There is a story of Mark Spitz being called out by his teammates for not practicing with them. He dove into the pool, broke a world record, and said when they could do that he would practice with them. I have a dog like that.
Scout hates to practice. When we are training in the fall, most days, she is the worst looking dog on my team. If her tug line is tight the majority of the run, I worry something is wrong.
She has a delightful habit of slipping out of her harness when I am hooking up the rest of the team, when we stop for a snack break, if there is a tangle, or really anytime I keep my eyes closed slightly longer than normal when I blink. It was kind of cute the first time, the second time it happened I still saw a little humor in it, after that it became infuriating.
When the mood strikes her, she does things just to push my buttons. She is an exceptionally quiet, mellow dog; however when the team is hooked up and everyone else has settled down and is sitting quietly waiting to go (we work hard to have a quiet, mellow team) she starts barking incessantly.
I took a girl out on a dogsledding night run last winter on some large well traveled lakes in the BWCA, hoping to impress her with a nice run (I need all the help I can get). Scout ran right next to the trail on the lake the entire time, then when we neared the portage, she made a beeline for the woods a hundred yards west of the portage trail. Not too impressive, also I think very intentional.
She even refuses to ski-jour with me. I talked her into it once, and now knowing what it is, if she sees me with ski boots she curls up in a tight ball in the back of her house, nearly out of reach. In fact, she doesn’t even need to see the boots, she can tell by my face (or read my mind?), that I have something in mind other than pulling a sled, and she is a sled dog, so pulling anything else is not in her job description.
However when practice is over and it is time to work, there isn’t a dog that can touch her. Twice in the last 20 miles of a 220 mile race, she has led my team charging across seemingly endless patches of glare ice on the Churchill river, once winning us first place, and another time second. When she was three she led twelve dogs, most of which were yearlings, on a 12 hour, 70 mile run in the Beargrease, when I saw a team give more than I imagined possible. After a thirty minute rest they were up and she was ready to lead them again, luckily for my pride my tear ducts were frozen.
On wilderness dog sledding camping trips she has threaded the team through bad ice and open water, crashed through the woods oblivious to the fact no trail existed, and has sat patiently with the team as I snowshoed ahead to pack a trail, waiting to hear me call them up to me.
I guess that is why, when I wake up under a clear crisp winter sky and realize she has pushed my feet off of my sleeping pads so she can curl up on it (even though I brought her own), I just laugh and fall back asleep with cold feet.
By Peter McClelland|
About the Author: Peter McClelland
Peter McClelland, a naturalist by training and a musher by choice, has many years of experience guiding winter sled dog trips. He has introduced sled dogs to groups of all ages, and is known for his exceptional ability to train novices to drive a dog team. A co-founder of the Ely Area Mushing Association, he is dedicated to the welfare of sled dogs worldwide