Top five goals for dogsled training and counseling middle school boys

5.  Keep the team quiet

When the dogs start barking and howling in the yard, your anxiety rises, communication falters, and you forget that Nugget is a chewer and before you know he has snipped through your gang line and 7 dogs embark on a sled-less journey through the woods.  When middle school boys start yelling and hollering, anxiety rises, communication falters and before you know it Jeffrey has Chris in headlock and Joey is crying in the corner due to all chaos.  If you can keep things quiet as a sled dog trainer or as a middle school counselor you’ll avoid a lot of incidents.


4.  Keep transitions short

When the dogs are getting hooked up to the gang line, they’re barking, jumping, and chomping at the bit to get going down the trail.  The longer it takes to transition from the yard to the trail, the greater the likelihood that one of the dogs will find itself in a messy tangle or fight the dog next to him, just because he is so antsy.  The same is true with middle school boys.  Put ten of them in line and they are bumping into each other, blowing on the back of each other’s necks, and whispering insults.  Get from A to B as quick as possible with both boys and sled dogs and you’ll avoid incidents both in the dog yard and in the school.


3.  Have Plans A, B, C (and possibly D) ready to go

Before embarking on a sled dog trip or a field trip with the boys, design a concrete plan, but ask yourself “What is the worst that could happen?” and make a plan for dealing with it.  While on the sled dog trail that might be a stray dog tangling your team, your dog team taking you down an unknown trail, or an injury to either you or the dogs. While going on a hiking trip with middle school boys, you might also have to deal with injuries, but more likely your issues will involve Scott refusing to walk to next Sam, Jared wetting his pants, or someone in a tiny cavalier parking in your 16 passenger van on a snowy street and having to entertain your kids for an hour on the side of the road.

2.  Recognize that everything isn’t your fault

Sometimes things are just not going to go your way on the dog sled trail or with middle school boys.  Your most trusted lead dog will sometimes go right when you commanded left, you might lose your favorite mitten on the trail when your calmest dog snaps at you while you’re untangling her, and the weather might just be awful. With middle school boys, they might hate that lesson plan you spent 10 hours on, they might insult the Vikings, and they definitely will not go to sleep when you want them to.  Some things are just outside of your control and you have to be okay with that if you are going to keep yourself sane.

1.  Find your leader

A good lead dog team can make or break your team, just like a good student leader can make and break your team of middle school boys.  If your lead dog always goes left when you say “haw” and right when you say “gee” your team is golden.  If your lead student always does whatever you say, then chances are you’ve picked an idiot to be your leader. A good student leader will often question what you say. Listen to him.  Teach this student how to lead to with his ears and not his mouth and your team will be golden.  Insist that things always be done “your way” and plan on trying to squash a mini rebellion that your highest IQ student will initiate when he is denied an opportunity to complete chores in a different order.

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Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good

I am not a very good hunter.  There.  I said it.  I didn’t want to, but I did. The truth cannot be ignored any longer. I didn’t want to admit it, but reality smacked me straight in the face a few weeks ago when my friend Jenna, upon hearing about a recent hunting excursion of mine, remarked “Of all the times you’ve told me that you’ve gone hunting, I don’t think I’ve once heard you say that you’ve ever shot anything”

“Yeah, ya know, I just like to observe wildlife while holding a gun in my hand.” I responded, in obvious denial of the circumstances.  In just 2013 alone I have spent 10 hours pursuing grouse, and 12 hours in the duck marsh and all I have to show for it is one ringneck duck.  I have never shot a deer.  I end up falling asleep during most Turkey hunting efforts, heck I even have a hard time hunting down the on sale hamburger at the grocery store.  Fortunately, my utter lack of hunting success has not deterred my efforts.  So when my roommate Lukas asked if I wanted to go duck hunting with him this past Sunday, I jumped at the opportunity hoping that having his experience on my side would lead to a few ducks in the bag.

Unfortunately, things started out for me as they usually do.  Just after shooting hours two mallards came buzzing in to our decoys.  “Here we go!” I thought.  After rising to shoot, we filled the morning air with four bursts from our 12 gauges. And, as usually happens with me, the ducks continued on their southwards migration.

After the morning flight of two birds things went silent.  “I thought your buddy said he saw a hundred ducks out here yesterday?”  I asked Luke.   “Well that was Thursday actually, so who knows.” He rebutted.

Things were not looking promising.  By 9:35 the only bird in our bag was a hen mallard the Luke dropped from nearly fifty yards away. Definitely a Hail Mary shot, it appeared that God was answering some prayers this Sunday morning, but clearly not mine.  After deciding that there would probably be no more flying on this bluebird day, we started to pack things up around 10:00.

Another day,  another skunk story, I thought to myself as we gathered the decoys.  Why does this always happen to me? I wondered.  Can’t a little good luck come a fellow’s way?  Just then, as we began to dismantle the final few decoys we heard a noise coming our direction.  Ducks?  No.  These birds were honking.  Dropping the decoys we raced back to shore to grab our guns.

With the geese moving in quickly we made a mad dash towards the beach.  Just as we reached the cattails, the geese reached us.  Not twenty yards over our heads  three geese flew safely by as I threw my hands up in exasperation.  So close, yet impossibly far away.  Ready to head back to the decoys I heard Lukas order a command “Run!!”

Continuing on felt like a wasted effort but I kicked it into high gear  in an attempt to reach the 12 gauge and maybe catch a tail shot at one of the three geese that just buzzed over our heads. As soon as I picked up my gun, Lukas yelled “Left!” After wheeling around I spotted our target.  Unbeknownst to me, two geese had been trailing the three geese we just missed.  Two shots later and there were two birds on the water.

Finally. Some last minute luck.  In an instant we had quadrupled our meat quantity.  After celebrating with some cheering and hollering, we retrieved the geese and tossed them into the boat.  And while I knew the effort by no means changed my status as a poor hunter, I felt a little better about myself knowing that when we got back to shore, I would have at least one story to tell Jenna that ended with meat in the bag.

 Lukas Annie and I with our birds
Lukas Annie and I with our birds
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How to save the sport of dogsledding

It was a simple goal really, move the dog condo from the construction zone to the pen, but when we were done it felt like we had accomplished so much more than that.

After finishing up our garage sale and open house, the staff and volunteers at Positive Energy stood around the just completed dog condo discussing how we could save the sport of dogsledding. Stephanie, the ever-energetic co leader of the operation, led us through the issues; trail access is a challenge, some landowners don’t want dog kennels near their property, the planet is warming, and most significantly there are very few young people engaged in the sport. Wrapping up the conversation, Stephanie presented us with a challenge.

“If we are going to save dogsledding, it has to start somewhere and it might as well start with us!”

While her words were inspiring, I wondered how the “us” surrounding the condo could take on such a challenge. Alex (the young kennel manager) has only been at Positive Energy for a little over a month, Bianca (a volunteer musher) and I had just met that day, Christy (Alex’s girlfriend) has never driven a sled and Kristen (Christy’s friend) was just visiting Positive Energy for the weekend.  To say that this team was untested would be an understatement.  In fact, to even call this group of people a “team” would have certainly been an exaggeration.

Just as we wrapped up our conversation, Blake (Stephanie’s wife and co-leader of Positive Energy) arrived to play foreman for the condo moving operation.  The challenge was pretty straight forward. We had 7 people to move the dog condo 20 yards, through a gate, passed 5 dogs, and into the pen. The moving part proved simple.  Two ropes were used to cradle the box as Blake, Christy, Alex, and myself carried the box to the pen.   At the gate, things got a little more complex.

As soon as the huskies spotted us near the entrance of their pen, Snow White, Charlie, McKinley, Kumara and Nugget started running, jumping, and crowding the gate.  This was a classic breakout situation waiting to happen.  To prevent the breakout, Bianca, Kristen, and Stephanie opened the gate with ease. “Back back back” they commanded, but the dogs were too distracted with the sight of their new five star accommodations to heed the order so they had to hold the dogs while the rest of us tried to nudge the condo through the gate.

Once the condo was half way through the gate, the dogs were effectively blocked from running out, but the movers (Blake, Alex, Christy, and myself) were effectively blocked from getting into the pen.  Crawling over the condo and into the pen, Blake and I solved that situation and soon the condo was in the pen.  After another effort to hold back the dogs, that gate was shut and the condo moved into place. Mission accomplished.  Almost.

As the six of stood around celebrating our success, Blake informed us the project was still not complete “I guess I’ll just get the roof by myself.” He remarked sarcastically.  Spurring the team into a final moment of action we lifted the roof (an exterior door) over the fence and four screws and two 18 volt batteries later the project was finished.

With everything in place, it was hard to tell which group was more enthused, the people or the dogs. Kumara, quickly raced in and out of each the four dog boxes.  McKinley attempted to check out the roof top, and Charlie spent most of his time trying to sneak his head between just about everyone’s legs.  The people stood around laughing as the dogs rubbed up against everyone and begged to be scratched behind the ears

We then gathered for a picture to capture our moment of success.  7 people. 5 dogs. 1 new home.  It was quite the shot.  Smiling for the picture, I thought back to what Stephanie had said earlier about saving the sport of dogsledding. After getting the dog condo in place and celebrating with the Positive Energy Team and the dogs, we certainly hadn’t saved the sport of dogsledding, but it definitely felt like we had accomplished step one.

The dogs had a new home and we had a new team, ready and able to take on whatever challenges lie ahead.

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A Blog by a Dog


                I dogsitted for a friend this past weekend.  Macy, the dog, had some thoughts on her little vacation…..

Day 1

“C’mon-c’mon- c’mon!!”  “Reel’t’in reel’t’in reel’it’in!!!” “What is it? what is it?.”  “Luuuuke let me land it, c’mon I can do it, really, I can do it!”

“Macy sit!” “Sit”  “No Macy…… Macy Sit”

“Let me land it! Let me land it! Let me land it!”

                “Macy no!”   “Stay away from the fish!”  “Yes, Macy, that’s it.”    “I got this Mace, sit down!”  “Yes Macy.”  “No Macy we’re going to tip the canoe!!”

“What a fish!”  “I got it Luke, don’t worry, I’ll get’it off the hook. I can do this!”

                “Macy, sit down!”  “Lemme get that smallie off tha line before you get hooked”

“No. I got it! I got it! I got it……”  “Look Luke, I did it!”

                “Macy, the fish got himself off the hook”

No. That was all me.  Did you see it?”

                “Yes Mace, let’s get some more fish”

No let’s go home now!  Look at the size of that fish we don’t need more fish. Let’s goooo!”

                “Mace, just lay down please, it’s only been twenty minutes.”

Home home home!”

                “Fine Macy.”

Not sure where mom finds these idiots to watch me.  They can’t even watch themselves.  First he nearly tips the canoe by not letting me land the fish, and then he wants to catch more fish!  The audacity of that man (If you can even call him that.)  How many fish does he think he needs? That one was a huuuge.  What a greedy SOB.  Give me a break. Jumping off the dock and chasing tennis balls was way more fun.  We should have just stuck to that.  Maybe tomorrow he will learn his lesson.  Maybe.

Day 2

 Paws hurt.  Running down that gravel road yesterday=can’t fetch today. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. At least my man nurse is sacrificing some of his socks to try to help him out. Oh and we can still play fetch in the house…that’s good I guess.  Hopefully tomorrow I can get back in the pond.

Day 3

Paws feel much better. Luke says I still can’t play fetch though.  Lame.  I come all the way out here to the country and the only place I can chase a tennis ball is in the house.    We went for a nice walk though. Saw a few ducks too.  Hopefully in a few weeks some of those quackers will be in my mouth. Maybe.  That is if Luke ever takes me off of the PUP list.  Physically Unable to Perform?  Yeah right, my feet are fine.  Stop trying to play out your man nurse fantasies and just let me pounce on something okay?

Day 4

Paws are all better!  Finally, we can play some fetch! Or so I thought.  First thing in the morning what does Luke want to do?  Play fetch? No. Go for a walk? No. He wants to go fishing.  Does he catch anything though?  Ha, that’s right.  Nothing this time.  Serves him right for that canoe debacle he put me through the other day.  At least he gave up without putting in much effort (it’s no wonder he is single.)

Fortunately his bad luck was my good luck because we got to spend the rest of the morning playing fetch in the pond.  I could have gone all day, but Luke is no Justin Verlander, and I think his arm got worn out or something.  So it was back to the house for the rest of the day to hang out with Tom.

Day 5

Where is mom?  Seriously.  Chicago can’t be that fun can it?  I mean, I could see it being fun if I was there, but I’m not, so what the heck?  Trees of steel are clearly not as beautiful as trees of green. And how does one go tolling for ducks down there?  What does the word “tolling” mean anyhow? Will mom ever come back?  Will I be stuck here forever? Do Luke and Tom not realize that I am girl?  How much complaining can those guys do? I am definitely telling mom about this when I get back.  Okay seriously, is she really coming back today?  Oh I think I hear her car!  Yep!  That’s the sound.  I know it.   Ahh, there she is. Finally!  Time to go.

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Life is Beautiful

Someday I’ll figure it out, my impulsivity. Why, on a day in which the temperature has risen to 97 degrees, I have decided to haul my bike up to the top of a bluff and ride an unfamiliar trail at dusk by myself.  While there is plenty of light to illuminate the hilltop prairie, the setting sun is soaking the river valley below in a burnt orange glow that suggests to me that I better strap the headlight on my handlebars. I’m only planning on a short ride, but this trail is new to me and if I use my riding history as a guiding light, I am sure the length of my curiosity will definitely outlast the length of light left in this day. The heat, not time, will be my limiting factor.  I sweat just taking the bike off of my hatchback.

The prairie trail is fast and wide.  I peddle hard, not because I have to, but because I miss turning the crank.  It’s been weeks since I have been on a trail and the prairie is a necessary warm up.  By the time I reach the woods, my legs are loose and I have already worked up a good sweat.  “It’s go time!” I think to myself as I reposition my body into a crouch to tackle the technical downslope through the woods.

The thick oak and maple canopy acts like a dimming switch, reducing my light by at least fifty percent as I hit the singletrack.  Built by old school trail designers, the path is littered with obstacles.  Roots squiggle out across the trail making the path look like it is littered by a bunch of steroid ingesting night crawlers. Baby head sized boulders pop up with perfect irregularity, forcing my front tire to constantly be engaged in a game of rock whack-a-mole.  Newer trails are designed to flow, this trail flows like a leaky faucet when turned off.  I don’t resent it though.  This is the type of trail I learned to ride on. Smooth in patches, but bumpy and twisty in others, this trail is more reflective of life than the smooth ribbons of dirt that are commonly laid down these days.

After winding down the bluff side in serpentine fashion, the trail finally heads back uphill after hitting the bottom of a steep ravine.  By now my body is drenched in sweat and I feel as if I have just been plucked out of a hot tub and thrown into a sauna.  It feels good though, as if it is a reward for the work I have put in.  Peddling once again it feels as if someone just cranked the heat on the sauna.  I pour water down my throat to cool down, but as I peddle I question the cooling effects of water that must be at least eighty degrees.  Not completely aware of where I am going, I turn right on a trail titled “French Connection” then right again on another trail called “Quarry Trail.”  Although the trail appears to be heading further away from the parking lot with no loop-back in sight, I continue on, wondering where the path leads.

Before long I spot an opening of light as the “Quarry Trail” ascends to what appears to be a dead end.  By now there is limited light left in the woods, but as I spill out onto county road FA, the light from the fallen sun is still plenty bright enough to illuminate the road.  Pulling over to the side of the road, I get off my bike and gaze down at La Crosse and the Mississippi River Valley below.  For a moment I shame myself for not having a camera on me, but I know this is one of those sunsets that cannot be captured by lens, so I try to burn the image into my memory.  After capturing the image in my mind, I get back to biking and start reflecting on the reason I am here in the first place.

Just days prior, a close friend informed me that his dad had passed away. Though it had been a few years since I had seen my friend’s dad, he was a big part of my life growing up, often taking his son and me fishing on his pontoon, or on hikes through the bluffs.  My love for the natural splendor of this area is definitely in large part thanks to Dave and as I peddle I try to remember all of those beautiful moments he shared with me as a youth.

Nearing the parking lot, my body longs for air conditioning, but my heart tells me to keep going.  The sun is nearly set now and as I broach the intersection of road and trail I contemplate what Dave would have done in this situation; flee for an environment cooled by man, or return to the woods to experience the beauty of life?  Smiling to myself as I receive the answer, I flip on the switch of my headlight and plunge back into the forest.

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