THE INTERIOR FREIGHT DOG ASSOCIATION

Back behind the large crowds and sleek sprint dogs gathered for the 2008 Open North American Championships, a group of much larger canines with more fur were waiting for their own start time. The IFDA was hosting one of its many winter events. We had a chance to talk with Carol Preuett, IFDA’s secretary and shed some light on sled dog racing’s distant cousin.GS: How many weight pull organizations are there in Alaska?CP: There are two. There is also AK9’s Weight Pullers out of Chugiak.GS: How many members are there between the two clubs?CP: We have about 28 members, and the other club has about 20.GS: Do you put on any freighting events that require dogs to pull a loaded, or weighted sled over several miles?CP: No, just our 25 foot weight pull events. We are bringing back the history and tradition of the freight dog in Alaska. Freight dogs were used when horses couldn’t be used because of terrain or weather. In a sense, freight dogs were the beginning of mushing. Our events show the endurance and stamina of the dogs.GS: I don’t normally associate weight pulling with endurance…CP: It takes a lot of endurance. You can see 1 dog pull 1500 pounds, but it takes 4 full grown men to pull that sled back to the starting line again.GS: Ok… How do you train and condition the weight pulling dog?CP: We start when they are puppies, introducing them to the harness. We want them to learn that it is something fun, but they don’t pull any substantial weight yet. When the dog is about 12 months or so, they can pull a tire or empty pallet behind them to get used to pulling. GS: Do you simulate competition at this point?CP: We just go for long walks with them pulling the tire or pallet. You don’t have to put a thousand pounds behind them right away. You can work up to pulling a training cart, or riding lawnmower or such. Once they learn that they like to pull something, then you can work on your technique, and getting the dog to focus on you and communicating back and forth. In a competition, you cannot touch the dog in any way, so all the direction has to be verbal. You have to figure out what makes the dog work for you. Are you going to stand out in front and back away, or are you going to stand off ot the side? Every dog is an individual and you have to find out what works best for them, what makes them click. GS: Eventually do you replace the “going for a walk” training with more short, intense workouts that more simulate what they will be doing in competition?CP: We do work on that by adding concrete cylinders to the tire and taking breaks along the way. They drive harder harder after they stop. This builds on communication and drive. GS: Is there any strategy to the pulling?CP: Well, each handler has the right to “pass” up to two times during an event. Which means that if you think your dog can pull a higher weight than the current round, you can pass on that round. It conserves energy in the dog, but the downside is that if your dog doesn’t end up pulling the higher weight, the last weight and time pulled is recorded. So knowing and reading your dog is very important.GS: How much are the increasing increments in weight?CP: It depends on the conditions. Either 90 pounds in the winter time, but on the wheeled cart it usually is 150 pounds each pull, because there is less resistance.GS: What happens if two or more dogs pull the same weight?CP: Then time factor comes into play. Who ever pulled the last weight the fastest wins.GS: How many times does the average dog pull per event?CP: Depending on the increments and how much it can pull, it can be up to 12 or more times.GS: I’ve seen that if the dog can’t pull the weight, the handlers move the sled across the course. Does that lead to the dogs just waiting for help?CP: We always want the dog to end on a positive note. We never want them to think that they can’t pull it. We always want them to think that they can conquer it. Every dog knows whether it has succeeded or not, and they are going to get more praise if they pulled it themselves, on their own. GS: What are the typcial purses for the events?CP: It is usually cash and prizes from sponsors. Our top purse this year was $3300 broken down to 4 places in 4 different classes. The Nenana Ice Classic is one of our biggest sponsors. We are in the process of applying for our 501C3 non profit status, and that will make helping our club a legitimate tax deduction.GS: In both distance and sprint mushing events, the ambient temperature affects the ability of the dog to work. In a 60 second pulling event, does the weather have a similar effect? Do they pull more weight when it is cold?CP: Yes, it does. The weather plays a big factor. In the summer, even though the wheeled cart has less resistance, the dogs often times can’t pull as much. GS: Where is the sport’s popularity level right now? Is it as popular as it has ever been?CP: Well we are really proud to say we’ve made it bigger than it has been recently. The club was non-existent for a while until my family took it over. We do a lot of educational demonstrations at the elementary school here in town. We pull the kids in the big sled outside, then we put together math problems using examples of weight pulled vs. the percentage of the dogs weight. The kids have fun and are learning at the same time. I see the sport growing more and more.For more information, visit www.interiorfreightdog.com

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