Busted Axle Road
Chapter 75

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

With four new dogs to train, it was back to the basics for Mark and Mike. It had been obvious that they didn't want to try to start with the four new dogs and four experienced dogs, so they had started out by running on new dog at a time in wheel, the closest dogs to the ATV, until they got the idea. They soon moved on to two new dogs in wheel, and amazingly, it worked out pretty well.

After several days, one evening when Josh was over they decided it was time to try it with all the new dogs at one time. Since none of the older dogs liked running in double lead with Cumulus, Mark and Mike hooked Cumulus in lead, Red and Midnight in swing, David and Paul in team and Ringo and John in wheel.

"I don't know about this," Mike said, getting onto the ATV.

"Well, we've got to try it sooner or later," Mark philosophized.

"All right, dogs," Mike called. "Up! Up! Hike!"

Perhaps they should have trained the dogs a little more. The three dogs in front took off like they were supposed to, and so did Ringo and John, but David seemed a little confused, and Paul took his lead from David, just standing there while Ringo and John ran over the top of them. Then, the slack came out from the lead dogs, and in an instant, there was what could only be categorized as a hell of a mess. "Whoa, dogs, whoa," Mike called, after only having moved about ten feet. Although all the dogs wanted to run by this time, Cumulus and Red decided to stop, and David, by now moving, ran over the top of them.

"Jesus, what a mess," Josh said, shaking his head. Three dogs sat or lay in various positions, having thrown half hitches over their legs, noses, and anything else they could locate. Here was a perfect granny knot, there a cunningly executed sheepshank. At the bottom of this knot of nylon and dogs was David, who had started it all.

"Maybe we should have run with five dogs some more," Mike commented dryly.

"We better get this mess straightened out," Mark said. They'd had some tangles before, but with only three or four dogs, none had been anything like this mess. After some struggle, they discovered that by unsnapping the dogs from both the tuglines and the necklines, they could make the job go faster.

When everybody but Mark and Mike and Josh was back on four paws again, the tried again. This time, they got twenty feet, and only three dogs were tangled.

"Well, it's improving," Mike said. "Let's move David and Paul back to wheel."

"Good idea, Mark agreed. "David's the one that screwed this mess up twice."

"Let's give it one more try, and if that doesn't work, we'll switch David for King," Mike suggested.

On the third try, the dogs all started moving at more or less the same time, and wonder of wonders, without any tangled lines. By now, the dogs had gotten frustrated with all the tangling, and wanted to run, and the ATV took off like a shot. One thing was sure; seven dogs could pull a lot more than three or four. Mike let them run down the runway to work off some of the initial burst, then gave Cumulus a "Come Gee," and amazingly, Cumulus managed to get the team headed back toward the house. By the time they were back near the hanger, the dogs had settled down to a good trail pace, and Mike headed them out onto the network of trails that spread through the field west of Mark's house.

Mike had a broad grin on his face by now. With seven dogs up front, it seemed more like a dog team, and it was great to watch them snake around the bends in the trail, and go up the little hills without slowing, and around the field. After half an hour, everybody seemed to be working out pretty good on the trail, and Mike had Cumulus turn back to the house.

"It's neat," he told Mark. "You got to take them out. There's so much more power there than before, it's really neat."

Mark had been a little envious; it really seemed to be working well. "I can't wait till we get snow," he said, as Mike got off the ATV, and he got on.

Mark only had a few minutes to ride behind the seven dogs, before he noticed a strange car come up the road and turn into his driveway. He was too busy paying attention to the dogs to take much notice, but as he came down one of the little field trails, he saw Mike and Josh standing by the trail, with Jim Horton. "Whoa," he yelled. Since the dogs were getting a little tired, they followed the command pretty good."

"Good looking team," Jim said. "I was drivin' by, and I thought I'd stop in and see how you boys was coming."

"It's good to see you again," Mark said. "Glad you could stop by."

"I'm sorry I haven't been over here more often," Jim said, "But when Mike dropped the sled off to me, he said you guys were coming along pretty good. I didn't figure you'd get started until the the weather got colder, but you've got these dogs looking pretty good."

"Glad you think so," Mike said. "We've been working with them almost every day. The four in back are still pretty green, but they're starting to get the idea."

While he was there, Jim took to opportunity to closely inspect every dog. "I like the way your leader keeps the team stretched out when you're stopped," he commented. "If they get some slack, they can get tangled real easy."

"We've learned that," Josh said.

Jim went on down the line of dogs, with comment after comment. "Good harnesses on these dogs ... never had this nylon rope for ganglines, but it don't look like the dogs chew it much ... watch out for sore feet on this one; comes winter, you'll almost always want to have booties on him ... is this one as dumb as he looks?"

The last comment was about David. "Afraid so," Mike said. "It's taking him a while to shape up."

"Give him time," Jim advised. "Either he'll get the idea, or he won't."

"You want to take them around the patch?" Mark offered. "They've been running pretty good tonight, so they ought to be settled down."

"Good Lord, boy, it's been twenty-five years since I've been behind dogs," Jim said. "Don't tempt me."

"Cumulus takes commands real good," Mike said.

"Oh, what the heck," Horton said. "I guess I ain't that old."

"You have to use the handbrakes on the ATV," Mark said. "It rolls real good when you're going down hill. Don't be afraid to lock the wheels up if you have to slow them down. They can drag it pretty good with the wheels locked up, but they don't like to."

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