The making of an U.P. sled dog – ABC 10 Feature

MCMILLAN — Sled dogs have been an important part of history for hundreds of years. From Balto delivering a desperately needed anti-toxin in Alaska to hundreds of dogs running the annual Iditarod to show off their skills. But what does it take to train these highly agile canines? In this week’s ABC 10 feature, Melanie Palmer had the chance to learn about the life of a sled dog.

As Bruce Springsteen once said, baby we were born to run. That is the life and motto of Alaskan Huskies at Nature’s Kennel in McMillan. Starting at 10 months old, the pups are put in harnesses to start off their training. The pulling comes naturally and is innate to the dogs. All the puppies have some close role models that inspire them to get on with their training.

“They see the dogs leave the yard and they see the adult running so they are pretty excited to get into a harness and then they just pull. We give them some adult dogs with them that are a little more experienced and they just follow along,” said Nature’s Kennel Owner, Tasha Stielstra.

During the winter, these dogs run between 10 and 30 miles each day, seven days a week. When there’s no snow on the ground in fall and spring, the training continues. The dogs are still running each day following an ATV or four-wheeler. When the dogs are left behind on runs, they don’t hide their disappointment.

“As you can hear from the whining, those that are left behind leave a very sad song that they would like to go along too,” said Stielstra.

Several teams from Nature’s Kennel are ready to compete in some exciting upcoming races. Two teams will be competing in the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. Both of these are around 1,000 miles long and the dogs will be participating in each one just two weeks apart from one another. The Yukon Quest 300 along with the U.P. 200 will also have teams from Nature’s Kennel competing. The dogs involved in these racing get a little extra training miles than the ones not selected for the teams.

“They have a lot more training miles, the race dogs are out today doing a 50 mile training run and our tour dogs are doing 10. If a dog doesn’t make our race team, we have the luxury of them to do tour with us as well. So every dog is running at all times,” said Stielstra.

When these dogs aren’t busy racing for hundreds of miles, they enjoy taking visitors on the trails at Nature’s Kennel. Sled dog mushing gives not only Yoopers, but visitors from around the country a very unique experience.

“We have about 200 dogs that we use for the season and every dog is running almost every day, we have to squeeze in break time sometimes to make sure they get time off. It’s a great family activity, especially this winter with such wonderful snow we’ve had, its been a great winter,” said Stielstra.

The dogs typically continue mushing until around the ages of 8 or 9. At this time, Stielstra finds family homes for them to retire in, this if which, the dogs typically take full advantage of.

“They pretty much jump on the couch and know how good they have it. They adapt to house life very easily,” said Stielstra.
Well after sledding ten miles, these dogs are a little but tired after a long day.

Family of all sizes and children of all ages are invited to stop by Nature’s Kennel in McMillan for a dog sledding experience that other places might not have.