In last week's Cast Your Vote, students chose the topic to focus on for this week. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of learning about how the sled dogs communicate and work as a team. We decided to consult an expert on this topic. . . so this week's Notes from the Trail is written from the perspective of Fennel the sled dog.
Bark bark. Oh! Excuse me. I forgot that you don't speak dog. Sorry about that. Well, I am Fennel. To find out more about me, check out my biography in Dog of the Week. I am the oldest dog traveling in the North American Odyssey and I have been with Dave on several other adventures. Since I have been around for so long, I can tell you a thing or two about sled dogs and how we work together.
First of all, it is helpful to know how we dogs communicate with each other. We smile just like people when we are happy. We bark and howl when we are really excited. It is also helpful to pay attention to our body language. When our ears are up and our tails are wagging, we are usually in a good mood. If our ears our down, we might be angry. If our tails our down and tucked between our legs, we are scared. If you see two dogs standing together and one has its tail up and the other has its tail down, the dog with the tail up is more dominant and the other is being submissive.
Positions in the Team
When we all work together, we can pull a very heavy sled. On the North American Odyssey, we are working in teams of six. Each dog is paired with one other. The humans make sure that each pair of dogs gets along well. If I was mad at my partner and kept trying to fight with him, we wouldn't get very far. Then again, if I was best friends with my partner, we might goof off too much and get distracted. Basically, the dog partners need to have a good working relationship.
The two dogs that run in the front of the team are called the lead dogs. I am one of the leaders. Our job is to keep the team spread out, run at a good pace, and follow the directions that the humans give us. The two dogs that run behind the leaders are called swing dogs. Since they run in the middle of the group, they need to get along with everybody. Basically, they are good team players. The two dogs at the back are called the wheel dogs. They are closest to the sled, so they pull more weight than everybody else. The wheel dogs need to be nice and strong. As you can see, every dog has an important job to do as part of the team. When we all work together, we can pull a lot of weight and move pretty fast down the trail!
I told you how we communicate with each other, but I bet you are wondering how the humans communicate with us. There are a few commands that they use. Would you like to learn them? I'll start with how they tell us to go. The word they use is “hike”. Usually they say “ready. . . hike!” “Ready” gets our attention and “hike” tells us to go. When they want us to stop, they say “whoah.” I know these commands really well. The hard part is when they want us to turn. They say “gee” when we need to go right and “haw” when they want us to go left. I get these commands mixed up sometimes. If I pick the wrong way, then they stop us and point me in the right direction.
Well, that just about covers the basics. Now you know how we communicate and work together. I wonder how you humans communicate with each other. How do you work with your classmates? Do you play sports or ever work as part of a team?