Carmacks, YK - Sometimes the only way to find out whether you have a competitive dog team is to compete. As eleven teams continue to make their way toward the finish line at Takhini Hot Springs outside Whitehorse, they’re likely finding out plenty about the dogs on their teams.
Every musher has a different approach to training and racing dogs. By the time this year’s champion Allen Moore arrived in Braeburn, he says he’d learned plenty about how dogs respond to a fast-paced race.
“Dogs have never gone this fast before," Moore said. "It's due to conditions of course, but when it’s icy and they can just go, go-, go fast it has to do something to them and I think it has.”
Moore’s dogs were reluctant to leave the last two checkpoints, but then so was the musher himself. He says temperatures between 20 and 30 below may also have had something to do with it. “It’s seems like when it’s 30 below it sucks moisture out of them and you just have a lot more tendency for dogs to not want to run,” he said.
But Moore’s leader, Quito loped and pulled just hard enough to convince the rest of the team to go.
Cody Strathe has also discovered an impressive leader among his dogs. He name is Sable. “I know she’s a good leader but she’s kind of afraid of me and my voice," he says. "But we’ve been learning to work together since she’s now one of my main leaders for the rest of the race. I didn’t really plan ion putting her in lead much. She’s a really soft gentle, little girl and so I’ve had to change the way I talk to the dogs and we’re getting along really well now, so she’s pulling everybody down the trail.”
Sable apparently wags her tail like a cat and barks like a Seagull. Although Strathe is clearly feeling down after dropping six dogs along the trail, he says Sable is among a number of younger dogs who are starting to get a feel for racing. “I’m feeling good about things," says Strathe. "I’m a little bit bummed that I don’t have some core dogs that would help me feel more confident about rushing out and being more competitive. But I’ve got a bunch of young dogs in there that if I’m pretty sure if I am cautious this year, they’ll be one hell of a team next year. So it’s important to me to not blow out their heads and not blow out their bodies and have them for the future.” This is Strathe’s second run down the Yukon Quest trail. It hasn’t gone as smoothly as he’d hoped, but he says his dogs are teaching him plenty as well. "It’s frustrating at times," he says, "because you have to be super positive and work with them and teach them things when really you really just want to get down the trail, but in the end it’s going to make really good dogs.”
At least two dogs on Matt Hall’s team have secured their places. “That’s Porter and Pale.” Hall says the two were last minute fill-ins he’d planned to sell after the race. “They’re just super, super steady," Hall says. "I’ve seen them before just mentally I training runs like ‘Eh, here we go,’ but every time I boot up and pull the hook I feel like there’s more and more power.”
He says they simply found their rhythm. It’s something John Schandelmeier is familiar with. He has a reputation for excellent dog training. More than half his dogs are rescued. He has said repeatedly he had no expectation from the start, but he knew the Quest would help him find out exactly what he had in his kennel. “My focus has always been dog training and the race was the venue to see if the training went well," explains Schandelmeier. "You can’t repeat this at home. It’s only on pressure situations on a race that you get to see how a dog responds to adversity.”
Mushers are still spread widely across the last third of the trail. Their experience levels vary, but they’re almost certainly all finding out how their dog teams are handling this year’s hard-packed, wind-blown, icy trail.