New Leaders

Bess & Brandi

Took A Team, Malamutes Tom & Singer in lead, Bess & Brandi at swing, Rebel & Jazz @ wheel. Actually got the team to cross the highway when I asked at Clacks Crossing. So we ran down the grassy strip to the Firehall, Roddy Road across the railroad tracks, then north on Old Dixie Lee, under the railroad tracks through the tunnel, left Melody Lane, passed the new fighting rooster farm — YIKES — to Foursquare Church, rested there and reverse. 5 miles.

About 1 mile in Tom quit. Tom is almost 3. He’s from late blooming lines, so last year and the year before he was lanky and adolescent and this year he has CHEST and bulk and weightpulling is going to be loads of fun. But he may not be able to run up front of 4 adult Siberians in good shape. Last year the Sibes were either rookies or working injured. So Tom T. slacked up and wouldn’t come into a trot. So I switched and put adult male Sibes Jazz and Rebel up front, sisters Siberians Bess & Brandi next, & sibling Malamutes Tom & Singer at wheel. And soon discovered that Jazz knew beans about leading, and Rebel knew less.

“Let’s Go.” And my leaders stood still and the rest of the team ran over them. OK, sort this out, straighten ganglines. Shoo the COWS away who are coming up to the fence to see what is going on. Straighten Singer out because she is way too interested in lunch on the hoof. Decide to put Bess and Jazz up front.

Bess in lead.

This is sort of a revolutionary idea. Bess was dragged by the team 2 years ago, a mile on asphalt. She had severe damage to her hind leg and the vets tried to talk me into taking it off. But last year she was weightpulling 18% so that is pretty much a memory. But it still haunts her. When the team gets going fast, especially downhill, she will bow up and start hopping and trying to slow down. It’s pure fear. And I get the team stopped and calmly tell her to stretch out and she does. And we keep going.

So this was the dog I was going to put up front. But Bess is obedience trained. Jazz is, well, Jazz is cookie trained. He’ll do anything around the house if I use the C word. But that method of training doesn’t work in harness.

So I get the team stretched out. And I say, “Let’s Go!” Which means the leaders should dig in and start going, the swing dogs should bang their harnesses, and the wheel dogs should lean in. No one moved.

OK. So I say, “Bess, go home.”

Bess looked over her shoulder at me as if to say, “That is not a sledding command.”

I thought about it a moment, standing there, and said, “Tom, let’s go.”

And Bess took off.

Apparently I had forgotten that the entire time she’s been training, Tom has been my leader. So she thinks the command is TOM, let’s go. We’ll work on that.

So we’re going. All right.

Bess & Singer.

For about 5 feet. And then Jazz smelled the ghost of a rabbit dropping and stopped to sniff. Which means Bess stopped, and Rebel and Brandi ran over top of them and Tom and Singer looked over their shoulders at me and asked if I knew what I was doing?

So I bailed off, took hold of Jazz’s harness and hauled him away from the ghost of a rabbit dropping, and told them to “Stretch Out.”

Walked back to the cart. Realized Jazz had followed me. Walked back up front and decided I wasn’t going to spend any more time hauling dogs around when they had 4 each perfectly sound legs. So I went where I wanted Jazz and called him abd Bess. And they came. I patted heads as I went back to the cart, and kept glancing back over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being followed. Got back on the cart and said, “OK, Let’s Go.” And we did.

For another 10 feet. This time a blue bird jumped up out of the road (I don’t KNOW why it was in the road, that’s just where it was). And we took off. Only the bird was going 90 degrees away from where I wanted to go and there were fences in the way.

Did some yelling here. But got the dogs back on the road, called Jazz & Bess up front, told them to stretch out. Waited for them to dodge back after the bird. Which they did. Then got them straightened out another 10 feet down the road. And we did this about a mile in pieces. But I’m pretty sure that Jazz and Bess understand “Stretch Out.” Even the cows in the neighboring pastures understand by now. But stretching out and leading out are two different things.

If you’ve ever taught heeling to a dog, you understand that attention while sitting and attention while moving are NOT the same thing. But they have to have one before the other and they learn the second one easier having learned the first. So we had Stretch Out, but not Let’s Go (move forward, keep tuglines tight, don’t get off the road).

Here’s where I had a brain storm. The brakes on the cart are locked. But it’s empty except for a case of filled water bottles. So all told it’s probably 150lbs. Wheels locked, remember. And I walked away from the team down the road I wanted them to go down and I called them by saying, “OK, let’s go.” And they started towards me, working as they dragged the cart, but their are 6 of them for Pete’s sake and it’s a flat road. So I’m jogging backwards and calling the dogs and singing out “Good Dog, Good Dog.” And they catch up with me. Bess heads TOWARDS me, not passed me, and I say, Let’s Go, Bess! Let’s Go, Bess! And as she comes up to me, I sort of shove her down the road. The rest of the team is really moving now and Bess looks confused but Rebel comes up behind her and she is dragged along by Jazz and I tell her, “Good Girl!” which I’m sure she thinks means Good Girl for stopping in the road, but I haven’t got time to correct that because the cart is coming up — at speed — and I jump on and pop the brake and sing out again, “Let’s go, Dogs!” And we do.

We mess up on a couple of turns. I know it looks like the road goes left, when in fact the road goes right and the left is a driveway. But I stop the team and come forward a bit and POINT and call Bess or Jazz, who ever is on that side. And we get the hang of that pretty much.

This comes in handy because Bess is taking every driveway we pass. Why? You’re asking me?


There are no loose dogs on this route, but there are 2 fenced yards with very loud, slobbery, frothing idiot dogs behind the fences. Also, around each fence is a narrow whisper of a rabbit trail that Bess decides to go down. This and the driveways are related somehow.

But we get passed with plenty of training opportunities. And we rest at the midway point at the church. And I water everyone out of the 1-liter bottles. If you haven’t trained your dogs to drink out of sport bottles you are really missing something here. You don’t have to carry bowls. Or remember to go back and get bowls when you leave them. And the bowls don’t bounce out either, since you left them at home.

So on the way back, I am prepared for the worst. And Bess decides to hit those two whisper of rabbit trails around the dog fences. But she On-By’s passed every driveway, and remembers the turns to get back to the Firehall. And they go faster over the railroad tracks like they are supposed to (considering the suddenly flashing lights and the arms coming down). And we get back home and I run up the driveway while they pull the cart at a trot.

And I wouldn’t say I have 2 knew leaders. But I do have 2 dogs who are training to one day APPLY to be leaders. It was 50 degrees this morning. Lows in the 40’s or 50’s all week. Life is Good.

Happy Trails!
SHS 10/14/02

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