Tips and Philosophy

Things to consider before you decide to become a musher

Caring for a dog as a pet is a commitment that is a significant part of your life. Caring for and conditioning a team of competetive working sled dogs is your life.

Time Constraints

The following are estimates of time needed for training, conditioning and caring for a ten dog middle distance team. The assumptions are a 22 week training and racing season, 1000 miles conditioning and running four days per week averaging 11 miles an hour. Furthermore, dog yard is scooped once daily and dogs are fed twice daily.

  • Time spent running dogs:  5hrs/week avg. 3hrs Oct.-Nov. 10hrs. Dec-Feb.
  • Hooking and unhooking team: 2.7hrs/week
  • Scooping dog yard: 2.3hrs/week
  • Feeding: 4.6hrs/week
  • Trimming toe nails (once a month): .5hrs/week
  • Changing dog bedding (once a week): .5hrs/week
  • Shots and deworming: .4hrs/week
  • Petting Dogs: endless

Total Hours/week: 16hrs/week avg. Higher in Months of Dec, Jan and Feb.

Other time considerations:

  • Having to truck dogs to run: ?
  • Grooming trails after heavy Snow: ?
  • Trips to the vet: ?
  • Time traveling to procure feed (meat and dry dog food): ?
  • Packing for race trips: 4hrs/race

Cost

Estimates are based on $1.00/day per dog for feeding and care.

Feeding and care of ten dogs: $3650/year

Buying 10 good dogs ($900/dog over 6 years): $1,500/year

*Many large kennels will make package deals on groups of yearlings. A well bred dog that is properly trained and cared for will be able to race competetively from ages 2-7. One could buy proven retired females and raise dogs but time factors and cost will go up.

Equipment

  • Dog Sled with sled bag (one time purchase over 6yrs): (price range $500-
  • $2,500) $250 year
  • Sled runners (uhmw plastic): $160/year
  • Gangline (10 dog): $120/year
  • Snub line: $40/year
  • Snow hook (2 over 6 years): $33/year
  • ATV or cart (over 6 years): (price range $1,200-$6,000)   $500/year
  • Snow mobile (over 6 years): (price range $2,000-$6,000) $600/year
  • Truck or Trailer with dog box (Truck /Trailer ? Dog Box: $1,200 over 6
  • years):  $200/year
  • Dog houses ($40 each over 5 years): $80/year
  • Stake out post and chain ($25.00 over 5 years): $50/year
  • Feeding dishes: $15/year
  • Harnesses ($22.50/harness over 3 years): $75/year
  • Dog collars ($3 over 3 years): $10/year
  • Dog Booties (500): $425/year

Thoughts on Training and Conditioning

Training

“Calm and focused” is the training theme at Holmberg Racing Sled Dogs Kennel. There should be nothing more embarassing than being dragged down the trail while dangling precariously from an overturned sled and screaming “WHOA” at the top of your lungs to your out of control team.  It is the equivalent of arguing with an adolescent.

Hooking up strings of dogs is stressful especially on race day.  There is no need to add to the pandamonium by allowing your well bred high-dollar athletes to behave like backyard bred, dumpster-diving, mongrels from the inner city.

If you are worried about souring or taking the edge off the team…don’t be. Remember,  you can’t ruin a good dog, only marginal ones.  If you can’t train and/or appropriately discipline a dog and have it be happy for having been so trained, then you need to get out the books.

In The Dog Yard

When a dog gets off its stake out, it is quite common in most lots that total chaos occurs that can be heard from miles away.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a command that restores order so that you can think and communicate effectively? The good news is there is such a command…”QUIET”!  Other ways to combat the fever pitch that erupts when things out of the ordinary happen is to make those things ordinary.  Let the pups run rampant through the runs of the big dogs. Turn adult dogs loose on a regular basis.  If you are worried about dog fights, make sure that you win every one of them!  If fighting is allowed, by all means get rid of your dogs.  It’s apparent that you haven’t the time to properly care for and train your dogs.  The same goes for feeding time.  The dogs should wait patiently for their feed and water not screaming and flying around like a bunch of pirahna.

Much time is spent in the dog yard.  Scooping should not be a fight to get around the dogs’ circle…dodging paws and heads of skyward bound dogs.  Each time you scoop, wait to pet the dog until you are done with his/her circle then the dog will learn to stay out of your way until you are finished.  It is nice to train the dogs to put their forepaws up on the dog house in order to get petted.  When all the chores are done, it’s a great time to get some quiet time with each individual dog.  As you go around the yard petting them, be sure to rough up the fur under the collar to help avoid collar burns and use this time to also assess the health of each dog.  This is a great way to bond with your dogs in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere before turning in for the night.

Dogs that have their social and physical needs met don’t howl that often.  If the yard is noisy at night, it’s usually time to change the bedding in their houses.

Conditioning

This is by far the best part of having sled dogs, getting to run them.  It should be fun and relaxing not stressing and tiring.

The Hook Up

The first runs of the fall season are quite insane in most yards.  The dogs are all running wide open in their circles riquecheting off of everything that comes near.  Chains and snaps that haven’t been tested in a few months are being broken by lunging dogs.  Wood posts might even break.  If you have been diligent about being the boss than this is not the case for you.  Your ATV or cart is snubbed off and the gang line is stretched out with the harnesses of respective dogs in their place in line.  You calmly walk over to the dog you want to hook up first, where he is sitting patiently wagging his/her tail.  You reach down, undo the snap and walk to the gangline with your buddy making little circles around you or he has already made his way to the gangline.  The dog is harnessed and plugged into line and the motion is repeated until your team is up and ready.  Nobody is banging like an idiot and chewing on lines or more importantly, on their partner.  You return to the cart or quad with a few dogs looking at you for the command.  You say “ready” and everyone squares up.  After a pause, you give the go ahead “hike” and feel a whiplash  jerk forward.

On The Trail

The dogs are leaning into their harnesses and everybody is moving forward.

Nobody is pulling out or is under the line pushing ontheir partner.  This is because you have spent time training these guys and they know their job and their place in the team.  After a bit, maybe after a 1/4 of the run, you stop and spread out the bowls and everybody gets a shot of fresh water.  You could use a puddle but you want to take the time to reinforce the “no dragging me down the trail” end of the deal.  Besides, Giardia equates to Panacur and Panacur equates to $$$$….many of them.  All the dogs stay lined out, not a soul is jumping back and forth over the dog next to them.  The males aren’t pulling the procession off the trail to “lay down some territory”.  If they are “laying down territory” when you stop the team, then be warned come race day as a guy is going to pass you by early in the race (because he hasn’t the sense to rate his dogs) and you are going to have one heck of a tangle! More than likely, the guy is going to be screaming like an idiot which will only compound the situation.  So, be ready when I come up on you early in the run!  Back to the run…  After the bowls are liesurely picked up and put away, you resume your position at the helm of the team.  You wait at least 30 seconds before you give the “ready” cue and pause some more before you give the pull comand “hike”.  A bit later, you stop just to give all the dogs a good petting and to switch dogs to the other side of the gangline .  Since they were pups you have trained them in this manner, to run on either side of the gangline, so that they are all capable of “getting on the tug” whether pulling from the left or right side.

The conditioning of the working sled dog is simple. They are either capable of more than you think they are or are capable of less than you think they are. Our opinion is that they are bred for work and should be allowed to do just that.

The fall is about busting butt. If the engine of the atv is on it is so that the dogs can pull against the gear. Other than that the motor is off. When I come to a hill and it apears as though the dogs may not be able to get us up and over I get off and do a bit of running. Later in the season, just before we get on the sled, I will spend some time loping them up the hills with the aid of the throttle. Don’t worry about slowing down your team. Good dogs will go fast when they get the opportunity.

Length and frequency of runs are a simple matter as well. If by January you don’t have to drag yourself out of the house to go run the team then you have not trained enough. If by January you have to drag your dogs out of their houses to go for a run then you have trained too much.