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17 September 2012

Kilograms Of Dog Hair

I am dog sledding for nine months of the year. From November to July I train, condition and travel with my dogs on sea ice and through the mountains behind my house. My house is on a hill and when the sea freezes over I run my dogs from right outside my backdoor, down a track and on to the ocean ice. November also means the start of 56 days without the sun rising above the horizon. The temperature can dip down to the minus 40s, bringing on superb dog coats.

My adult dogs (two years plus) have spectacular double pelage fur that, in winter, is at least 15 cm deep. The soft, warm and insulating down-like hair nearest their skin is protected by long, coarse guard hairs that keep away snow and ice.

When their fur sheds it's called blowing. It can happen at any time of the year but usually it is a summer occurrence and requires huge calorific effort on the dog’s part to push it out. I help the blowing process by grooming all of my 22 dogs throughout the summer. It is obvious from the video (below) that the dogs love being groomed and I certainly love how grooming enables me to interact with them.

As Greenland Dogs have deep double pelage fur I use a shedding bar and a grooming rack to help rid my dogs of, in some cases, up to one kilogram of blown hair.

Shedding bar (purple handle) and rack
I collect and bag all the old winter hair. I have encouraged local hunters to do the same.

Bagged dog hair
After spring break-up (in July) my dogs have access to water at all times. Summer temperatures rarely top 10° C but, as you can see in the video with all their panting, my dogs do not like the heat and the threat of sunstroke is real. And because our snow season is probably the longest in the world my dogs enjoy a well-earned rest during our short summer.

All of my dogs have their own kennel. I am of the opinion that every dog deserves one for security, to hang a water bucket from or just to sit on to watch the world go by. Expanding bolts - the ones used for securing house timbers to foundations - are driven into rock to secure their stakeout chains.

Frosty September nights mean that water buckets will soon be put away. From this point on (in freezing weather but without snow on the ground) I give my dogs water daily in their feed bowls. Once we have snow I give water before feeding.

Yogi enjoys a drink
Journey routine is different. During the day and on the move I never stop my dogs from dipping for snow. At night I melt 100 litres of snow inside my tent to produce 20 litres of dog water. Most of the time I can be assured my tent will stay put while I feed. Sometimes it is not so good and I fear my tent will be ripped away. For storm feeds I drag myself on all fours along the stakeout chain because I cannot see from one dog to the next. By storms I mean the 200 kilometres per hour variety.

My dogs have everything going for them and we are all looking forward to the sea freezing over, which will begin soon. Before that, we hope to get a visit from the last of our two yearly supply ships. In August, the first ship took away boxes of groomed dog hair. The second ship will take the last of my dogs’ winter coats away to England where it is spun into wool.

In the video you will have noticed Stunner (28 kg) drinking from her water bucket. Greenland Dog bitches are roughly one third of the size of males. This will be Stunner’s second winter and her true winter coat will come through for the first time.

Looking after my dogs throughout the summer plus maintaining my kennel means hard work. At home I live without running water and hauling it is a hard graft but I know why I do it. I love my dogs.

For more about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com

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