2001 IFSS 6 Dog World Champion
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What criteria do you use for selecting breeding stock?
The parents must be really fine dogs and preferably leaders. I want to choose dogs with
good attitudes and good race records. The female is especially important, as the pups seem
to pick up on her attitude the most. Our motto is "Breed the best and leave the
Do you use any pre-training evaluation of puppies?
I take all my pups for lots of walks, but don't do much pre-training evaluation. I like to
give them lots of opportunities to run across lots of obstacles. I expose them to as much
stuff as I can. I'll bring them to work with me one at a time. I spend as much time as I
can with them and try to get lots of kids to come play with them.
What method do you use for starting pups?
Before I hook them up I like to take them out and attach a log to them and have them pull
it while I run next to them. It seems like if they do that even once they are much more
ready to be hooked up with a team. When they are about 6 months old I will hook them up in
front of the ATV with a couple of good old leaders. It doesn't usually take them long to
realize what they are supposed to do. I try to run them about once a week during their
puppy year. I find that pups that have gotten quite a few runs on them will be much better
as yearlings. While everyone else is complaining about their yearlings, ours don't even
seem like yearlings. As we have no kennel help, our pups go everywhere with us. They have
seen and done everything our adults have by the time they are a year old.
What is the most important thing you look for in a young dog?
I want a pup that has good work ethics and is always trying. They don't need to be super
fast or be able to run far at this point. I want to know that this pup is going to keep
going. Males generally take longer than females to mature, so I usually have a lot more
leeway with them. Again I'm not so concerned about build or speed at this point as I am
work attitude. I also look for pups that eat really well.
At what point do you decide a youngster is likely to make it in your team?
Usually during their yearling year we have a pretty good idea. They may not have speed
plus distance, but they should have speed and they should have distance, not necessarily
at the same time. If both are lacking we will probably find a slower team for them to run
in. One such dog we gave to a friend of ours. She was having trouble running 10 miles
fast, but in his slower team she was able to run 25 miles with no problem. If we're not
sure, we will keep them until their two-year-old year.
What is the training/racing philosophy of your kennel?
I'd have to say consistency. Once we start training in the fall we get on a schedule and
keep to it. If it rains, and it rains a lot here, we put on our raingear. If the trails
are unusable here, we do our best to find trails somewhere that we can use. This last
winter we were driving 5 hours one way just to run the dogs. The only reason we don't run
them on schedule is when the conditions become such that it could injure the dogs, frozen
ice with gravel pocking up through it is one such condition.
Do you have specific training goals for your team(s)?
Of course the goal is always to win races. Our goals may change depending on what we are
going to race. For instance this last winter we were working on an open team, but with the
snow and training conditions it was difficult. When we were offered a spot on the USA team
for 6-dog IFSS, we changed our goals and concentrated on putting together a really good
6-dog team that could do well for the USA.
What do you consider most important to accomplish in training?
I want a team to run as a team. All the dogs functioning as a unit. We had borrowed some
dogs early this year. They were really nice dogs, but they didn't fit in with the rest of
the team. We will start by running smaller teams, but I want to be able to switch dogs
back and forth and know they will perform wherever I put them. If a dog likes to run next
to another dog I will make every effort to see that he can run next to them. Although I
try to keep dogs ambidextrous, if a dog really likes one side I will be sure to race him
on that side. I also want dogs that give me a perfect run every time we go out. I keep a
journal of all our runs and really the best pages don't have much in them. I want the dogs
to pass anything they see on the trail, Moose, loose dogs, skiers, snow machines, other
dog teams, etc. without even looking at them. Really I'm looking for a machine in the form
What is the most indispensable training equipment you use?
It's hard to choose one, as there are many invaluable tools. The ATV has been wonderful.
It gives us complete control during fall training. We set the speed with it. We can stop
and work with dogs. We have the option of them pulling it in gear or in neutral. A good
sled is also a must. The Europeans seem to be way ahead of the USA in sled building and
the cost of a nice sled is astronomical, but well worth the expense in the long run. Also
for us a good truck is indispensable, as we have to truck them everywhere even to train.
Alaska is very large with a lot of unpopulated areas and the last thing you want is to
break down in one of those out of the way places. We couldn't do it without our snow
machine either. We use it for grooming trails as well as following the team when
conditions would make it unsafe to run them by themselves.
How do you choose which races to enter?
We run everything within 500 miles of us. Our race season starts in mid-November and goes
to the end of March. There are usually races every weekend. Generally we run the races
closest to us earlier in the season and then head north for the end of the season. Our
biggest choice is really what class to run and that is usually not determined until the
end of fall training when we start to see what we have.
What are your strengths as a racer?
I tend to be very focused on the race ahead. I don't really want to be bothered before a
race. People think I'm nervous, but really I have a time frame of when I'm going to do
things and I stick to it. The more important the race the more focused I become. At IFSS I
was hiding out behind the truck, avoiding people and waiting until it was time to drop
dogs. This way I don't have to be in a hurry and the dogs seem to do better that way.
Along with that comes organization. I put the dogs on a schedule and nothing changes it.
Racing for me starts long before we actually get to the starting chute. I spend a lot of
time with the dogs. Feeding them. Coaxing them to drink. Keeping their straw clean and
fresh. Washing their feed dishes. I want the dogs to be as comfortable as they can be.
What do you consider your weaknesses, if any?
We run a small kennel and don't have a large pool to draw from. If a dog gets sick or
pulls up lame we just don't have a replacement and because we don't live in a musher area,
we don't even have dogs we can borrow.
Do you have a mushing career goal?
Early in my racing career I came up with a goal and I haven't changed it. I want to finish
each season with dogs as happy to go out at that last race as they were at the first of
the season. I like mushing and although I'm serious about it, I also want to have fun.
What does it take to win?
Fast dogs, fast sleds, and a lot of really perfect runs. If you don't have really nice
training runs, you can't expect to go out and have really nice races. The best team I ever
had I could have gone to sleep on the back of the runners and they still would have run a
perfect race. I think it's important to have a good rapport with your dogs also. You have
to know them and what makes them tick. A borrowed team will seldom run as well for someone
else as it will for the owners. It's important to spend a lot of time with your dogs. Good
leaders are also really important. You need a pacesetter and a leader that will instill
confidence in the rest of the team and make them feel that they can really do it. I have
seen the change of one dog take a mediocre team and turn it in to a winning team. Mitzie
was such a dog, and my German Shorthaired Pointer, Chip, is also such a dog.
What is your vision of the future of sled dog sports?
I would like to see it grow. I'd like to see speed mushing really take on new meaning with
larger sponsors, bigger purses, and better trails.
What can individual mushers do to support and promote the sport?
Take time to talk to people. When we're fall training on the road people are always
stopping to ask questions. Take time to answer in a pleasant way. Many are amazed at how
the dogs like what they are doing. If you get a chance, talk to school classes and inform
them on the sport of dog mushing. Always have your yard in such shape that you can invite
people over to see it at any time. Also I think it's really important to thank sponsors of
races. I'd like to see more clubs print address, e-mails, phone numbers, etc. on the back
of the time sheets so it is easier to send them a thank you. A little thanks can go a long
way especially coming from a racer.
What part do clubs and organizations play in sport development?
Clubs can do well with advertising and also making the sport as viewer friendly and
interesting as they possibly can. Good announcing is really a help. Businessmen's races
are also a big plus as people get to actually experience the thrill of riding behind a dog
What advice would you give a beginning musher?
Find a mentor. Someone that can help you get a good start. They will often have dogs that
can help you and lots of advice. Listen to everything they say. Its up to you
whether or not you do it, but remember these mentors have been doing this for a long time
and have already learned things the hard way. There is no reason for you to make the same
mistake that someone else has already made.
Tell us about one or two of your most memorable sled dog
One time I had just gotten a new sled and hadn't had a chance to try it out yet. We went
to a local race at Chugiak. Now I had never run on the Chugiak trails before and I had
never used this sled before. That is not a good combination. I looked at the dogs at the
starting line and they were literally breathing fire. 6 BIG, FAST DOGS. As soon as we took
off I knew I was in trouble. That sled was fast and the trail was wild. At the first road
crossing I put my foot down to slow us down. It didn't help at all and when we hit the
road we were going sideways. That was okay until we hit the bank on the other side.
Totally out of control we fishtailed down the trail until finally we wrapped the sled
around a tree. I pulled the sled off the tree and took off again, but now I had the snow
hook in my hand and couldn't take my eyes off the trail long enough to put the hook away.
The trail went up and down, around corners, and through moguls all at the same time. I
finally thought I had the hook put away and went to concentrating on the trail. My feet
were never on both runners at the same time. A mile from home I passed 2 teams at the
bottom of a very steep hill. Those 6 dogs charged up the hill. While the mushers behind me
were pedaling for all they were worth I was slung over the handlebars in a state of
exhaustion. It was the only time in the whole race that I had felt I was somewhat in
control. At the top of the hill the hook which had never gotten properly into the holder,
slid out of the holster down the sled bag and between the runners. The last part of the
trail I ran while holding up my hook so it wouldn't drag. I was sure no one else could
have run the trail that fast and I was right for I set a new track record.
Dori accepting the 6 Dog Gold Medal, 2001 IFSS World Championships
Photo by Dave Partee
That was the most exciting run I've ever had, but the most memorable would have to be
winning the 2001 IFSS World Championship. I really had no intention of even running it,
but once offered a spot I knew it was something I had to do. I don't think anyone was more
surprised than I to find myself in the top spot. A month before the race I didn't think I
even had a team. Enter Chip, one of those leaders that just spark the entire team. Only a
year old, and a real speedster with lots of attitude. In the weeks prior to the race I
switched dogs around until I had them just where I wanted and it paid off. I also
practically moved to Fairbanks so I could be assured of good training trails. There is
nothing more thrilling than standing on the winning block while The Star Spangled Banner
is being played. It brings out the patriotism in a person and makes one proud to be an
American. There were tears in more than one persons eyes. It is one thing to win for
yourself, but to win for your country is a thrill untold.
I would like to say that our success would be impossible without my
husband, Daryl. He's the backbone of this operation. Because we don't live where there are
any dog trails to train on we must groom our own trails. This means going out after work
and often not getting in until after midnight. I load the dogs and pick him up from work
so we can run the dogs on his lunch break. If it has snowed or rained during the night, he
will go out in front of me and re-groom the trails.
He also takes care of the sleds and our sled is always one of the slickest at the
racetrack. He takes great care in waxing and is always asking questions of skiers and
others involved in waxing. While others are worrying about the wax on their sled I just
use whatever Daryl gives me and am confident it is the right one. We work together really
well as a team and things move smoothly as a unit. Without Daryl, putting together a
winning team would be impossible. Thank you Daryl!
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