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Jason M

USA
390 Posts

Posted - 02/28/2007 :  3:47:55 PM  Show Profile  Visit Jason M's Homepage  Reply with Quote
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” — Albert Einstein

Currently I'm reading Joe Runyan's book "Winning Strategies for Distance Mushers". It's well written, and seems like your having a casual conversation with the man himself. I like his writing style.

However, one thing that has me pondering is his advice on becoming a "puppy mill". He states that to get to the top your going to have to go through hundreds of dogs. He recommends having 70 puppies a year that way you can sort through all the options and find the ones that have champion potential. WOW.

I understand the theory, and obviously it works. I have been involved with one major Iditarod kennel and visited another, and I can see that this is the paradigm that most of the top mushers follow. This type of selective breeding program no doubt spawns champions.

But, I am cut from another cloth. I try to follow the simplistic approaches of Thoreau and Einstein and try to do more with less. This seems to be in direct opposition to "Winning Strategies" and to the modern paradigm of the top kennels.

My questions: Is it possible to compete at the top level and not have a huge kennel? Are there any top mushers who are bucking this trend
and winning races? Lastly, what about the "Nature versus Nurture" debate? Could someone take just a group of puppies from good bloodlines and "nurture" them into being a winning team over a few years and thousands of miles- as opposed to assembling a team of all-stars from several different breedings and age brackets etc...

Is it possible in Sled Dog Racing to do more with less?

sublunar

828 Posts

Posted - 02/28/2007 :  4:03:49 PM  Show Profile  Visit sublunar's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Neither are distance mushers, which seems to be your interest, but in Alaska the Lansers and the Hollingsworths have both managed to compete at the very top levels of sprint mushing with kennels that are just a fraction of the size of their competitors.

Either may be able to give you a rundown on how they manage to maintain quality without the quantity.
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HRE

Canada
123 Posts

Posted - 02/28/2007 :  4:15:01 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I know of many large kennels that produce large numbers of dogs, yet they still can"t win a race. Their are many 20 dog kennels that compete at top levels. I find the dogs you raise and train yourself work best for me, but lots of mushers do well with dogs they buy and work with. It all depends on your ability to train, condition and race. No hard and fast rules in this sport!

Harris English
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Jason M

USA
390 Posts

Posted - 02/28/2007 :  5:16:31 PM  Show Profile  Visit Jason M's Homepage  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by HRE

I know of many large kennels that produce large numbers of dogs, yet they still can"t win a race. Their are many 20 dog kennels that compete at top levels. I find the dogs you raise and train yourself work best for me, but lots of mushers do well with dogs they buy and work with. It all depends on your ability to train, condition and race. No hard and fast rules in this sport!



It seems that Runyan is mainly referring to the Iditarod in his book. So, thats what I am referring to as well. Are their any Iditarod contenders that have small kennels? Robert Sorlie doesnt have a huge personal kennel- but he combines his efforts and dogs with other people. Interesting concept. Jon Little keeps a kennel of 24 dogs- very small for an Iditarod kennel. But, at this point I am not sure if he is a perpetual contender.
Also, I realize just because one has a large kennel won't make them a winner- that goes without saying. The real question I guess is, can you win the Iditarod without having a huge pool of dogs to draw from.

I agree about no hard and fast rules. However, this is a trend, not a rule. Is anyone really bucking this trend? Can it be done?
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sublunar

828 Posts

Posted - 02/28/2007 :  9:43:46 PM  Show Profile  Visit sublunar's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Jason-

I'm wondering if what you're talking about isn't problematic financially.

Especially if you're talking about very elite teams in the biggest money race in the sport. People who can make a bit of money selling dogs that almost make the cut. People who probably have food sponsors to offset the cost of keeping a large kennel, and who have handlers to offset the work.

Where's the incentive to keep it small?
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Jason M

USA
390 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  12:30:07 AM  Show Profile  Visit Jason M's Homepage  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by sublunar
Where's the incentive to keep it small?



I guess there isn't any real incentive to keep it small- other than to see if it can be done. I would compare it to climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen. There is a purity in simplicity.
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musher dad

USA
52 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  07:13:09 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
This is a great topic and its very difficult to get a straight answer because it deals with the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about - culling dogs which, I opposse on an ethical basis.

If you're breeding 70 puppies per year and keeping 10% (I think that is the estimated success rate) what do you do with the other 63? I am sure you can place many in other kennels that are marginally competitive or recreational. However, at some point you're going to run out of homes to place them in.

Why keep your kennel small? Its not just resources in terms of money but time and space. Its also easier to convince your neighbors and the local municipality that I want to a 30-50 dog kennel vs. 150. If you have fewer dogs you can concentrate on training and coaching up your dogs so maybe you don't need the numbers and you can push that success rate of 10% to 25% or even 30% - maybe even higher.

I don't have answers - just lots of questions. I am interested to see where this thread goes.
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dr tim

USA
74 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  07:45:11 AM  Show Profile  Visit dr tim's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Hallelujah, someone has the balls to bring this up. Do you really want to put down dozens of dogs to get to the top of the heap in 5 years and be proclaimed champion? You have to live with yourself and your choices and this is one that just makes me sick and rethink why we are even in this sport when we come across these ethics. There are small kennels that do "well" and I take my hat off to them for having the forebearance and effort to make a "marginal" dog a winner. This compared to taking the cream of the crop and left with the rest to deal with in whatever manner the owner deems acceptable. Lazy. Big dog pits and the like is why we will never reach the status of other racing methods in the world and be lumped into the greyhound and horse racing arenas. Know who you idolize and champion in the mushing field or you might just be very shocked at how they got there. It can be a very heartbreaking sport when you take your blinders off and realize what goes on out there.

Tim Hunt
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Dennis Waite

USA
153 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  08:22:10 AM  Show Profile  Visit Dennis Waite's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I understand that John Schandelmeier adopts and rescues many "cast away" huskies and has garnered some success. He most recently ran the Yukon Quest, finishing 11th place out of the race's largest field. Not bad for cast-offs. His website is: http://www.dogsleddenali.com/index.html He is also president of the Fairbanks Second Chance League. Here's a news article about his efforts for 2005. http://members.petfinder.org/~AK17/weblog/2005/03/second-chance-for-schandelmeiers-team.html I wish more upper level mushers took this attitude and philosophy in their kennels. The puppy mill aspect really is the dark side of the sport. I'd like to know the actual breeding numbers, adoption plans, and placement rates of the "big" kennels.

My own small kennel of 15 huskies is 100% rescue, 100% neuter/spayed, and 100% recreational in nature. They are all Siberian huskies (unregistered) save one Alaskan. I know that there will be a never ending supply of available sled dogs to adopt. Few pet owners know what they are getting themselves into when they get a Siberian and they remain my greatest local "suppliers."

Dennis Waite
Phoenix Consultation
www.phoenixconsultation.com/rescue

Edited by - Dennis Waite on 03/01/2007 08:36:06 AM
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swanny

USA
869 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  10:46:33 AM  Show Profile  Visit swanny's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore keep their operation small. In order for both to run the Iditarod this year they have to take every single runable dog in the yard (retirees get to maintain their retirement and puppies maintain their status as kids left at home).

They always strive to keep their kennel small, and they do reasonably well considering that Aliy is the only woman in history to win the Yukon Quest, and Allen is a twice winner of the Copper Basin 300.

They never have problems finding homes for dogs that aren't needed. Younger dogs find mushing homes very quickly, and older dogs retire in grand style right in their home yard.

Let's be clear that "culling" and "killing" are two entirely different things. A dog that doesn't work on one team may work really well on another (as John Schandelmeier proves frequently). I know sprint and distance mushers who trade dogs back and forth pretty often, with very good success.

Personally, I don't believe it takes lots and lots of puppies to put together a competitive team, but it does take a high degree of education in canine genetics, a very good eye and a huge degree of good judgment to ensure the highest percentage of "good" pups in any given litter. Breeders of consistently winning dogs have all three, and the rest lack one of three ingredients.

Of course, that's easy for me to say. I'm not a breeder.

Swanny

“A good dog is so much a nobler beast than an indifferent man that one sometimes gladly exchanges the society of one for that of the other.” William Francis Butler

http://www.tworiversak.com/mushing.htm
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penrod

150 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  10:50:18 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Another fantastic example of small kennel, with great results, is the current writer for Cabela's, Jon Little. I don't think he ever has more than maybe 30 dogs in his yard, 4th place a few years back at Iditarod shows it can be done.

The whole "puppy mill" idea from Joe Runyan's book was disturbing to me, not my style at all.

Small kennels can win, just takes a very good dog person to maximize the potential of the dogs.
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Dennis Waite

USA
153 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  11:09:53 AM  Show Profile  Visit Dennis Waite's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Swanny, your comment on the "good eye" would suggest that knowing winning/competitive characteristics should guide breeding and limit the number of breedings in any given kennel. That would make for fewer adoptions and greater chances of successful placement. The references you made to the small competing kennels shows that the large scale breeding described by Runyan may very well be a part of mushing past. A new paradigm . . . perhaps it has already begun.

Dennis Waite
Phoenix Consultation
www.phoenixconsultation.com/rescue

Edited by - Dennis Waite on 03/01/2007 11:10:36 AM
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musher dad

USA
52 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  12:24:39 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Interesting responses but I must say I am a little underwhelmed given that sled dog names has 191 responses and this thread has 12. Given the number of views and the gravity of this issue I was expecting more.

If I am not mistaken Runyan's book is over 20 years old and, no offense to Mr. Runyan, it may be a bit dated. Sled dog sports are relatively young and new strategies and innovations would logically develop as it matures. Perhaps this is it.

I always hear that its all about the talent level of the dogs and the musher's role is more about not screwing it up rather than improving dogs who's talent level is marginal. That seems to be the justification for the numbers: greater numbers results in a better chance of success due to a larger pool from which to draw your talent.

The question I would like to pose is this: Why do some musher's breed in such large numbers? Is it becasue they can? Because its easier than working with dogs? Easier than learning about genetics? Easier than investigating bloodlines? Easier than innovation? Maybe "easy" isn't the right word. Perhaps "simpler" is more accurate.

Tim Eichinger
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JT

109 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  3:52:52 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
take 3.5 seconds and look at the elite level of competition in today's distance races; two years ago 2005 iditarod 40 minutes separated 1st and 4th in nome; this years kusko 300 = 8 minute margin between 1st and second, last years a two minute gap. The top kennels raise lots of pups from super proven dogs, and have the staff and money to maximize the potential of all those dogs, each yearling crop is essentially nurtured into a winning team and blended into the other yearling crops and the resilient dogs ultimately emerge as competitive repeat finishers at the 1000 mile level and subsequently become influential in the breeding program. So you can have 24 prime healthy dogs and be competitive, but you better have another 12+ yearlings from basically guranteed ultra-competitve breedings coming up, plus maybe an experimental breeding or two on the side to expand the gene pool and try to improve what you are working with -- otherwise you are best off coming to grips with the limits of your program from a professional standpoint.
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Judy Rybinsky

USA
20 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  4:46:31 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Small kennels that are winning are not necessarily keeping a marginal dog and turning it into a champion. Many just keep the best.
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GA Musher

36 Posts

Posted - 03/01/2007 :  5:25:44 PM  Show Profile  Visit GA Musher's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Wasn't it Frank Turner who said he thought mushers should "do more with less" in a Sled Dog Sports interview last year?
I think he's on the right track in a lot of areas, including the culling issue.

I must admit that I am not the biggest Joe Runyan fan. He's written very good articles on the Iditarod and mushing but I don't agree with some of his "dog philosophy."

I don't think any musher should have more dogs than they can afford to keep. And churning out puppies hoping just a few will make the grade is irresponsible in my opinion. That certainly doesn't mean you can't have a big kennel but it does mean you should be able to provide all of your dogs with a good home and lots of exercise.

Alice

"Dog & Sled" - http://www.dx4solutions.com/dogandsled/
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