Our Daily Routines
We clean, feed, groom, train and pet our huskies for as many hours as we can each day - taking into consideration that some of the hours in the day must also be used for eg building them new kennels, fixing old ones, painting and repairing the farm infrastructure etc. And, of course, that the dogs actually run safaris with clients in the winter.
The dogs are therefore used to lots of love and care from us. Clients are aso encouraged to give treats, massages and cuddles and to spend time plucking and grooming them. Part of the reason why our multiday safaris start with their first night on the farms in our farm kota is so that clients actually have a bit more time to interact with a wider range of the dogs and to get a sense of what life is really like amongst so many huskies. Most love the chance to play with the pups and to help us walk the old dogs.
Don't be surprised, therefore, if you come to us for a safari, if we ask greet you and then throw you almost straight away into the deep end of life on the farm by helping us to walk house dogs in our short window between safaris, or by walking pups or adult dogs to or from the farm and farmhouse etc. In other words, a very hands-on experience with the dogs is the norm rather than the exception although you can always just let us know that you are scared of dogs and you are fine to either keep your distance or, if you like, we can find you a couple of really gentle dogs to help you to get over your fears...
The dog yard itself is cleaned at least twice per day (more for the pups and cages in which there are more than two dogs) because part of keeping the huskies in good condition is making sure that the kennel itself is in good condition. (We found this image on the internet, somewhere, and found it amusing...oh but if we could ask them to do it themselves!)
Visitors often comment on how clean the kennel is and it makes us feel like all of the effort is worthwhile. We do the first cleaning straight after watering or souping the dogs in the morning and the last cleaning, last thing at night.
In the summer we rake the running circles to ensure that branches and straw or other debris do not get caught in the chains and cause the dogs to get tangled. We also flatten the sand in the summer and the snow in the winter to ensure that there are not holes or concicle areas building up around the central posts or in the cages. Having an even surface, free of debris, reduces the chance of both dogs and guides (and clients) tripping up and getting injured.
The straw inside their houses is also checked every few days to make sure that it is not only clean and dry but in an appropriate quantity for the time of year. Their stainless steel feed bowls are washed at least once a week - more when neceessary. All buckets, bins and feeding utensils are cleaned and sanitized after every use and the dog food store and dog kitchen has a top to toe clean (as well as a general clean after every use) once a week. Food stock checks are taken at the same time since we can't simply order meat and kibble at set times each month given that we go through a constantly varying amount of food, per week, depending on the seasons. It is important that we don't run out of either meat or kibble since that would mean changing the dogs' diets unnecesarily.
Each spring and most autumns we also touch up the paint on all of the kennels (not only for aesthetics but also to keep the wood in good condition) and we are constantly replacing windsheilds or kennel corner pieces through the year in order to keep the kennels in tip top condition for the dogs.
When we walk into our kennel, the dogs greet us but most of the time when the not working or releasing their end of day collective howl, they are relaxed, lying in the sun, sleeping in their house. playing with toys (which have to be monitored carefully on a dog-by-dog basis given that there is no such thing as an indestructible dog toy for huskies, seemingly) or staring at us attentively as we go about our routine jobs around the farm. Because we have established a regular and respectful routine they are comfortable and content. It’s important for them to be at ease and responsive to us. A common misconception is that sled dogs are loud, obnoxious and hyperactive. It is really not rocket science, just love, respect and consistency.
Pre-empting fights and problems before they escalate to the point at which veterinary care is needed, is an important part of a dog-handler's job. The veterinary situation in Hetta has been both good and bad at various times since we have opened our kennel but in general it seems to be improving. For instance, when we started, the nearest Xray machine was nearly 400km away but now it is just 200km. Similarly there is now at least one vet available in the municipality of Enontekio on most days of the week (although it can still require a 600km round trip on some weekends!). Hence, we often have no choice but to treat wounds ourselves so we go to great lengths to ensure that we have a) a great relationship with our vets (Marianne Manella, Hannamari Hintsa and Eva Kenk) who provide excellence care to all of our husky heroes and b) we can learn as much from them as possible, on an ongoing basis, for the sake of our dogs. Having veterinary and medical students visit us regularly for placements also helps to keep our knowledge current.
Anna and Pasi both had advanced wilderness first aid qualifications from their time in the world of extreme adventure pursuits and expeditions. However, Anna is arguably more interested in that side of things than Pasi and she has learned to deal with some fairly knarly issues in her time. Prescribing antibiotics and pain-killers are run of the mill affairs and most kennels do this. Few, however, keep comprehensive and detailed records about each and every tablet used, and why, as well as in-depth running medical histories for all of their dogs down to the size of pressure sores, anomalies in heat cycles, and frostbite proclivity. We even know which of our dogs taste particualrly good to the mosquitos and so can monitor for and pre-empt many problems which could otherwise quickly get out of hand.
We are also lucky in that we get quite a large number of veterinary students (and, bizarrly, medical students), visiting our farm to work alongside us and to learn about the world of dog mushing. Our poor vets probably have to work twice as hard with our patients as with their normal patients since we invariably have so many questions and are always trying to improve both our knowledge and our skills for the benefit of our dogs.
Of course, we take major problems we find to the vets to fix and the vet also visits our facility regularly so that we can run through a list of questions we may have built up about 10 or 15 issues we have found with various dogs during dog checks. The vet also visits us every year to carry out an official test to show that our farm meets Finland's pretty basic (and not very useful) regulatory standards.
Since we have a great relationship with our local vet, she tends to give us any ‘going-out-of-date’ dog treats that she has. Hence, whenever our dogs do an intensive one-on-one training session, they are incentivised with normal food given as ‘treats’ and then they get a special treat to eat afterwards. Similarly, dogs who need to stay overnight in the sick-dog cage in the dog kitchen get given treats if they are nervous about being away from other dogs (although, when possible, we tend to have another dog and toys in there with them).
Sick dog Facility
We have a sick dog room and sick dog area close to the main house. As soon as a dog seems to be ill or to have an injury, it is theoretically transferred to the cage area near to the house. In practice, it normally just comes inside.
If the injury happens whilst on a single day safari, one of the real benefits of having guides supporting the safaris on a snowmobile as well as on the lead sleigh is that the injured dog can immediately be brought back to the farm for assessment and it doesn't have to continue to run, injured. (Sometimes the process of doing this with the biggest dogs and smallest guides, however, can be a little challenging...but all of the pups are trained to be used to the noise of quads and snowmobiles from an early age so that we don't also have to deal with them being frightened during the journey)
In the summer of 2014 we finally built a floored and roofed sick dog facility for the sick dogs. We have even better plans for this area in the future but we are getting there bit by bit. For now, injured dogs are already isolated from the main pack in case of infection. They are also right under our noses, so giving medication and keeping the dog under closer observation is facilitated.
Most injured dogs spend at least part of their convalescence in our house or overnight in the guide houses, so that they are under constant supervision. Once they are a little better, they are moved outside into the sick dog area during the days and then overnight. When dogs who don’t enjoy human company so much or who are not so house trained are injured, we have a back-up indoor facility in the dog kitchen itself which can hold two to three injured dogs. Dogs are rarely left in there alone, so one or two of our ‘easy-going’ dogs who live more or less permanently in the sick dog area and thereby enjoy home comforts relatively frequently, are sometimes put in as companions.
Many people believe that huskies prefer to live outside, but in reality, it is hard to move them back outside, once cured. They definitely prefer our bed or soft dog beds to their kennels and so it isn't a problem at all to rotate them into the house for house training (whilst predominately keeping them outside so that they are well acclimatised to the outdoor temperatures)! They compete for this honour so often, in fact, that we have to keep a record of who has been in the house and when, so that we can try to make sure that all are house-trained and enjoy similar privileges.
Our floored and roofed cage facility provides a transition back to the snow / ground for those in the last stage of recovery from a pad injury. When in this, the dogs have an even surface to walk upon and they cannot dig.
Developing tough feet is very crucial for sled dogs considering they spend most of their time playing and running! Like wolves, sled dogs travel mid distances on different terrain, and if their feet are soft and vulnerable things like cold, ice and snow can cause discomfort for the huskies making it difficult to do what they love…running!Late autumn and late spring are particularly tough on the dogs’ feet since the conditions are often icy, and in the autumn, in particular, their feet are not hardened to lots of running and their feet can be quite sensitive. We often get asked if we put them in bootees. However, safari dogs are not as used to wearing bootees as racing dogs are (for example, in a competitive race like the Iditarod, a single musher will use about 2,000 booties. Each usually lasts from several hours to 100 miles.)
95% of our dogs fair very well during the winter months, never requiring any booties however some dogs by nature, just as with people, have sensitive skin.These dogs require booties regularly during the winter season to keep them and their feet in top form whereas we tend to only put bootees on the majority of dogs during particularly icy periods or when a specific dog looks as if he or she is developing a sore on the paw. In order to get them used to wearing bootees, they wear them throughout the summer training months. It is far easier to get one dog at a time used to bootees than to try to get a whole team of dogs running in them comfortably for the first time!
As most people do with their pets, we groom our huskies regularly to keep their coats clean and healthy. Two or three times a week the dogs which are moulting have their hair collected and we save this in order to mix it with sheeps wool and spin it into special balls of husky wool. Our longer haired dogs are on an additional grooming schedule which takes place irrespective of whether they are moulting or not so that fur balls are not allowed to develop and cause them issues.
Our huskies are rarely bathed since they have natural oils in their coats that help keep them water resistant. Bathing them would stripthe oils from their coats and make their coats less effective against the winter elements. However, this is not to say that wedo not bath some of our huskies at times! Naturally some dogslike to play and muck around in the dirt on walks and training runs so of course – there aretimes when we need to bath them! And, of course, there are some dogs which are more susceptible to skin problems than others and these may need specific care and attention including regular soothing baths at particular times in their lives.
Nail Cutting, Teeth Cleaning and Massages
Nail clipping is more important at some times of year than others. In the summers, for instance, the dogs tend to keep their own nails relatively short through digging. Conversely in the Spring, when the snow suddenly turns from soft powder to sheet ice, we have to be super careful that the nails are short after a period when nothing has been helping to trim them naturally, or the dogs would develop joint problems as they totter along.
Everytime we do a dog check, a few nails are clipped since we find ones that have somehow escaped notice in our monthly clipping extravaganza. However, we essentially make a list and work our way through it from dog to dog until we have made sure that we have checked (and clipped when necessary) them all....and then we start again!
Similarly we have a list of dogs which have particular problems with their teeth. Some of the oldies who are big bowl players have pretty poor dentition and others have a tendency for plaque to build up. These we pay particular attention to during our weekly checks and the others are part of a similar list to the nail list. We essentially start at one end of the farm and once a month make sure that we have made it to the other end of the farm before starting to clean them all over again
Older, stiffer dogs and those that have recurring limps are also on a massage list to help them keep limber and re-injury free. That, of course, is a fairly popular job amongst the guides!
Dog sledding, like everything else in the world, has evolved over time!Some people have a perception that huskies are aggressive and are therefore incredibly surprised when they meet our dogs. The perception maybe comes from early times when aggression was sometimes a desired trait since it was very much a question of survival of the fittest.Breeds like the Canadian Inuit husky and Alaskan Malamute in particular were known for their aggressive nature but at the same time they would curl up with the village’s children to keep them warm!
Nowadays aggression should be well managed within a sleddog 'pack'. The order is controlled by the manager and there is no need for the dogs to fight for supremacy. Indeed, they are taught not to. Dogs are a very social pack animal and since huskies are the closest decedents from wolves they tend to carry traits similar to their wild counterparts.It is of the up most importance to keep the peace when having so many husky breeds of different origins. When we set up our teams, for instance, we tend to run males in one team and females in another and thereby reduce the chance of accidental matings. Ninety-eight percent of our dogs are successfully taught to get along with the same sex and for the couple that don't, easily, we have specific same-sex pairings which work and we run them with castrated males when they are in heat.
That being said, everyone gets grumpy with everyone else from time to time and, like with humans, some dogs are more prone to it than most. Whilst I would definitely say that you will see a lot less aggression between our dogs than you would in a normal dog walking club or dog training class, for instance, it might well happen. If it does, leave it to us to handle and they will soon settle down and remember who is boss. We also have one or two dogs, like Chocolate pictured, who are pretty grumpy at feeding time but who, in winter, need to live in cages with another dog to stay warm since they tend to be more alaskan-style huskies with less hair. Their companions have to be carefully selected and also given a break from their grumpiness from time to time for their own mental health. In summer, dogs like this tend to live back on the circles.
One big benefit of having a reasonable amount of land is that we can spread the kennels out and this is really nice for the dogs. Even though lean efficiency (in terms of the time it takes to complete basic tasks, etc) is a high priority for us, we didn't want to have the dogs contained in a small yard which had been stripped clear of trees, like so many of the farms we had gone to visit before setting up our own. We wanted, rather, to make sure that the dogs could get natural shade in the hot months and that there would be enough room between the running circles for the dogs to move around as much as possible. Hence, although we roughly tried to follow straight lines when placing the kennels, the reality is that the posts are slightly higgeldy piggeldy amongst the trees and there is a lot of natural light and shade on the farm itself.
And, although this isn't relevant to our dogs, (since we are more concerned, annually, about cold feet!) we just thought we would share this reminder for those of you who have pets in civilization for the summer months! :)
And, again, a link to a nice page to remind you about what foods might be bad for dogs to eat: