Interview with Dori Hollingsworth

by Sleddoggin Staff on May 20, 2011

Name: Dori Hollingsworth
Kennel: Castle Kennel (Home of the Royal Canines)
Birthplace: First 6 months aboard a fishing tender in SE Alaska
Current Residence: Seward, Alaska, United States
Occupation: Seward Windsong Lodge Gift Shop Manager
Website: Castle Kennel

Introduction To Our Musher

I grew up in Alaska and have lived all over the state. From the SE pan handle to the Aleutian Chain, from Manly Hot Springs to Seward. I have lived in Seward since 1970 and my entire family also lives here, from my parents to my grand children. I have never wanted to live anyplace else.

The Background of Our Musher

How did you get involved with the sport of dog sledding?
My first time sledding was in high school when I taught a class on Dog Sledding (I’m not sure how I pulled that off as I had never been on a sled before.) We borrowed Dan Seavey’s dogs for the class. I got seriously involved when my daughters were young and I asked my husband to make a sled for them. He started taking the sled out with our Golden Retriever, Flicka, pulling. From there we grew into a racing kennel.

Could you tell us about your first mushing adventure?
While this may not have been the first ride it was definitely one of the most memorable. My husband took me out with about 4 dogs. I’m sure they were very slow dogs, but they didn’t seem so at the time. We climbed the first mile going through residential areas. Then we hit the woods and started down hill on a very narrow trail. Numerous times I thought we were going to slam into trees or boulders. I remember screaming much like one would on a roller coaster. Every time I screamed the dogs went a little faster. The next day I sent my mother out and she had the same reaction. Anyway, we both survived the ride and I think the thrill got to me, although to this day I don’t like riding in the basket.

Who have been your biggest supports during your mushing years?
The list grows the longer we’ve been in this sport, but here are a few. Bill Sullivan, Bill Taylor, Charlie Champaine, Dick Tozier, Janet Clark, Dan Grey, Susan Wagnon, Terry Streeper and all my competitors just to name a few.

How long have you been addicted to mushing?
We got involved in 1988.

Maintaining A Kennel

How is your kennel set up?
We have a dog yard that has a slope to it and good drainage. This is important because of all the rain we get. The dogs have their own wooden houses. Each house has a good size overhang to keep the rain out. We place all the houses on a good quality pallet board. This keeps them off the ground and helps during the winter when we have to raise houses because of the abundance of snow. Yes, there can be too much snow. We have a chain that attaches to the pole about 3 feet high so the chain is not dragging on the ground.

How many lucky dogs currently enjoy your kennel?
At present we have 20 dogs in the kennel.

What is the feeding routine for your dogs?
We have fed Nutra Nugget dog food for years. The dogs have always done well on it. Until last year we fed Champaine race diet along with it, but it became to difficult to get in our area so we are now feeding Annamaet Impact with the dry food. The dogs get about 3 quarts of water a day at various feedings.

What is your kennel philosophy?
We like healthy, happy, friendly dogs that eat well. Proper worming and vaccines are very important.

What is important to you when maintaining a kennel of working dogs?
They must have some place to go to get out of the weather. Their area must always be clean. They need a spot they can call their own.

Working With the Dogs

What physical attributes do you try and produce in one of your average sled dogs?
My preference is a nice sleek dog with a rounded rump and long back. I like a dog in the upper 40 pound range. Most of all I look for a dog with lots of speed and attitude. Not necessarily craziness, but a desire to run.

What breeds do you currently mush with?
We have every thing from Pure German Shorthairs to Alaskan Huskies and everything in between.

What is the demeanor like in all of your sled dogs?
I like happy dogs that are friendly, but manageable. I don’t like to see dogs cowering in their house when you go to pet them.

The Magical World of Puppies

How do you house your puppies?
Our pups are kept in a large pen with a large house. All pups stay together, but we never have more than one litter a summer. We don’t want more pups than we can adequately spend time with. We want the pups to end up very social. We feed them several times a day, but only what they can eat at a single feeding.

During the first months of a puppy’s life, what is their training like? What do you work on with them?
The first months are for playing. We go for lots of walks and have as many visitors as we can to play with the pups. At about 3 or 4 months we will start having them chase the four wheeler and we will usually hook them to a log a couple of times before we actually hook them in a team. We hook them in the team at 5 or 6 months, but even then it is just playing. More serious work doesn’t start until they are at least a year old.

What do you look for in your breeding pair?
I look for the best dogs I can find before breeding. They need to be leaders and they need to be fast. They need to have good attitude and be excellent eaters and drinkers. They really need to be better than anything I can reasonably buy. I like to send the best females up to a super winning kennel for one of their studs rather than breeding in my own yard.

Training: The Hard Part

What is your way of thinking when it comes to racing and training?

Could you describe your yearly training program?
We start in the summer with free running. During the fall we continue to free run, but also start having them pull the ATV. A perfect year (seldom happens) would have us switching to the sled in November sometime and staying on it for the rest of the year. The last several years we’ve still been running with the ATV throughout most of the season. It’s really hard on feet and you can’t go as fast as you’d like. It’s also boring for both dogs and drivers.

What tools are most important to you when training your sled dogs?
Snow machine, groomer, ATV, dog booties, dog truck, good sleds, just to name a few.

What are your training goals each year?
We are always working on new leaders. You can’t ever have enough of them.

Racing: Oh Glorious Racing!

Do you race? If so, what races?
We race all over Alaska. On a good winter we will race every weekend from Mid-November to the end of March.

What are your goals during the racing season?
We like to win and we like to go fast which is a winning combination. The trick is putting together the team to do it.

Could you tell us about your first race?
My first race season took place in Soldotna. I think I came in last every race, but I got the Rookie of the year award. My husband had the decent team and he won the season. I was still pretty nervous about running dogs that year.

How do you decide which dogs make the race team?
The dogs pretty much make that decision for us. How fast can they run? How far can the go? We’re usually looking for dogs that can make the open team which combines speed with distance. I have never raised a dog that would not pull, so even if they don’t make our team, they make someone’s team.

If you could, what are your racing strengths and weaknesses?
We were actually better when we ran limited class. We liked barreling out of the chute from start to finish. It’s a little more complex in the open where you need to be able to adjust the dogs speed a bit more. We’re still on a learning curve there.

How do you decide which races you will be entering during the racing season?
We race whatever is happening on a weekend, but if there are two conflicting races we probably go with the village races just because I like the setting. I grew up in villages around Alaska and can relate well to those folks. Also the trails are often more challenging. One village we go to often has us floundering around in a water hole someplace on the trail. We’ve learned to pack our water boots for that race and bring extra clothes.

What Does the Future Hold?

What do you hope to accomplish with the dog sledding sport?
I’d like to see the purses grow on all venues of Dog Sled Racing. I’d like to see more public awareness and people involved that don’t necessarily race themselves.

What changes do you hope dog sledding makes in the near future?
I’d like to see more Radio and TV coverage.

To the beginning musher, what advice would you give?
Find a good Mentor and work with them. Do not discount anything they have to say for at least a year. A good mentor can save you a lot of mistakes. Don’t get too many dogs to soon. It’s better to grow with quality rather than with quantity. A good mentor will often supply you with reasonably priced or even free dogs that just aren’t quite making the team. It’s better to start with experienced dogs than puppies. An older dog will teach you more than anything else.

If mushers were to do something to perpetuate the dog sledding sport, what would that be?
I think we need to represent the sport in a positive way. On the other hand we’ve had some very colorful characters that have done a lot for the sport. In the 80s Susan Butcher & Rick Swenson went at it tooth & nail and the public loved it. I can say the same about Eddy Streeper & George Attla. A little fierce competition is good for the sport. I suspect that the modern day musher does not have the drive to win that the older musher had at one time. I look at Jimmy Huntington & George Attla, and say, Now those guys wanted to win! What they put into winning a race was incredible. I think also that it’s important to down play the negative and up play the positive.

Anything else for the dog sledding community to hear?
I would love to see the mushing community bind together. I get tired of hearing this type of sledding versus that type of sledding. We all have common goals even if we go about it different. There are not enough of us to spend it arguing amongst ourselves. I doubt if there is any one out there that I can’t learn something from and vise versa.

Related posts:

  1. Interview with Ed & Tasha Stielstra
  2. Interview with Kathy Miyoshi


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

eleven interiors October 21, 2011 at 3:28 am

nice interview. good answers by Dori. Dogs are always the best pals to many of us.


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