SP Kennel is a premier sled dog racing kennel in Two Rivers, Alaska, dedicated to the individual dog through excellent health, nutrition, training and specialized care.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Yearlings - Hard at Work

The "Yearling" Class this season is hard at work. When you consider that these youngsters first got into a sled dog harness six months ago, then watching their progress is amazing. This is the season when sled dogs learn the MOST. Can you imagine?

They are training in harness on a very regular schedule - almost like the big dogs. But, our goals are four-fold with yearlings:

  1. Keep them happy (thus wanting to pull and run all the time)
  2. Teach them manners (absolutely necessary to work in a big team)
  3. Keep them healthy (you can't expect a scrawny youngster to work hard)
  4. Look at individual success
At the beginning of training, the months of September and October, the yearlings train with the adults. They are in harness and running beside some of the ultimate All-Stars of the game. Can you imagine Driver's expression when he was hooked up right beside Nacho. "Gulp! Hey Dude." Or Sandy next to Mac. She acted like a 12 year old girl in love. "Hi there... Ummm, I'm Sandy." 

So, as the season progresses the Adult Racers have their own advanced training schedule. Some of these dogs have been through the ropes for years - they understand the how training works. Once they are comfortable and fit at a certain mileage, that mileage increases and their fitness increases. This happens in relatively small increments and enough "days off" are thrown into the program that these adults find them self happily fit and - ready to roll - by mid November.

The Yearlings have their own training schedule at this point. Unlike the Adults, they have no idea what to expect. Every time we increase their training mileage on a run, it is the first time they have ever gone that far. So we need to make these mileage increments small for the yearlings to succeed.

You also have to remember that the Adult Racers understand that whenever they are harnessed they might run 20 miles or 1,000 miles. Like a human marathon racer not a 100 yard dash sprinter. Since these veteran dogs have this long-distance concept ingrained in their mind they understand to not pull as hard as they possibly can. They pull just hard enough to keep the sled moving and travel at a reasonable speed. Therefore they can go for 300, 500 or 1,000 miles. 

The Yearlings do not have this long-distance concept ingrained yet. So, they leave the kennel pulling their hearts out: always 100% of their energy and enthusiasm. They only learn that they need to take it easy and pace them self when the training mileage increases and they start to get tired - they can't physically pull at 100% anymore. At first, they might not understand getting tired. Their tug lines will just naturally go slack when they simply have no more energy. This usually happens quickly in a young dog: "Dutch was doing great then all of a sudden on the steep hill at 12 miles he stopped pulling."

What you have now is a dog who wants to please you and do his/her job but physically can't. This is not the time to get angry with that dog. He or she is trying as hard as possible. So the trick is to watch each youngster individually and try not to push them too much. If they reach this point once in a while, that's okay because they are learning. But, you can not have a dog reach this point over and over again because then you are teaching them it is Okay not to pull. So, we will cut back on mileage, speed or intensity if a dog reaches this point too often or too soon compared to the rest of the Yearling Class. Just like a student being kept back in 3rd grade for two years - we want to make sure that each dog learns at a level in which they can succeed. 

So, the question is: How are the SP Kennel Yearlings doing so far?
Chipper is a sassy small gal and she likes to run the show. When she gets tired on a training run, she plays with her neighbor. She would also rather go fast then slow and steady. When Chipper started to get tired on training runs we cut her miles back so that she can focus on her job not her running partner.
Driver is a big lug of a guy. He has learned to take it easy after 5 miles and has been able to pace himself through an entire training run. This is surprising since he is quite large and many times a larger Yearling will take longer to develop.
Dutch is still the sweetheart. He always wants to please his musher. He has gotten tired once in a while, but changing up the speed and length of his runs have helped him understand to pace himself.
Iron is the best looking Yearling. He is powerful yet not lanky. From a distance, he looks like an Adult. But, he doesn't act like an adult. Meghan even mentioned the other day "Iron is going to have to put his Big Boy pants on pretty soon when I harness him." Iron has a habit of pinning himself on the ground in excitement whenever you approach him with a harness. This does not make him easy to manage. But he thinks it's fun and his tail is usually going a mile a minute.
Junior is very talented. She has been bumped up to an Adult Racer training team twice and has run in lead on a Yearling training team. Her fault is that she puts out so much energy that she comes home and wants to sleep - not eat. So, we will have to watch her weight because if she doesn't eat enough then she won't be able to perform. 
Kodiak is gorgeous. He had some issues with manners early in the season but is completely reformed. He is steady and somewhat understands the long distance concept. 
Lydia is a driving demon. She wants to pull 100% all of the time. So far she has been able to do that and keep up with the Yearling training schedule. She was tired only when she got home from the run yesterday. Lydia has run in lead in a Yearling team and has even passed other dog teams.
Sandy is a healthy little girl. She has a "can do" attitude. She has adapted to a comfortable trot on all of the training runs which is a huge learning stage. A sled dog can trot forever (or at least 1,000 miles!)
Wedgy has minor tendonitis in her rear leg. She was doing well when this became an issue. She had several weeks rest and is now back in training. But her training runs are now quite short so she goes out with the Retired team on short fun runs. We hope to build her mileage up slowly.
Woody was doing great then he got a stomach bug. He didn't eat very well and lost too much weight. He has been moved front-and-center in the yard and now is babied and fed as many times as he cares to eat. Once he gains some weight he will be back with the Yearling program. Currently he is training with the Retired team.

So that's the Yearling Update. We will keep you informed through out the season on their individual progress. It is always exciting to watch these youngsters grow, learn and become part of the SP Kennel Team.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

HI Is there a video I am not able to download? it seems to be missing? or am I too anxious? lol!
padee in Santa Rosa CA

Marilyn Cozzens said...

There is no video.

Aliy Zirkle said...

Sorry - the video didn't download yet. Look for it in the next few days!!

Heidi Phillips said...

Thanks for the yearling training update. Go yearlings!!!!Sending well wishes to Wedgy and of course Woody...Give him some extra kibble and face rubs for me.

Heidi

Anonymous said...

This was a marvelous "report card" for the Yearlings!!!

Thanks so much!!!


Marilyn Cozzens said...

Thanks so much for the yearling update. They seem to be progressing, some faster than others. Thanks so much for posting this, it had to have taken some time with all the info/update you gave to us. How often to the retired dogs go out training?

Amy Falise said...

Very interesting run down of the yearling team. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us. I'm so excited for this season's races!

Jeanne Willis said...

Love reading your blog. Go yearlings!

Jeanne Willis said...

Great report. Go Yearlings'

Lidia Dale-Mesaros said...

Hi Aliy, loved reading your synopsis of the yearlings and their progression. Lydia :) sounds like quite the dog! very interesting reading. Lidia :)

Nessmuk said...

Wow...this post really puts the whole youngster training concept into perspective....it's very individual isn't it! I hope Woody and Wedgy feel better soon!! I really admire your approach to training!! You folks are amazing!!

Joyce said...

Thanks for sharing about the dogs & training. It is all so very interesting. Good luck this season. Get well soon to Wedgy and Woody.

Linda Toth said...

I think I am still a yearling, trying to figure out how to pace myself and make it the distance.

Kris Snowflake said...

I love the update! I am one of the teachers from Camp last summer and the kids and I were exploring your page. They all want to adopt a dog.Your updates are fabulous!

Lourdes, VT said...

Wow! How interesting and exciting! Those yearlings are so adorable and so very lucky to be part of your family! Looking forward to the video :)