About the Sled Dogs
At Bear Necessities, we run Alaskan huskies which are a working breed dog that are bred with their athletic ability in mind and not on a "breed standard" that demands a cookie cutter appearance. Each dog is very unique with their own personality and appearance, but all love to RUN!
Life revolves around the dogs at a sled dog kennel. In the morning, the humans get up to feed their furry 4-legged partners. Then the rest of the morning can be spent cleaning up after them, cutting meat to feed them in upcoming meals or for trail snacks, filling their houses with fresh straw (generally they get new straw every 2 weeks to a month depending on the weather), trimming toenails, brushing blowing coats (huskies have lots of fur and they like to SHED!), and taking care of their health needs. After the dogs are cared for and we are caught up on kennel chores, then the fun begins for us and the dogs. It's time to RUN! As soon as the harnesses come out of the barn and the sled and gangline set up in the outbound trail the dogs go crazy; they are ready to GO! The length of runs varies day-to-day. We train similarly to human marathon runners. To learn more about our training program visit here. Once we return from the run, the dogs either get a snack or their dinner depending on how long the run and when we return. After the dogs are fed and cared for, then the humans get to take care of themselves. On days where we ran a long or tough run or it is really cold outside (think 20 below or colder), the dogs come inside a specially built barn to allow them to relax and rest easy after a long day of work.
We breed our own dogs, selecting carefully who to breed based on their performance and their lineage (who their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were and what they did). Once the puppies are born, the fun begins! We begin handling and getting the puppies used to human touch and scent right away. Puppyhood is the foundation for the rest of their life, so we keep everything as positive as possible so that as the puppy grows they can face new challenges and situations confidently without fear.
The puppies begin venturing out of their birthing box to explore the world around them at several weeks of age and as they grow more confident of the world outside, we take mom and pups on daily mini walks. As they grow older the walks get longer and we teach them to come when called (that's a hard one for husky puppies!), to sit, to not bite, to not fight, and to be friendly in play. Eventually the walks turn into free runs where the human rides on a snow machine or 4-wheeler in order to keep up.
Around 6-8 months of age, we begin introducing harnesses to the pups. At first they just wear the harness on the free runs and get used to the feel of it on their body and they learn not to chew the harness. Then we progress to clipping a leash to the harness and having them pull us around. Teaching them to pull is not a problem, they tend to think we are moving too slow and that going in a straight line down the trail is boring. We continue these training walks until the first snowfall of the winter or about the time they turn 10 months of age at which point they go for their first run.
This is an exciting day for all involved. We hook up 4 adult dogs and then a puppy very last in wheel and go for a short, slow run, stopping every 100 yards. Throughout their first winter the puppies learn basic commands like go and stop ("alright" and "whoa") and gangline etiquette (no chewing, how to stay on their side, and how to get themselves untangled after their puppy antics). On days they don't go on a run, they tend to spend romping with their siblings in the free run pen enjoying puppyhood.
After their first winter learning the basics, the pups graduate to Yearling status. Mentally they are still immature, but they are starting to grow and fill out into their adult body. Training run lengths increase and the yearlings learn more difficult lessons, such as how to pace themselves and increase their endurance, how to maintain a consistent pace, how to pull efficiently uphill, how to work as a team, and how to rest on camping trips. These lessons continue into their second year as well. These yearlings and 2-year olds form the younger, adolescent team. Amongst this group, an individual dog matures at different rates and we don't expect their best yet.
At 3 years of age up to 9 years, adult dogs try out for the main race team and train all winter long generally in groups of 12-dog teams. These dogs are the best of the best and compete in shorter mid-distance races throughout the winter as well as Iditarod in March. They are driven, smart, and efficient as a team. The smartest and most driven dogs take up the lead dog position, generally with a partner. About half of the dogs in the kennel can run up front and in training we rotate our leaders on a daily basis to allow them all to gain valuable experience up front so that come race day they are confident and able to lead through all obstacles and all trail conditions.
On days that the dogs aren’t running and not taking an RNR day, we will put them in the free run pen to romp and to simply be happy-go-lucky dogs. Training runs from October through March. After Iditarod, we spend the spring just going out for short fun runs with dogs until the snow turns too rotten to run on. Then in May, all the dogs spend 3 days travelling to Juneau in Southeast Alaska to spend their summer on the Juneau Icefield giving tours to people excited to see the world of Alaskan sled dogs and mushing. This allows the dogs to stay fit through the summer and spend it in a cooler environment to enable them to continue running.
Generally, around the age of 9 to 10 the dogs begin to age out of running with the younger more competitive dogs. They still want to run and be a part of the team, they just can’t keep up with the race team anymore, so we place them on the adolescent team to help train the youngsters. We also put any dog on the race team that can’t quite make the main string year-after-year back on the youngster team.
As a competitive racing kennel, unfortunately all the dogs can’t live out their days at the kennel and be given all the attention they deserve, so the older dogs unable to help with the younger teams will get retired to pet homes or recreational kennels. The same goes for younger dogs that aren’t fitting in with the team or don’t have a desire to be a competitive race dog.