Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fall Training: Objective--Passing

Acadia: My what a large tongue you have...

Today's fall training run with the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures' sled dogs had one objective. Today's objective was passing Eric or Catherine on the trail. Anyone who has tried to take a team of sled dogs past an important person (i.e., the person who feeds them) on the trail, knows that this can be tricky. Because our dog sledding programs and tours nearly always require both Eric and I to be on the trail with the team, this skill is important to us.

Today, we arrived at the Sparks station on the Northern Central Rail (NCR) trail to do some practice passing drills with the team. We hooked up a four dog team with Zoe and Acadia in lead and Sobo and Okemo in wheel. Our fifth sled dog, T-Bone, is in partial retirement and stayed home to read a book on the couch!

The amazing flying, T-Bone, stayed home and read a book

Monkton Station: Northern Central Rail Trail

In the dark we set up the equipment including the lines and rig (the wheeled dog sled), harnessed the sled dogs, and gave each a brief walk. Just after day break, off we went out of the station with me driving the team and Eric riding our bike. The dogs love this stretch of trail and headed out down the trail at about 20 MPH despite the relatively heavy, 350 lb, load they were pulling. This stretch of trail runs through Maryland horse country and the farms, with their stone bank barns and white split rail fences, lining the trail are just lovely. About two miles out, after passing some pastured horses, I stopped the team to allow Eric to catch up. While the team was stopped, I enjoyed the gorgeous reds, yellows and orange leaves on the trees. I also practiced some line out training with the sled dogs.

Fall Foliage

After Eric caught up to us, we began working on leap frogging the bike (we'd pass Eric on the bike, slow down, and Eric would then pass us on the bike). Each time we commanded the dogs to go "on by" and praised them when they did it flawlessly and corrected them, showing them what we wanted them to do, when they did not. After about four passes, the sled dogs had this skill down pat. As we ran the balance of our 8 mile run from Sparks to Monkton, we continued this drill.

Arriving at Monkton station, we rested and watered the dogs for about ten minutes, and then began another drill. This particular drill involved having the dogs turn off the trail into a open field next to the Monkton station, run behind the station house, and come back out on the trail. After many missed attempts, the dogs finally got the idea that we wanted them to "haw" into the open field off the trail. Some of the dogs (Sobo who was in wheel this run) got it faster than others. As I once again showed the leaders, Zoe and Acadia, what I wanted them to do, Sobo valiantly attempted to turn the team "haw" from the wheel (back) position. Good boy Sobo!

Sobo and Okemo in wheel during a water break at Monkton Station

After re-entering the trail, now headed south, Eric and I switched positions and I rode the bike while Eric drove the team. Once again, we practiced passing (leap frogging) the bike. This time the dogs were spot on and didn't require any corrections. Good sled doggies!

Practicing passing drills

Heading down the trail

Arriving back at the dog truck, the sled dogs were fed their breakfast and meat, watered, walked, and we headed home. Our total run was 8 miles round trip with our maximum speed approximately 20 MPH and our "cruising speed" abut 7-8 MPH. Along the way, the sled dogs pulled approximately 350 lbs. At home we found our stone mason well underway on building us, and the sled dogs, a new field stone wall along the driveway.