Bonalon and Hooch are enjoying the couch life. They both told me, in no uncertain terms, that they are ready to be officially RETIRED. They will get out for fun runs when they want to, but for now they are pretty excited to be living the lazy life.
This has been an important opportunity for me to bite the bullet and focus on the other adults (I’m calling them THE CORE FOUR!) without leaning on my old lady veteran leader crutches. The Core Four are strong, happy, and enthusiastic. I have redialed my head– as best as I can– to the kind of training youngins need… Short, fun runs, where “quality” matters more than “quantity.” So the last few runs we’ve gone on, Annie, Ophelia, and Nala have been switching out leader duties in pairs. Egret is staying where she is strongest, in “team” and “wheel,” although I like to give everyone a chance up front. For some dogs, that’s just not for them! But for A, O, and N, this has been a perfect chance to get them running up front on their own, without relying on Hooch or Bonnie. It seems like the optimum time to let them take the lead. We are traveling trails they are used to, but taking some surprising turns, practicing “lining out” on stops, and having a blast running all over the place. With such a small group, I can *really* focus on each and every dog having a completely successful, happy run.
And meanwhile, the little munchkins are growing up fast! The Demons (the current name for the Star Wars pups… faster to say than Star Wars pups, and also more accurate!) are running their first runs with the big dogs, and playing with the baby puppies every day at lunch. They are MOSTLY kind to their younger siblings, but like all big sisters (and a brother) they can sometimes be bullies. That’s what I’m around for to say, “HEY HEY HEY!” which usually morphs into singing a song. But for the most part they are really well behaved and I’m excited to get more and more of the dogs socializing all together. Ultimately, I want the whole crew of us to be able to embark on adventures together in free play style, especially for this summer.
As you can deduce, the baby puppies are doing lots of walks in the woods and also playing with their older siblings in the big play pen. Usually Nala helps monitor this playtime too, because she’s a great run-around-aunty. Even these lil guys are not so much babies any more, they are all getting very big!
And all of this, I’m sure, to some people, sounds like a glorious dream! But it’s very difficult for me. (I’m not complaining, mind you– I’m just… Okay I’m whining!) I’m used to training dogs who are already dialed in to become the best they can be. I am really good at that final stretch, racing *that year* I knew I’d have a learning curve in starting my own kennel. In classic “me” fashion, I didn’t at all think the learning curve would be about patience. Which seems silly in hindsight. Because *I’m here.* I’m doing the thing I’ve been working towards doing! This is it! It’s right now! But in my addled brain, all I’ve ever really been trained to do is prepare for races. And of course, I am preparing for races, but on a bigger scale. I won’t run Iditarod or the Yukon Quest for 3-4 years. Because I want to do it right. As I’ve imagined it being right the whole 15 years I’ve done this.
Gah, patience is tough. And I’m just terrible at it. I’m a very good little automaton, I can be given a short script (train a group of dogs for 1 year to run 2-3 races), and I can do it year after year, for various mushers, with precision. But this, which I’ve strived for, to have my own little crew and work with them to build us all together as a team– this is totally different and it requires patience with myself. I have to… heaven forbid… enjoy myself! Have fun! It’s very odd. It also means I need to be flexible, dial things back, loosen up. These are all un-automatonlike things.
Each day is a new adventure. Having fun is stressful! But also, eventually, potentially, fun. Last night for the first time, I had my two yearlings Nala and Ophelia take the lead! They did SUCH A GREAT JOB! I was so proud of them and really excited, instead of just overwhelmed, for the next couple of years where we’ll all work together and coalesce as a group. How lucky am I?