Meet Siberian Sprint
Musher John Bates
John & Geri Bates with Iditarod musher Linwood Feidler
Name: John and Geri Bates
Kennel Name: SIBEX, also known as The Siberian Express
Birthplace: Lubbock, Texas
Home Town: Ferndale, Michigan (suburb of Detroit)
Occupation: 9-1-1 Dispatcher for the Michigan State Police
Geri and I have been married for 15 years, and we have two teenage sons
- Jason (17) and Justin (14). We met in the U. S. Air Force, married, and have been living
in Michigan for about 12 years now. I am primarily a sprint musher, running in the 6-dog
classes. Last year was my rookie year, and I'm still alive to tell about it. We ran one
mid-distance race in the Upper Peninsula last season in order to get more
"qualifying" miles on the dogs to compete in the Sled Dog classes at the
I am a Board member of the Siberian Husky Club of Greater Detroit and we members of the
Mid Union Sled Haulers (MUSH) and the Michigan Sled Dog Association
I'm also a local precinct delegate for the 12th GOP, a contributing writer/photographer
to The Siberian Quarterly magazine, and the only "dogsledding dispatcher" in the
Michigan State Police. My experience in dogs includes four years handling narcotics and
bomb detection dogs in the USAF. Geri has taken over many of my duties as photographer,
and her photos often accompany my articles. We also publish "Paw Prints", the
monthly newsletter of The Siberian Husky Club of Greater Detroit.
How long have you been involved with sled dogs?
A little over two years.
What sparked your initial interest in sled dogs?
My friend & neighbor, Donna Lutz, got me interested as she mushed her dogs
down the snow-covered sidewalks of the neighborhood at 6 a.m. one winter morning. After I
got over the initial shock, I thought "Wow - that's COOL!"....it really made me
want to try it myself.
If you remember your very first time behind a team of dogs, tell us about it.
I was pretty uneasy at first, knowing the awesome power I was about to unleash,
yet very excited. My first experience was on a training rig with 4 dogs in a wooded area
near Flint, Michigan. Luckily for me, the dogs were running well and I can remember
thinking, "What a rush !" The neighbor that had sparked my initial interest was
also my mentor and gave me lots of insight into the sledding scene, which I was grateful
for as the weeks went by and the training progressed. Still, every time I step on the
runners and listen to the countdown in the starting chute the adrenaline almost overflows.
What size kennel do you operate?
Ours is a small operation, as we still reside in the city. The dogs are all
cherished family members as well working sled dogs. Like many pets, they are spoiled. By
day they have the run of the yard, and at night have individual crates in the cool
basement. Luckily, our neighbors are very understanding. We are currently shopping for a
suitable site in the country for our new home & kennel for our six adult dogs. We are
planning one litter in early 1998.
Give us an overview of your feeding program.
We feed & recommend Diamond Pet Foods of Meta, MO. They make several formulas
to suit our needs - Diamond Puppy for the little ones, Premium Adult for the show dogs,
and Professional Formula for the training/racing season. The products are a very good
value and of the highest quality. I've toured their manufacturing facility, and the
company veterinarian consults with us frequently on nutritional needs and even comes to
Michigan to watch us race and see the results of their products first-hand. Not many
companies would be willing to do that for an individual breeder/musher. In my opinion,
this is what sets them apart from other brands. Other than that, I use fresh ground
venison to supplement during the racing season, which the dogs really love.
Summarize your basic kennel management style.
Since our sled dogs are also show dogs, I have two areas of concern which
actually sort of overlap. My first concern is with "workability". As novice
breeders, we want to produce Siberian Huskies that closely fit the AKC standard while
retaining their working heritage. As a musher, I want dogs with plenty of drive and
attitude. My "ideal" Siberian Husky can go from the home to the show ring to
working in harness, while retaining the qualities that make this breed unique in the dog
world. For example, we place a lot of emphasis on socialization, and take our dogs on
other outings besides shows and races. One thing we enjoy is taking them to a local cider
mill or public park and staking them out where they can enjoy the human interaction as
people come by to pet them and ask questions. It helps the dogs get accustomed to crowds
and we get the opportunity to help educate the public about Siberian Huskies and sledding.
What advice would you give a beginning musher?
Find a mentor, and ask lots of questions. Most folks will give
you the benefit of their experiences if they are approached properly, but don't expect
them to reveal all their racing strategies if you are going to compete against them. Also,
educate yourself and go slowly - many beginning mushers seem to acquire too many dogs and
are overwhelmed. It's easy to acquire genetic "junk", so take your time and
acquire the best specimens possible of your chosen breed. Your efforts will pay dividends
in the years ahead.
What breed(s) do you work with?
Purebred Siberian Huskies.
What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
The dog should conform closely to the written AKC standard. I like plenty of
angulation, good shoulder lay-back, and proper gait. If the conformation is good, then
other characteristics such as coat & eye color become secondary considerations.
What mental or emotional attributes do you require in your dogs?
I like a dog that is somewhat mellow around the home, yet gets excited when it is
time to go to "work". I realize the two traits are at opposite extremes, but
most of our dogs are like that. It all goes back to training and socialization. They know
what is expected of them and behave accordingly. Of course, there are times when they test
their limits, much as children do, but that's just part of their mental make-up. We have
"house rules" and "yard rules" and "working rules", which
present us with many challenges when training. We just have to adjust our training methods
to the individual dog. I'm very fortunate to have such versatile dogs. They are my friends.
Tell us about an all time favorite dog or two:
Two of our dogs were actually "adopted" over the Internet from a lady
in New York City in the summer of 1995. She had developed liver disease, and couldn't keep
them any more. One bitch was from a very famous show kennel, the other bitch from a casual
breeder, and she didn't want to separate the two since they had been raised together. Lots
of people wanted the show quality bitch, but not everyone wanted the other spayed female.
After exchanging numerous emails and letters and phone calls, I just knew I had to have
them so we drove to New York City one weekend to get the dogs. "Nikki" went on
to compete in the 1996 SHCA National Specialty and has become one of my best leaders,
while "Jessie" is content to be a mischievous sled dog. We love them both, and
stay in touch with their former owners in New York. Talk about versatility - from New York
City apartment dogs to working sled dogs in a matter of weeks ! They are special members
of The Siberian Express
If you raise puppies, do you use any pre-training evaluation?
It's not an exact science, but I look for personality and attitude, and how well
a puppy reacts to different stimuli. I watch them play and interact to get clues as to
their social development, which helps me form an educated guess as to temperament and
What method do you use for starting pups?
First, observation. Stake them out and let them watch the other more experienced
dogs. They learn by watching them. Walking in harness, then gradually adding objects like
small tires or short logs to see if the pups will pull, and how they react to their new
"job". Then, they go next to an experienced (but patient) older dog near the
middle of the team. After that, their performance determines their position on the team.
What is the most important thing you look for in a young dog?
A combination of conformation and attitude.
What is the training/racing philosophy of your kennel?
I am not pursuing fortune or glory. As a "rookie", my
main goal is to make it across the finish line alive with my team intact. We train as
often as possible, and try to make it fun for the dogs. Sportsmanship is also very high on
the goals list - I'm a firm believer in good sportsmanship and fair play.
Do you have specific training goals for your team(s)?
We try to vary our training till the dogs will run as few as one or two miles or
as many as fifteen miles. As the training progresses we average about 6-8 miles per
How do you choose which races to enter?
We enter as many as our work schedules will allow. Like many other mushers, we
are not independently wealthy and must work full time to support our doggie habit. Last
year we were able to run eight or nine races.
What does it take to win?
Hard work, training, nutrition, and the best dogs you can afford to acquire.
What is the future of sled dog sports?
I believe the sprint and stage races will continue to grow in popularity. Public
education and improved dog care will go a long way toward silencing the vocal minority
that opposes dogsled racing. Mushers must become proactive and exhibit good sportsmanship
in order to promote a more positive image of mushing. As the saying goes, "Perception
What can individual mushers do to support and promote the sport?
Go out and find a school to host a demonstration on mushing and sled dog care.
Many will help arrange to bring in the local media to cover the "story", and
with a few hours investment you can educate an entire community about this growing family
sport. Make yourself available to answer questions at races or public outings. Practice
good sportsmanship, and follow the rules. By doing so, you can help insure that we will be
enjoying dogsled racing for many years to come. Lead by example. (emphasis
What part do clubs and organizations play in sport development?
That depends on the involvement of the members and the goals of the individual
clubs. Be a joiner, and get involved with the club's activities. You get out of it only
what you put into it.
Tell us about one or two of your most memorable sled dog
One time during training my team got thirsty and my leaders took the entire team
over the bank of a pond for a cold drink, standing belly deep in the frigid water. Now, I
make sure I get plenty of water into them before going out on a run. I was so shocked to
see my team disappearing over the bank that I almost didn't get the rig stopped before
going over the edge myself ! Now I try to anticipate the unexpected, but with Siberian
Huskies there's never a dull moment.
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