Table of Contents
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Chuck Weiss
Research Paper 1: Survey of Diseases and Accidents
When to Start Working Dogs
A Day in the Woods
Future or Death
Reality Check: Reproduction or the Real Deal
Behaviour: Qiniliq Learns His Place
High Arctic Mushing: Part III
Book Review: Igloo Dwellers Were My Church
Janice Howls: All Along the Watch Tower
IMHO: Friends and Allies
Chuck and his mixed team: Alaskans in lead, Akitas at swing and ISDs
Thelma and Louise at wheel Joan Mosteller photo
Featured Inuit Dog Owner:
My name is Chuck Weiss. I am a single father of an eight-year-old boy, Mackenzie. I live in eastern Pennsylvania, U.S.A., and own and operate Triune Guide Service, which offers dog sled trips throughout New Hampshire and the Adirondack Mountains of New York.
I got started with sled dogs around twelve years ago, when I trained two rescue Akitas to pull a small plastic sled loaded with camping gear. I would cross country ski alongside with my dogs, sitting on the sled on the flat trails, skiing with them up hills. I soon moved up to a real dog sled and added another rescue Akita. With this three-dog team, some mountaineering experience, and a good bit of desire, I started doing solo back-country trips in the Adirondacks. These were small trips, usually in deep snow and on steep terrain. I would snowshoe in front of the dogs on the way in to the woods, breaking trail, and then get to ride the runners on the way back out. The Akitas were perfect for this type of travel. They were big, tough dogs with heavy coats. They were not very fast, but I was always in deep snow and not going very fast anyhow.
Eager to learn more, I contacted local dog sledding clubs. I soon found out that I was one of the few people running Akitas. Most mushers preferred the lighter built and faster Alaskan or Siberian husky. They did not like the aggressive personality of my breed. Claiming a previous incident with a very aggressive Akita on someone's team, a local dog sled club did not want Akitas at their races, citing aggression and "other problems". I think the reality is that racing folks like controlled situations: groomed trails, trail help at every corner so their leaderless untrained teams will actually make turns, and dogs that will toe the line without much training. These are people who would love to get rid of every dog that showed the least bit of aggression so that "their race" does not have any interference.
Undaunted, I found ways to deal with the Akita temperament. When training this very aggressive, pack-oriented, large, strong breed, I found that using corrective methods such as pinning the dogs on the ground when they displayed inappropriate aggression (growling and fighting just for the hell of it, as opposed to an alpha dog keeping a subordinate dog in its place) worked well. I also did a lot of socialization work, exposing them to many different environments, bringing them to a dog park and making them control themselves. Over time they became more reliable than not, but never 100%. So, I also must say that the second phase of dealing with aggressive dogs is to know what, when and where your dogs will not be able to control themselves. I try to avoid those situations, go around them, or worse case... prepare myself to work through a tough situation. I trust my dogs to get me through situations when I need to and they trust me to guide them through temptation! I enjoyed the profound devotion these dogs displayed.
Eventually, I found a group of local mushers who were very helpful, giving me some hands-on direction with the basics of dog sledding. Up to this time I was doing it all out of books. I learned more about fitting harnesses, ganglines, some training methods (none of which I use anymore!). I started running my dogs in local rig races and was glad for the experience because it convinced me early on that it was not what I wanted to do. Getting involved in racing is very much like doing the "show" circuit. There are tons of politics, rules that don't work, and petty in-fighting. I learned early on in my dog sledding years that if I was going to spend a good deal of my time, energy and money in this venture, I wanted to move forward in a direction that allowed me to take pleasure in the ride! I found I enjoyed the longer camping trips more. These adventures were challenging, but somewhat of a lesson in survival, and I wanted to be able to stay out in the bush longer and to be more comfortable. At this point, some guidance on how to travel in winter with dogs was in order. I found this tutelage from Kevin Slater's and Polly Mahoney's Mahoosuc Guide Service of Newry, Maine.
While on a Mahoosuc trip, I drove my first team of Inuit Sled Dogs. Instantly impressed with their power, work ethic and attitude, I promised myself to learn more about the breed. I also learned about sleeping in wood-heated tents and other winter camping activities that started me down a new path that I still walk. I began doing longer, better-planned trips. I purchased a canvas tent, wood stove, better clothing and got another dog! Within another year, I was hired to lead a group on a dog sled assisted winter camping trip. At this point I decided to open my own guide service.
After founding Triune Guide Service, I realized it was necessary to rebuild my team. My lead dog had died about this time and, after a thorough search, I was fortunate to get a great lead dog from Susan Butcher. Having no prior experience with this, my first Alaskan husky, I quickly learned how sensitive they are. My Akitas were a rough group, very pack oriented and would bully the poor Alaskan. But with careful training, they eventually learned to work together. The Alaskan husky learned a lot about living in a pack, and the Akitas learned a lot about being real sled dogs! Wanting more dogs that would fit in with my existing team, I thought of the Inuit Sled Dog and got in touch with Mark and Sue Hamilton. After a few calls and a visit, they offered to mentor me in the ways of ISDs. Within a year I acquired two littermates, whom I named Thelma and Louise, from Jerry and Sharon Roberts of Ohio. The two ISDs were as much of a challenge as I was told to expect. They were very energetic, aggressive, and in need of a pack hierarchy. Luckily, that was in place when they arrived. At the time I had three large Akitas, one of which was an undisputed 140-lb. alpha dog. Thelma and Louise seemed to glide right in to the group. Aside from the increased noise levels that I had to adjust to (Akitas are a relatively quiet breed), I soon found out they liked to just growl at each other. Still, the girls were a perfect addition. They got along well with the Akitas and are well matched for power and speed. My ISDs like running at around 7 to 9 miles per hour on groomed trails, and are happy plodding along through deep snow, just like my Akitas! Thelma and Louise, although smaller than my Akitas, can match them for shear power, which is quite impressive. However, the ISDs have a distinct advantage in this activity and don't tire like the Akitas do. I am astonished by their work ethic and enjoy their energetic personalities.
In my dog yard, I keep my dogs staked out on chains, inside a fenced yard. Using chains allows me to control who is contact with whom. With three different breeds, this is absolutely necessary. A perimeter fence keeps my team safe from neighborhood children, dogs and lawyers.
I feed Red Paw and supplement with meat and Red Paw's Formula fat. Interestingly enough, Louise (my smaller ISD) has an enzyme problem which makes high fat diets poorly absorbed. Now off all supplementation and given plain Red Paw and water, she is doing quite well and gaining weight.
I make my own toboggan style sleds. Bolted together, they are tough simple and serviceable. I am not married to any one brand or style of harness.
I start training pups when they are four to six months old to get them used to wearing a harness and pulling a small tire, the idea being to keep their minds so busy they can't get in trouble. At this age they learn commands such as "line out". At ten months, the pups are in a small team, pulling very light loads and going short distances. This is designed to teach them what's expected of them. After one year they are in the team. I use a “bungee tug line” at this stage. This tug lets the youngsters feel like they are pulling but puts little pressure on their joints. Thelma and Louise were a year old in November and by January were doing full duty on my main team. They pulled like they had been doing it for years. By March of that year they were part of a six-dog team, pulling major loads with no apparent problems running over four hundred miles in the main team. My sled is routinely loaded with three hundred to six hundred pounds of gear. We travel on average twelve miles a day, doing many freighting assignments for outing clubs, scout groups and other guides.
Owning Inuit Sled Dogs is a deep, deep commitment. I have struggled at times with behavior patterns in Thelma and Louise: the noise, fighting, growling and willingness to destroy anything and everything that comes in their path. They can be brutally difficult at times. I usually try to look at most situations from two sides. When it comes to kids and dogs this is most important. I have raised my son with large aggressive dogs. I have done this by NOT counting on my dogs never biting him, and in turn NOT trusting my son to always do what's right with the dogs. After all, he's a kid and they're dogs! The situation works because I draw on the strengths of both parties. My son is trained not to irritate the dogs (teasing, hitting screaming is NOT tolerated), not to bring friends in the dog yard without my presence, and to treat the dogs with kindness, consistency and care. The dogs are taught to consider him their superior, giving him all the respect that involves.
I am constantly amazed at Thelma and Louise's willingness to work, their energy to run and pull. Their performance is just freaking amazing! I am deeply attached to my ISDs. I love the challenge of learning about the dogs, as much as the challenge of running them in the back- country. This past season was a real eye opener for me. I learned to expect more from my dogs. To run farther, pull harder, and trust each other more. At this point Thelma has developed in to one of my main lead dogs, Louise is a willing leader and I am working with her more this spring to build her confidence. I have a kennel of seven dogs at this time. Two ISDs, two Akitas , and three Alaskan huskies. I hope to add one more ISD to my team and start to do some expeditions in the next few years. I love to be in the back-country woods at any time of the year but especially in the winter, and with my dogs, to have an opportunity to learn the intricacies of the different breeds, their personalities and the challenge to have us all working as one team is very exciting and rewarding.