We have a new family member!
Of course, it’s a dog! A real sled dog.
Who would have thought that?! ?
He is a male, his name is Diego and is now 15 weeks old.
We hadn’t planned to bring a new puppy into the kennel right now.
But when does it go the way you plan it …?
Ok, let’s start from the beginning. A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if we can take over a puppy. My first reaction was: “No, not now when everything is so uncertain. We do not even know how next year will look like.” But I could not help asking about his pedigree and a few pictures.
Why was Diego looking for a new home?
Our friend Piita has been working with sled dogs in tourism for many years. She had planned a litter with her main lead dog in spring – 7 males and one female were born. She wanted to keep all the dogs. But this year she has no place in the kennel for so many males. It is easier at her place when the ratio of males and females is quite similar. Accommodation in the kennels as “couples” is easier. Now there were so many males that she could not keep them all. So she looked for a new home for two of them.
The pedigree looked promising at first glance and the pictures of cute little Diego where not helping either ?
“We have enough space at the moment.” I thought to myself. Unfortunately, three of our seniors had passed away in the last few months and there are free dog houses and kennels. The dog food is also secured for Diego for the coming months.
I told Johanna about Diego and my thoughts, but she had a different opinion. She was absolutely against it. “Now a new dog? Taking responsibility and extra work for a puppy in such uncertain times? That does not make any sense. “, she thought.
I took her objection to heart and asked myself why I was so taken with this little puppy. I also liked Diego’s pedigree very much at the second glance. His background showed that he came from a sled dog line that featured a dog named Scotty.
I must explain a little…
Two special dogs
In recent years, while researching sled dogs and their pedigree, I have come across dogs that I particularly liked. Some convinced with their athletic physique and others with their mental strength. Two of my own dogs in particular played an important role: Dino and Loop. Both were good lead dogs and mentally very strong. In my research on her family trees I found a connection to this same Scotty.
Scotty was an outstanding lead dog of Goerge Attla, an icon of dog sledding in Alaska in the 1980s. Mona’s father (an “old musher”) gave me a book in which Scotty was mentioned. The book is an old classic about training sled dogs (Speed mushing manual). Although it is many decades old and focused on sprint dogs, there is a lot of information which is still very current today, also for longdistance dogs. In any case, I got a reminder through the book – I want to find more dogs with Scotty in the background.
Dino and Loop were special dogs. I had a deep bond with both and could rely on them 100 percent. It was like we always had the same goal, and they were happy to take their share of the responsibility happily and their job seriously. Mentally they were incredibly strong, confident, and independent. They would have done anything for me as I did for them. It felt like I had earned their trust. They were often stubborn and headstrong, they never got tired mentally.
Dino – a stubborn leader dog
Dino was a special dog. He came to us in 2010. We had 4 sled dogs and wanted to build a small racing team at that time. Micha, also a Scandinavian fan from Germany who lives in Sweden, knew about it and made contact with Mona. She was looking for a new home for Dino. He came from a kennel where they worked with sled dog tours for tourists, but also drove sled dog races. Dino was “sorted out” there and Mona agreed to take him. But she soon realized that Dino was not always happy with her lifestyle. She lived partly in Sweden and partly in Germany. And just this change of location and the sometimes quite lively environment in populated Germany were often too much for Dino. She hoped to find someone with whom he could relax.
I honestly was not thrilled when we first met Dino. He was incredibly jumpy, very insecure with people, very tall, very long, very short fur … Not at all like I imagined a long-distance sled dog to be. I did not see his future at our kennel.
Dino, however, had another idea. He was immediately enthusiastic about me and our little kennel. Shortly after his arrival he walked into the free kennel and lay down in the doghouse. With a satisfied sigh and completely relaxed, as if he has always been part of it. Mona was very surprised by his behavior and I was also taken by surprise. The signs were clear. Dino moved in with us. He had decided and made it more than clear to us.
And the best teacher
At the time, I did not know that he would become my most loyal companion and first real lead dog. Rather quickly I realized that we had a very special relationship. I could always rely on him. He was a wonderful lead dog. No matter when, where, how – Dino always had both ears in my direction and carried out the commands immediately.
I still remember how Johanna wanted to do a little tour a few years ago but didn’t really know the way. I told her to take Dino as her lead dog, then it’s no problem. He knows the way. She started with 6 dogs, Dino in the lead. I was very surprised when Johanna was back shortly after she left. The round would have been much longer.
I went out to see her. Johanna shook her head and said: “He’s probably only a lead dog for you!” After a few kilometers, Dino had simply brought the team to a stop and refused to run any further. In front of them was the trail across the swamp, lightly covered with fresh snow. He would never have stopped with me at this point or would have refused! Johanna had made a few more attempts to continue the tour. But without success. Only when she told him to turn around did he jump up, turned the whole team, and ran home enthusiastically. To me ?
As he got older, he loved to sleep on the sofa. His all-time favorites were squeaky toys that he went crazy on. As a puppy educator, he was not relly suitable, because he was a little too “clear” in his prohibitions. We would better not give him small puppies to look after. The other dogs also became too fast and wild for him in old age.
Since he could no longer see so well, he was often tense when other dogs were playing free. Therefore, he had become a house dog in recent years and only had to share his sofa with our actual house dog Leo in his senior years.
Diego and Dino are related
Diego’s family tree shows that Dino’s father is Diego’s great-grandfather. That in combination with the ancestry of Scotty felt just great. And a bit as if Dino was with us again….
Everything inside of me screamed: “Yes! I want Diego! “
However, a few more arguments were needed to convince Johanna. But I was prepared ? We would get Diego in exchange for a future pairing. I had already worked it out with Piita, the owner. We would take Diego in with us without having to pay anything. In return, Piita can mate one of her females with one of our males in the coming years.
I also explained the worry about the financial future to Piita and she immediately offered that she would take Diego back in an emergency. If we could no longer finance the dogs, which hopefully never happens, he would have a place. Why Piita thought of us when looking for a new home for Diego is primarily because we have a similar philosophy about dog care. And after a short while talking about Diego, Piita and I noticed that we have the same vision. We would like to see Diego cross the finish line at the longest European dog sled race, the Finnmarkslöpet.
I can already see it in front of me: Diego! As the lead dog, he runs proudly, with his head held high, and leads the team confidently across the finish line. You can literally see that he has the trust of the whole team. And behind me – on the sledge with a big grin.
And I already know exactly what I will say to Johanna … ?
It was clear: Diego will be part of my team and part of our family. And Johanna will surely take him into her heart very soon, I am quite sure about that.
But why are these dog characteristics so important to me? Why do I want one – preferable several ? – stubborn, independent lead dogs?
Because I have a goal!
My big goal is to take part in the longest dog sled race in Europe, the Finnmarkslöpet, with my dogs and to cross the finish line with a healthy, motivated team and a good placement. Gladly with Diego as lead dog ?
INFO BOX Finnmarkslöpet
- Longest dog sled race in Europe
- 1200 km long
- 10 checkpoints
- More information on the current website about the race https://www.finnmarkslopet.no/
In the last few years my and our focus has been on exactly this goal. Work, life, house, farm, kennel – we have tailored everything to it. One puzzle piece after the other came into place. One of them was our first large own breeding. In 2018 our 16 puppies were born, the future team!
Everything was planned and the preparations were in full swing. 2020 should be the year in which we should move from the planning phase to practical preparation. A lot of training and the first test races lay ahead of us. We would not have driven the Finnmarkslöpet in March 2021, but other smaller races to train the young dogs mentally.
In 2020, Corona changed a lot. Suddenly, motivated, goal-oriented future planning turned into an acute, threatening existential fear. The loss of our financial basis made our dream a long way off. The fear of losing the dogs completely absorbed me. But it was precisely this fear that resolved my first paralysis. I knew what to do. Put everything in motion to keep the dogs!
And now, exhausting, and busy months later, the dogs are still here! Thanks to wonderful people, we were able to solve the first acute situation. Even if the sword of Damocles hovers over us, we have found ways to ease the financial situation a little. By sponsoring the dogs, donating food and money, t-shirt design campaigns, jobs in forestry and our very frugal lifestyle, we can sleep more peacefully again. The dogs are still here! With all their energy.
The dogs are not particularly interested in Corona. They want their daily attention, want to be fed several times a day and run, pull, and play regularly.
The conditions for us have changed – not for the dogs. They are sled dogs – whether before, during or after Corona. They will always love to run happy and healthy down the trail.
What makes the sled dog so special?
Sled dogs are just incredible. Alaskan Huskies are THE ultimate ultra-marathon runners. They were bred for their athletic characteristics over decades. Their appearance is as diverse as one can imagine, but the anatomical and metabolic properties have been adapted more and more to running in the arctic climate over long distances.
Sled dogs – the ultimate long-distance athletes
With optimal training, care and feeding, the sled dogs can achieve incredible things. How do they do it?
- VO2max (maximum oxygen uptake) is 300mg / kg / min for a very well-trained sled dog (in comparison: a top 2-legged athlete like Lance Armstrong has a VO2max of 84mg / kg / min)
- Calorie consumption from 8,000 to 13,000 kcal per day. Sled dogs can metabolize up to 60% fat in food during racing conditions.
- Special adaptation to long exposure at cell level. Sled dogs can flip a “metabolism switch” (after 1-3 days of continuous stress, the sled dogs no longer use up their reserves).
If you are interested in more detailled info, check out the links below:
That means sled dogs can have the same vital data (or even better ones) after a long race as before the race, i.e. they are often fitter than before the race and can easily continue to run.
Just as a hunting dog was bred for hunting and retrieving, and herding dogs love to herd, so sled dogs were bred for pulling. And they love it. That is not something you have to teach them to do, they do it all by themselves and are highly motivated. Often so motivated that the musher has to make sure that they do not overwork themselves. Because their need to pull and run is often completely insane. You do not have to motivate a sled dog. Encourage, cheer, and give them positive feedback – yes. But the motivation to run and pull is inside of them.
Always motivated – living in the moment
And that’s what makes them special. They are naturally motivated. Dogs live in the moment. They do not think about the past or about the future. They do what they are good at and what they love, over and over again. A famous musher – Martin Buser – once said:
“Dogs do not worry about the next bend in the trail….”
He tries to use the attitude of the dogs for himself. In training and during dog sled races, for example, he says to himself: “The place I am going to is my favorite place. The trail I am on is my favorite trail. The next checkpoint is my favorite checkpoint. ”
To be in the present. Give the best. Every moment.
The dogs have shown me how to do it for the past few months. They are still here. I am still here. And my goal is getting more alive again. Even if there are still many questions unanswered. I will continue to pursue my goal, my dream. Certainly, there will still be a few more curves, stones, hurdles and whatever else can be in the way. But it does not matter. I see it right in front of me:
The finish of 8SeasonsHuskies in the longest dog sled race in Europe. Tired and with frostbite on my face, I am sliding across the finish line on the sled behind my team. Johanna is waiting for us at the finish to receive us beaming with joy.
In front of me my extra strong wheel dogs Mars and Flash, in front of them my power couple Duplo and Snickers. Pearl is barking wildly in front of them, and next to her is the silent Twix. Slightly irritated by light and people, Lava and Saphir are running in front of them.
Even after 1200 kilometers, still motivated, Oreo and Milkyway are pulling in front of Lava and Saphir in black and white. Behind the lead dogs, in the second row, are Bounty and her mother Spice, still in full running mode. And right at the front as the lead dog, the highly concentrated Kitkat is crossing the finish line. And next to her Diego, proud and with his head held high.
We will continue to give everything to be able to stand with our own dogs at the starting line of Finnmärkslöpet in March 2022. Highly motivated, always in the moment, well prepared for the challenges to come.
Last winter we produced a short video together with Elise from Meraki Studios about the incredible athletes and my passion for the sled dogs and the daily life with them. Enjoy 🙂
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