Training Pups To Tethers
Hi all,

I sometimes hear mention made of the “rough adjustment period” for pups learning to go on their stakeouts. That takes me to a topic I’ve beenmeaning to write about for a while. That is TRAINING pups or dogs tostakeouts so that it is NOT traumatic.

Starting when the pups are about 10-11 weeks of age I attach drop chains to their kennel wall, just far enough apart that they can’t tangle or reach each other. (Usually, in the weeks before this, the pups have become used to their puppy collars and to walking on a Flexi-lead….getting used to a gentle pressure on their necks while still having the freedom to move around.) With their food bowls nearby but inaccessible, I clip each pup quickly but calmly to a drop chain, giving each one a piece of a dog biscuit as I attach
their collar to the chain. Some may start bouncing and fussing while others, being used to the Flexi, may not. As soon as each pup is chained, I go back down the row giving them their bowl of food. Most will immediately divert their attention to eating and forget about the chain; occasionally I will have one who leans back against their chain and refuses to eat. In this case, I use a dog biscuit in front of their nose to draw them forward which releases the pressure from the chain. This may be enough to relax them and start them eating; if it’s not, I don’t fuss them about it. They will eat with the next feeding. As soon as every pup is done eating (being sure to have removed the bowl of any who didn’t), I calmly move each one to a “slack chain” withanother biscuit and let them off the drop chain. I do NOT let them off until there is no food accessible. Once they are released, I pick up their food bowls and their “training” is done for that session. At this point, I’m feeding twice a day so we will get in two trainings daily. By the thirdfeeding, it is rare to have a pup that is afraid of being on his/her chain; now, if they are bouncing, it is with anticipation. Always, they get a dog treat for going on their chain; you can give them a command to associate when you give the cookie, if desired. I say their name as I give them their cookie; it really solidifies the name response that I like to have!

As the pups become accustomed to being on their chains to eat, I begin to stretch out the amount of time I leave them on AFTER they eat; at first, it’s just enough time to pick up their bowls, then I will progress tositting back from them a bit and just admiring them, scooping their part of the kennel, changing their water or going down the row petting each one. The next step is to leave them on their chains (AFTER they eat) while I feed the adult dogs.  Once they master waiting patiently through these timeframes (whether quiet is a criteria or not varies from person to person), I change to putting them on their drop chains and feed the ADULTS first, making the pups wait. The point is to introduce their chains in a way that focuses most of their attention on something more important than the chain.

When the pups are about 4 months old, I let them up into the main kennel each evening once the adults have had their playtime and are back on their chains. I let the pups rampage around visiting the adults for a few minutes, then I put each one on a regular chain/house station, again using the cookie/command they have learned to associate with chaining/eating. The first few times I put the pups on the longer chains, I lead them to the end of it so they will know where the limit is; I don’t want them running full bore and hit the end of a five foot length of chain. As in obedience, when you introduce a new training factor, you lower your expectations;
therefore, on their first few times on “the real chain” the pups get fed first again. They get let back off as soon as ALL dogs are done eating but before bowls have been picked up. As they become used to this, I start delaying letting them off until the bowls are picked up, new poop is scooped, water topped off, dogs are petted, etc; again, at this point, the time stretching is AFTER they eat. Progress to having them wait a few minutes on the chain before getting fed. Continue extending their time on the chain as you see them waiting patiently for YOU to decide they are ready to get off, working up to a couple of hours; be sure this is after a good play session and
hopefully with a full tummy.

By the time I put pups on their tethers for the day or for the night (between 7-9 months old), they are not worried about being on a chain; they have been TRAINED to this behavior for several months. Therefore, we do not have a stressful experience for either of us. The variable factor is whether a pup is mature enough to wait quietly until I decide it’s time to get up rather than announcing to the world that I must have overslept! If they are not, I put them in the play yard at night before they are making noise to avoid the problem and know that they will do fine later when they have more maturity.

Using your vision of what you want your dogs’ adult behaviors to be makes it possible to create a training plan for them as puppies. Each level of training then leads naturally to the next one.

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Hi all,

Everyone has their own ideas and reasons for what they want at hookup.  I DO want my dogs to use hookup time as a warmup time for their muscles AND for their cardiovascular and respiratory system.....but not to be out of control about it.  What does that mean to me....?

I expect my dogs to sit quietly at the truck as I prepare the sled/cart/quad; if they start to get noisy about it, I change what I am doing to something they know is not related to "getting ready".  It might be doing something in the cab of the truck or in the back of the dog box.  They learn "it's not time yet".  I have some that sit calmly and others that sit quietly while their whole body trembles and their pupils dilate and constrict.  Once I head to the gangline with that first dog, I EXPECT that the whole truck will go bonkers.  The dogs that are in the gangline will be bouncing, surging and vocalizing to the level they want.  HOWEVER, what is important to me is that they are in control of themselves (yes, really); their bouncing is forward, no spinning and tangling, no "alligatoring" of the dog next to them and no mouths on lines.  And even through the ruckus, their focus is on ME; they always know where I am and what I am doing.

I want the dogs to be well-controlled as I walk them to the line (pulling is OK, but no spinning or jumping in my face trying to remove my front teeth), to present their rear to me when we get to their spot and then to move forward "into" their harness so I can attach their neckline.  As I am hooking up the dogs, I want their surging to be forward and in a way that does not tangle them.  Again, no hassling the dog next to them....and no teeth on the lines.....can I say that enough?!?  Even in their excitement, I want them to know where I am and to be listening to anything I say....yes, they can.  (If a dog is misbehaving, a quiet "Leave it" or "Quit" is all that's needed; if it has to be loud, they aren't listening.)  When I get on the "rig" and say "Are you ready?", I say it quietly and all ears pivot backward, waiting for the "Let's go".  ALL of this is trained behavior; every time I am working with a dog, I do so with a mindset of forming the behaviors that I want in harness and on the trail.

The time that it IS important to me that the dogs stand calmy is when I need to stop on the trail, whether to take a break, tend to a dog or a line, whatever.  Then I want them to stand without surging, not expecting to go until I give them a command.....not just the fact that I get back to the "rig".  Some sprint racers don't train their dogs to stop; if they have to during a training run or a race, the dogs don't know what it's about and are trying to pop the hook.  By training the dogs to follow my commands and that stopping IS OK when I ask it, I save time by having a controlled situation and a team that understands that this is just part of what we do.  Now, that doesn't mean that the team wouldn't take off without me IF the hook broke loose; they just aren't hell-bent on trying to do so.

Those are the behaviors that are important and acceptable to me.  By training consistently, I get them MOST of the time.  And although we're not perfect at it, we do get numerous comments that tell me that the style I'm after is noticeable to others. 

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Training To Harness
Hi all,

There were some recent questions about starting a dog in harness.  As I was hooking up my "puppy team" of 3 nine-month olds and two of their grandparents, I thought how easy it seemed; that led me to question what I did that made it flow easily.  So, here goes....one person's way of training a pup/dog to harness.

First I will say that this jumps in well down the road of training a pup.  From early on they have been trained to focus on me, to respond to voice commands and hand cues, to the concept of response and reward, to the idea of learning being fun. But, even if it is a pup/dog that is new to me, the methods are the same.  Also, I am a word person; I do not house "break", leash "break" or harness "break" a dog.....I TRAIN.  I start my pups in harness sometime between 6 to 7 months of age, depending on conditions and the physical maturity level I see in that litter.  No hurry, we're going to be doing this a long time!

I put each beginner on a drop chain on the truck by itself; I want everything I do to be focused on that pup, not on another one bouncing in my face.  Bending the chestplate of the harness in half to make a tidy hole of the neck and underarms, I put my arm through the neck hole with a treat (piece of hot dog, Rollover, dog biscuit) in my hand.  The harness is positioned with the breastplate toward the top and the body hanging to the ground; this makes a tidy and less threatening presentation from the pup's view.  I gradually let the pup nibble on the treat while I slide the harness down my arm and over its head; as the harness goes over the head, I draw my treat hand slightly toward me saying "Get dressed".  The pup is focused on the treat rather than the new "thing" going over her head; by inducing her to move slightly toward me, I am training her to put her head in the neckhole ON COMMAND.  I rotate the harness 180 degrees, so that the body and breastplate are in proper position.  As I work the harness back on the pup's neck and move the collar forward of the harness, I do so gently and keeping contact with the dog; at this point, I have them positioned with their side touching my legs; this gives me control of their movement in every direction.  I slide my hands down the leg to the far side of the pup and bring it up in a natural tuck to put the leg through the underarm strap; keeping the pup against my body and my arm around their far side at the chest, I lift the closer leg in a tuck and put it through the near strap.  Keeping my hands on both side straps of the harness, I "release" the pup; usually it will move forward at which point I say "tighten up" and give praise.  Then I release the harness and we are done.  In the first couple of runs, I may choose to put a belly band on also, to prevent the pup from accidentally popping out of the harness.

Having secured the front of the gangline, either with an experienced leader or to something stationary, I take the pup forward.  I have a leash on the collar.  I walk the pup with both the leash AND holding the withers-strap of the harness, keeping the pup touching my side and in control.  Keeping this positioning, I attach the tugline to the harness, gently move the pup forward into the harness and give them BOTH the command to "tighten up" AND a treat at the same time they feel the harness tighten.  (This sequence eventually teaches the dog to present its rear for me to attach the tugline, then move itself forward into position.)  Placing myself slightly forward of the pup, I continue to give the command and to give praise and treats.  I attach the neckline while keeping the pup in control and in position using the leash.  (Tugline first, move into it, then the neckline....always focusing on moving forward into the harness.)  Then we pet and praise FROM A POSITION FORWARD OF THE DOG'S SHOULDER, to keep her "into" her harness.  If she tries to back up, spin, nip at another dog next to her, I give a gentle tug on the leash in the direction I want her to be.  That's ONE!  Leave the leash on her, laying on the ground in a forward direction and go for the next one.

Always keeping an eye on the pups already in line, continue until they are all hooked up.  If you have one or more helpers, they can continue to give gentle guidance to the pups already hooked up.  If not, know that this is not meant to be fast; it is meant to be slow so that the pups get used to the feel of the harness and so that you can use this to TEACH them proper behavior.  Each time you return to the gangline, put yourself forward of each pup, smile and say "tighten up" while inducing them into their harness with another small treat.  Your position forward of the pup brings them into their harness rather than them turning around to get to you; a simple thing, but very deliberate.

Now, it's time to make sure your leader lines are attached to DOGS rather than an immovable object..... I release the snubline and with pressure still on the brake, I give the adults their command, "are you ready..." they surge forward and the pups bounce against their harness without a clue...."let's go"...the leaders move forward and I KEEP THE BRAKE ON.....letting them move out ONLY at a crawl until I see that the pups are not bothered by the feel of the harness, moving in harness or the noise of the cart/sled.  Gradually I let them speed up to a SLOW lope, still using my brake to keep the speed very controlled.  All tuglines are tight; if a pup has a loose line, I slow them down but keep moving....I don't care if we are walking!  This is to TRAIN the pups to pull against the feel of the harness, it is not a conditioning run.  It is all about contol.  Several times during this first "run", I stop the team and set the brake (in whatever way you KNOW that the cart will not leave without you; that's not the lesson you want them to learn!), go forward and praise each pup, petting them FROM JUST FORWARD OF THEIR SHOULDER (remember that everything is designed to teach them to lean into their harness).

Complete your TRAINING run keeping the pups moving consistently in their harness and NEVER letting them move to their top speed; you want those lines tight and you don't want to hurt a young, unconditioned body.  Back at the truck, leave the dogs/pups hooked in the line; training continues!  As you move up the team, pet each pup FROM FORWARD OF HIS SHOULDERS and give praise.  Then get your "really good treats" (mine is half of a hot-dog) and start back down the team, leaders first.  Give each pup their treat from in front of them, getting them to lean into their harness firmly to get it; again give the command "tighten up" then praise.  Give them water in line using the same method; the pan is just forward enough that they have to be "in" their harness to drink, but not so much they have to strain for it.

Finish your training run by undoing the TUGLINE first, then the neckline and walking the pup on their leash back to the truck.  Again, they always move forward into the line rather than spinning around or you pulling them backward.

Tempest, Thistle and Topaz started their training at 7 months of age with their grandparents Tucker and Katie in lead; at 9 1/2 months old and over a dozen training sessions in harness, the girls push their heads through the harness to "get dressed", walk on their leash (pulling) to the gangline and position themselves at my side where I can reach their tugloops, surge forward as soon as they are attached and swing close in to the center to have their necklines attached.  They bounce and surge forward but in control until I am ready.  When I say "Are you ready", all tugs are tight....at "let's go" their heads are down and their hind legs driving into the dirt to get going!  The "easy lope" that I will allow them is faster than when we started, but never top end.  Sometimes we stop and take a break during the run, sometimes not.  They come in happy and tired, but not exhausted.  And they will be ready for next year's race season when it comes around; both in conditioning and BEHAVIORS. (Written March ’03)

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Line Lengths
Hi all,

Calculating Lengths For Ganglines-
There's a lot of variability in what you see in line lengths, from musher to musher and manufacturer to manufacturer.  It's not so much the actual lengths that are critical as it is the PROPORTION of the lengths of the centerline, tug line, neck line and overall harness length.  So, here's some points as I know them.

Tuglines: I see tug lengths listed from 40" to about 55".  The shorter the tug, the more the diagonal angle of pull from the centerline to the front of the harness; the greater the angle, the more the distortion of how the harness sits on the dog's body.  The "pull pressure" is trying to create a straight line.  Longer lines have a more gradual angle of distortion and will not tend of "offset" the harness as much.  However, the longer each section is, the longer your overall team length is; depending on the style of running and the types of trail you have, too much length in front of the sled may not be an advantage.  Choosing to have a longer tug length for the wheelers gives a little more distance between the front of the sled/cart; several reasons for this choice.  1.)  It gives more "error" time if the drivers responses aren't as quick as they could be. 2.)  In addition, having longer wheeler tugs gives a more gradual UPWARD angle from the sled to the harness tug, thus DECREASING downward pressure on the rear of the dog.  It is desirable to add this length to the tug instead of extending the section between the sled and the back of the wheelers tugline as this maintains better responsiveness to the power of the wheel dogs, better steering and less "whiplash" effect.  This is important on a sled; however, when I am running a cart or the quad, I do use a bungeed extender from the front of the rig to the back of the wheel section since most of my control is coming from a steering wheel in this case.

Neckline lengths also vary according to the whims of the musher.  Ranges from 7" to 12" including the snap are common;  the shorter lengths keep the dog closer to the center line, longer ones allow more lateral range.  Tight, narrow or windy trails are times when "close in" can be an advantage; rough, uneven trails where the dog may need to vary the track without jerking on it's neighbor are where longer necklines are good.

Harnesses should be of a standard OVERALL length.  This means the length from the top of the neck (withers) opening to the back of the tug loop.  Smaller harness sizes should have longer tug loops and larger harnesses have shorter tugs, to keep the overall length about the same.  A range of around 29"-32" is what I have seen in measuring different brands of harnesses.  It isn't important what your "standard" is; the consistency of length in all of your harnesses is the thing to check.  The TAIGA's that I use run about 31" in length (withers to end of tug loop).

Spacers, when needed, I like to be about 12" long.  I use them in between gangline sections when I am concerned with the possibility of a dog chewing the tug in front of them.  My centerlines are cabled, but tugs aren't.

Centerlines: So, now you take your chosen tug length (including snaps), add your "overall" standard harness length and your neckline length (including snaps)......that is the length that your centerline sections need to be.  Be sure to account for any shortening of tug and neck length in attaching to the centerline.  Also, as you calculate your centerline lengths, remember to add any length BEHIND AND FORWARD of the tug/neck attachment points, ie. if they are resting at the back of a joining loop.  I make about a 4" loop at both ends of my centerline sections and they join by interlocking, making them easily modified.  Therefore, the necklines sit at the back of the forward loop while the tugs sit at the front of the rearmost loop.  I have to remember to add the "loop" length to the centerline measurements.  I like making individual centerline sections, tugs, necklines and spacers that can be taken apart when needed for repairs, changing team size, etc.

If you choose to have some sections a different length than others, you might use a different color rope for the centerline, making them easily identified.  Same thing with different length tuglines.

So, it ultimately is the length of gap between the tug and neckline that is the most important factor.  Too short a length, the dog will be forward too much and tend to get it's legs over the neckline.  Too long a length, the dog will be "strung out" too tightly and believe me, they don't appreciate that!   If you routinely run with other teams, it helps to coordinate your ganglines in case you want to swap dogs on a run or if you need an emergency spare part....they will have what you need or vice versa!

Hope that is helpful.  You can use this info to make new ganglines or to check the balance on your existing ones and make adjustments.

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Trotting vs. Loping
Hi all,

Training Boot Camp style puts an emphasis on strengthening the pulling response, consistently and on command.  It also teaches us how to train a controlled, well-behaved team.  To seek out and solve behavior problems (like alligatoring) that can damage a musher's reputation on the trail rather than avoid them.  It doesn't focus on pace or speed for those reasons.  Last year at Boot Camp (April '02), my yearlings responded to a challenge especially well.....I immediately let them move faster.  Another musher asked 
Ann about that and she (knowingly) told them that I was training the dogs to consider MOVING FASTER as their REWARD.

Even though I run sprint with my Sibes, I "cross-train" when it comes to pace.  Large team training slow with heavy quad and lots of resistance, moving to less resistance and rewarding them with moving faster....then to the smaller quad and varying the resistance.  What I aim to train is that I SET THE PACE; I want the dogs to slow to a trot when I ask, stand and wait calmly while I work in the team AND to pick it up to a lope when I ask it.

In a given training run, I will vary the speed several times; the goal being that I can judge the conditions and guide the team appropriately and with control.  (This is basically "interval training".)  Then my job is to know how much to ask and when to ask it.  Depending on your planned distance, overall pace goals, terrain, temperatures, size and conditioning of team, etc. you will need to assess what is fair to ask. A six dog team is probably not going to lope for thirty miles; but you can alternate your pace between the trot and the lope if you have trained them to YOUR pace commands. If you are wanting the dogs to stay in a lope lope longer, stop them and rest them before they change to a trot.  Do this numerous times on a training run. Do this separately from a training run where you are focusing on varying your pace.  As the pace setting, their conditioning and their command response come together the distances between needed pace changes will increase as will YOUR control of the pace.  What I DON'T do is increase the speed by helping the dogs with the quad motor; motor equals resistance training, neutral equals speed.  I want the dogs pulling at speed, not just running at speed.

We don't have it perfect, but we keep working on it!

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Functional Structure
Hi all,

OK, here goes...what Karen looks for....neither right nor wrong...but my observations.

Yes, I can see a lot in a puppy before it is even dry, but I find that for my lines it is about the 7-8 week mark that I want to really take a good look.  What I see then will hold true as the dogs matures.

First, I get the puppies running and playing until they drop over in a sound sleep!  Then I position them on their side and start "measuring"; I simply use my fingers as I find this accurate enough.

I measure the length of the "shoulder" from the top of the scapula to the forward point of the shoulder; note that this is NOT the length of the scapula itself and but is used as a reference length.  Keeping my finger gap stationary, I rotate downward to measure the length from the point of the shoulder to the back of the elbow.  I want this measurement (the upper arm) to be equal to the length of the shoulder, not shorter.  If these lengths are equal, the angle should be "proper" for providing good reach and good cushioning of the joint.  Too short an upper arm brings the front down straighter and decreases the shock absorbtion capability; this can make a dog who is more prone to front end injury.  Next I shift down again and measure the lower arm (elbow to wrist); this should be equal (or preferably) slightly longer than the shoulder measurement.  If this measurement is shorter than my reference length, I would hold a high suspicion that this is going to be a short-legged dog.

Now we move to the rear of the puppy.  I again take my reference (shoulder) length and match that up to the length of the pelvis.  This is from the point of the hip to the very back of the pelvis.  To find the point of the hip if it's not obvious, run your fingers up the front edge of the dog's thigh; the tip of the bone at the 
top of the thigh is the front of the pelvis.  The pelvis should be equal to the shoulder length, again not shorter.  Rotate down with your measurement to compare the length of the thigh, from the back of the pelvis to the front of the knee; again, this should be equal to your reference length.  Down again to measure from the front of the knee to the back of the hock joint; this should be equal (or slightly longer) than your reference
(should equate to the lower arm on the front).  Now, check the length of the croup/placement of the tail on the pelvis. Lift the tail so it is perpendicular to the pelvis and note where it attaches; this should be in the middle third of the length of the pelvis, ideally close to the middle of that region.

The length of the pelvis acts as a hinged fulcrum from which rearward extension occurs; a short "hinge" reaches it's end range sooner than a longer one and the dog has to "pop up" in the rear to complete it's rear stride.  In the trot, you will see this dog sway it's back to attempt a longer rear motion.  A short 
croup/high tailset also acts as a limiting factor in this movement and you will see a similar result.  A short length from the knee to the hock joint straightens the angle of the leg relative to the ground and also inhibits rearward drive.

Back length (point of the shoulder to the back of the pelvis) should be slightly longer than the height of the dog (from top of the withers to the ground). Some people use actual ratios which are good; I'm just not that accurate.  Within the range of "good length", theory is this.  A more square dog will move well in the lope because it doesn't have as much back length to lift and carry forward with each stride; if too short, will tend to interfere with itself in the trot as there is not enough separation between the front and rear to clear.  It may also have less flexibility in the spine which inhibits tuck and extension of the back in the fast gallop.  A longer backed dog will be a good trotter as it has the space to move it's legs under the body without interference; it's back will also have more flexibility to tuck and extend in the gallop.  In the gallop, the longer-backed dog has more of a load to lift and thrust with each stride, so MAY tire more easily.  (Think of carrying a load of firewood close to your body and then carrying it out at arms length.)  Too long a back will have weak suspension (ie. like a bridge), may look swayed and may become a literal sore point under working conditions.  So ideally, a dog who is slightly longer than tall will have the clearance in the trot without having excessive "load" in the gallop.  Makes a versatile dog.

Head size should be proportional to the dog, but should NOT be heavy.  While a big head may look impressive on a male in the show ring, it has no place if a dog is going to be asked to be a sled dog (strongly stated opinion there, eh?).  Again, think of that piece of firewood held at arm's length from your body; now, trot down the street holding the wood out there.  Tired?  Do it again at a run....every time the dog lands on it's front, the weight of it's head adds to the impact on it's shoulders.  Heavy head makes the dog more prone to fatigue and front end injury.

Depth of the chest should be slightly less than the length of leg from elbow to the ground; this means that the bottom of the chest (not the fur) will be at or slightly above the height of the elbow.  (Said conversely, the length of the leg below the bottom of the chest should be slightly longer than the vertical depth from the withers to the bottom of the ribcage.)  Shape of the torso should have a flatness to the sides of the ribcage; this allows the front legs to glide along the sides without distorting the gait.  A round ribcage will tend to flare the legs outward and the dog will have to move in a side-to-side rolling fashion to bring the legs toward center as they do in the trot; this gives a movement more like a bulldog than a Siberian.

From the front, the chest should be proportional to the dog but never wide; a narrower chest gives more efficient movement in harness.  Again, the dog should single-track without significant rolling motion in the trot.

I watch puppies and dogs for agility, for lightness of movement, for endurance according to their age and development.  But the proof of the pudding is once they are trained and conditioned to harness work.

I look for all of these things as I assess a puppy or an adult.  With the puppy, they are indicators; in the adult, they are the final product.  (Assessing for tightness or for changes caused by injury are another subject.)  I am looking for things that say a particular dog would not be happy doing the job I would ask of him/her rather than looking for that one pup who can.  I am looking for the things that determine WHAT I would reasonably ask of a dog who runs for me.  No body is ideal.  If I know what the physical limitations may be, I can ask the right things of that dog without injuring it.

Again, these are my ways of looking at functional structure in the Siberian.  The dog should be fast and efficient in harness; nothing said that the goal of the "origins of the breed" were to come in last behind the storm or last to the now empty dinner table.

Wordy enough for one edition! Respectfully submitted.

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