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Friday, February 4, 2011

Alaska December 2010 - Part 3

Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010
We got up early. Kelly and his handler went out to take care of the dogs while I caught up on some reading. We left about 9:30 AM to get to Martin Buser’s place by 10 AM. Martin is a four time Iditarod Champion and he hosts the rookies every year at his kennel for a tour then a talk about dog care, how to set up an efficient kennel and how to prepare for and run the race. He showed us his techniques for training dogs from the time they are born.

As new born puppies he takes them with him wherever he goes, stuffing them inside his shirt. He handles them constantly, especially their feet. From the time they are weaned, he teaches them to eat quickly by removing the food dish after a few minutes. A few weeks later he teaches them their first commands. He puts the food down but will not let them eat immediately by pushing them away from the bowl and saying, “No.” Then he will say, “Eat.” and let them get to the bowl. By doing this, he is conditioning them to obey the alpha dog on two feet. It is impressive to watch his 4 month old puppies quivering with anticipation, staying away from the bowl until told to eat and them devouring all their food in a matter of minutes. He uses certain corrective maneuvers that mimic what their mother does, to train them. He does not believe in punishment and says the dogs do not read the paper or hit each other with sticks so we shouldn’t do that either.

We went inside and the remainder of the day was spent telling us about the race and what to expect. There were slides of the more challenging place along the trail, like the Happy River Steps, the Dalzel Gorge, the Fairwell Burn, and the Coast. We were given his list of mandatory gear as well as packing lists for our food drop bags. After the meeting we had time to look around at the sleds his handlers were making and the large indoor treadmill he is using to conduct research on his dogs at different altitudes and weather conditions he can simulate in a chamber.

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