow promptly followed by 24 hours of rain. Not only is this a nightmare to drive a car in, it is also very treacherous to run a dog team on.

The grossness that is Willow right now

The same thing that happens on the roads happens on the trails. The snow becomes glazed over with a thin layer of ice, turning the ground into a skating rink. These trail conditions can play havoc on a dog team for 2 main reasons. The first being the ice layer can be incredibly abrasive to the dogs’ feet. Normally I’d say put dog booties on to protect their feet from abrasive trail. BUT, in this case you run into problem number 2 which is that it is also slippery. Just like with people, the dogs can slip and hurt themselves, mostly in their shoulders and hips. So, it’s a catch-22. No matter what you do, you may hurt your dogs. In our case, we risked our dogs getting a little behind in training in favor of keeping them healthy, so we shut down training runs.

This leaves a lot of idle paws and hands. What do we do with all our free time now that our days aren’t filled with running dogs? Why we bundle dog booties and catch-up on kennel projects! The dog booties I refer to are cloth socks for the dogs that have elastic and Velcro on the top to secure them on the dogs’ paws. In order to be quick and efficient come race day, we bundle 4 booties together, using the elastic and Velcro to wrap around the top to tie the bundle together. We also put a little Gold Bond inside the bootie to reduce friction from the cloth on the dogs’ feet. After a week of no running, Magda, the lovely lady helping me train and care for the dogs this winter, and I have almost completed bundling 2,000 booties. All that is left is 200 XL boots, specially purchased for big man Cajun’s feet.

Dog box construction. One done. One on the way.

The other project I have been tackling in all this down time is building my trailer dog box. This will be how I transport the dogs to races this winter. It will also give us the ability to travel to better training grounds if the winter is cruel and our trails remain unpassable. The design of a trailer dog box is an open-faced wooden box with cubbies for each dog. There will be 2 boxes with 8 cubbies each plus a 3rd with 4 cubbies when I am done. These boxes will be secured inside an enclosed trailer that my friend Cheryl has been kind enough to lend me for the race season. We are designing these boxes to also serve as storage cubbies for when she goes salmon fishing in the summer. Alaskans love building things that are multi-purpose after all!

One beautiful dog box completed! This will fit 8 dogs. Each cubby will be filled with wood shavings for bedding.

While working on all these projects I am rotating groups of dogs in and out of the free-run pen. This allows the dogs to frolic around and play with each other on their weather enforced vacation. Thankfully the pen’s snow remains in good shape despite the rain and is still a safe area for the dogs to run around safely.

As I write this, the rain has begun to fall again. The light at the end of this dark tunnel remains just out of reach for now. Hopefully the current forecast of snow showers on Tuesday remain true and we will hit the trail again. Until then, please all think snow, pray snow, &/or do a little snow jig for us up here.

Happy Adventuring!


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