Photos and Video: Keeping Sled Dogs Happy and Healthy in the Summer – Duluth News Tribune

FINLAND, Minnesota — Caring for sled dogs is a year-round affair, which means they still need to be cared for long after the racing season is over.

Sled dog racing is an intense winter sport. Some races, like the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, take mushers and their dogs hundreds of miles through snowy trails and ever-changing cold temperatures, including possible polar vortices.

For Blake and Jennifer Freking, who race teams of Siberian huskies, the colder times of the year are ideal weather conditions for their dogs. According to Jennifer, who has also been a practicing veterinarian since 2004, “they love the cold.”

“We thrive when we get a nice polar vortex on a run. They think it’s awesome, so they have nice thick coats,” she said.

As the temperature rises, the snow melts with much of their carrying capacity. Once they enter March or April, they begin to “detrain”, where they gradually begin to train less. Since the dogs are less active, they slowly reduce their food rations to about a quarter of what their winter rations would be.

Jennifer and Blake Freking each pet a dog while several others run and play on their property in Finland on July 13.

Wyatt Buckner/Duluth News Tribune

Once the temperature rises above 50 degrees, they suspend harness training until it cools down in the fall. To keep them cool, each of their 62 dogs has their own kennel, where they can lie down in the shade if they get hot, and they have regular access to clean water.

A woman lays her hand on a mother Husky as she nurses 2 day old puppies.
Jennifer Freking puts her arm around a Siberian husky, who is mothering her 2-day-old puppies, on July 13.

Wyatt Buckner/Duluth News Tribune

Little puppy sitting patiently.
A 9 week old Siberian Husky puppy patiently waits for food.

Wyatt Buckner/Duluth News Tribune

Throughout the summer they will keep their dogs active by running them free in large groups around their 2.5 acre fenced yard.

“It just allows them to play and be dogs, but it also helps them stay fit,” Blake said. To prevent them from overheating, they limit activity to when it is cooler in the early morning.

According to the married couple, training doesn’t really exist for them in the summer. Instead, they focus on keeping the dogs happy and healthy, which Blake says is what they enjoy during the summer.

“During the winter we’re pretty focused on really putting in the miles and training and conditioning, whereas during the summer we can really focus on having fun and letting them have fun,” did he declare.

With the Frekings unable to train in the summer like they do in the winter, they now have time for something else: the puppies. As of July 13, they had 12 puppies: five 9-week-old puppies and seven 2-day-old puppies.

Man playing with two young puppies.
Blake Freking plays with two 9 week old puppies.

Wyatt Buckner/Duluth News Tribune

At first, puppies are completely dependent on their mother. “When puppies are born, they can’t hear or see,” Jennifer said. As such, Blake and Jennifer’s goal at this point is simply to support the mother and help raise her puppies.

By being there from the start, they hope to bond with each pup and slowly build that bond and trust until they’re ready to start training with the other dogs at around one year old. .

“And they take off, immediately,” Blake said. “We’ve never had to teach a dog to pull, he just goes. From there it’s just about being mindful and constantly building that confidence until we get to the point. where we ask them to do 300-mile Beargrease or 1,000-mile Iditarod, or something like that.”

Jennifer, who has been racing sled dogs since the age of 8, says raising and training Siberian huskies is one of her passions. “I love the breed,” she said. “I love the lifestyle. Hanging out with the dogs is my happy place, working with them. They’re just your best friends and buddies. They feel like your family.”

Smiling woman surrounded by several dogs.
Jennifer Freking smiles as she’s surrounded by a few of her dogs on July 13.

Wyatt Buckner/Duluth News Tribune

Bette C. Alvarado