Stardancer Historical Freight Dogs

Two Rivers, Alaska

 

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The Stardancer Team's Home Base

    The Stardancer Historical Freight Dogs kennel is small relative to most dog mushing kennels.  I am dedicated to keeping my team as small as I can for financial as well as philosophical reasons.  By keeping the team just large enough to field a solid recreational team of six to eight dogs, I can ensure that every individual dog in the Stardancer kennel receives the one-on-one care, training and interaction that he or she needs to be as happy and as healthy as possible. 

    The physical layout includes one 500 square foot free-run pen, three 200 square foot pens, and a spacious combined housing and free run / training yard area for a total of 7100 square feet.  Currently we are housing 11 dogs in a facility that could easily handle 20.

    Any of the free-run pens can serve as an isolation pen to house a female in estrus or to isolate a dog from his or her team mates in the event of potentially contagious illness.

    Dogs housed in the free-run pens are housed in pairs.  Scientific research has shown that single housing of dogs in a confined space can lead to serious behavioral abnormalities, but that dogs housed in pairs enjoy a level of interaction similar to that of dogs housed in groups of 15 or more animals. 

    The larger housing yard is set up with 9 post and chain swivels, a very common type of restraint system used by dog mushers to ensure that all dogs in the yard can safely interact with their neighbors while preventing runaways.  Because each chain can swivel 360 degrees around the post, this set up gives each dog slightly more than 113 square feet in which to run, jump and play.  Recent studies conducted by Cornell University have shown that tethering sled dogs in this manner is less stressful for the dogs than any other type of confinement system. 

    Each dog is provided his or her own flat-roofed doghouse.  Stardancer dogs are trained to jump on top of their houses for grooming and handling and many of them just to enjoy sitting or lying on top of their shelters while sunning themselves or just checking out the view.  All of the dog houses are raised a few inches above the ground to help keep the interior dry and free of snow or loose debris.  Each dog is provided with a thick bed of straw for his or her comfort and we change out their bedding at least monthly in dry weather, and weekly or even more frequently when wet.

    Some rather interesting research has found that social and psychological stimulation in the housing area may be even more important for maintaining the physical and mental health in dogs than providing adequate space. This doesnít mean that space isnít important, but it does point to the importance of providing a stimulating environment for our working dogs. We take several steps to keep our dogs mentally active.

    Because our yard is literally an oasis in the forest, my dogs have ample opportunity to smell and watch local wildlife, especially squirrels, snowshoe hares and song birds. We enjoy having dogs inside our house, and each night we bring two of our team members inside for the evening.  Some of our dogs become too warm in the house and ask to go outside before bedtime.  Others enjoy sleeping in an airline crate in our bedroom, and two of them even enjoy crawling up onto the bed with us.  We're perfectly willing to accommodate their individual preferences.

We rotate dogs through the house, free-run pen and individual pole & chain sites so that all members of the team have frequent opportunities to interact with all other members of the team, including the mushers.  Rotating dogs from place to place also helps reduce the potential for resource guarding behavior that can lead to dog-directed aggression. 

    In addition to the fenced in housing yard a large, open "play yard" is provide, in which groups of compatible dogs can be released to run and play together whenever we can be available to supervise them.  It also serves as a training area for off-lead behavioral training.