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A dog trainer on holiday!

A lifelong dream of mine was to drive a dog pulled sleigh, I have had the privilege of carriage driving my own horse and the idea of a dog fuelled ride always appealed to me, In this year of my 70th birthday i decided to make the this dream happen

it all began from seeing a post on instagram of Chris Hemsworth taking his daughter to Iceland and all the photo’s of the experiences they shared there. I could’t help but think fancy having a Dad that not only took time out to do that with his daughter but left the rest of the family at home to give her that unique memory. My Dad was my hero too, only he disappeared around my 13th birthday and it turns out was dead within 5 years of alcohol poisoning, not such a great hero! I decided it was time I gave myself these experiences, be my own hero! Luckily, when I mentioned the trip to my  friend Jill, she was right up to come along too! Jill and I set about booking our dream trip. Turns out we couldn’t tick all our desires in Iceland and chose Swedish Lapland instead. 

In February this year we landed in Swedish Lapland, Kiruna, to be more exact and were transferred to the Ice Hotel by Husky sled! Husky is not completely accurate, the dogs in Sweden do share DNA with the Husky, but they have also out crossed them to the local dogs and the border collie. 

Thats my team at the back, Jill in front!

Jarn, our driver from the airport, was fascinating it was so interesting to talk to someone that is dependant on their dogs to earn their living. I was so impressed by how enthusiastic the dogs were for the job, they all looked very fit and well, and I was pleased to hear that a good portion of the dogs were older, one lead girl was 10 years old, and had spent her working life sled pulling, and still looked great. 

To observe our guides attitude to meeting other dog sleds when we were out on the trail, not a team from the same kennels but other unknown teams from other kennels. We met several teams when out and the dogs known to our driver were received very differently to the strange dogs, our driver was very careful to give the strange dogs a wide berth or even pull over to let them pass to avoid conflict. It was completely natural to the drivers that strange dogs from other kennels may or may not get along with their dogs, and there was no need to risk finding out. To me they were working very much with the natural dog behaviour, and though these dogs were very well trained and managed, with lots of focus, they did nothing to interfere with the dogs natural behaviour that of how they interact with unknown dogs. 

I discussed with Jarn how dog owners in the UK and other parts of the world expect to let their dogs off lead in the park and for them to get along with every other dog, Jarn had spent some time in London and had seen first hand exactly what I was describing, and he too was appalled that so much expectation was put on the dogs and that so many people risked injury to their own precious pets. 

To these drivers and carers of these working dogs, they was no expectation that strange dogs might get along, they would not risk their well trained animals being injured in a brawl with another kennel. 

Jarn was fast to back up his orders if a dog was not responding, his method was interesting, and only happened if we were waiting for the off, or had stopped for some reason on the trail, only saw him do this once, he simply charged at the dog in question using his physical size and speed to pounce nearby and surprise the dog, the dog submitted immediately to this attention. I have to also say I saw Jarn frequently praise, caress and interact in the most loving way, in fact his whole way of being with the dogs was very much as a loving leader, the dogs rewarded him with attention and responsiveness.

All the dogs were affectionate like this!

At first I thought the dogs maybe wouldn’t be receptive to human  affection, as they lived such a natural lifestyle, spending their life in pairs in a kennel mostly when not working, but I couldn’t have been more wrong, the dogs were extremely affectionate and sociable, unless waiting for the off in harness, when all their energy and enthusiasm was focused on the job coming up! They showed every sign of being well used to being handled and loved. 

The experience of driving my own mini team of 4 was unforgettable, we drove through the dark in a small blizzard, head torches to guide us, Jarn and his team leading the way across the frozen lake and through the forest to our wilderness lodge, where we were greeted with camp fires, sauna, a cosy cabin and bed after a scrumptious dinner.

Everywhere lit by candles and oil lamps, the setting only improved further in the morning when we could take in the scenery around the camp and go meet our teams near in their over night quarters, some of the dogs chose to spend the night sleeping on the roof of the kennel, all were delighted to have us cuddle and fuss them until Jarn harnessed them again and put them in to teams, once waiting for the off they had only one thought, to go! Driving back was even better as we now thought we knew what we were doing and could relax and enjoy even more in the daylight. The whole holiday was a dream come true, but the dogs and the sledding were undoubtably the highlight, and one I will never forget!

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