People often ask me if the dogs get into fights. When you have a buttload of dogs living together, it’s a legitimate concern. I can’t speak for every musher, but I think most have dealt with the occasional fight. Large scale kennels usually tether their dogs to manage their interactions. Others separate their dogs into different enclosures, ensuring they get along with those in the space they share. (For example: my friend has a “wimpy” dog yard and an “asshole” dog yard)
When I entered the world of mushing, my intentions were to keep a small team (ha!)—they were to be pets first, sled dogs second. This also meant keeping them inside the house with me. For the most part, this has been working out just fine, even as my numbers increased. Knox and Dexter would get into an occasional spat, mostly due to Knox’s resource-guarding tendencies. Still, their issues have been easily managed.
We were spending most of our time at the Pawling house when I brought Blitz and eventually Hubble into the mix. Pawling has a decent sized floor plan and an enormous yard for the dogs to release their energy. This is especially useful in the off-season, when it's too warm to mush, but the dogs still need exercise.
In our move to the SoCal mountains, we knew there'd be a tradeoff: a much smaller house and yard in exchange for trails right at our doorstep. The hope was that I’d be able to occasionally run throughout the summer, since average lows remain much cooler here. Many mushers keep their dogs in enclosures or tethered during the off-season, so I hoped the smaller space would work for my pack.
As you might have expected by the tone of my posts, it has not worked out.
One of the major reasons I decided we have to move was the uptick in fights. We’ve had a few between Willow and Denali, which tend to be the scariest. One sent me to urgent care with an infected finger. Dumb move on my part—I couldn’t get them off one another, so I stuck my hand in Denali’s mouth to pry it open. This is a lesson in how NOT to separate fighting dogs. Instead, you should make a lot of noise, throw a bucket of water, or grab the aggressor by the hind legs.
Hubble’s raging hormones are an added bonus in the daily maintenance of hot, bored dogs. Regular playtime has turned into frequent spats*, I suspect because there isn’t enough space for the dogs to get away from one another when they’ve had enough.
I already know I want to expand my team, so it’s time to find a property with enough space to keep everyone happy and safe. I’m looking at homes with outbuildings, walk-out basements, and enclosed porches that would be suitable indoor hangouts for the dogs. The plan is to build an ultra-secure dog yard that connects to the house (so I can easily let them in and out). Surrounding the dog yard will be a much larger space (1-2 acres), enclosed with cattle fencing and dig guards, to act as the supervised play yard. Depending on what my team looks like and the space we settle on, I may break up the dog yard into separate runs for even more control over who interacts with who.
It’s time to eat my words and let my sled dogs be sled dogs.
*Luckily, the majority of the fights are between the boys. These are both easy to predict/prevent and mostly a lot of noise, spit, and pulled hair. They rarely injure each other. The girls, on the other hand, fight rarely but viciously and without much warning.