Honest Dogs

Martin Buser

Honest dogs—I first came across those words in Gary Paulsen’s book, Woodsong, used to describe one of his dogs, Storm. Paulsen defined Storm as a dog who always worked, always pulled, ran many miles, and taught Gary many things about life.

Curious about the phrase, I researched it by asking people who asked others about “honest dogs”.  Author and Iditarod finisher Pam Flowers describes an honest dog as one who is a hardworking dog, and if the dog is not working hard as it usually does, then the dog has an honest reason for not doing so—snow or ice between the toes, getting jarred while running by stepping in a hole, sneezing, or other reasons to make their line go slack. (Note: the line referred to is the line attached between the tug at the rear of the dog’s harness and the gangline)

Pam says it’s the musher’s job to find out what the reason is and to take care of it. A dishonest dog is one who has learned to keep the line just tight enough to make it look as if the dog is pulling, but he isn’t.

Martin Buser, four time Iditarod winner, defines an honest dog in the following way:

I don’t mind if a dog eventually goes off the line during a long run as long as he or she gets back to work on their own.  Taking a break is fine by me, the honest part is that the dog does not lay down or quit.  If I’m stupid, I can make any dog quit.  One has to find what is possible to ask, what can be given.

 How does a musher know if a dog is pulling or not? They keep an eye on the line from the harness tug to the gangline. If it’s tight, the dog is pulling. If it isn’t, the dog is taking a break.

So, after I gathered all this information about honest dogs, I started thinking how this is an example of figurative language and how it relates to people. Usually, we think of honesty as a the quality of being truthful, saying what is true. But, honesty can show in actions, too.

How do we people know when other people are working like honest dogs work? We don’t have harnesses, tugs, and ganglines to look at. I think people listen to what we say we will do, and then people watch to see if we do what we said we would do.  People watch to see if we carry out our responsibilities or not.  Carrying out our responsibilities is like keeping the line tight.  Some people call this “talking the talk and walking the walk”. You do what you say you’re going to do.

Hardworking, “honest” people take breaks too, to recharge or to consider another way to get something done, causing their line to go slack for a little while. They get back to work, tightening their lines on their own. And if an honest person falters or hesitates, the reason they do so is an honest reason, a real reason.

When people offer excuses or dishonest reasons for not getting something done, then it’s like being a dishonest dog—pretending to do the work, but not really doing the work. The line looks tight, but the job isn’t getting done.

And, as a teacher or employer or co-worker, think about Martin’s statement that if he’s stupid, he can make any dog quit, that it’s up to him to find out what is possible and what the dog can give. Seems like that’s advice for folks who work with students, employees, and colleagues, too, not just mushers.

Are you an honest dog?  How do others know that you are? Think about it! (Thanks to Terrie Hanke, Sue Allen, Pam Flowers, Hugh Neff, and Martin Buser for their help with this information.)

Something to Do While You Follow Me!

When I arrive in Alaska around February 22, I’ll post often to keep you in the loop about what I am doing and what is going on with the race. And, when the race starts March 6, I’ll post daily about the race and teachable moments.

The NUMBER ONE question I’m asked is: “Don’t you get cold in Alaska?”   To help others Outside of Alaska understand the cold, I’ll post the temperature and wind speed daily on my site while I’m in Alaska. By the way, Outside refers to anywhere not in Alaska, and usually to  the other states of the U.S. Use this information for the following activities to figure out if I’m getting cold! (Don’t worry. I’ve got all the right gear to keep from getting cold!)

  • Elementary–Color a paper thermometer which shows your area’s temperature and another one showing the temperature I posted. Write the temperatures correctly.
  • Elementary–Make a chart or graph showing the temperatures I post.
  • Middle School—Use the lesson plan I posted in Coordinates for Your Sled-The Math Trail to make a 2 or 3 line graph plotting and comparing the temperatures I post and your area’s temperatures.
  • Middle School—Relate positive and negative numbers to the temperatures I post and the temperatures in your area.
  • Secondary—Convert the Fahrenheit temperatures I post to Celsius, and then back again. It’s a great workout for your brain! (Don’t use the converter program, use brain power.) http://www.albireo.ch/temperatureconverter/formula.htm Accessed 12.27.201    

 Fahrenheit to Celsius  

    Celsius to Fahrenheit  


  • Secondary—Calculate windchill and use those algebra skills. I’ll post the temperature and the windspeed daily during the race. You calculate the wind chill for a REAL brain workout. http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/basics/windchill/wind-chill-formulas.htm Accessed 12.26.2010
  • Any age level—Research and learn about Fahrenheit and Celsius temperatures. Write a paragraph or paper or create a power point show about the history of how these different ways of measuring temperatures came to exist, why scientists use Celsius more than Fahrenheit, which countries use Fahrenheit more than Celsius, what Celsius used to be called, etc.
  • Read Sanka’s postings on Zuma’s Paw Prints. This K-9 reporter includes weather and climate information in his postings.  http://iditarodblogs.com/zuma/

Mushing on,


Iditarod is Coming! Fill Your Sled Now!

(Keep on reading to find some ideas of activities for your students to do.)

Mushers carry the following mandatory items in their sleds during the race. I bet you can make this list relevant to what students need to be prepared for their job of school.

  •  Proper cold weather sleeping bag weighing a minimum of 5 lbs.
  • Ax, to weigh a minimum of 1-3/4 lbs., handle to be at least 22” long.
  • One operational pair of snowshoes with bindings, each snowshoe to be at least 252 square inches in size.
  • Any promotional material provided by the ITC.
  • Eight booties for each dog in the sled or in use.
  • One operational cooker and pot capable of boiling at least three (3) gallons of water at one time.
  • Veterinarian notebook, to be presented to the veterinarian at each checkpoint.
  • An adequate amount of fuel to bring three (3) gallons of water to a boil.
  • Cable gang line or cable tie out capable of securing dog team.
  • When leaving a checkpoint adequate emergency dog food must be on the sled. (This will be carried in addition to what you carry for routine feeding and snacking.)
  • http://iditarod.com/pdfs/2011/rules.pdf

Right now, mushers are preparing for the race by freezing and bagging their dogs’ food for the race, planning and preparing their people food and supply bags, running their teams on daily training runs and in races like the Copper Basin, the Sheep Mountain 150, or the Gin Gin 200. I am always curious about names, so I researched how the Gin Gin 200 got its name.

Who was Gin Gin?
The Gin Gin 200 is named after a remarkable dog who dominated a dog kennel for over 10 years. She was an inspiration both on the trail and in the dog yard. She was a dog with unswerving loyalty and stubbornness. She did not know” quit”. Her ability, drive and attitude should serve as an example to dog drivers everywhere.  http://www.gingin200.com/ accessed 1.1.11

Fill your classroom sled with some of these ideas to get your class prepared for the Iditarod.  Choose one way or several ways, or think of your own way to connect your students, your curriculum and the race.

  • Start now visiting www.iditarod.com and  http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/ , the For Teachers section of that site for ideas to use. There is an exciting lesson plan idea using the Blabberize website on the For Teachers section. http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/
  • Read Zuma’s Paw Prints at the For Teachers page. Zuma and other K-9 reporters give you information about the race. http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/
  • Adopt a musher(s) and use this form to chart his/her race progress. http://iditarod.com/pdfs/teacher/MusherDataSheets.pdf Scroll down to find the southern route chart. The southern route is run in odd-numbered years. The race data is free and is found on www.iditarod.com.
  • Create a race route map along your classroom’s walls or down your hallway and move your adopted musher(s) along the map. This link takes you to the race map and access to a list of the mileage between each checkpoint for the southern and northern race routes. http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/2009/11/21/maps-of-the-iditarod-trail/
  •  Teach a novel or read books about the race or related topics. Find books to choose from on these lists.  http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/iditarod-books/
  • Math problems for elementary and middle school are in December’s posting on this site.
  • Teach students to convert the 24 hour clock time, used to report race times, to 12 hour clock times. Great mental exercise!
  • Temperature charting, wind chill calculation, converting temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius and back again. (See my posting on this site titled Something to Do While You Follow Me! for details)
  • Watch the free Iditarod Insider videos or sign up for this special video view of the race. You and your class can see what’s happening in the race via these clips. http://insider.iditarod.com/

Mushing on,


The Travels of Bullseye

Bullseye, the Target® mascot, travels with me to presentations I make and on trips I take. We’ve traveled to schools in North Carolina and to Asheville, NC, where we hiked a short section of the Mountains to the Sea Trail  with Cathy Walters, the Target® 2009 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. Recently, Bullseye and I traveled to New York City to visit a special exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History about the race to the South Pole—Roald Amundsen’s and Captain Robert F. Scott’s expeditions and efforts to be the first to reach the South Pole in 1911. The Norwegian explorer, Amundsen, reached it December 14, 1911. Scott’s party of five men, including Scott, reached it in 1912, but perished on the return trip due to bad weather and a lack of supplies. Bullseye couldn’t have his photo taken with any of the exhibit displays, but enjoyed being photographed elsewhere around New York City. The dinosaur photo is from the American Museum of Natural History. Balto’s statue is in Central Park and was placed there by New Yorkers in honor of all the dogs’ efforts to deliver diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska in January 1925. The restaurant called Fred’s is named after a dog! Enjoy his photos from schools, Asheville, and New York. Highlight the captions that blend with the background so you can read them more easily.

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