At Cold Fire Creek the care of our 74 sled dogs is our number one priority. Everything starts and finishes in the kennel. Our kennel is right out our front door! We think it is important to be close to the kennel to keep watch over it and be available should one of them get loose. Our kennel is divided in to two sides to keep the boys and girls separated as to control our numbers. We believe in spaying and neutering those that we wish not to breed. Having some fixed dogs makes things easier as well it helps keep weight on those dogs that are hard keepers.
We must ensure our dogs are happy and healthy in order for them to be able to do their job. Providing the highest quality food that will meet the caloric requirements of each dog individually is essential. Not every dog's calorie requirements are the same. Some dogs require as much as 2 times the calories of another to maintain their ideal weight. During very cold temperatures or intense work extra fat is necessary. Fat fuels body heat as well as provides the best source of energy for sustained work. We feed chicken, liver, beef fat, herring meal, rice, corn oil, and high quality kibble. The dogs, main meal is at night. Each dog has their own bowl and is fed a mixture of the above along with warm water baited with chicken meal and tallow. Any left over food from the night feed is then used to bait the warm water in the morning for their high calorie chicken soup. After each tour the dogs are also watered again and snacked with home made cookies made of ground beef fat, chicken and kibble.
Not only is food important, so is the environment in which the dogs live and are raised. Most of our dogs are tethered on a 7 foot chain and each has their own house. We have four 10x20 pens with big houses used as whelping pens and recovery pens. We also have two very large pens used for the puppies when they get older so they can run around and have room to play. We also move the older retired dogs into the pens in the day so they too can run around and socialize. Some of the retired sled dogs get the run of the kennel. They are free all the time as we think they earned it. Houses are filled first with cedar shavings as an insulation barrier on the bottom and then straw. Dogs should have clean dry bedding - and lots of it! One of my favorite things to do it to hand out bedding. The dogs get so excited when they see the wagon coming with the straw! Sometimes you can barely get the straw in the houses because the dogs are in there trying to help us! Also extremely important is the cleaning of our kennel. Our kennel is cleaned at least twice a day. Once in the morning and again at night. If it is snowing out we even will do it again so it does not get covered up and buried.
The veterinary health of each dog is not to be forgotten. All our dogs are vaccinated, dewormed, and vet checked regularly. Our dogs have been taken care of by the same veterinarian since our existence! Our vet knows each and every single one of our sled dogs by name. She comes to our kennel and goes over each and every dog from nose to tail on vaccination day. She will even come to our kennel when we have an old or sick dog that requires her help to get them to doggy heaven. We keep most of our retired sled dogs that are no longer capable of doing tours. Most of them do not retire until they are 12 years old! They still want to run, but cannot keep up to the younger faster dogs. We find they still are very useful to teach the pups and yearlings. We have found adoptive homes for some of the younger dogs that retire. We believe retired sled dogs make good pets as well.
The attitude and demeanor of dogs is part hereditary but mostly influenced by the upbringing and socialization of the pup. Everything must be kept positive. From the first time a new born is picked up to their everyday handling, dogs require affection, respect, trust, socialization and leadership. I tell our guides that I can teach them to drive a dog sled but they have to build respect and trust with each and every dog on their own in order for those dogs to work well for them. The easiest way is the simple gesture of grooming the dogs. The dogs love it; it's positive, and it's one on one time. Respect given is respect received.