THE LUXURY OF LOOSE RUNNING
I guess you must be thinking „she´s out of her mind“ or „is she serious about letting siberians run loose?“.
Well, we may be out of our minds but throughout the years with siberians we´ve seen „strange things“ happening and „impossible things“ being possible.
It started with seeing a picture in the Mushing magazine in the early ninetees. 12 siberians owned by Linda Stehlik on a backpacking trip all loose, all able to pose for a group photograph sitting and laying down with their saddle bags on.
Few years later a breeder and musher I always admired – Gerd Sandweg from Germany, took 19 siberians out of his dog truck at a training camp and they went for a short walk. When I visited his kennel, I wittnessed 35 siberians being fed loose, stepping out of the gang when called their name, to go to their dish. Not only have I later purchesed Roter Stern Kolonie Königsborn BABELI from him, who runs loose with me almost every walk and never ran away, but I decided there must be „truth out there“ and that it´s different from what the mushers in Czech Republic always tought me by constantly saying „if they run loose, you´re not only gonna lose them, but they won´t be good at pulling eventually and they will fight if you don´t feed them separately“.
Typically for me (as some of you know well :o) ), I decided to do right the oposite way the elderly advised and I went on to teach my dogs to eat loose in the dog yard. Well, not all of them learned it and some of them had already so many antipaties for each other (our fault of education), that it was too risky to try it, but eventually a group of mainly the younger dogs became quite obeyed.
Since then, I went onto a different way of education with all the new litters and aditions to our kennels. We started to let them run on my parents´ 6000 fenced m2. They learned they have so much space to move freely, there is no reason for them to run away, and besides that there always was something interesting to do, chase around, play with toys and some pockets full of dry food chunks.
Yes, I said toys. Sounds infantile? Ruber, squeaky frogs and pink piggies, yellow ducks, tennis balls? With the rough tough sled dogs? Yes, and way not?!
There´s a really nice old saying: „Who plays, does not get naughty“. The puppies learned to be „creative“ and spent their energy on the toys, not destroying the dog house, floors, fences, buckets, food bowls, flowers and plants in general, even the older dogs apreshiated the toys.
I remember once we took those squeky toys along to a cart race. Babeli, Delia and Darky were really bad that first season of racing with eating and drinking. Too much stress for these young girls. We gave them the toys and they took most of their stress away. The girls became happy, realxed, well eating and drinking dogs right away. (Imagine how it had to look to some of the rough tough mushers – the six dog team hoping around on their stake-outs with the piggies, ducks, froggies, and you name it!!) :o)
To make a long story short:
Eventually, the whole pack changed almost infront of our eyes. They all became playfull, happy campers. Some of the guys who have „social problems“ with other dogs (especially the small breeds) even became more „tolerant“ when passing other dogs. At races or trainings, where we have to truck the dogs, we can turn them lose and they will hop into their boxes, when a dog turnes lose by accident, we just call him back, no big deal.
Here in Vedjeön, living right by the forrest, where our freshly made training trail leads from the centre of the dog yard directly into the woods, there´s the posibility to turn the dogs loose and take them for a walk, or let the puppies run behind the team (they usually run infront of it, actually).
This actually also turned out to be a great training method for the pupps, when braking them in team. When they seem not to pull anymore, we turn them loose, so they don´t learn to just run and „cheat on pulling“. We call them back into the team again after some time and make sure they reach the end of the run as part of the team. First we tried that with Sparky, for whom it was a bit much to switch from 5km on ATV in Czech. Rep. and the shortest trail we had at Camp Danneval was 10km. He would keep up with the team for the first 5-6km and then stop pulling, so we turned him lose for about 2-3km and put him back again about 1-2km to the finish line. He quickly got into it and after the two months he pulled hard all the way on trails as long as 17km.
Cooper loves to chase us on the ATV, when we go working on the trails or picking berries, Sparky and Bering accompanied us on walks last winter, never leaving the trails (who would wanna swim in 1,5m of snow, when they can comfortably run on a nicly hard packed trail!), Mouse, Babeli, Brandy, Blacky and others just stay around in case something falls off our pocket :o). We can turn almost every dog we have loose and know he won´t dissapear in an instant second forever. And that is a luxury in my eyes.
P.S. But don´t ever trust a siberian or any dog 100% anyway! :o)