It’s not all mush & roses… dog fights happen.

Several years ago, my husband and I hired a musher to take our family on our first dogsledding/fishing trip into the Boundary Waters on the Canadian border. Our musher was a no-nonsense guy – obviously used to dealing with serious fishermen… not girls trying to cuddle his dogs. And rules – what rules? When we stepped onto the back of the sleds (2 of my kids on one sled together), I asked what we should do. He looked at me confused and said, “Just go. And don’t fall off.” Umm, okay. Thankfully, we were a family that already had a long history of jumping into things and learning on the fly. So off we flew – into the wilderness with our kids entrusted to a wild, weathered stranger. The mom on my shoulder whispered reassurance; “he’s a professional who’s probably handled every situation out here.” Just then, we turned onto a lake to see ten wolves crossing out ahead of us. He stopped his team of sleddogs and when I asked him what we were going to do (looking for some grand wisdom on dealing with wild wolves), he blankly replied, “I dunno… I don’t like this at all. Do you have a gun?” All reassurance out the window! The wolves disappeared into the woods but the crazed little mom on my shoulder relentlessly questioned the adventure! When we got to the fishing spot, the sleds were secured and the dogs instinctively curled up as the falling snow covered them like a blanket. After a fabulous day of fishing, the sun began to set and we started to pack up. This was a signal to the dogs that it was about time to run again – and they went insane! Jumping and howling and lunging. As we were loading the two back sleds, I noticed a ruckus going on with the first sled. My husband and son went to see what was going on and they found the musher in the middle of a huge dog fight! Gnashing and kicking and yelling and blood. When the dogs were separated and the snow settled, our guide was left holding one very injured dog. He put the dog into the cargo bag on the sled (which is what they’re made for) and we headed back. With his hand and face cut and his jacket was covered in blood, he didn’t seem to care. “Thomas… oh Thomas” he kept saying; worried only about his dog. His friend. Thomas ended up needing a few stitches and a night at the vet but he turned out to be fine.

Shortly after we got our first team of dogs, we had our first experience. It was just myself and my girls in the dogyard when our female DJ attacked our other female, Darby. Remembering the bloody mess years earlier, I knew not to get my hands or face near the riot – so I yelled and put my boot between their mouths. It startled them enough for a quick reality check – giving me time to grab the aggressor by the collar. Dogs instinctively fight to the death so NOT breaking it up would be harsh – and dogs need to know that their owner will protect them. Darby was so bloody that we called someone in to give her stitches – only to find out that the cuts were small and dogs bleed a lot. The two of them haven’t fought since. Just recently however, we had our 2nd episode with two other dogs. With our wet December, we put the dogs in the barn for a couple of days to dry out. In their boredom, they turned to digging. When we arrived, four dogs were together in one kennel! Our appearance incited a brawl between Jackson and Prophet – our two biggest boys. I quickly but apprehensively entered the kennel with the four dogs and and kicked Jackson’s jaw off of Prophets neck. It phased him for less then a second and he went in for another bite – and I again, put my boot between his jaw and Prophet’s neck. That time, I was able to grab Prophet’s collar and one of the girls grabbed Jackson’s collar. Prophet looked like he lost the battle but after close examination, the blood all came from a little cut on his snout. No vet call this time. Unfortunately, a few dog fights may be inevitable. There are many books with suggestions on how to deal with them – but experience is probably the only real tool in knowing how to handle it. Never a dull moment in the dog yard! Big boots help!

Thanksgiving turkey & mush!

This Thanksgiving, we were thankful for snow! With the kids all home, we enjoyed an early turkey dinner together, then took two teams of dogs out for a run. We’ve learned, the first time out is always an embarrassing adventure. Within the first 100 yards, we asked each other, “do they know they’re sled dogs?” It was as if the millennia of purposeful breeding had vanished from their cells. They crossed lines, tried to turn under fences, and they looked back at us with confusion over “gee” and “haw.” But… we carried on – hitting ruts and trees and one of returning bloody. (Eh hem, husband).  By the third run around the loop, some sort of Alaskan synaptic sense vaguely started to snap. But, with the team out of shape, we couldn’t risk mushing any further and have eight cardiac arrests on our hands. With fresh straw and water, we tucked our pudgy pals in their doghouses for the night. The next day proved to be better though! The dogs must have had Iditarod dreams because they awoke eager to run and pull and even obey commands! Now… hike it up Minnesota – we need about 4 feet of snow and we’ll be VERY thankful!

Pearl in the lead! Our only "in-shape" sled dog!

Pearl in the lead! Our only “in-shape” sled dog!


Mushing through the marsh