Roll call at Iditarod Summer Teacher Camp begins with breakfast and then out to the dog yard for chores and puppy walks. Chores include helping the mushers and handlers refill water pans, love the dogs, and maintain cleanliness in the area, or in the camp vernacular, scoop poop. The physical and mental health of the dogs is of prime importance to the mushers who develop a strong bond with each dog. The dogs return the love and loyalty. They are very friendly and love to be petted.
We get to help socialize two litters of puppies each day by playing with them, petting them, and taking them for free range walks. Keeping them on the path is a challenge as they charge into the woods to search for sticks, bark, or a littermate’s ear to chew. We walk a loop with the bounding puppies through a lush birch forest alive with wildflowers. A flowing creek rambles along the path. These puppy walks aren’t just to let us teachers get our fill of puppy love. It is an intentional training plan to get the puppies used to people, following the “leader,” and encouraging their love of running. With two batches totaling 15 puppies, it is quite a circus getting our little friends there and back!
Sled dog lessons continue as they get older. Dee Dee Jonrowe has said she runs with them to teach them about running in harness. Sometimes the puppies get to pull a small log for practice. Later, the younger dogs are harnessed along with an older, experienced dog for training runs. It is a well-planned training program that the dogs love.
In the summer, adult sled dogs pull ATVs or carts while in harness, staying in shape. When the dogs begin to be harnessed, yipping and barking can be heard probably in the next borough because the dogs are excitedly communicating, “Pick me! Pick me!” They love to run. We rode behind a team of 12 for a short stint, stopping midway for a water break where we placed water dishes in front of each dog. When it was time to go, each dog was raring to pull. It’s truly amazing seeing their enthusiasm first hand.
Back at the kennel, the dogs receive more bowls of water, some stepping in it along with drinking! Doggie biscuits are given as treats, and the dogs go back to their blue houses. Taking care of these dogs is a job for multiple people. Training a sled dog team takes years of careful planning and love. We are having a great time getting an inside view!