I began working with sled dogs at the age of 6 after going for a run with a family friend. Now 17, I am a high school senior in my final year and manage Cottonwood Kennels, a small racing/recreational operation of 11 huskies. My dogs currently range in age from 9 to just yearlings. Because I enjoy working with my dogs as individuals and appreciate the skills that older dogs obtain, I have never gotten into the breeding end of sled dogs. The majority of my animals come from larger kennels that may not have the manpower to utilize each dog’s potential, or they enter our yard with physical issues or personality “quirks”. Every year as our season begins, the dogs begin to settle down and develop into a cohesive unit, which I feel both honored and humbled to observe.
Mushing is a very demanding sport, both physically and mentally. Sled dogs develop different skills in a team; they learn how to pace themselves, determine snow conditions, conserve energy at a rest stop, and match strides with their running partners.
The most important animals are the leaders; they run up front and keep an eye on the trail ahead. Lead dogs keeps the lines taunt when stopped, distinguish and turn left or right at a vocal command, march through obstacles such as open water, and generally keep the team in order. They are the glue, the dynamos, and they can make or break a dog team. My lead dogs for 2009 are Judo and Lily. Judo is around 35lbs and provides both brains and drive. Bred by Bonnie Gamble of Runner Rider Kennels, she is tough, hardworking, and never slacks off. Lily is very nearly the complete opposite. Bred by the Joinson family of Bar King Sled Dog Adventures, she takes nothing seriously and is a ball of hyper activity at all times. Thankfully, they enjoy running together. I guess opposites do attract!
When in training, my dogs run 5 days a week at distances that range from 6-40 miles a run. With such a high-stress, high-demand sport, top nutrition is needed to ensure that the dogs can perform fully and comfortably. After switching over to CANIDAE Grain-Free Salmon Formula, the mood and ability of my animals markedly improved over the course of only a few weeks. Excellent weight, thick, lustrous coats, improved endurance and heart rates, calm demeanors and firm stools became the order of the day. We still feed some raw meats, but most mushers do this to bait water and add a little extra fat. As snacks, we mash up CANIDAE canned food and roll it into “meatballs”, freeze, and feed on the trail. We also add this mash to warm water as bait. CANIDAE makes up the bulk of our diet and I am confident in recommending this to other racers as a top performance formula. After a long run many mushers struggle to entice their animals to eat, but with such excellent palatability CANIDAE makes that job easy. We feel very honored and grateful to be part of the CANIDAE team.
Laura Vinnedge and… Platty, Chevy, Oreo, Judo, Rosebud, Emily, Jasper, Jake, Lily, Chaos and Butch (the retired one)