Finland – How to set up a dog team!

Finland – How to set up a dog team!

Feb 5th 2015

So it’s a long old process for getting the dogs ready for the sledding… here’s how it goes:
Collect equipment – leashes, harnesses, snow anchors, sled cleaning kit, and reindeer skins.  Take equipment to kennel area.  Find out which teams are running and which dog you need to fetch.  Take leash and approach your dog of choice who by this stage is very excited and will jump all over you and lick you (not good when some are chronic shit eaters), attempt to hold dog and swap chain for your leash. Not an easy task with a moving target and thick gloves.  Swear. Remove warm gloves and keep trying until successful by which stage your hands are freezing.  Walk madly pulling and excited dog through chicane of other madly excited but jealous dogs and be grateful when you exit kennel area unscathed.  Take dog to one of the two holding lines in woods just above lake.
Repeat until 5 dogs (a sled team) are on the line.

Put a harness on each dog by getting its head threaded through and then its front paws and reclip to the holding line. If at the end of this the harness is upside down, you are upside down, or the dog is hanging from a tree by its harness you have done it wrong… repeat until right.  At this stage the dogs are still incredibly excited and will be running  around on the line, jumping at us or other dogs or even lying on their backs for some attention. They also might choose to lick or wee on us. During the unclipping, clipping process there’s the risk of losing grip of your dog and having to chase it back to the kennels as it happily cavorts about (especially bad if it’s Polar or Alaska who detest each other and not that keen on other males either!)

The number of teams required depends on the number of clients.  A sled is driven by one client whilst the 2nd sits in the sled covered in reindeer skins.  The clients drive across the lake led by Lucas or Erkki on a skiddoo.  There are 5 sleds available, so we could have to get up to 25 dogs ready! About 20 mins before the clients arrive the dogs are taken to the sleds on the lake and clipped in to the running lines. Each sled is anchored at the back and the dogs held in a relatively straight line by a snow anchor at the front.  Once the clients arrive and are positioned in the sled the lead skidoo takes off, one person has removed the snow anchor at the front and is holding the dogs steady as another pulls the slip knot and releases the sled… hoping that the person at the front has moved out of the way of a now rapidly accelerating dog team and sled.  If there are more sleds then the process is repeated allowing about a 30 meter separation between the teams… that is until the slip knot snags and its a mad few moments as the dogs are heaving on the sled and you are trying to free the knot… as a last resort we are supposed to cut the rope, but that hasn’t happened yet!

On the return of the sleds we signal to the driver to put the ice brake on as they come up to us and hope they remember, otherwise you’re about to get run over!  We then assist the clients out of the sled and take the teams back to the hitching post to secure them so the clients can take pictures etc!  We also have prepped some bone soup for the dogs to quench their thirst, but most of them are happy either rolling in the snow, eating snow (they love yellow or brown snow!) or just sitting there with a big cheesy tongue lolling grin on their faces.
Once the clients have disappeared for a tour around the farm and to go get warmed in the Lavuu we have to take the teams back to the kennels (no licking etc etc) and clean up the sleds and return all the equipment (when the dogs crap during a run some of the lines and harnesses get messy, thankfully it freezes quickly!) And not forgetting pick up the dog poo from the holding line!

See, I told you it was a long process, it may be only a 30 minute ride for the clients, but it’s a good 3 hours or more for us!



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