What do the dogs eat?
Lots! A hardworking tour dog can consume up to 8000 kcal a day and a distance racing sleddog can top this by gobbling down 12,000 kcal a day. These calories are contained in a high powered kibble designed specifically for working sleddogs. It contains up to 32% protein and 32% fat. In addition the dogs receive about 2 pounds of raw meat a day… Chicken, beef, salmon, pork, and lamb. At the end of your tour you will have the opportunity to “feed the crocodiles” by tossing chunks of raw meat to the dogs , which they will snap out of the air with an accuracy that would put Chad Johnson to shame! We also add a joint care formula, salmon oil, probiotics and astaxanthin to their meal.
Just like people, dog’s metabolisms vary. Gladys and Bee gain weight by just looking at food. Conversely, Vinnie , the Mobster and Ranger Danger eat like teenage boys and are still skinny. And, we have a health nut in the crew who enjoys a good fruit salad for breakfast. Wonka the fruit eater, is a dog who has finished many Iditarods despite his penchant for watermelon and strawberries.
In general, the dogs, as marathon runners, must maintain a sleek, lean physique. And the guides are all working on being as sleek and lean as the dogs. If we suddenly go silent on the Divide Hill, it is because we are running behind the sled and slipping into a state of hypoxia.
What do the dogs do in the summertime?
Lots! In the off season, from end of April to end of November they return to their summer kennel, which is a 25 acre piece of land, at 4000 feet elevation, in central BC . Their home is surrounded by crown land that is loaded with trails and lakes. A doggy paradise. The dogs go for “walks”, which is more of a mad dash, chasing sticks, wrestling with each other and even swimming. Damsel, one of our best leaders, transforms into a Labrador in the summer, chasing sticks as far as you can throw them into the lake. The record for “Number of Dogs on a Walk” was set at 23 this summer.
What makes a lead dog?
Lead dogs are born, not made. A lead dog could be compared to a CEO of a company. They love their job, take it very seriously and can handle a great deal of responsibility. A lead dog must be particularly tuned into the musher in order to work together and take directional commands. It can be a somewhat stressful situation having eight or 12 screaming athletes at your heels, and so the lead dog must be confident of his or her abilities up there. We see lead dog-potential in pups at a very young age. At the same time, we never discount the “sleeper” dog, who may be a late bloomer and decides, at a later stage in life, that he or she wants to take the helm. Contrary to popular belief, the lead dog is not always the alpha dog in the kennel. Damsel has been one of the best lead dogs on the tour and race trail, and she is quite submissive. Pokey, on the other hand, has always been a quietly confident guy, who the other dogs never think to challenge on any level.
What are the little dog booties for?
We put booties on the dogs for a variety of reasons, but down south here, rarely for the cold. The main reason we boot is for webcracks. Because a dog’s feet is one of the main conduits to shed excess heat, the interface between their feet and the snow, is a warm damp environment which tends to create splits in their webs. We also also boot for abrasive conditions and snow balling. We do this preventatively. In conjunction with the boots we use our own special foot cream formula with tea tree oil, lanolin, almond oil, beeswax and some other secret ingredients.
More rarely, in theses southern climes, do we have to boot for the cold. Dogs have a unique foot physiology, with venules and arterioles spaced closely together for heat exchange, plus a large percentage of fatty tissue in their paws enables their feet to remain warm when ours would freeze. In addition, dogs only shed excess body heat thru their mouths and their paws and thus when they are working, their paws become little hot pads. They cannot shed heat by sweating, such as a horse does. Every dog is different and we recognize this. Sting snowballs easily, so with fresh snow at about minus 10 C, he gets “booted up” Princess Jose gets cold feet before anyone else, so she has boots on when it’s minus 5! She also requests a jacket that matches her boots.
Why are these dogs so skinny?
Sleddogs are the decathletes of the canine world. Any superstar athlete cannot carry any excess body fat as it can be injurious to their joints, and it also greatly impedes performance. For those of you who do run, you know when you are packing even an extra pound or two. Every dog’s metabolic needs are different, and either we monitor their feeding and caloric intake, or they do it for us. Damsel, we have to monitor, for she would eat until she was enormous and she would keep eating even when her knees collapsed. Lucky, on the other hand, will stop eating when she feels a little less light on her feet. In the end, we like to see a lean and athletic condition in all of our poochies. Well muscled with a few ribs showing, and a glossy coat.
Where do the dogs live?
The dogs go home each night to their kennel, which is 45 minutes drive from Lake Louise. At the kennel they all have their own house, which is a cozy den packed with straw. For the most part, we tether them individually for this enables us to monitor their food intake, observe their bowel movements (a key way to monitor their health) reduce the chaos, and to interact individually with each dog. The dogs are close enough to play with each other, but after a long day of work they usually eat their dinner and go to bed after a rousing group howl. While we do not offer kennel tours specifically due to the long drive from Lake Louise, we welcome anyone who would like to visit the dogs at their home.
How old are they when they retire?
Just like people, different dogs request to be retired at different ages. Some like to work well into their golden years, and on occasion, some want to retire in middle age. As long as they are still barking to go, and are not too stiff, we like to include them. As elders, they may only go out in harness once a week, but it fosters that pride that is so important to a working dog. When they let us know that they are not interested in jumping into their harness anymore, they are retired. These dogs are sometimes placed in adoption homes, or remain with us to grace the couches or snooze under a shady tree. Orian, at 14, is our kennel patriarch, and with a failing heart he still chases the young girls relentlessly, and does a short run in harness every now and again with the other “retirees”