The journey to the Iditarod does not begin two years before the race for a puppy. The journey to the Iditarod for a puppy begins pretty much at birth.
At Vern Halter’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm there is an eight-week-old puppy litter. The “Scientist litter”, as they are affectionately called, were born April 18. They are the sweet children of Rugby (mom) and Mickey (dad). They are known as the “Scientist litter” because they all will be named after a scientist. Vern gives his litters a theme when he names them, as many mushers do. Susan, Vern’s wife, came up with the idea of the scientists. Susan is a science major. Each individual dog doesn’t have his/her name yet, but the names are chosen. There are two females in the litter. They will be named Tesla and Madam Curie. The six boys will be named Einstein, Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Kipler, Darwin, and Hubble. Vern has had some great themes for his dogs’ names. Boats, meats, school supplies, and airplanes are among some of the themes. I think it would be fun and challenging to come up with different themes and names for each litter.
Let’s talk about the journey of a puppy. The ultimate goal would be to run the Iditarod. Here at Vern’s kennel the pups begin training immediately. They have their own home just down from the dog yard where they live with their mom. Just after birth they begin that bond with momma. After about three weeks, or sooner if they are ready, Vern will carry the pups out about 20 feet on the trail and have them run back to the kennel on their own. Seems like not much, but to a three-week-old pup it is a lot. The next step would be to run both out and back the 20 feet. Now, these pups are not leashed, they are free. The reason he does this is to get the pups used to just running and being free. He is also building trust with the pups. Trust is very important between dog and human, especially when running over 1000 miles across the state. Vern and the pups continue to build up distance each day. At about six weeks Vern is taking the pups on the entire loop. I would say this is about 1-mile. This trail is right on Vern’s property and goes through the wilderness. The dogs have to work their way over a bridge about two-thirds of the way through. Early on the pups will need assistance getting on the bridge. After they get used to it, they are up and over that bridge quite quickly.
This early on stage of the pup’s life they are learning critical skills to become a sled dog. They are bonding with their mother. In addition, their mom is helping them through the trail. They are learning to just go. With Vern having a tour business in the summer, the pups are getting all the attention a puppy could ever want. This skill they are improving daily is socialization. This skill is very important.
Our little loveable puppy age can be compared to the elementary student. Middle school age comes next. Vern said he plans on bringing the pups up to the dog yard in the fall. He will start off little by little collaring them up, getting used to the collar. He will then move to hooking them up next to their new doghouse. Along the way other dogs are helping them out. During this middle school age puppy walks are getting a lot longer. Vern may have to get on a four-wheeler to keep up with them.
Middle school goes fast; before you know it your little ones will be in high school. In April Vern plans to start harnessing the dogs up. The “Scientists” are going to have to get used to that harness. Before long they will be going on runs. Vern will hook them up with some stronger leaders who will help teach along the way. Remember what I said about leaders yesterday, they are bossy and will make sure you are doing the correct thing.
Where did all that time go? The puppies are now yearlings. Just like that you go from having a litter of cute, cuddly puppies that you have trained and worked so hard with to having some hyped up, still loving, eager to run yearlings.
Check out the video below of the puppy walk.
Music provided free through YouTube.