In light of a sweeping performance of the Streeper Kennels in this winter’s sprint racing season, Mushing Magazine sent a series of in-depth questions to Blayne “Buddy” Streeper that sought to paint a picture of the Streeper kennel and the people and philosophies behind it. The interview is edited for length and clarity. Meet the Buddy Streeper, in his own words:
Mushing Magazine: Please describe for our readers your kennel and your training grounds.
Buddy Streeper: We have a professional sled dog racing kennel here in Fort Nelson. Streeper Kennels was established in the early 1970s. Typically we have a kennel of 130 dogs and we raise around 50 puppies a year. We got 12 acres of our own private property here, but what allows us to have such good training for our kennel is, we have an agricultural land reserve right behind us and a good neighbor that we've been working with for 45 years and we can run and have access to about 20,000 acres all back there. So our training trails are up to 50 miles here.
Mushing Magazine: Tell us about Fort Nelson. Are there other dog kennels? What is the weather like in summer and winter? Is it a traditional sled dog community? Just give us a feel of your hometown, please.
Buddy Streeper: Our town Fort Nelson, British Columbia, is a very rural town. We're in the northeastern corner of British Columbia, about 250 miles from our nearest city to the south. And we're the only kennel in the town.
It's really hot today. It's been hot the last three or four days and it's mid June right now. Usually it's around 20°C, the mid 20°C is actually considered a fairly warm day here.
We do get lows at night, though. We do lose the sun, the sun does drop down, we don't have 24 hour daylight, so we do have the temperature swing with highs and lows on a day, unlike Alaska where it's usually consistent temperatures throughout the daytime and nighttime because of the 24-hour-daylight. But we do have a temperature fluctuation and with that we get a lot of dew on the grass in the mornings, which is really good for free running the dogs. Even at a warmer temperature. I free run dogs up to 70°F or about 20°C, because the grass has got dew on it and we run through some shaded portions of some fields and stuff and it's almost like a pressure washer watching them dogs run through there.
Usually, winter runs from November first until April first. A cold day here in Fort Nelson will be minus 30°C. We did see some minus 40°C this year, but minus 30°C has kind of become a cold day. We wouldn't see too many of them in a year, a lot of minus 20°, a lot in the minus 10°Cs, a lot of nice days here in Fort Nelson. But usually we have good consistent snow on sled from November 1 to April 1. And that's, I'd say 18 over the last 20 years it's been like that.
Is the town is a traditional sled dog community? I would say yes, even though the general population of Fort Nelson now doesn't really got a full on grasp on what we do, but traditionally the town was established by the Hudson Bay Company and the fur traders and the natives traveling in the region with dog teams for travel and trapping.
Mushing Magazine: Tell us a bit about your family and who all is involved in your life with dogs? How many handlers do you employ?
Buddy Streeper: Well, my family is me and my wife and my two daughters and then my father, Terry is our partner in the business and in the kennel and we all me, Lina and Terry are full time. Me and Terry are definitely full time and Lina is 98 percent full time. The only time that she's not is when I sneak out the door and she's still getting the kids ready, but it's us all year round. We do have handlers, depending on the time of the year and if the right person contacts us, we're not afraid to have a handler at anytime during the year. But it's required that we have two handlers from October to April during the sled, the harness running season. That’s critical for us. And then possibly one handler a little bit on either side of that September and April into May, but the last couple of years in the summer months, we actually haven't had a handler. Me and Lena and Terry, we get more than enough accomplished by the three of us and now my daughters are actually helping out.
Mushing Magazine: How do you make a living? Is dog racing, race winnings and sponsorship deals enough to run your operation?
Buddy Streeper: This is my profession. I'm a professional sled dog racer. Hmm, I don't want to say racer, but, professional sled dog kennel manager, maybe. We do race for prize money and that does cover our expenses and we do have sponsors and I got some terrific sponsors. Red Paw is my dog food sponsor and 10 squared supplements is my supplements sponsor. And then I have a few friends and family friends who essentially are in the region here and the town here that supplement me with a little bit of fuel, some diesel and some loads of gas to run the operation and a trucking company that helps with the cover the costs of shipping dog food and various equipment in. And then also, um, also we have a mechanic shop that sponsors us with repairs. We have established ourselves as a reputable kennel and with that people seek our breed and seek to purchase dogs from us. So, we sell dogs and we sell typically sell 40, no, we sell 50 dogs a year. And, yeah, that's how I make my living.
Mushing Magazine: What does a typical day look like in your kennel in summer and how does it change once training in harness starts? What is a typical routine in the winter?
Buddy Streeper: The morning is usually the coolest part of the day. Typically we get into the low, you know, upper single digits or lower teens, which is great for free running the dogs. Nice and cool. You can get out there until seven, eight, nine, 9:30 o’clock for about an hour, an hour and a half. We can really work the dogs in the free running setting. Our free running setting is… basically we have the yard separated into three groups. We got the female pen, we have the male yard and then we have the puppy yard and each of them yards has 40, 45 dogs. And basically I work one section a day, so I worked the females today and the males and the pups get a day off. So it's one day on two days of rest. And then tomorrow would be the males. And the following day, it'd be the pups and then back to the start again. We put 10 or 12 dogs in a starting pen, a small gate gated pen, probably 12 by 12 feet, that is and they’re tethered to the tether like a drop chain. And then we turn them loose and use the ATV to drive in front. We open the gate and the dogs follow me or Terry or Lina and we cruise on our trails. Usually we're running five to eight miles, sometimes less, sometimes more. We have a real nice turning around spot there at the two and a half mile mark. And that's a beaver pond, a swimming spot that we'd like to stop and throw the throw sticks for the dogs and let them play. And just, many times I'll just stop at any given point in the run and just walk through the forest and pick sticks off the trail and just have the dogs lumbering around and playing and pissing on trees and just being dogs.
Typically once the harness training starts, which is October 1, I have a temperature cutoff. It's 40°F or 5°C. I do not run a dog in harness if it's above that. So if it's a couple of days above 40 degrees in October, I know it's not going to last and, and I don't have to push the limits of the dog for that.
In the summer, we feed in the morning, so we do our exercises in the morning first thing and then we feed immediately after, well, 30 to 50 minutes after I would say I'm starting to feed. That's when all the poop scooping takes place and the watering and the cleaning, the water dish and the socializing the puppies. So usually by about noon we're wrapped up in the dog yard with the exception of a cruise around in the evening there when I top off the water dishes and clean the puppy pens and just give expecting moms a little bit more food and puppies as well.
In the winter we go to watering in the morning, we water at 8 a.m. and then we usually train two hours later at 10 a.m. We run a couple of teams until lunch, take an hour lunch, come back at 1 p.m., usually run a couple more teams. Feeding is about an hour and a half after our last run. I'm usually feeding right around 4 to 5 p.m. and we're all wrapped up. And then there'll be maintenance on the trail and whatnot.
Mushing Magazine: Describe your training at home, when you start, do you start by running them a certain time or distance? What is your longest distance run at home?
Buddy Streeper: So typically October 1, give or take a day or two. We always started at three miles and it doesn't matter if the dogs are my puppies or my yearlings, our first run in harness is always three miles. We usually run three or four times at that distance and actually three or four times at each increment when we jump up. So we do three or four runs at three miles and I'd train one day on, one day off and three or four times at each distance. And then I jumped the mileage and then my next loop goes to five miles, three or four runs at that. And then my next loop goes to seven miles. Three or four runs at that. Then I go to 10 miles and 13 and then 16 and 20, 25, 30, 35, 42. And usually I train one or two 50 mile runs here at home and I'm usually three or four runs at each distance and I am not afraid to back them off a little bit. Let's say the weather is not right or the team's just not running as good as I think it should be at any given time. And I will manipulate the training and we'll cut the run short or if the conditions prevail and it's not what I think is adequate in successfully training a dog team to maximize our moving speed down the trail. So if it's shitty, soft trail I ain't running and if it's a super hot day I ain’t running. And if it's super cold, I ain't running. So I'm pretty well just setting the dogs up to succeed on the optimum conditions possible. Fortunately for being a fulltime musher, I don't have any other job or activity that gets in the way. My main focus is developing a championship dog team and, and that's what my main focus is. So the longest run at home would be 50 miles. And yeah, that's usually by mid January, early January, and then we take off on the racing circuit.”
Mushing Magazine: Please describe the effort it takes to load up the trailer to get on the race circuit?
Buddy Streeper: Honestly I've been doing it since I was 16-years-old, so that's over 20 years and even the 16 years before that I was off and out with dad. So, honestly, it's all I know. So it is probably a huge endeavor, but to me it's like second nature because there is a ton of logistics involved with it. When we travel we take everything we need. We're self contained. I actually traveled out of here one year, self contained for 100 days for 50 dogs. I mean people food you got to buy, but I didn't need to buy any dog food, you know, we premix our own meat at home and have all our hotel rooms booked and everything was ready to go and that's, you know, just how I learned how to do it and that's just how I grew up.
So, it is quite a circus. I guess when you look at it, a lot of effort, a lot of planning, a lot of packing but we have such a good system. It's so well thought out and it just comes from experience of traveling and repetition of doing it that now I have such a big trailer, it's really makes it pretty easy. The hardest part actually is mid race season when I decide to unhook my trailer and just go with my truck. Let's say I'm going for a weekend race or something and I'm just going with my truck. That's when it kinda gets really confusing because you know, everything I have I need is, is in the trailer.
Mushing Magazine: What is your draw to run the longer stage stop races coming from a sprint background?
Buddy Streeper: The main draw was the timing. The timing is so good for us because, typically the sprint mushing circuit in January is pretty slow, not speed-wise, just the races are kind of few and far between. They are quite a ways from home or their purses aren't substantial enough or lucrative enough for me to make it feasible to travel up to Alaska for two weekends and racing for a thousand dollars to win.
These races are very high paying races and it's a very large purse and it allows us to do that in the early month, in the month of January. So essentially once February rolls around, once the major races start kicking off again, I focus on the races in Manitoba, The Pas Manitoba, the world championship there, and Cross Lake. Those are two very lucrative races in Manitoba.
Mushing Magazine: What do you like about them and what challenges does it present to run a longer stage stop race with dogs you want to compete with and win the ONAC, Rondy and The Pas?
Buddy Streeper: I would say it's early in the year, you know, we can get to them in January and then we can switch our focus to the other races. It is long, slow distance training. The 48 dogs that we travel with have got an incredible base on them because they've all run 45 miles essentially. So basically they're pretty well set up for any races that we want to compete with them throughout the rest of the year. And that's by mid January. Well the challenges would be the pace. The pace that we're teaching them is a lot slower. The pace we're teaching them is a 15-mile an hour pace, which is just fast enough to get you last place in any of them three races, the Open North American, the Rondy and The Pas. You've got to know what you're doing in order to bring them back to get them running speed races. And I found the recipe and the formula to do it and I've been very successful and able to speed the dogs up after that race. The Pas is so close to it [the Wyoming Stage Stop]. It's 10 days after you come out of Wyoming and you need some rest. So basically you have five days off and then you've got basically two runs to teach a dog team that just went 300 miles over the Rocky Mountains at 10 to 12-miles an hour trying to speed them up to 18-mile an hour average speed for 35 miles. So yeah, that's a challenge. And I don't like going to race if I, if I'm not prepared for it. And you know, most of the mushers that go to the Manitoba The Pas, that's their big race of the year. So you know, they're sitting their guns loaded guns tilted and ready to fire at ya. So I don't think that I'm adequately prepared to race them guys, but I've been successful enough there and I'm experienced enough to know how to win there with the team and, but I honestly think if, if you want it to be entirely focused on the Rondy, The Pas and the North American, it does no good to go to Wyoming.
Mushing Magazine: What made you decide to come back to Rondy?
Buddy Streeper: I'd have to say that, you know, just the timing, it just seemed to work out better for us. And then they started to get good snow and then Anchorage put on a $100,000 purse and you know, that all of our interest sparked up. And, once we started going back up there and Fairbanks a couple of years ago, I started to remember what I loved about the sport of racing unlimited class races and that's running big dog teams and, and navigating a big powerful dog team. It is an adrenaline rush or a natural high that I haven't found, well not in the sporting world, anyways. For me there is nothing, nothing like the draw of running a big, big dog team and running well with them.
Mushing Magazine: and how did you deal with losing to Roxy Wright in the 2017 Rondy and ONAC? What did you do differently next year, which resulted in sweep and how did I deal with it?
Buddy Streeper: Um, I don't know. I don't like losing. I don't like losing.
So I learned from it. I mean in all the years that we've been racing, I've always said I never learned anything from a win. It's always when I got beat is when you can look back. When you win, clearly you think you've done it right, you know it's hard to evaluate success. A successful program, you know, say well it worked until you actually get beat and then when you get beat then there's a good chance for you to open up the drawing book there and give yourself a full evaluation. And Terry asked me a half a dozen times throughout the summer, he said, ‘Why did you get beat by Roxy? Or how did you get beat by Roxy?’ I mean, Anchorage kind of surprised us the way she beat us there. I beat her on the second and third day and, you know, it kind of just surprised me the first day in the North American. I should've had my things in order, but I mean, she won the first day in Anchorage. I won the next two days in Anchorage. She won the first day in Fairbanks by 20 seconds. I won the second day in Fairbank's by 10 seconds. She won the third day by 10 seconds. So, I mean, at the end of the year she had, we just traded days on and days off. We had a very similar program. And what did Arleigh and Roxy do? They didn't go to Wyoming, I'll tell you that. You know, they weren't bringing a team that was focused on such a different groups of races. We raced in Manitoba the weekend before and then we drove all the way across the country to get there. So, I mean, it wasn't setting our team up to do that well. Did it motivate me? Yes. Did, it did motivate me.
What did I do differently next year? My main focus when we enter two teams is supposed to be, and I say supposed to be, this is the original thought and this is the thought that we've went with this year, is to take a team that's gonna win. So you got 40 dogs to pick from, you take the 20 best dogs or whatever you feel is going to be the best dog team out of that. Then the second team is composed of the leftover dogs and last year when we got beat, we selected our second team and it ended up with a few of my main dogs on there. So what I decided this year was I was not going to be the case. I was going to take the main team and it was going to be the clear and hands down the main team.
Mushing Magazine: How do you split up your teams between you and Lina? Do you have an A and B Team? Do the drivers predominantly train the same dogs or do you have one training regiment that every driver follows in your kennel thus allowing for dogs then to be placed in A, B or C teams?
Buddy Streeper: Yes, we do have an A and a B team. The main focus is to get a team that's gonna win the race and then hopefully you have a depth of the kennel to field a strong second team. Me and Lina are typically doing all the training. And no, we're always switching teams up. Usually the last couple of runs before a race we'll have the team selected and you get to be running your own team, but actually for everything after the Stage Stop I pretty well run every training run with every dog. But yeah, everybody drives the same way and we have a specific strategy that we'd like to follow. We really take it easy at the start. I always talk about the pace control and the speeds that we're going to run. So we have a GPS on the sled and you know, depending on the run and the condition in the race that we're focusing on will vary the speed that I'm suggesting the mushers to run or allow the dogs to run. So essentially we're just following the game plan.
Mushing Magazine: Has running dogs with your wife ever caused a marital strife?
Buddy Streeper: Yup. Yup. It does. Basically whatever Lina says I do. So if she says ‘I want this dog, you take that one,’ I do it. Fortunately, we have a real good relationship in terms to selecting dogs and we both have a main goal and an established plan of what to do. So yeah, a little bit. We traded dogs a couple times this year, like literally on the Thursday before the race, you know, I said, ‘What do you think about so and so?’ And she'll say, ‘Yeah, I like them.’ I said, well, ‘Would you trade for that one?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, sure I will.’ And twice this year we did it and it was suggested by me and both times that dog never finished the race with me and the dog she picked, turned out to be a super dog, you know, so she's clearly got a little bit more insight how to manipulate me into making a decision where she's gonna reap the rewards from. So I think that's, uh, that's how Lina gets her way with me (chuckles).
Mushing Magazine: Now that the Streeper kennel has dominated the sprint and stage races, what is there left for you to achieve? What are your future goals in the near and distant future?
Buddy Streeper: To keep doing what we're doing. I enjoy sprint class racing. I enjoy traveling at a high rate of speed with a dog team. That's how, you know, that's how our family got involved in the sport. Those are the races that I consider the, my main events that I'm going to continue to focus on the open North American, the Fur Rendezvous, the Canadian Open, uh, The Pas, Cross Lake, Wyoming.
Mushing Magazine: Please describe your perfect dog as far as size, build, look, type, behavior. Who is or was the closest perfect dog that you have seen or had the privilege to run?
Buddy Streeper: My dogs seem to be getting a little bit bigger nowadays, but I would probably say 50 to 60 pounds. Build? Long legs, long back, big chest, little more hair than what's typical of more and more traditional. I don't like naked dogs. I like dogs that can look after themselves. The look? I like a stocky dog. I don't like the long lean, skinny legs, you know, and fine rib cage and whole bunch of backbone showing. I don't like that. I like a dog that looks strong. I want a dog that looks durable, you know, a dog that packs a little more weight, got a little more durability than lot of the sprintier dogs, they look fragile to me. Behavior? Friendly, absolutely. Social? Yes, love, attention, can't be too friendly.
Well, I've seen some great dogs, but I think a great best dog, that I own right now, is Skeeds. Super dog, he's a little bit smaller than my ideal. He's 46 pounds. He's got the hair. I'm talking about that look, that type of behavior and loves attention, big heart, you know, heart. And I think that's probably what separates good dogs from mediocre dogs from the best dogs in the world is, is I think this is the heart and dogs that want to please their owner and dogs, they want to do it because they want to do it. So, yeah, Skeeds is a super dog. Little Deedee, incredible dog. Skeeds' grandma Cody. Swifty. I got a bunch of them. Be hard to pick just a few, but yeah, those are some incredible dogs that I've seen. And I've watched Mike, I watched dad with Hop and Ginger and I watched Eddie and Amy with Gunner. I watched Ross Saunderson with Victor. Like those were all, some pretty awesome dogs right there. When Egil came over, we all had to breed to the pointer to keep up with Egil and you know, the dogs became very short coated at that time, floppy ears, short coated, they became a different breed that we had and that look is still holding on today. So the dog looks different in my opinion. It does. I am trying my best to, to breed back into a little more hair and a little more natural body ability to handle the colder weather, a little more durable body than a pointer cross, but it is holding on.
Mushing Magazine: How do the dogs you run today compare to the dogs, your dad and uncle ran around 20 or 30 years ago?
Buddy Streeper: Dad really thinks that they had better dogs then my team now. Dad thinks that his team was better than mine. And the reason he thinks that his team is better than mine is, they didn't know how to train. Where, you know, I've, over time we've learned how to train and how to maximize the dog's ability and that's pace control. And they had no idea about pace control 20, 30 years ago and they'd start the Open North American and they'd hit the three mile mark in eight minutes and 10 seconds and in the last three miles it would take them 10 minutes and 30 seconds, and have dogs that are tired. Now we do it differently. We hit the three mile mark in 9:05 and your last three miles should be in about 9:10. So, you know, different style of running. Our dogs are trained differently now. But Dad really thought he must have had an exceptional athlete to do how they did it years ago. And if we had that dog now, he said, ‘Dang, that'd be some, some pretty impressive dog teams.’
Mushing Magazine: What races are you planning on running in 2018/19?
Buddy Streeper: We're gonna be doing the same thing. And the reason why we're doing the same thing is because these races are so established, you know, they're the majors. They’re your Superbowl, the World Series or the Stanley Cup. You know, Wyoming is a world class event. The Pas is a world championship event, the Fur Rendezvous is a world championship event and the Open North American is the pinnacle of dog mushing. So those are my focus. No, I might have a few smaller races here and there Fort Nelson's planning on having another race this year and getting back on the circuit race scene. So maybe we'll add one more race to there. But basically I'm gonna run the same race circuit we have for the last couple of years and I really want to have a good showing in them races and then we're going to work hard to go there and to show that our dog teams are getting better and getting stronger and getting better at succeeding.
Mushing Magazine: Thank you.
The interview in its entirety can be found under podcasts on mushing.com.