#60 - Kalyn Holl: Sled Dogs and Reindeer

[00:00:00] Kalyn: So, your job as a musher, as their coach, is to teach them how to rest. Because a good sled dog will know how to rest. They’ll turn themselves off and they’ll rest, and then a good sled dog will get up and go. But your job is to get them to rest and know that, know that their bodies need that. So yeah, I think a lot of people fall into, “Well, this dog will just keep going. So, I need to keep running, running them.” No, they still need, like, that’s, they’re just, they’re just that type A, I gotta keep going.” Like, no, you need to rest. Rest is a skill that they need to learn.

[00:00:33] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

…and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:52] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Kalyn Holl. Kalyn is the reindeer herd manager for Chena Outdoor Company in Two Rivers, Alaska, where, with the help of the reindeer, and sled dogs too, they educate curious minds about the history and importance of the species in the North, both from a human perspective and an ecological one.

A love of behavior and animal care didn’t start with reindeer. Kalyn has been training dogs for 20 years and began running and racing sled dogs 10 years ago. In addition to sled dog and reindeer tourism, they also team up with a local veterinarian for behavior consulting cases. Their days are filled with the chaotic shenanigans that come with sharing their life with nine sled dogs, a jack russell, a herd of reindeer, and a hive of bees.

When not educating, training critters, or continuing their own education through Pet Harmony, Kalyn is exploring their Alaskan backyard by trail, canoe, or kayak, and photographing the exquisite life around them.

So, we’ve known Kalyn for quite a while, and I am just always so jealous that they get to work with reindeer, and of course always appreciate the little baby reindeer pictures. They are so cute! So, it was fantastic to get to learn more about reindeer as a species in this interview. In this episode, Kalyn talk about letting the animal tell you what they need, living a life in moderation, and how reindeers are lazier than caribou.

Alright, here it is, today’s episode, Kalyn Holl, Sled Dogs and Reindeer.

[00:02:39] Emily:  All right. Tell us your name, pronouns, and pets.

[00:02:42] Kalyn: My name is Kalyn Holl. Pronouns are they, them. And pets, I have nine sled dogs, one Jack Russell puppy, and eight reindeer.

[00:02:55] Emily:  Amazing. I love that. I think you might be the only person in the history of this podcast to answer that way, which is delightful. So, so tell us your story and how you got to where you are.

[00:03:06] Kalyn: A series of fortunate events, I always say. I’ve been running sled dogs for about ten years. I started in Minnesota, and then came up here five years ago to run with someone who’s now become a very good friend of mine. And I handled for her, handling is essentially an internship. Worked with her dogs, trained her sled dogs with her, raced them for a few more years, and the first year I was up here she got some reindeer.

I had never interacted with reindeer before, and they, they were about two years old, and they came from a livestock farm so they were pretty feral. And we both got really interested in them, and their history, and learning more about them, and so the next year we got two calves after they were weaned from their mothers.

And started working with them, training them, and started doing educational tours. And we’ve just built up from there. So, we’ve had, now we have calves of our own on property and train them from day one, and socialize them, and build our knowledge of both social history and scientists like, like biological history for the reindeer.

[00:04:14] Emily:  I love that. The fact that you work with reindeers, incredibly cool, which is why you’re here. One of the reasons that I wanted you on the podcast, and I’m going to go out on the limb and guess that most of our listeners know about as much as reindeer as I do, which is to say nothing at all. So first off, can you give us like an intro to reindeer one oh one kind of crash course?

[00:04:34] Kalyn: Yeah, so, I mean, this is something, I mean, I could talk about. Yeah. Their history with humans or biological history for a long time, but real quick reindeer in North America are caribou. Caribou and reindeer are the same species. They’re the Northern most deer in the world. They’re circumpolar and they are endemic to environments like mountainous regions, coastal plains, tundra boreal forests, but you only find them in those, those Northern regions.

Scandinavia, so Norway, Finland, Sweden, across Russia and Northern Mongolia, they’re all called reindeer, whether they’re wild or domesticated. Here in North America, caribou have never been domesticated. Reindeer were brought into North America in the late 1800s as emergency livestock food, essentially.

So, in North America, they’ve only been used as a herding livestock animal for around 150 years, but reindeer began to be domesticated, and we think it was maybe central Siberia area about 3000 years ago. So, there’s many, many cultures of people who have been herding reindeer for thousands of years.

[00:05:38] Emily:  That is fascinating. I had no idea that there was that like reindeer being the domesticated analog of caribou like that, that is really fascinating. And it makes sense, and like when you look at them, yes, now that you say that, I’m like, why didn’t I figure that out before?

[00:05:55] Kalyn: I start every tour with this question, that is what is a reindeer and caribou are the same species, but here in North America, we have two different names. What is the, do you know what the difference is or why can you, do you have any guesses? As to why there’s two different species. You know, people like, make their guesses, and I say, “Well, the biggest difference is that reindeer can fly.”

[00:06:13] Emily:  Now you’ve just like, now you’ve just spoiled the joke for anybody who wants to go up and have a, get a tour with you, but that’s okay.

[00:06:21] Kalyn: Well, then they can, they can just tell me that they know, and I will be amazed.

[00:06:25] Emily:  Excellent. So, are there any differences though, now that you’ve said that, are there any differences, like domestication changes species. We know this, so I guess instead of saying are there the differences, I should ask what impact has domestication had on caribou that like, what are the differences between caribou and reindeer?

[00:06:45] Kalyn: There’s a, there’s a lot of different subspecies of, of reindeer and caribou, depending on kind of where, what kind of ecosystem they live in. There’s migratory and non-migratory herds, the migratory herds of, of caribou and reindeer are the farthest migrating land mammals on the planet.

They think they can migrate somewhere between 2, 000 to 3, 000 miles in a year. So, like 5, 000 kilometers, which is incredible. And so, the, the domesticated version, specifically the domesticated, so they’re not migrating. So, people actually have access to these animals, as opposed to having to go and look for them.

And that’s a big reason reindeer were brought here to North America is because since the caribou were never domesticated, they didn’t want to take another 3000 years to domesticate them. So just bring these reindeer over who are lazy, essentially, who aren’t going, who don’t want to migrate. And another big difference is we, now, they can digest grains. As opposed to if I were to go and catch some caribou, they’re not built to digest those grains.

[00:07:45] Emily:  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And yeah, we could, we could go on a whole, whole tangent about the use of grain and feeding animals that are, that did not initially evolve to eat grain, but we won’t, we won’t do that. We won’t go there. That is fascinating. So, so do you feel that also reindeer are maybe less, have less of a startle response than caribou or do you, do you feel like they still have a pretty like lively startle response?

[00:08:16] Kalyn: So, caribou and reindeer are really interesting. Their startle response, when we think of startle responses, we’re thinking about, whitetails or like white-tailed deer, or like elk, or even horses have a really aggressive startle response. Even wild caribou, if I spook them in the wild, they will run 30 feet and turn around to see if they actually have to keep running.

They’re like, “Were you scary? Or did you get George? And we’re good. We don’t have to keep going.” Right? They’re, they’re, wait, there’s the method that they used to survive is being faster than their slowest friend. Like, that’s it. It’s a rough life out there. So, I would say between the wild caribou and the reindeer, their startle responses are probably still going to be very similar because most people, well, everyone like last 3000 years, it’s only within the last 80 to 100 years that we’ve, not even 100, that we’ve started using them for tourism. And that’s not very long to change those genetic behaviors.

And so, they’ve been free ranging herd animals. So, they still are, are susceptible to predation. So, their, their, their starter response wouldn’t be super different in my experience. Ours, if ours gets spooked, they are, we don’t have them free ranging, so they are still confined within a pen. But if they get spooked there again, they run 10 to 30 feet and then they turn around like, do I have to be spooked anymore? Granted ours are a lot more used to, like, they’ve got dog teams that run by them. They’ve got airplanes, they’ve got all sorts of stuff, so they’re just more socialized to all that stuff.

[00:09:48] Emily:  Right. That is absolutely fascinating. I love that. They’ve got like zombie survival rules for like,

[00:09:57] Kalyn: Yeah, no, I’ll be out hunting and we’ll, we’ll get a caribou, and sometimes they’ll just stand there and watch, and they’re like, “Well, sorry bud, glad it’s not us.” Like, ooh, man.

[00:10:09] Emily:  That’s amazing. Nature is amazing. Right. It’s, it’s kind of, kind of punk rock. So, all right, in that context now I’m really curious about their body language. I mean, I was always curious about their body language. I’m not going to lie because, I want to know about how animals communicate, but especially in the context of reindeer being domesticated and caribou being wild, not, non-domesticated.

Can you talk about their body language? Like, do, is it okay? I’m going to, I’m actually going to start with a little bit of story. I worked in wildlife rehab for a while in Texas. And that includes, you know, ungulates that would show up and, it took me a long time to, like most of the species that we worked with their body language was pretty easy for me to figure out very quickly, but the ungulates were a little bit harder for me. Like, it took me a really long time to realize that like, pain response, their, their, their grimace is not very obvious. Like it’s just like the shape of their nostrils changes a little bit and their like, nose gets a little tense. So, my perception is that ungulates are harder to read than a lot of species that we’re used to working with.

But also, that’s in the context of wildlife rehab, where we’re not trying to develop a relationship with these animals because rerelease is the goal, right? So, I’m really, I’m really interested to hear about reindeer body language. And if, if you find that that’s also true, that it’s a little harder to read them, there’s their signs are more subtle or not. And how do you tell, like, how do you tell their stress responses? How can you tell when they’re like super into working with you? Like, what do you, what do you see that tells you those differences?

[00:11:48] Kalyn: So, I think 1 of the biggest differences between, I mean, I, I’m, I’m a dog person. I’ve been working with dogs for 20 years and dogs have evolved alongside us, right? Whereas, yeah, reindeer, ungulates in general, they are incredibly hard to read. They’re very stoic. In like the grand scheme of our domesticated animals, they haven’t been domesticated that long, and haven’t been domesticated necessarily in the sense of, of working with us. Yes, they’re used as slay animals, but not, it’s, it’s just not the same as like horses and things. And then the fact that they are herd prey animals, they, they do not, like, show pain in the same way you can see in a lot of other animals.

It’s very, very hard to detect pain or sickness in them. Because the second they show weakness, they’re like, like, everyone else picks on them, or they get eaten, or whatever it is, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s more beneficial for them to hide all of that. So, yeah, pain responses in them is incredibly difficult.

Since I’ve been raising most of these, these animals from like day one I know them a lot, a lot better. They still, you can look at their ear position, how alert are they? You can look at how wide their eyes are. The problem is, when they’re, they see something interesting, or they’re excited, or they’re stressed or nervous, like, their eyes do get giant.

But, and if they’re super relaxed and they aren’t really paying attention to anything, then their eyes will just kind of close and relax a little bit. So, you can, you can see in their facial structure. Also their head position, if they’re alert, they’re going to, they’re going to have a high head cause they’ve got the horizontal pupils like the, any prey animals, so they’re, they’re trying to get that panoramic view around. So yeah, looking at that head position, how high is their head? How alert are their ears? Are they, you know, are they relaxed and grazing? Are they, I mean, one big thing is I know they’re comfortable around me if they just, like, lay down and chill. You know, that’s a big one.

If they’re, if they’re super stressed and they’re not interested in working, if I don’t already have them on a lead rope, they just won’t come up to me. You know, but if they’re, they’re super curious creatures, too, which is, which is helpful in if they’re not hungry or whatever and they don’t, they, you know, that’s not an incentive to work with us. They’re very curious. And so, if they are not hungry, but they’re interested in what we’re doing, they’ll come over and check it out and play with us. What, you know, in terms of other stress responses they will pant, when they’re stressed, when they’re really stressed. And so, that’s something that I keep an eye out for, because they’re not very vocal. They don’t, they don’t make vocalizations except for kind of a honking noise. If like a mom and calf get separated, they’ll honk at each other. Or we take them out on like group walks, and as long as we have, if it’s not rut season, if it’s not breeding season, as long as we have the females on a lead rope, because they’re a matriarchal herd structure, so they’ll follow the cows. And we use cattle terminology for reindeer and caribou. So, cows are females, bulls are males, and steers are castrated males. It’s the same for moose, but as far as I know, all other deer species are doe, fawn, buck. If they’re eating, too, it’s similar with dogs, if they’re not eating, like, a treat that I know they really like, I know that they’re stressed.

[00:15:05] Emily:  Awesome. I love that even though they are harder to read than a lot of the species that we’re used to working with, you still have ways of like being able to see where they’re at and you know, identify their ladder of escalation. And I think it’s cute that they lay down around you cause they come, they’re comfy with you.

They trust you. That’s really cute. That’s the cutest thing in my whole life. I love that so much. So, what are some of the challenges that you’ve encountered with providing an enriching environment for them? And what solutions have you come up with to address those issues?

[00:15:38] Kalyn: They’re very easy to take care of in a way. They, one, because they’re not, they, they don’t mind hanging out with us if we’re around. But they also, are like, feed us, you don’t need to be around. If I’m busy that day, whereas dogs are like, “Ah, come play with us, we want quality time with you.”

They don’t really care about that. As long as they’ve got their food, they’re good. So, they have a five-acre pen. That they, they, they roam around in all day if they’re not doing tours, I trailer them to our tour location. So, they know that their pen isn’t going to have, you know, they’re not going to be bombarded with tours in their pen because they do while they are, are very good on their, on the tours.

They do get exhausted. They are, I would call them introverts. They’re not extroverted animals. So, I rotate through who goes. So, they’re not going, especially during our busy season, they’re not going every day and doing these tours because they also need time off.

So, their pen is about two thirds wooded and then the rest of it is a field. So, they go through those trees, and they do their kind of natural behavior, so they rub their antlers on trees, they dig around for minerals, they graze. And then I will, cause they do eat through, they’ll eat up to 12 pounds of vegetation a day. And they will eat through that vegetation in that pen.

So, in the summer every day I’m bringing in saplings for them that they can, you know, root through, get the leaves or throw the sticks around, what have you. In the fall here, Ryan and I just went and collected a bunch of reindeer lichen, which is their main food source in the wild in the winter.

So, we go out and we collect as much of that as we can and dry it so that we can feed it to them throughout tours and training and things like that. And so, just depending on what time of year it is, I’m always going out and collecting their forage that they would eat naturally.

And then another thing, a lot of people do, I haven’t been able to find one, but is get those big street sweeper brushes, that they can rub up against people using for cows and all, and, and things like that. But I have not been able to get the Alaska street people respond to my emails.

And they, occasionally, I’ve got some of those horseballs, the jollyballs, that they’ll kick around sometimes. They’re pretty, you know, they’re pretty content to, to root about in their pen or, or take naps and things like that. So, that’s about, they eat, and they sleep and they, they run around and… And then like I said, I think I mentioned earlier, we do take them out of the pen, and take them for free walks so that they can gallivant, find new forage, and we’ll cross the river, try to give them different experiences like that as well.

[00:18:19] Emily:  I love what you’re able to do with just like having them in an environment that supports their species typical behaviors because you’re right, it does remove so much of the onus from you and makes it easier to care for them when the environment is doing a lot of that work. And then I also of course love that you’re going out and foraging for them and finding things to bring back and also that you give them opportunities to forage as well. So, It sounds like a really lovely setup for, for these reindeer that live with you.

[00:18:53] Kalyn: Well, this is their ecosystem, right? Whereas people who have, who have reindeer down in the lower 48, this is, that’s not their ecosystem. So, they, they do have to provide more. More enrichment for them, more, they can’t just go out and find the lichen. They are primarily eating grains and hay, which does cause issues for their digestive tract.

I mean, they’re, they’re ruminants just like, like, like cows. And so, the fact that we can give them a lot of their natural forages is great. And they do love, if I bring in like a bag of lichen or a box of lichen, they will, just like dogs, they’ll like tear that up, and kick it around, and, yeah.

[00:19:31] Emily:  Yeah, I think you know, giving them opportunities to play, even if they don’t, even if play takes up a smaller part of their activity budget than a lot of the animals that we’re accustomed to working with. they still do play and providing them opportunities to play is still really important.

And I think that’s a really lovely thing to see you demonstrate because I think a lot of times when people have species that don’t play a lot. And I’m thinking a lot of like reptiles, especially, right. That don’t play a lot, but they do still play, people don’t even think about the fact that just because play takes up less of their daily routine, doesn’t mean that they don’t need it at all. And so, those opportunities aren’t provided. So, I love to hear the ways that they’re able to play as well.

That’s, that’s really sweet. So, I remember you telling me, was it a couple of years ago about a bull that was really struggling and having a hard time trusting and working with humans. Can you tell us more about that guy’s story and how you established a trusting relationship with him?

[00:20:36] Kalyn: Yeah, so that is Pilot, and he’s a steer, so he’s a castrated bull. In order for us, little info about their structure. Their social structure and attitudes are heavily affected by hormones, just, I mean, just like humans, right? And so, depending on the time of year, it brings different challenges.

So, we have, of our eight animals we have two cows, we have one breeding bull, who does not do tours, because when he, when he’s in rut, I don’t go in his pen. On my property, we have about an acre pen where the two cows and the bull are, and I do not go in that pen until the bull sheds his antlers, because he will fight me, he will protect his females.

So, he doesn’t, he doesn’t have a human interaction. I feed over the fence. I just, yeah, it’s, it’s safer. There’s a lot of stories about people who have gotten, like, gored by their bulls. And then we have 2 steers, so 2 castrated males. We castrated them at about a year of age, and so they don’t go through rut.

And then we have 2, 1 and a half year old bulls who we actually manage their rut chemically with Depo Provera. Which is birth control, uses a birth control, it’s humans and is also used for something for prostate cancer. But the Depo Provera is used in cattle and reindeer to eliminate or take care of that aggression in rutting males.

But we use, we give them a shot once a month to the one-and-a-half-year-old bulls. And… We give them the shot, couple days later, they’re sweet baby angels again. And they can safely do tours. The reason that we didn’t, we haven’t castrated the, those two is because, it does stunt their antler growth and their body growth. So, we’re gonna wait a few years and decide whether we want to keep doing depo or physically castrate them.

So, Pilot is a steer. He’s been castrated. And he is, he does not like being touched. At all. He still doesn’t. If a guest tries to pet him, he’ll like, arch his back like a cat. And, and, I have learned, like, we’ve, we’ve, we’ve created a relationship where we know how to work with each other now.

So, he loves doing tricks. He will, he will boop my hand or targets for lichen, and he will jump up and touch it with his nose. He… He will let me trim his nails, but he does not like his body being touched. And I think when we were talking, I can’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but it might have been about haltering, because haltering was incredibly difficult with him.

And I think something in addition to creating a good working relationship with him, cause he still doesn’t love to be haltered, he doesn’t like that process of me wrapping myself around his head to halter him. Once he’s on the halter, he’s, he’s content, he’s grazes, he’s, he’s like, yeah, let’s do this, I’ll do tricks, whatever.

But he will let me walk up to him and halter him now, without… You know, sometimes I would have to, like, usher him into a corner, so he wouldn’t keep running away, especially if we had to do something medical on him. But he lets me walk up and, and halter him now. And I think a, a big thing, in addition to just kind of working on our trust relationship, is he’s not a adolescent anymore.

Ha ha ha ha ha! They go through, yeah, these adolescent stages, just like puppies. And they are absolutely obnoxious. And I’m going through that stage with one of our calves right now, who’s five months old, and he just would rather run around and be ridiculous than actually listen. So, but yeah, Pilot has become our number one superstar.

He four-year-olds walk him, four years old or 80-year-olds, 90-year-olds. He’s great. He’s, he’s become really comfortable with people, and he was one we didn’t raise from, from day one. So, he was feral when we got him at about five months old. And, yeah, just consistently working with him and giving him breaks when he needs too, has been huge in creating that relationship with him.

[00:24:36] Emily:  Yeah, I love that in the conversations that we’ve had about him. You’ve really placed an emphasis on letting him say no and like letting him opt out of being haltered, letting him opt out of being touched, letting him opt out of going with you and doing something if it’s not, like you said, something like that has to be done, like a medical situation, right? And so, it’s been fun to be on this journey with you and watch how far he’s come because what are you going to do when an animal that size says no? If you want to have a good relationship with them and also not risk anybody’s life, it has to be on, on their terms and letting them know that no is an option so that they’re willing to say yes more often. But now that you said that about the adolescent thing, I need it to know another reindeer fact. How long is their adolescent period? So, okay. Back up even further. My understanding is that reindeer are also a precocial species, like most ungulates, correct? Yeah. And so, they don’t really have a critical socialization period that we’re aware of. Is that correct?

[00:25:41] Kalyn: Yeah, not that, not that we’re aware of, just, and I’m guessing. This is because they’re not, they’re social in the sense that they’re herd animals, but they’re not social in the sense that they need to, they need to be able, ah, gosh, what am I saying? Like, they’re not, they’re not cuddly. They’re not they, they don’t need to band together for warmth.

That’s all done individually. They’re, they’re literally together so that they can breed, and that they maybe won’t die. The way that they interact with each other is literally bullying each other. Or running, running next to each other. But they’re not, socialization in the sense of, like, like dogs where they do play for fun together more than, like, these guys. And like, yes, they, the reindeer do, but it’s, it’s just not the same. So yeah, there’s not, there’s gotta be some sort of period, because it’s easier for us, it’s been easier for me to train from day one with the calves, that they’re, I’m around and they, like, have my scent from birth, like, but as opposed to getting a five-month-old who is feral, essentially.

[00:26:51] Emily:  So there, there’s just a lot that we don’t know about socialization of precocial species. And I’m not expecting you to like, know more than the people who actually research it, but I wouldn’t care, but like your lived experience is super valuable and interesting to me. So, like, when do they enter adolescence? And when are they out of it? Because I would imagine that since, as far as we know, if they have a critical socialization period, it’s much shorter and earlier on. I would imagine that means adolescence is earlier too, right? Or am I way off base about that?

[00:27:23] Kalyn: So, physically their bodies mature at about 3 years. The, the cows can start breeding around a year and a half. And the bulls can breed their, their first, their first fall. If, which they’re not going to because they’re tiny, and they’re never going to win a battle with an adult male. But, in theory, they could. In terms of adolescence, from, you’ve got your, they, they wean from their mothers officially, like, they, they, they nurse from their mothers for a few months, but they continue to hang out with their mothers until rut season begins and they’re pushed away.

We do manually separate our herds, so there is no, none of that fighting. But they, they wean from their mothers around four months of age, three, four months of age. And then they’re just one of the, one of the herd. And then they, you can kind of see they don’t go through rut, really, that first year.

They might have a little mini rut, and then that, up until about two years, it seems to be adolescence. At three years, Pilot, his, he, yeah, he seemed to calm down, not have, not have so much, so many feelings about going on tours and things. But yeah, three years really seemed like, when his body was physically mature he also seemed to kind of fall into the swing of things as well.

[00:28:43] Emily:  That’s really interesting. Thank you for that. So, I want to switch tracks a little bit because as much as I’ve loved talking about reindeer, and learning more about them and how you enrich their lives and give them agency, I also would love to talk a little bit about the sled dogs.

And the reason for this is because I have heard from so many different people in like the lower 48 that there’s this pressure that they feel to just run, and run, and run, and run their sled dogs because like they’re sled dogs and that’s what they do. They run. But I have way less experience with sledding than you do, which is to say I have no experience with it. So, can you talk about your sledding dogs and what their routine is like and what their like activity budgets look like throughout the year, like during sledding season and off season? I would love to hear what actual sledding dogs who are actually doing the job need in terms of physical exercise and how that conditioning works.

[00:29:42] Kalyn: Sure, so the kind of the first thing I’ll say is there’s different types of sledding dogs. There, you have freight dogs, who generally tend to be bigger and slower. They’re pulling more weight, that’s gonna be like your Malamutes, your Greenland dogs. Just big, big dogs.

You’ve got your distance, racing dogs, who, and I’m talking distance, like thousand mile races, so they tend to have thicker fur, people generally run them between eight and 10 miles an hour for training because you’re not going to be, you don’t want to, you know, go 30 miles an hour on, on these races, and those are going to be Siberian huskies, so purebred and Alaskan huskies. And Alaskan husky can be, can be anything, they’re not bred for looks, they’re bred specifically for what that musher wants to do. And distance huskies are, they can be, I’ve got one that’s 30 pounds, I’ve got one that’s 80 pounds. He’s a big guy.

And then you have mid distance races, that are anywhere, depending on who you talk to 100 miles to 500 miles. And a lot of people who are running distant, like the 1000-mile races will train in those mid distance races.

And then you have your sprint mushers. So, these end up a lot of times people have have have Alaskan huskies, but also Eurohounds. So, these Eurohounds have, like Greyhound mixed in there and a lot of hound dog. And some of them don’t have, like maybe in the way distant past, there, there’s some sort of Husky or Alaskan Husky in there. But those Eurohounds have, they’re fast, they’re leggy. They, they can go, I mean the speeds they’re going on average are like, I think like 19 miles an hour or something ridiculous.

So, we have a lot of different needs going on within these, these three different, four different types of running dogs. So, that might also, in the lower 48, a lot of people are doing sprint. A lot of people are doing shorter, shorter distance races, and it’s not quite so cold down there. When there are more houndy type dogs, they burn a lot more energy, so they’re not as efficient in the cold weather.

Whereas a Siberian husky or an Alaskan husky that has more of the Siberian side in them, they don’t need as much energy to, to go those distances because they’re not burning as much. They’re more efficient.

And what I find with Alaskan huskies that are more houndy, as the musher, or as the coach, essentially the musher is the coach. You need to manage how much your team is running because those, those, those more houndy dogs, and this is a generalization, those more houndy dogs have been bred to want, like specifically bred to want to run, and they will keep going until they run themselves into the ground. So, your job as a musher, as their coach, is to teach them how to rest.

Because a good sled dog will know how to rest. They’ll turn themselves off and they’ll rest, and then a good sled dog will get up and go. But your job is to get them to rest and know that, know that their bodies need that. So yeah, I think a lot of people fall into, “Well, this dog will just keep going. So, I need to keep running, running them.”

No, they still need, like, that’s, they’re just, they’re just that a type, you know, or type A, you know, “I gotta keep going.” Like, no, you need to rest. Right? So, rest is a skill that they need to learn. And using my dogs in as an example. So, if I’ve got experienced dogs That have run, you know, thousand-mile races, a lot of mid distance races they’re four to 12 years old, they know how to rest. They are adults. They can relax. Their bodies have that they’ve got that muscle memory. So, while they still need to be conditioned, if I’ve gotten eight year old, and I’ve got a three year old, that three year old needs that more experience, whereas the eight year old has done eight years of running. Once they’re conditioned, if they miss out on one or two training runs, it’s not the, it’s not the end of the world.

But when they’re younger, they do like, they’ve got a ton of energy. They’ve got, that’s the point, right? And so, and they don’t know how to rest, so they are destructive, and they are obnoxious. And depending on what, what you’re doing with them, we’ve talked about it before, and it’s talked about in, in pet dogs, you don’t want to exercise them more than you need.

Because then you have this monster on your hands, who you can’t keep up with. Or, I’m not going to train the same for a thousand mile race, I’m not going to do forty, fifty mile runs, if the longest run I’m ever going to do in a race is twenty miles. Because you’re, one, going to make your dog slower, and you just don’t need that.

So, you have to, as the, as the musher, you have to find that balance. Like, that is your job. They, they are dogs, they, they’ve been bred to want to run, and they’re gonna do that.

[00:34:42] Emily:  You’re talking about these four different types of sledding dogs, or jobs for sled dogs, right? And different, you know, breeds or builds are, are better for, for some types than others, but what do people do when they have a pet dog, and they’re not, they’re not running these dogs as sled dogs? They just have these dogs as pets in the lower 48. How do they know what limits they should be taking their dog to, and bringing the back down from?

Because that’s a question that I get a lot. And so, I’m, I’m kind of realizing that these are cognitive biases that we’re facing where it’s like, okay, well, just because it works doesn’t mean it’s optimal, but I don’t have enough information to know what’s optimal. Like, yes, you can condition an athlete. Do you have to? I don’t know. Yes, perhaps I’m less exercise than a Husky might thrive ideally in, but, do they have to exercise more than that? Because I’ve had a lot of clients with those dogs who have thrived with, less exercise, like an hour or two a day, and then filling the rest of that time with other types of activities that can, can increase behavioral diversity, and give them other ways to use their bodies, and their brains, right? So, I don’t want to fall into that trap of like, just because it works means it’s the right way. So, as somebody who actually has working sled dogs, what would be your recommendation for anybody who has a sled dog as a pet in terms of how to gauge what the optimum amount of ex, physical exercises for their individual dog?

[00:36:16] Kalyn: And is this like the sled dog has retired or they just have a sled dog type dog like a Siberian Husky?

[00:36:22] Emily:  A sled dog breed, right? Like. Huskies and Malamutes.

[00:36:25] Kalyn: And everything I’m saying, this is coming from my experience, it’s a very, obviously, as we know, dog training in general, animal training in general, is a very political topic. And I have a lot of opinions about sled dogs. But, I’m first gonna say if you have a retired sled dog, and you can, like, people, people retire their sled dogs and the dogs that I have, I have a small team. They’ve come into my care as retired from my friend; they’re still running with me. But when they decide they don’t want to run anymore, then they’re still going to stay with me.

Whereas people who are racing kennels don’t necessarily have that luxury, or the money to have all of the retired dogs, plus their current team, plus the young dogs. So, people, people will adopt retired sled dogs, and they do make amazing pet dogs because they’ve, they’ve done their work, they know how to rest. And when they decide they want to retire, they either will go and do, you know, maybe bike joring if they want to run. Or sometimes they’re like, “You know what? I’m retired. I don’t want to pull anymore.”

One of the, one of the ideas of, of, of that some people have about mushing is that we’re forcing, we’re forcing these dogs to do it. You, you can’t push a rope. Like, I wouldn’t be going anywhere if they, if they weren’t moving forward, if they didn’t want to. And they tell us again, our job is to know, are they having fun? Do we want, do they want to be doing it? Are they not having fun because something hurts? Are they not having fun because they don’t want to go this distance? Are we going too fast? Are we going too slow? Are all of those things. So, if you have a retired Husky, then, then you can get that individual information from whoever you’re getting that Husky from.

And if you have a dog, who’s a sled dog type dog, but has never been a sled dog, that can be a little bit more difficult, especially if you’re coming from not having a background in running the dogs. Now with Malamutes and Siberians, when show breeds started, there is a difference between working line malamutes and, and Siberian Huskies, and companion or show line Siberian Huskies and Malamute. Now, the, I think it’s kind of changing, I have some, some friends who have working line Siberians, but they’re also they, they also have been trying to have working line Siberians in shows.

But what happened was, and we see this with German Shepherds and things, but show Siberians got shorter, and stockier, and rounder. So, they’re not actually built for distance running anymore. So, can your dog do it? Does your dog want to? Or does your dog just have the energy of a sled dog, but not actually the physical ability to be one?

So, look at that as well. Now if your dog wants to run, so one way you can tell is, you can go to a outdoor store, and there are generally people who can help you size a harness for your dog and start training them how to pull and if they seem like they love it, go for it. There’s a lot of people who do bike joring you know, running with the dog, the dogs pulling you, if you’re in a place that has snow, board joring, ski joring, all that thing. That sort of stuff. And there, there are tons of dogs, even if they’re not specifically a sled dog type dog, that absolutely love pulling.

And it’s a great way to one, build a really incredible relationship, teamwork relationship with your dog. But also get exercise. And so, knowing how far to, how far to, to, to train these dogs really depends, I think, on what you want to do. If your dog is, you know, there, there are some people who are like, “Well, the dog just wants to keep going, so we just keep going.”

If you look into that, why that is, is it, are they obsessively running? I mean, is it a healthy, there’s people too who have, who have unhealthy obsessions with, with running or exercise. And so, we go back to, does that dog just need to learn how to rest? And I, I think regardless of, of the dog, if they’re, they’re going to need some sort of exercise, and, if they’re capable and they want to, and you want to train them going up to like 30 miles a day, great, do it. If that’s what you want to do, because you have to be there for it as well, you know?

But, if, if you don’t, if you, if you have a, if you have a husky type dog, and you don’t want to be running, you know, 30 miles a day, 4 to 5 days a week, that don’t train them to do that, train your dog to, to rest. Train your dog to, you know, find it. Like, use their brain in another way, because they are fully capable of doing that.

Our dogs, our sled dogs, don’t pull, they don’t work in the summer. In the summer once, once the snow goes away, they’re on break. We take them for free runs, we take them down to the river for swimming, but the majority of their time is spent just sleeping in the sun, it’s too hot for them. And then once fall hits, we start, we start training them. So, depending on, again, depending on what you’re doing, I’m not running a thousand mile race, so I’m not out there doing, like 20 mile runs right now, which is what people are doing that are going to run, like Iditarod in a few months.

You know, and they work their way up. So, you start in end of August, beginning of September when it’s cool enough, and you run your dogs a couple miles. Maybe two days on, a day off, whatever your schedule is. Everybody has a different schedule. And then you slowly work your way up, you know, you train them, just like you would train your own body.

So, every year we do that. We start off again in the fall doing just a couple miles. They’re not, we’re not jumping in and doing 30 miles a day with them again. We’re slowly working our way up. And then eventually getting to 50, 60 mile runs if that’s something that you, if that’s the way you run your race. So, I think, yeah, I, I, I just, I think the advice is train the way you want to live your life, as long as that dog wants to do it.

[00:42:25] Emily:  Yeah, I love that. Of course, that resonates with me. I’m not, I know you’re not surprised to hear that, but I love that. What, what do you want? What does your dog want? And what is your dog physically built for? What are they physically capable of? Because there are a lot of things that I want to do physically, that I actually used to do and I loved, and I no longer can do physically. And if I tried to make myself do it, it would go really poorly for me. And that’s also true for dogs. So, if you’ve got these stocky little floofy show huskies, and you’re trying to make them run like an Iditarod, that’s not going to go well for their bodies.

So, yeah, I love that. Thank you for, thank you so much. You know, this was really helpful. Thank you, Kalyn.

All right. So, at the end of every interview, I ask the same questions, because I like to hear everybody’s answers. And the first one of those questions is, what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment? Your choice.

[00:43:20] Kalyn: Well, this topic, what did we talk about? My profession? What do I even do? I do so many things. Oh gosh, I think the biggest thing, I think, and, and we’ve talked about it a little bit, I think, I think the biggest thing I wish people would put more effort into understanding is what do they want, right? Instead of assuming, and this goes for people too, you know, relationships, stop assuming what I want. But, learning how to actually communicate. Again, humans communicate with each other too. Communicate across the human species, dogs, reindeer, whatever.

But figure out how, how to best communicate, and then, what do they want and need to live a fulfilled life? Right? Cause every individual is different. We can, we can talk in, in, in a general sense, but when you get down to it, every single animal is, is absolutely different and has just slight tweaks to what they need. Every single one of my animals that I care for has, has something different that they need. So, it’s, yeah. I don’t know if that exactly answers the question, but I guess, like, my biggest wish would just be people would stop and think about what they need. They being literally anything. Your plant, is it, does it need water? Salt?

[00:44:40] Emily:  All right. Next question. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:44:45] Kalyn: I mean, it kind of goes hand in hand with the other one is stop assuming, right? Start intentionally learning about what your, what, what your animals need. And do better. Don’t do the bare minimum. Is what I wish would be, not only improved in my field, but just across the board. Don’t do the bare minimum.

[00:45:04] Emily:  Yes, absolutely. I love that. What do you love about what you do?

[00:45:08] Kalyn: Oh man, it’s so chaotic. I love, I mean, I get to interact with all of these incredible creatures. And teach people, teach people about them. A lot of people come into our tours, have no idea what to expect. Some of them don’t even think reindeer are real. And then I teach them about this history that they had no idea existed, and it’s just really, it’s really cool. I, I just love teaching people.

[00:45:35] Emily:  What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with, or learn from you, or if they want to take a tour with you, where can they find you?

[00:45:44] Kalyn: Working on a lot of things. So, in terms of the reindeer, I’m currently working on I’m always adding more information to my tours, trying to, trying to make the tours better. I bring the, the, the reindeer to schools. I have a school outreach program that I’ll bring them to schools and, and show them to kids and, and teach them a little bit.

Working on pulling sleighs, with the reindeer. Working on finishing the behavior consulting course that Emily works with, we’re going on a lot of things. But, but yeah, with the tours constantly building that up and trying to find new, new fun ways to introduce people to reindeer and sled dogs.

People can find me through the Chena Outdoor Collective website, and I can be reached through the email, on there, or social media.

[00:46:34] Emily:  Awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been so fun talking about reindeer and sled dogs with you. And I will see you in our programs.

[00:46:45] Kalyn: Thank you.

[00:46:46] Emily:  All right.

[00:46:47] Allie: Okay, wasn’t that just like everything you didn’t know you needed to know about reindeer? I’m even more jealous that Kalyn gets to work with them on a daily basis. And, of course, I absolutely loved what they were saying about rest as a necessary skill. Ugh, the more people who can be teaching that, the better. Next week, we’ll be talking about everything in moderation.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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