freestyle in Santa’s hood … an Alaskan Adventure

Mickey was a reluctant freestyler, her dog Tassie was all for it!

She came to me for owner focus work, to help her in her agility training, but I directed her towards freestyle. The first thing Mickey told me was, no. I pushed again, and heard no. I said, just try it. There was silence for a bit, and then she registered for a freestyle class. It was such a fun class, all of the people and dogs did so well, and it turned out that Mickey and Tassie had some wicked skills!

And it wasn’t because Tassie was an easy partner either, it was Mickey really having a goal for them as a team, and consistently working towards that. But it had to be fun, something they could do at home or away, and at the top of the list, enhance their agility performance.

I don’t know of a better sport than freestyle to encourage and enhance other dog sport activities. It is simply the best for TEAM! Over the past two years this team has blossomed in their relationship and training.

Mickey: So do you want to come to Alaska and do a freestyle workshop?

Me: Excuse me?

Mickey: It would be great to have you up in Fairbanks, do some freestyle, visit Santa’s House, see some reindeer, what do you think?

Me: Um, well. It’s kind of far, my kids are in school … are there people who do dog sports like freestyle all the way up in Fairbanks? I understand the dog sledding thing, but freestyle?

Mickey: Hahaha ….. Yes, we do it all, and there are active training groups, various dog sports, clubs, training centers, competitions, all breeds. Just come. Say what do you think about giving a workshop in North Pole Alaska?

Me: Wa wa What?

I have friends that live in Alaska, but since I had absolutely no context outside of Dasher and the gang, Elves, and the Claus’, on what life was really like in Santa’s hood, it was simply a leap of faith that it would be a good thing.

So we made arrangements over the past year. And to be honest, I didn’t have a chance to get super excited about my trip until the morning I left. I have been so busy with the opening of our new facility, that I literally worked up until midnight the night before I left.

But once on the plane, and in the various airports for lay overs, I started to get really excited! I am most comfortable and in my element in a dog centered classroom. Long layovers and massages helped me to unwind from a slamming busy two weeks leading up to this workshop. Alex from the Massage Bar at Sea-Tac was a gift. Highly recommend stopping by if your layover allows.

And then I saw a photo in the Anchorage airport that made me stop.

Susan Butcher, Iditarod Champion and extraordinary woman, and was my hero for many years. She had talent, a very natural way of being, a natural with dogs, took a load of crap from male competitors, yet continued to be successful. I was going to the place that she had called home. Wow! Reality was getting a bit more real.

So good to see Mickey at the airport after a thirteen hour day of traveling! And Tassie greeted me as always, with something in her mouth! Then off we went to the Alaskan K9 Center, to meet Beth the owner and to get a feel for the place. Then off to Santa’s House!

Yummy food and grand children waiting at Mickey’s home, and things to plan for the following days at the K9 center. I landed and took off running so to speak.

Arriving early the next day, setting up the room, and settling in was the first thing familiar to my senses. I am crazy comfortable in the dog training classroom. You would hope so after working with over 400+ puppies each year for ten years!

Then the teams started to come in and set up their areas. All breeds, and ages ranging from 3.5 months to 8 years. Smiles, warm welcomes, and nice early AM conversations over coffee. This was all feeling like home to me.

Sixteen working teams, a hand full of auditors, and great energy. Everyone came to have fun, learn more, and have a weekend with their dog. Awesome!

And then Natalia, Quinns owner, broke out the moose meat. Yes that is correct, moose meat. Now I use, and believe in using high value rewards with a dog, especially in more distracting environments. Bison, elk, salmon, venison, those are the regular high values here in Bozeman, and dogs LOVE those meats. But they have never tried moose. It is the Canine Crack of the dog world! I have never ever seen dogs react to meat like this. Dogs who were working but slightly distracted, became glue to their handlers. They puffed up, pranced, gave amazing attention, and tried new behaviors and tricks that were seemingly to difficult earlier in the day.

It is safe to say that Natalia became everyone’s dealer over the weekend, and graciously and generously shared her moose meat. I can only imagine the dogs lining up for a slumber party at her home! She also mentioned that at the kennel she works at, she saves the ‘moose juice’ after boiling the meat, and all the dogs food at night is topped off with this savory, flavorful juice. Happy happy kennel! Moose Juice in a bottle would be a great canine stocking stuffer! Just saying…

Every workshop I have given has a different flavor. The mix of handlers, dogs, and the environment are all factors. This workshop had a feeling of ‘intention’. I think if you live in the north Alaskan environment it is by choice, not because you stumbled upon it. And everyone who chooses to own a dog and participate in dog sports in this environment, chooses this, it doesn’t happen randomly. It was a cool feeling all the way around. Hardy, capable, loving, and wanting more information, awesome combination!

The days went by too quickly working in groups and individually. Delicious food and good company.

At the end of the two days, with lots of new ideas and skills to work on, good byes, e-mails and phone numbers were exchanged.

Joni, Cookies owner, is also the owner of Ivory Jacks in Fairbanks. A restaurant, that appeared to me to be in the middle of no place, but I was told otherwise. Good drinks, great halibut, and then time to pack.

Flying home was a 22 hour adventure because of a communication cable being sliced and all computers down at Alaskan Airlines. I will leave it at that as I think I might still be a bit exhausted. A treasure to be home though, have some dog love from my crew, and spend the evening chatting away with my kids. Home…

Here is a video with some movement exercises we did, a labyrinth of sorts. A great way to settle teams in, get collected and think about nothing else, except team. I told everyone I would post what I had so they could see their dogs in motion!


More photos of my trip, just click on the first photo to enlarge and go through the slide show.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. mtwaggin says:

    So much fun to watch that group. I can see why you enjoyed it oh so much!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      It was a great group. Very skilled and most involved in multiple dog sports.

  2. Sounds like a really fun way to work with your dog.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Freestyle is awesome. A creative way to train and really build trust in the team. All of our puppy classes are freestyle centered.

  3. Kate says:

    It was great fun and a number of us have kept up with the cross training … FUN!!! The dogs LOVE it!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Kate, this makes me smile! Post some videos and send me the links… I would love to see what you are all up too!

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