We asked one of our experienced guides about her thoughts on our approach to dog welfare, based on her experience in a number of Scandinavian farms. Here is what she said.
Taking good care of dogs is a round-the-clock deal. Whilst many farms have people working just on feeding and pooping in summer months, our dogs are checked regularly for heat 3 times per week and any medical issues, thoroughly, once per week.
That way, we can, for instance, keep a close eye on any lumps and bumps and see if they are getting bigger and warrant treatment quickly or not (the vet even calls us the lump and bump farm since we discover them at the stage when most normal dog owners, let alone sleddog farm owners, would not even notice them).
We can also be sure that they are also free of fleas or mites (and, if any develop any due to the neighbouring wild animals), then we can quickly quarantine them and prevent their spread to the rest of the pack.
And we can watch for any issues with eyes. For instance one of our dogs (and one of those rescued from Santa Safari's farm) has Panus and needs regular treatment daily to keep this potentially progressive eye disease at bay.
We believe that good dog care is proactive vs reactive and that requires regular and thorough checking irrespective of how many mosquitos are flying around our ears or how cold the temperature for bare hands doing the checking!
Addressing Seasonal Challenges
Bellies and ears are particularly susceptible to fly bites in summer and nipples, and testicles, to frost bite in winter. Those that look like they are developing problems in this area are checked three times per week (ie in addition to the standard weekly medical check) and, if the balance tips and they are having too hard a time outdoors, they are taken into the main house for a break from the hostile Arctic element.
A little bit unusually we also have two anti-mosquito magnets in the farmhouse / sick dog area and two specifically for the dogs, on the farm. We think that this is worth the 2000€ investment for the health and welbeing of both guides and dogs.
Nails and Feet
Nails and the feet in general are given a lot of attention since clearly if they have sore feet or their nails are too long, that will lead to issues all over. Hence, the dogs get a manicure / pedicure session at least once per month.
We also pay a lot of attention to their teeth since we want them to be able to eat well throughout their lives. We know the 'worst' candidates w.r.t. teeth and they are looked at regularly but all of dogs get a dental hygiene session at least once per month.
Meeting Individual Training Needs
All dogs are also part of a comprehensive training program through the year, the targets for which, change with the season and are not only specific to each dog's stage of development and needs but also take into consideration what motivates them and what we think that their potential might be.
Cuddle, Grooming and Massage Time
Of course, we also simply spend time with them, cuddling, plucking hair or grooming and playing with them - both individually and in groups within our two running fences, and this time is definitely a highlight of the day for dogs and guides alike. Our fluffier dogs are groomed twice per week to prevent matting and our old dogs get regular massages to keep their joints moving fluidly - particularly in winter.
Safe Haven for Retirees..
Dogs like Petteri and Hamppu, pictured here, are pretty lucky to live on our farm. They decided after their first year that they didn't enjoy running with clients. At all. In their specific cases, they have some excuse (Petteri is epileptic and Hamppu has a bad heart) but other dogs are just not ready or too shy to run with clients and we don't 'get rid of them' just because they cannot earn their keep. Similarly, we don't just get rid of old dogs once they have served their purpose.
Rather, we try to stimulate them and to keep them as fit and healthy as they can be by running them in training season for as long as they are able and putting all of them on a weekly walking program year-round. Non-runners are also put alongside oldies and pups on the 'client walking target list'. We specifically have the first night of our multiday safairs stay on our farm so that clients have the chance to be hands on with the walking and social interaction of this group of dogs and it is great fun all round.
Of course, if we can find good homes for the old dogs or those who are just not suitable working sleddogs, hten we do. A few of the others, like Petteri, are thankfully sponsored (he, by a Swiss family who has been on safari with us twice) but we bear the cost for all of the rest of those living here in effective retirement. This is pretty unusual in the sleddog industry in which, in many cases, the dogs are considered products which have to very much justify their continued existance. We believe, however, that if you bring a dog into the world, that you have a responsibility to either care for it or find it another loving home, even if it isn't quite perfect for you.