Saturday, July 26, 2008

Update on Princess's Puppies

Recently a TMD reader left a comment asking for an update on the litter of puppies that Princess gave birth to last spring. They are now 15 months old, vigorous young dogs full of strength and energy. Photos of them during their first month of life are included in posts from the May '07 archives, here and here. In that first post I was mistaken about the gender split; there were two males, the gray and one of the blacks.

Of the six pups in the litter, three went to good homes when they were two months old. Henry kept the gray one, the white one, and the black male to train as sled dogs.

All three did well in early training, but the white one and the black one didn’t quite measure up to what Henry wanted as top sled dogs. He has since given them to a local sprint musher who is looking for different qualities in his sled dogs. The remaining gray dog is turning into a top notch long-distance sled dog.

His name is Silver. He looks very much like his mother, but is bigger and a bit more aggressive; Princess is very shy for a sled dog. At his house when he is on the chain, he is friendly, curious, and loves to be petted. But put him on the gang line in front of a sled and he is all business and rarin’ to go. He is already running in lead position, working with an old leader who is very dependable in taking commands. Silver has learned gee and haw (right and left) pretty well for a youngster. He is not afraid to cross shallow water and he pulls hard all the time.

He is also a good eater, which is an important quality in sled dogs. They need to gobble up their food quickly. On a long race the rest stops must be utilized efficiently: eat their meal quickly and then sleep until it is time to go. A picky eater often won’t consume the calories needed for hours of work and may start to lose weight, which is not good. Princess is a reasonably good eater, but she is naturally thin, and has passed that trait on to most of her pups. The white puppy, Queenie, doesn’t eat well enough to keep her weight up for long distance mushing, which is why she went to the sprint musher; it matters less in sprinting.

Another quality that Henry considers important for sled dogs is that they have good feet. In the old days of mushing, nobody used booties much, and having tough pads meant that the dogs did not get sore feet. Henry believes that black pads are tougher than white ones. He uses booties when necessary, but prefers not to if possible. Dogs with good feet don’t need booties as often. Professional mushers just use booties all the time and don’t worry so much about tough pads. But booties are expensive—about $1 each, bought in bags of 100. And even with elastic and Velcro closures, nearly every dog loses one or two on every run; with a heavy training schedule, it adds up quickly. And it takes time to booty an entire team, several minutes per dog. For a musher on a tight budget who doesn’t have the luxury of handlers to help, tough feet save both money and time.

Silver has black pads, and he doesn’t have a lot of fur between his pads. Dogs with furry feet tend to form ice balls between their toes from snow sticking to the fur and congealing from body heat into rock-hard little nuggets. Like having a rock in your shoe, it quickly leads to a sore foot.

At this point in his young life, Silver is showing all the attributes of a great sled dog. He has beautiful conformation, a good gait, and enthusiasm for his job. He is a good eater, has good feet, and is a strong and consistent puller who never has a slack tug line. He is not afraid of poor trail and is willing to plunge into overflow if necessary. Which means he likely has the mental toughness which his granddaddy, Riker, was known for, and that is one of the most important qualities of a great lead dog. Silver could turn out to be one of the greats as well. Henry and I both have high hopes for him.

Photos by The Tundra PA: Princess, now 8 years old; and Silver at almost 15 months old. If you clicked on the links to the new puppy posts, he is the newborn in my hand, and is easily identifiable as the only gray pup in the group photos.



Anonymous Aliy Zirkle said...

When you whelp and raise a litter of Sled Dogs you let your dreams run wild about the fantastic athletes and companions they will become. Each pup is an individual with his or her unique physical and mental abilities and limitations. It is then the musher's job (as the coach) to mold these pups into Superstars.
What a fine thing to have your Silver already living up to your dreams! Thank you for sharing!

Sunday, July 27, 2008 2:25:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie said...

I think I may have one of your dogs puppies!

I was in Bethel in June 2007 and was looking for a dog for my family and ran into an old friend who introduced me to "goldie" - a very shy gold husky...I understand you use false names in your posts, I wonder if you are really talking about the folks I know? The ones with the bird watching porch?

Monday, July 28, 2008 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

Hey Aliy! Thanks so much for your input...

Charlie--sounds like you do indeed have one of Princess's pups! Yep, they were born right behind the bird-watching porch. I hope she is turning out great for you!

Monday, July 28, 2008 8:52:00 PM  

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