In This Issue...
with a Common Interest
FIDO: John Senter
Developing a Culture
The Inuit Sled
Sled Dogs: Life in Retirement
Inuit Dog Thesis
In the News
Kennel Tip: Taking
the Heat Off
Edition: Imaged and distributed
by the IPL students of the Ulluriaq School,
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Inuit Sled Dog International
Sled Dog International (ISDI)
is a consortium of enthusiasts whose goal is the
preservation of this
arctic breed in its purest form as a working dog.
The ISDI's efforts
concentrated on restoring the pure Inuit Dog to
its native habitat. The
ISDI's coordinators welcome to your comments and
|Featured Inuit Dog Owner....
John and Ashe
Salem, Oregon, USA
TFH: How long have you been mushing?
How did you get started and with what breed?
J.S.: I have been mushing since 1981 or so. At first, my mushing
was not a very serious endeavor and consisted of very short runs on gravel
roads within a few miles of my home. This was mainly because my first pickup
truck wasn't reliable enough for trips farther afield. Later, I got a better
pickup and was able to get to some more challenging areas to mush, snow
covered trails, to try my hand at sledding. I started out with Alaskan
Malamutes. I had been told by other mushers that Siberian Huskies were
easier to train and handle but I was more interested in malamutes and already
had two. As I had no trained lead dog, I acquired a retired Siberian Husky
lead dog from a friend. This was a great help in getting started.
As time passed, I was able to train malamute leaders and that stage of
the transition was complete. I ran only malamutes until 1996 when we acquired
Ashe, our first Inuit Sled Dog.
TFH: Tell us about the "journey"
that brought you to ISDs, the process where a kennel of "other" sled dogs
becomes a kennel of ISDs.
J.S.: My first actual exposure to Inuit Sled Dogs was
at the 1994 Oregon Dune
Mushers' Mail Run. where I was privileged to participate with Sylvia
Feder. She had three ISDs that were quite impressive. I was running malamutes
at that time and had always enjoyed and appreciated the malamutes' capabilities.
My first impression of Sylvia's dogs was that they had a lot in common
with the malamutes I had. That is, they were freighting dogs, not fast,
but certainly steady and very serious working dogs. They were more compact
than my dogs. Sylvia's three-dog team could go anywhere and do anything
that I could with five dogs. By then, my malamutes were growing old,
and I was seriously considering getting out of mushing altogether. However,
through Sylvia's friendship, I was able to replace the malamutes as they
retired with ISDs. My first ISD was Ashe, from Mark and Sue Hamilton's
'A' litter, about twelve-weeks-old when she got here. My first impression
was that she might well have been another malamute, and I treated her as
such. Then, when he was about a year old, I acquired Bering, from Hamilton's
'B' litter. Like Ashe, I didn't treat him any differently than a
malamute. From 1996 through 2000, I ran a mixed team of ISDs and malamutes.
I retired the last malamute after the 2000 Mail Run. At this writing, I
have four pure ISDs and an ISD/Alaskan cross who is my leader. If there
are any differences between Alaskan Malamutes and Inuit Sled Dogs that
I observed, it is that ISDs are generally more eager to work and their
desire to be dominant is more pronounced. Other than that, they could
well be the same breed. I believe there are more similarities between
the two breeds than differences.
TFH: What were your expectations
getting into ISDs, and what is your assessment of how those expectations
were or were not met?
J.S.: My expectations were somewhat unrealistic at first. I
had assumed that, because the ISD is directly from the Arctic, the inferior
animals would not live to breed and the ones that did would be essentially
bulletproof. The reality is that they can have medical problems and various
other issues just like any other dog, especially as they age. This is not
disappointing, it's just reality. At the end of the day, they're dogs and
they'll have problems just like other breeds. That said, the ISDs' work
ethic is amazing, and their desire to be in harness doing their jobs brings
a lot of satisfaction. Just to be up in the hills on a logging road somewhere
by ourselves is a delight. I also appreciate their general size and build.
They're big enough to qualify as 'big' dogs, but not so large as to be
too difficult to pick up and move around, load into the boxes, etc.
Yet, they put as much power on the ground as malamutes. I've given a couple
of demo rides this season to friends and my five dog team can move three
adults around pretty well, as long as I do my part, that is, get off and
push once in a while!
TFH: Did you feel you had to do
anything differently once you owned ISDs than you had done before having
J.S.: I really haven't done anything radically different with
the ISDs that I didn't do with the malamutes. I did feed the malamutes
Eagle Power Formula during the working season and Eagle Kennel Formula
during the off-season. But I feed the ISDs the Power Formula year round.
I find the ISDs prefer the higher protein and fat food and being a "high
intensity" dog, do better on it. Due to the primitive nature of the ISD,
and their higher energy requirements, I don't recommend cheaper foods,
especially ones that contain wheat.
I still use the same one-dog-per-kennel arrangement that I always have.
This is contrary to typical practice with ISDs, but it's what I have and
I use it. I have a half-acre (0.2 hectare) fenced exercise yard for
the dogs and they spend time there daily as a group, but they are kenneled
at night. I prefer the security of individual kennels as it keeps the dogs
separate when I'm not out with them, prevents injury due to fighting and
I know that each dog is safe and secure at night. I did have to get used
to the ISDs' tendencies to try to dominate each other, that is, start a
brawl now and then. I think this is another similarity with the malamutes,
but perhaps more pronounced in the ISD. These run to a type: dog
'A' will try to dominate dog 'B' and the fight will be over once the point
has been made. Injuries are uncommon with my dogs, and those that
do occur have so far been minor.
John and his team, out on the dunes for The Oregon Dune
Musher's Mail Run Photo: Feder
TFH: In your climate, what adaptations
have you had to make for mild weather mushing?
J.S.: In Salem, OR, we don't usually experience great extremes
of weather. Temperatures during mushing season will run from +20ºF
(-7ºC) to +40ºF (+4.5ºC). We get a lot of rain and
not a lot of snow. I consider any day below 40ºF (+4.5ºC) with
a slight drizzle a first-rate day to train my team. I'll run ten to fourteen
miles in this type of weather, although the colder it is, the more the
dogs enjoy it. My dogs haven't developed the super-thick coat that is seen
in the Arctic, so I have no qualms about working them on short runs on
days up to +50ºF (+10ºC). Fifty degrees (+10ºC) is the upper
limit, however. Most of my mushing is still done with a training cart.
I got mine from Jim Tofflemire in North Bend, OR and have used this cart
since 1989. I ran the '89 Oregon Dune Mushers' Mail Run using this new
cart, so new that the paint was still tacky. The cart is especially well
adapted to the coastal dunes, but works quite well on any other trail or
gravel road. It is simple, safe and rugged. The cart has four wheels, is
mixed construction of a wood platform and driving bow, with welded steel
axles and wheel steering. The brake drags on the rear tires. The tires
are balloon type for good floatation on the sand dunes. This cart
is also fairly light, so I'll typically drag a tire casing behind it for
some extra load, especially on shorter runs. Jim markets a similar cart
called the Sand Lynx .
This winter, we received several snowfalls on my favorite training roads,
but it was never deep enough to use a sled. In these conditions, I still
used the cart and counted on getting off and running if and when it got
too deep. We don't do quite the distance as when the roads are bare, but
the dogs still enjoy it and it's a good workout for them. I need
the exercise, too!
TFH: Tell us about training for
and participating in the annual Oregon Dune Mushers' Mail Run.
J.S.: First, I would recommend anyone who has a recreational
team of Inuit Sled Dogs to search out some event that will provide both
satisfaction and a proper challenge to both the dogs and the musher. This
might be a freighting race, a long-distance, low speed event, or something
of the musher's own devising, such as freighting camping in snow country.
Both the dogs and the musher need this challenge. When I first began mushing
recreationally, I mushed on my own on weekends, a few miles each day. This
was not much of a challenge. At various times I would be encouraged by
other mushers to participate in some event that would give me a goal to
strive for with my malamutes. In my case, that was the Oregon Dune Musher's
Mail Run. I have participated in eight of these with malamutes and two
with ISDs. The Mail Run is a two-day event for large teams and three days
for small teams of three or four dogs. It covers seventy-two miles (116
kilometers) in the Oregon Dunes Recreation Area on our coast. Both ISDs
and malamutes do well in this event because the terrain is often steep
and the sand punchy, perfect for a freighting team to show their stuff.
Because it isn't a race, blinding speed is not as important as the ability
of a team to keep going regardless, pull up steep grades, ford creeks and
ponds, and so on. Only training carts are used for this event, run largely
over sand dunes. It is not a race, but a fun event that has as its
purpose funding local racing teams who participate in the Iditarod.
The Mail Run gave me the focus I needed to train my team more effectively.
To run this event, one needs to get plenty of miles on the dogs and
to develop good leader control. I would try to get in at least one or two
short runs of five miles (9 kilometers) or less during the week and longer
runs ten to twelve miles (16-19 kilometers) each on Saturday and Sunday.
I found that the kind of leader control that sufficed for running a logging
road and making an occasional turn at an intersection was not enough for
the dunes, where much of the area is essentially wide open and trackless.
Good control is needed to avoid falling off a steep dune or to skirt a
pool of quicksand - no kidding!
TFH: Any closing thoughts?
J.S.: I have truly enjoyed being involved both with the ISD
and the malamute. I've never done anything especially earth-shaking with
either breed, but I've had some great fun, met some great people and had
some great dogs. I would recommend the ISD to any recreational musher who
is committed to learning the idiosyncrasies of these dogs and who, above
all, is committed to working them. They are not for the timid, but they
are very rewarding.
On the logging roads