Hot Dogs

We know what competitive sled dogs like to do in the winter, but what happens to them in the summer?

Brian Wilmshurst of B-Line Racing Kennels has run the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race twice in the five years he has owned sled dogs. He says his 40 dogs are on holiday during the summer, but “when you’re competitive, you still have to train, no matter what the season.”

But compared to winter, summer training runs are like going out for a stretch.

“It’s relaxed and fun,” says Wilmshurst.

Wilmshurst uses a four-wheeler to go for one to two mile runs, three times per week. He calls them maintenance runs.

“It keeps them in shape and makes it easier to get going with training in the fall,” he says. “It also keeps them in the mindset of wearing a harness. They’re excited to run and it’s important to keep their minds happy too.”

Wilmshurst goes on three different runs, with eight to 10 dogs each time. Each run lasts about 20 minutes.

Things move faster on the weekends when his partner, Melissa Atkinson, is home. She usually has the next team harnessed up and ready to go, and puts the previous team away as Wilmshurst heads out again.

He tends to go early in the morning or late at night, when the cooler temperatures are easier on the dogs. He makes sure that they get plenty of water when they return, and lets them cool off in the shallow pond near his dog yard.

Back at the doghouse, the pooches can rest in the shade under patio umbrellas, donated by a local hotel.

On weekends, while he and Atkinson are outside doing chores, they let the dogs run free in the dog yard.

“We let off five to six at a time,” says Wilmshurst. “If they’re bad, they get tied up, if they’re good they get off more often — they learn real quick.”

Wilmshurst and Atikinson are also training for a marathon and will bring a dog along when they go for a run.

“We use either a leash or a skijoring belt,” says Atkinson. “But since we’re training, we take the dogs that will run alongside us, not ones that pull too hard — it’s easier for us to train that way.”

Once August rolls around the training becomes more serious. Runs on the four-wheeler slowly start to lengthen, going from two, to five, to 10 miles, and so on, in order to start building the dogs up for competition.

And once the snow comes, the holiday is definitely over.

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