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September 22, 2013

Little Shit Returns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just like I’ve done for the past half dozen years, I started my season running two teams.  This year, however, rather than starting by running two well matched teams, I’ve divided the kennel into the dogs who have a shot at being on my skijor team and Everybody Else.  Everybody Else includes Vixen---she’s actually doing some pulling which is great for a dog who will turn 14 in January, Sima---I’m just hoping his back remains good enough for him to run without “necklining,” pulling back on the team with his collar and the attached neckline, and Cameo---a rescue who simply never understood pulling in the first place.  The average age on the Everybody Else team is eleven.  With this, I don’t care how they do.  They just have to enjoy their runs.

What is no surprise is how slow the slow team is.  We have yet to breach an 8 mph average for our three mile run.  What has surprised me has been that the slow speed presents opportunities I hadn’t thought about before. 

At the outset, if I had put strong and weak dogs together on two matched teams, Sima simply would not have been able to keep up.  Now, he struggles a bit, but seems to be getting stronger with each run.  His gait during yard time between runs also looks to be getting stronger.  I’m very encouraged.

His brother, Tok, has also shown some back issues, though much less severe.  To date, there’s never been a question about Tok’s being able to run with the team.  Still, I’ve recently been putting him in the easier positions rather than wheel, where he happily spent most of his life.  With the slow speed, I’ve been able to run Tok at his old haunt.

All of this has gone well.  The B-Team takes longer than the A-Team, but everybody is standing after each run as I close the gate behind us.  The only problem I’ve had with this division has been that most of the dogs I’ve been rotating into lead during the past few years made the cut and are running with the A-Team.  The only members of the B-Team who have led during recent years are Mitzi and Tempest.

Necessity is not just the mother of invention, it is the motivator of change.  In this case, reversion might be a better word.  B-Teamers, Vixen and Fondue, had led before.  Vixen had been my main leader until Mink took that spot.  Even then, she was number two.  Still, as a dog who’s about to turn 14, I think putting Vixen in front, even of this group, would be asking too much of her.  On the other hand, while Fondue led many fewer times and miles than Vix, she is one of the fastest dogs on the slow team.  Quid and, maybe, Murphy are faster than she is, but that’s it.  The obvious choice was to put Fondue back in lead and see how she did.  The unknown was what would Little Shit do, given her history. 

Fondue had been sold to me as an unfinished lead dog and joined my pack along with Vixen, Tok, and Sima.  Together with Jake and Jag, I had my first real team for the 2004-2005 season.  That season started with me believing Fondue would be my main leader.  Jake had shown a lot at lead the year before---he was just one and a half that previous season---and Vixen also had some experience in lead.  I figured they would supplement Fondue. 

Fondue led for my first seven runs.  Vix joined her for five and Jake for two.  All of those first runs went out a mile and a half to the far side of a teardrop into which we made a right, gee.  This turned the team around to head home.  And for all of those first runs, Fondue refused to do that gee, feigning confusion regarding the command.  She’d eventually turn, but never immediately.  I was green enough that I didn’t realize that after probably one and for sure two runs, she knew damn well what I wanted. Given that she is a very bright dog, one run.  The foundation for her nickname had been laid.

After the first dozen runs, we started including a four mile run that went haw, left, at the same point that we’d do the gee for the three mile run. Fondue liked going haw because it was longer. 

We had come to the turn point and Fondue had started taking the team to the left. Once again, she wanted to do the longer run. In fact, that’s what I had planned, so I called haw. With my command, Fondue changed direction and started going right.  Not a big deal, yet.  I stopped the three-wheeler and moved the leaders off to the left. I then said hike and haw. And again, Fondue started turning the team to the right. Happily, I can out persist my dogs, something Fondue learned. 

And with these and other incidents, Fondue became “Little Shit.”

By the end of that year, Vixen was my main leader and I alternated Jake and Fondue with her.  The following year, I dropped Fondue out of my lead rotation before November began.  Particularly with a fast team of twelve dogs behind her, it became clear that Fondue didn’t like leading.  Eight years after this, it wasn’t unreasonable to think that Fondue might enjoy leading a slow team, but it certainly wasn’t a foregone conclusion either.  And so, I put Fondue side by side with Tempest in front of the team.

Tempest joined the pack during the summer of 2007.  Among the things she tried to do as a lead dog her first year here was to take the entire team on a squirrel hunt.  All dogs, leaders or otherwise, know that hunting the wildlife is verboten.  I always give dogs opportunities to learn new commands, how to behave, etc, but a five year old is not going to convince me that she doesn’t know not to chase squirrels while she’s on the job.  Temp was clearly testing me. 

Temp’s tests didn’t stop after a single incident.  I remember taking friends out for runs in the spring of 2009 and their seeing Temp trying to tell me we should go for a run longer than the three-miler we did, just like Fondue had done five years earlier. 

 Of course, in 2009, Temp was just about to turn seven and Fondue had just turned eight.  One other bit of good news is they’re eleven and twelve respectively and are far less inclined to try and convince me that longer runs are better.  So, even without a gee command, we took the turn into the teardrop for the three mile run and headed home.  Both dogs led fine and came into the yard happy. 

The final task my lead dogs do after every run is keep the line out as I unharness the rest of the team.  They can stand or lay down as they like, but they have to stay put.  And for this, they get an extra treat----a “line-out” biscuit.  One other characteristic of Temp and Fondue is they never let fatigue from a run interfere with enjoying treats, and they didn’t this time either.  And with that, my B-Team lead rotation became three dogs.  Little Shit has returned. 

   
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