The animal husbandry of a sled dog kennel needs to be well thought out before you get to deep into the sport. Many people have jumped into the sled dog sport to find a year or so later they have too many dogs, they don't have enough time to properly exercise and care for them; they find it is too expensive; and then they quickly abandon the sport leaving many dogs looking for homes. The financial implication is a major barrier to deal with; so controlling the size of the kennel needs to be decided on upfront. Here at the October Siberian Kennel we have also placed an emphasis on minimizing our ecological footprint and have found that by following basic ecological principles – reduce, reuse and recycle – you keep costs down without sacrificing quality of care for the dogs. Training dogs takes plenty of patience and works best when the dogs trust and respect you. Below is some of what we do to assure that these dogs are well cared for and loved.
Housing: Mushers tend to house their dogs in one of two methods: either on individual chain or in chain link kennels. In both cases there is a dog house and water provided. For us the upmost importance is protecting the dogs from harm. The Siberian Huskies are known as escape artists, and once they figure a way out, they quickly teach it to the rest of the dogs. We chose rows of the chain link 6’ x 12’ kennels for several reasons. First we buddy them up so two are together to play with each other and they have buddies next to them to interact with. The line of kennels helps us fit more dogs in a smaller area and then we have a roof from the old family barn over the entire kennel. The dogs like to dig so the pens are filled with sand and to keep them from digging out patio blocks are below the sand at the base of the kennel frame.
The dog houses are re-used plastic barrels which were once used for either apple cider or pickles. The husky likes the den feel of these barrels. With the Siberians you always have to be thinking and staying a step ahead of them. Our security – many stories are told of the husky that got away never to be seen by its owner again – so far has been successful; a roof to protect the top, patio blocks for the bottom, clips on the latch to prevent accidental opening of the gate, and a fence in yard around the kennels for back-up, a play yard and to keep unwanted critters out.
Socializing: For us dog socialization begins the day the puppy is born. Most of the dogs in our kennel are a result of our breeding and upbringing. Providing the proper stress at the right time in a dog’s development helps the dog for life’s encounters and the handling we need to do with them. Having children around sure helps us in getting a well adjusted dog.
The Siberian is very friendly in nature, good with kids and typically good with other dogs. Within the kennel is a pack hierarchy that is established through interaction in the kennel free play and running together. The dogs don’t care where they are in the pack, they just need to figure it out. Dogs accomplish this through a lot of body language, growling, and an occasional skirmish – yes, we have had some bloodshed in these rites of passage.
Supervised free play is the best way for the dogs to work it out, and it is quite the sight to see a kennel of dogs running within the dog yard. As best we can, we get our dogs out on hikes and walks to meet people and dogs. Our dogs are always kept on leash and we use this as an opportunity to teach our dogs to ignore the loose dogs on the trails and roads.
Training: In raising dogs you need to think like them and follow their examples. We are the Alpha dog in the kennel – or at least they let us believe that. Using vocal tones gets better results than the actual words. Using few words for commands, showing what is being asked, and rewarding when the task is well done, are the basics for getting good results. Following the Mother Knows Best philosophy you get the respect and trust to be the team leader. A mother dog makes quick, decisive corrections, but still loves and cares for her kids. There are times when corrections are necessary—scruff shakes, alpha wolf and, yes, a bite on the ear may be used—but these should be done when the dog knew what to do but did not follow it or was fighting.
Feeding: If there is one thing our dogs like best, it is eating. For mushers a good appetite is an important feature – you want your dogs to eat well when you are working them. Another feature of the Siberian Husky is their calorie consumption. An Iditarod Alaskan husky (the Alaskan Husky as described by Martin Buser is a designer mutt) will eat about 10,000 calories per day per dog. For the Siberian Husky, the same day worth of work takes about 5,000 calories. Efficiency in an arctic environment is what the Chuchi tribe of Siberia bred into their dogs. Sled dogs perform very well on a high fat and high protein diet so we are looking for a high quality dog food and a good meat source. Some mushers get quite elaborate in their feed development; we keep it simple.
For a commercial dog food we feed Momentum dog food, click here http://www.drtims.com/ for details on this food. We buy it by the pallets with other kennels in the area. October Siberians is the Vermont Distributor for this food. For a meat source we have been working with a local chicken and turkey farm. When we first started working with them they were paying to dispose of 1000 of pounds of meat each year; now all waste is going to feed local dogs a natural diet at a price that we can afford. My kennel and friend's kennels typically are picking up 1000 pounds at a time. We feed our dogs once a day and alternate feeding with meat one day and dry food the next. When we feed our dogs, they are expected to sit and wait as the food is placed in front of them until we give them the okay to eat. This all helps in keeping our dogs well mannered and a reminder that we are in charge here.
Residual Management: Of course if you feed your dogs, you have to clean up after them. If you hang around mushers too long the conversation always turns to stool quality. I will spare you the details here, but if you want to learn about sled dogs, you have to do your share of pooper scooping. It is a daily task. And you ask: what we do with all of the leftover pooh? It is called residual management! If you don’t compost it you end up with a large pile of – well, you know. Composting doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to move it along. About twice a year we turn over the poop piles with the bedding straw, yard and household waste, and sand from the kennel cleaning. After two turnovers you have soil suitable for spreading in flower gardens, on the lawn and planting. These steps all help in protecting water quality in our Watershed.
Storm water management is the key to protecting water quality. The construction of the kennel roof and the ditching to divert drainage all has an effect on increase storm water runoff. Controls need to be in place to mitigate this increase in storm water. We start with the containment of the poop pile with hay bales. This has eliminated any sediment contribution to the run off. The roof over the kennel also reduces the amount of dog waste making it into the storm water. The drainage ditch behind the kennel discharges onto a grassy strip with maturing spruce trees and then continues into a series of drainage alterations and vegetated wetland for approximately ½ mile before it reaches a free flowing stream.
Transportation: We are a traveling show, so to move this team of dogs around we use the Dog Truck. Mushers have many variations on this truck, some quite large and slick looking. We are not as flashy, and we use a smaller truck to try to control the size of our kennel – don’t get more dogs than you can house or transport. We have mounted a wooden box on the back of the truck, and provide 12 compartments which could hold two dogs each. Right now it is set up to carry up to 16 dogs with 4 storage compartments. The sleds go up on top of the box. The dog truck tends to be the largest expense in running a sled dog kennel thanks to its repairs and poor gas mileage from hauling this show around. The dog truck is a necessity for us, because we do not have trails accessible from our kennel. On the plus side, we get to a greater variety of trails throughout the year, which the dogs and I enjoy.