Ivan Update

7 months old. 57.5 lbs. and 24″ at the shoulder. To date, Ivan has 24 runs in harness. Only one run longer than 1.5 miles. The point is to get him trained without overtaxing his growing body. He also gets a 1.5-mile walk on foot every day at sunrise.

NOTE: For those of you who leave comments they go into a que for me to approve. Sorry if it takes me a while to get to them. I do appreciate your comments, but I am sort of dog-busy most of the time. Thanks for reading!

seppala book

It’s been a while since I plugged the book I co-wrote with Dr. Doug Willet. It covers more of the history of these dogs post Poland Spring and the original dogs that started the line. The E Version is cheaper but you’ll miss the true beauty of the photographs. It may be a bit much for the average dog lover but it’s gold for us die hard sled dog folks. Thanks!

Why do my Huskies Bake in the Sun?

For a couple of years, I wondered why my Siberians chose to lay out in the sun and bake. I’m talking summer in Virginia! Dogs that laugh and play at -30F laying out in the sun baking themselves. I had to drag them in panting and their fur was hot to the touch.

I went researching this weird habit and it turns out all furry mammals do this. This is how they get vitamin D3. If you want to read the mechanics of how this works the link is last. The bottom line is skin oil is converted into vitamin D3 by the sun. For humans, it is absorbed into the skin. If you have fur like Uncle Bill then it is absorbed by the fur. The dogs lick their fur and get the vitamin D3 orally. Fortunately, we’ve never seen Uncle Bill do this!

Dog Trike

Here is what the modified recumbent bike looks like. Big Cooper and Little Nikki provide the power. This design was made for the urban environment. The tow-bar does a couple of things as opposed to using ropes or lines. One is I have more control of them in case they decide to dart in front of a car for whatever reason (like a squirrel running out across in front.) The second is it keeps them from drifting back into the wheels or chain and sprockets. Mushing commands are the same and it’s no problem to switch to a sled.

dusk to dark run

Just another training run for Cooper and Ivan. Music by: Hall & Oats.

how to win the Iditarod

I typically like to write my own posts. Once in a while something shows up that is so good I feel I need to share it. This is a long post by a member of mushing royalty (Mitch Seavey.) It may not be for everyone, but I think it’s a great read for those who want to know more about professional mushing.

Photo by Clark Fair, Mitch Seavey at 2017 Tustumena 200
Seavey’s IdidaRide Sled Dog Tours is with Mitch Seavey.

How to win the Iditarod (by someone who never has)Lately it seems you can’t get online without your blood pressure rising, but whether you preferred Obama or Trump, the Quest or the Iditarod, from a bird’s eye view life is pretty dang good. We still live in the greatest country on earth (I may be biased), my wife still loves me, my kids eat three meals a day, we sleep soundly, and it’s a beautiful day. We just often focus on the one thing that is wrong rather than the nine that are great. Same goes for mushing.

Here’s how I see it…We’re two weeks from the start of the Last Great Race. Dallas Seavey has revolutionized mushing, and keeps breaking his own records. Mitch, despite qualifying for senior discounts, is right there with him. Aliy Zirkle proved she’s got the bloodlines and kennel program to stay at the top when her second generation of young team rocked into Nome in 3rd last year. Peter Kaiser is a young guy from the village who won the Kusko again, and Wade Marrs continues to improve. That’s the top five from last year’s Iditarod. I have tremendous respect for each of these awesome individuals, and could write a glowing article about why each of them will win this year. I only stop at five for the sake of brevity; anyone into guys will tell you #6 Joar Ulsom is the best looking of them all.

What each of these mushers has in common is a true connection with their dogs. They are in tune with each individual dog, and mush accordingly. Dogs are not machines. There aren’t specs, no little meters with red warning indicators. They are individuals, as different as people. How fast can a person safely run a marathon? How many days a week can you jog? The answer is different for every person.

To maximize a dog team, you have to know what each dog is capable of, and then train it to meet that potential. You then have to race that dog according to how it was trained. If a dog excelled at 10 miles an hour for 52 miles with 4 hours rests in training, then that’s what you can expect of the dog in a race.

Anything else will have inferior results, regardless of whether or not it works for another team. If either Dallas or Aliy ran the other’s run-rest schedule, they would fail because that’s not what they trained their dogs to do. Then you have to see what’s actually happening on the race. If you trained at 9 miles per hour, but the team is running at 8, something is wrong. You need to find and correct that problem. Otherwise you’d better back off or risk further damage. Same if the team hits 12 mph, all those same bells go off. “This is too fast; hit the brakes before the wheels come off!!!!”

A good mechanic doesn’t need a tachometer to tell when an engine is over revved or missing on a cylinder. We’ve seen what happens when teams are run beyond their abilities; they certainly don’t win. The fastest way to Nome is picking a maintainable pace.The beautiful thing about the Iditarod is you can’t get away with asking too much of a dog team. Well trained sled dogs are incredible. They will gladly give you 100% all the time. But they can’t give you what they don’t have. Great mushers know what the dogs are capable of, spread that over 1000 miles, and make adjustments as needed.

As spectators, it’s often hard to tell how well a team is doing. If Team A is running 12 mph, and Team B is running 10, who’s doing better? To find the answer, you have to look deeper. Often you’ll find that Team B is intentionally slowing to the correct speed for those dogs.

One of the best indicators is to watch how a team’s speed changes over the course of a race. This is easily done using the history function on the GPS trackers. If Team A took off going 12mph and is now going 9mph, that’s not a good sign. If Team B took off going 9mph, and is still going 9mph, that’s great. For the first time in Iditarod history, both 1st and 2nd place held the same speed over the entire 1000 miles last year. Unsurprisingly, Mitch had the fastest time ever posted on the last 300 miles. When a team finishes at the same speed it leaves the starting line, it’s clear that team was raced within its comfort level.

Savvy mushers don’t care what place they’re in until the finish, and savvy fans don’t look at who’s winning at the halfway point, rather who’s maximizing their teams’ potential. To understand the devastating competitive effects of a team slowing down even slightly, we need to do some math.

Over the past seven years, the average margin between 1st and 2nd place is just over an hour. It’s 77 miles from White Mountain to Nome. If team A can hold 9 mph from start to finish, that last run will take 8 hours and 33 minutes. If Team B held the same 9mph until White Mountain, but then slows to 8 mph for just that last run, it’ll take 9 hours and 37 minutes, or just over an hour slower. That’s the average margin of victory in ONE MILE PER HOUR ON ONE RUN.

You can do the math over a longer stretch of trail, or with a larger speed drop. The sheer length and competitiveness of Iditarod highly incentivizes running a schedule that allows the team to finish very near the same level that they started. Strategically carrying dogs is another huge part of this equation. Since each dog is an individual, what’s best for one isn’t necessarily what’s best for another, even littermates on the same team. So Dallas, Mitch, Jeff King and others have managed to further customize the run/rest balance by carrying dogs to help balance those differences.

If a dog starts to get a little tired, give him a ride for a couple hours and you have a fresh dog. Run him four more hours into a checkpoint and he needs an airplane home. The entire Iditarod can be customized to each individual dog. While I’m on the topic, team size is a grossly misunderstood aspect of racing.

Everyone’s heard the saying ‘you’re only as fast as your slowest dog,’ but it’s still easy to assume that a bigger team is faster or in better shape. It actually works the opposite. Imagine 16 dogs raced the Iditarod without the sled behind them, and for the sake of argument, ignore pack instinct. Since some are naturally faster and stronger than others, they would spread out, and eventually one would get to Nome first.

Therefore the fastest team size is one dog. You could list the dogs in order from strongest to weakest, with the finishing time getting progressively slower with each added dog. The same is true once you add the sled, but since more power helps pull the sled, the optimal team size is somewhat larger. The exact number could be argued, but Dallas has made a pretty good case for the number seven.

Dropping a dog means nothing more than ‘this team can run faster without the slowest dog.’ The closest example is a pitcher being pulled from a baseball game. Once dropped, the dogs have the full force of veterinarians and volunteers to care for them until being reunited with their team at the end. I have been to Nome a lot of times. My first trip was two months prior to being born. I have never seen a dog team win the Iditarod that wasn’t in good shape at the finish.

I have never heard anyone say, “So and so won, but they did it by pushing their dogs too hard.” Doesn’t happen. Someone may try, but they won’t win, or even come close. So whatever happens between now and Nome, I can tell you that the first musher to arrive will be the one who did the best job of maximizing their team’s potential, catered to each individual dog.

That team will be the best cared for, best run, and that musher will know every dog intimately. That’s something to be celebrated. So I hope you enjoy the Iditarod, I will. Danny SeaveyGiven the spirit of this post, I will delete any blood pressure-increasing comments.

Photo by Clark Fair, Mitch Seavey at 2017 Tustumena 200

Ivan the big

From 8 weeks(photo 1) to 7.5 months old (photo 2.) 57lbs. and still growing.

Night Moves

Years ago when I used to fly planes. I hated flying at night. All you do is listen to the engine and hope those strange noises don’t mean you are about to fall out of the sky. Running dogs at night is fun compared to that. Already being on the ground, is better than becoming a lawn dart. Tonight’s video run is with the “Big Boys” team. Short-run but it’s all about teaching Ivan. To date, Ivan has 27 miles under his harness pulling a 3 wheel contraption. Most runs are 1.5 miles except for one run of 2.25miles. I love running at night with the dogs. All the yapper dogs are in their houses watching reruns of “I Love Lucy.” That leaves the night to us. Music by CCR/Hey Tonight.

The Seppalas

This post is only about my opinions based on what I’ve seen. You can believe it or not, but the point of my blog is to show my own journey and what I’ve gleaned from this adventure with these dogs.

I truly believe that the Seppalas of high percentage realize that they are a cut above their Siberian cousins. Yes, they are all purebred Siberians. The difference between the Sepps and the generic is line traits is easy to see once you have both to compare.

So what separate’s them? First, you have to have some of the histories to understand that. The Seppala line dogs are the direct descendants of those very same dogs that Leonhard Seppala ran in the great serum run to Nome in 1925. They don’t look quite the same as 100 years ago. These dogs have evolved over time, but for those of us that want to preserve the line that’s okay. They evolve and with work also improve. If you’ve read my post on how performance is also a genetic trait according to me. Then you get my drift.

All Siberians for the most part come from the first 20-30 dogs Leonhard bred and sent to Elizabeth Ricker in Poland Spring Maine. They are in fact great dogs, and you can trace everyone of them back to these original dogs. The true high percentage Sepps have a certain look. They have certain attitude, and they have a work ethic not matched by their watered down brethren.

To me the telling factor is in the eyes. You can see a distinct difference when you lock eyes with a true Sepp and a generic Siberian. The intelligence in the gaze says it all. These dogs can see into your soul. They judge if you are worthy. And they recognize each other without a doubt in my mind. If you put 20 dogs together the Sepps seem to know who the other Sepps are. They seem to know they are different, and yes they think they are special. I can’t argue with that, they are a cut above if you care about performance.

I live with 3 other non-sepps and they are fantastic dogs. I would never say any Siberian is sub-par. They are great companions and workers. But the next level is true Seppalas. They are the real deal, they are a cut above in temperament, work, and companionship. They have a down side and that is the never ending need to work. They are so driven to work that its more than most people can deal with. If you can’t build your life around their needs, you should not apply.

This line has been fading for years now. The gene pool is shrinking and its difficult to breed and keep the COI under control. We do the best we can with what we have. It would be a real shame to lose these dogs in their pure form. It may be inevitable but we will keep on trying as long as we can. To do less would be a sin to these magnificent dogs. The dogs that all Siberians came from, the originals. The dogs that started it all.

This is Delta, she is Ivan’s mom. That is the look you get from a true Seppala Siberian. Behind her is Bonk, another 98% Seppala.
Ivan has the same look. You can see the intelligence in his gaze.

My partner Hannah Lucas in Caribou Main does the real work. She races and breeds the dogs. I just do what I can to help. Together we work to continue this amazing line of dogs.

Building a Sled Dog

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a good working dog. It helps if you start with a dog from a working line whatever that line happens to be. In sled dogs I’ve been told that performance can be bred out in as little as three generations. I think that’s true, and doesn’t mean that they lose the instincts. They lose the physicality of the work. Pups from a continuous line of workers seem to literally hit the ground running.

That’s not to say you can’t start from a non-current working line and build. But it will take longer and the results will not be as good. I spent a year with my boy Cooper teaching him commands on foot walks. I think we walked 500 miles. To this day he is perfect on his commands. But, he is not fast or driven enough to be competitive. That doesn’t matter to those who mush for fun. The jump to being competitive is huge. I’ve also found it’s much easier to train a new pup by using an experienced one. Dogs will learn from each other much faster than they will from humans. Especially if you start from 8-weeks; that’s the time when what they learn will last a lifetime. Much like it’s easier for us to learn a language as a child than an adult.

Currently Ivan has 15 runs on the trike for a total of 21 miles. All of these were no longer than 1.5 miles each. This run I upped the distance to 2.25 miles and slowed the pace down. We also stopped to talk to some folks which is good socialization for him. He was a tad shy when I got him but that has all but disappeared as he matures and is subjected to more things. Maturity takes more than physical growth. It take growth of their minds as well. Meeting new and strange things; so the next time they happen its not a shock and taken without undue problems.

Enjoy this video of our latest run. You’ll see how fluid the pup is. He was built for speed and can run my 6-year-old to the ground. Cooper is of the standard Siberian lines. His body is built more for strength than speed. Ivan happens to have both of those traits. But, he comes from our racing line and that is the proof of what I’m saying. Performance is also hereditary as far as I’m concerned. I’m no scientist but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Not just our dogs but many other working/racing lines of huskies have the same characteristics. They are both purebreds, but there is more to dogs than just pedigrees.

%d bloggers like this: