Interview with Kathy Miyoshi

by Sleddoggin Staff on May 20, 2011

Name: Kathy Miyoshi
Kennel: Arcticgrace Siberians
Birthplace: Alameda, California
Current Residence: Reno, Nevada
Occupation: Investigations Assistant, Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Tahoe City, CA
Email: Arcgrace1@aol.com
Website: Arcticgrace Siberians

Introduction To Our Musher

I have been racing Siberian Huskies approximately 9 years, exclusively on the west coast except one race in South Dakota. I am a member of the Siberian Husky Club of America (SHCA), the International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA), the Northwest Sled Dog club, and the Sierra Nevada Dog Driver’s, Inc. (SNDD). I have been both the President and Vice President of SNDD and a Region Director for ISDRA. The answers to the below questions pretty much sum it all up! Read and enjoy.

The Background of Our Musher

How did you get involved with the sport of dog sledding?
I went to one of the last dog sled races put on in Truckee, California. I was hooked from the first moment I laid eyes on it!

Could you tell us about your first mushing adventure?
I can’t remember, but I’m sure it involved snow up my nose. My first experiences with dogs in harness were with a light-weight training cart and rescue dogs in the Bay Area of California.

Who have been your biggest supports during your mushing years?
I am very lucky in this regard. I have three mentors, all of whom play a valuable and constant role in my life. Ann and Al Stead (Northome Siberians, MN) are there to help with training and advice and have provided me with most of the dogs in my kennel. Barbara Schaefer (Qualobo Siberians, Grass Valley, CA) is a best friend and mentor. I go to her for all sort of advice on conformation, health issues and anything I can come up with to ask. And then there is Karen Yeargain, who has sold me two fabulous dogs recently, and I will probably owe her for awhile on that one! Karen is very knowledgeable in health issues and general doggy advice as well. All of these folks are great friends of mine, and folks who I love and respect. Without them, I would not have gotten very far-literally!

How long have you been addicted to mushing?
I have been “on the runners’ since 1995 or so. I think I entered my first race with a 3-dog team in 1997.

Maintaining A Kennel

How is your kennel setup?
I have 6×12 and 12×12 chain link kennels inside of two separate dog yards, which are themselves surrounded by 6ft non-climb horse fencing. Due to my county kennel permit requirements, I had to have concrete flooring, so they are on concrete. I prefer them not to be, as concrete is hard on their feet, but I have not seen any feet problems as a result to date. However, the dogs are loose in the yard/s together for a significant amount of time each day, so hopefully that mitigates any potential issues.

How many lucky dogs currently enjoy your kennel?
13 dogs. This includes 9 Siberians, three Alaskans (one rescue) and one lab-mix.

What is the feeding routine for your dogs?
I feed Eagle Power formula dry food year round, supplemented with the frozen meat developed by Charlie Champaine. In the summer I use whole ground chicken and in the fall and winter I use his “blue” race diet mix which is 31% beef, 31% chicken, 21% liver and other good stuff! During the summer, the meat proportion is about 25%, during the training/racing season, it is 50%.

What is your kennel philosophy?
My dogs are my family members first, racing partners next. I have three that are full-time house dogs, but everybody gets house trained, and gets their “house time.” I believe dogs are a responsibility for life, so if you have come into mine, you are with me until the end. I do assist in rescue efforts as I can and sometimes have those dogs available for adoption. You can find them on TahoeWarf.com. I also spay and neuter most of my dogs.

What is important to you when maintaining a kennel of working dogs?
CONTAINMENT. I have found that no matter what kind of warnings folks get, they always have to learn the hard way. I did! These dogs CANNOT be let off leash, they CANNOT be trusted with things like “invisible fencing, they WILL kill your neighbors cat and the local farmhouses chickens. If they haven’t yet, it is only a matter of time. But nobody believes me until it happens. It had to happen to me SEVERAL times before the light went on. Do what you have to do to be a good neighbor! Build the fence higher into the air and lower into the ground. Invest in hot wire if you have too, I did for a period of time. Latch and double latch, and don’t leave those front doors open!

Working With The Dogs

What physical attributes do you try and produce in one of your average sled dogs?
I am still learning what “I” like in a dog. I like a lot of leg, good feet and a well-placed tail set. Those seem to be what I look for right away (due to experiences with dogs that don’t have good leg, feet or tail sets) and I’ve discovered that other good things tend to come along if you have those things. I’m not good with angles, but like a well angulated dog. What that means is, I can’t tell you the percentages of angle I like rear and front, I can just tell you if it has them or not!

What breeds do you currently mush with?
I love my Siberian Huskies and wouldn’t specialize in any other breed. I do have Alaskans and others that come and go, but my primary emphasis is the AKC registered Siberian Husky.

What is the demeanor like in all of your sled dogs?
I don’t think anyone wants emotional dogs, but I tend to make them. All my boys are Mamas Boys and all my girls are Tom Boys. Just the way it goes. They need to love to run, that is really the only requirement. I like dogs who think for themselves, which is probably why I like the Siberian Husky. I like dogs with good drive, dogs that will push forward even if a storm comes in or the trail is dicey. I like to instill good working habits in training and expose them to all sorts of situations so that when it happens in a race they are not surprised.

The Magical World of Puppies

How do you house your puppies?
I do not breed, so I can’t talk about whelping set-ups. Perhaps this Spring Arcticgrace Siberians will have its first litter, but don’t cross your fingers as I’ve been saying that for a couple years. I prefer to buy from the experts! When I buy puppies I like to get them about 10 weeks of age. I keep them separated from most adults until they are around six months old and can handle themselves with the larger dogs. Until then they run around with certain dogs I have that are wanna-be mothers and fathers and do well with the youngsters. They also come to work with at the Sheriff’s Office and meet all the deputies in uniform and get used to the sights and sounds around there.

During the first months of a puppy’s life, what does their training consist of?
I do try to expose young dogs to all sorts of experiences. I expose them to all the training equipment, traveling in the truck, being on drop lines, agility equipment (tables, tunnel and teeter-totters), and anything I can come up with, in all sorts of weather. They may not have these perfect when we hook up for the first time, but it helps immensely if they have heard the commands before that happens. Command Training is also a great way to teach the dog to bond to you, and to listen to you. We go from there with them dragging something light all the way up to a tire. (If anyone reading this has not heard of the Mushing Boot Camp series taught by Ann Stead and Jamie Nelson, well, that is exactly where I have learned these training methods.)

Pups go for their first harness runs around six months of age. I have never had one not jump into the harness and run off down the trail. The biggest problem with young dogs in harness is to keep them controlled so they don’t over-work themselves. Keep it short, keep it light, keep it fun and you will have an eager sled dog for life.

What do you look for in your breeding pair?
I am now in the process of looking for a male to breed to one of my females. I am looking for compatibility of type, an awesome temperament and a sound working history. Health is very important, whoever I breed to will have to have their eyes checked, and willprobably be asked other questions relating to the health history of the parents and the line.

Training: The Hard Part

What is your way of thinking when it comes to racing and training?
MUSHING BOOT CAMP WITH JAIME NELSON AND ANN STEAD. Enough said.

Could you describe your yearly training program?
I start Fall Training when the temps get to below 50 degrees, or when the truck is sanded, painted, fixed, put back together. Usually the first hook-up is in August and all I am doing is finding my equipment, seeing what I have lost over the summer, seeing what is still broken on the training rig, and just running around a short, fast, course for the heck of it. Then I spend another couple of weeks rectifying all of the above and try and hit the training trail for real in September.

Very vaguely, training is in two segments: dirt in the fall and snow when winter hits. Dirt training is primarily strength training and snow training is primarily speed and endurance. My rig is a 250-lb 3-wheeled, cart made by Risdon (Heavy Duty Cart). When we start in the fall the dogs are not in shape yet and we go short distances of 2-3 miles and will work our way up to 10-12 miles on dirt by the time December comes and the first snow. When snow hits, we switch to a much lighter weight sled (in comparison to the cart), and much less resistance, and we really add on the miles! Our first run might be 10 miles to see where the team is at, but we generally fly through that if we’ve been doing 10 miles or more on dirt already. We then move right to 15 miles and then 20 a few runs later, then 25 miles by mid Jan. That is the plan anyway. How quickly you can increase your miles depends on how often you get out there to train.

Race season ends in March and I try to keep everybody at some level of fitness for awhile after that because in April comes Mushing Boot Camp and for a week we’ll be in Oregon attending that clinic and talking with Ann and Jaime about the race season, working on issues we encountered, or new pups if we have them. After Boot Camp we all take a needed break! The summer months get hot pretty quickly in Reno, so we mostly sunbathe. I have toys in my yard like tunnels and such and we play with those. On cooler evenings I’ll get out some training leashes and we’ll do some one-on-one work or other refresher courses, but mostly we don’t do anything.

What tools are most important to you when training your sled dogs?
There are so many I don’t know where to start I need my training rig (with hydraulic breaks), without that I wouldn’t get anywhere. I have gone through several different rigs as I increased in dogs and in the power of those dogs, and have ended up with one that works very well for me. But there are other tools as well, my double leashes for command training exercises, my training tire, I also have a lighter weight cart which is good for a couple of young dogs and a leader to learn on; my sled of course.

Then there is my truck, which is the largest investment I’ve made so far in this sport, an F250 Diesel with a 16-hole dog box on the back. And my trailer to carry the cart/s and equipment where I need to go.

What are your training goals each year?
The ultimate goal is always to have a happy, healthy, sled dog team (and musher!) coming across the finish line, no matter what place it happens to be coming in at. I would rather forsake placements in a race than have a dog in the bag-but it happens.

Racing: Oh Glorious Racing!

Do you race? If so, what races?
My race class is the 6-dog mid-distance class which is generally around 25 miles, so I aim for races that offer that class. On the West coast we have lots of choices from the SNDD races in CA to races in OR, WA, ID, CO and B.C. Which ones you end up at depend on what the winter season is delivering in terms of snow, and how far you can travel.

What are your goals during the racing season?
Each season I pick out a race that is going to be my goal race. I then aim for that mileage and terrain in my training program. This year it is the 6-dog Cascade Quest class, so this would be my first 3-day race, and my first overnight. This Fall I will therefore need to incorporate overnights into my training regimen and make sure I work up to training three days in a row at the mileages the races will be at. I try and pick a race that will challenge me with something new each year.

Could you tell us about your first race?
I can’t remember details about my first race probably because I was so nervous I put it out of my head. I remember that is was a 3-dog class in Chester, CA and I remember I had my dearly departed leader Vixen, from the kennel of the late Henry Hahn in Alaska. If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have made it around the trail in one piece, as it was, I think she ran the race on auto-pilot and I just stood on the runners holding on for dear life. I have a picture somewhere of me leaving the start shoot – the picture reminds me that it was also in a storm I don’t think I could see, which would also explain why I can’t remember much.

How do you decide which dogs make the race team?
I don’t have as much difficulty with this as larger kennels as I have to run what I have! Sometimes I feel this limits me, but at other times I feel this is a blessing because it forces me to give every dog a chance and not write off someone who at first glance isn’t quite as fast, or maybe is older, or whatever. Out of my 13 dogs, five are nine or older, two of those will assist me in fall training (one may lead my training partners 4-dog team), and three are retired. That leaves 8 dogs of viable racing age, of those one is my current Alaskan rescue and one is my resident lab-mix (who may also run on my partners team). So, that leaves me exactly six dogs to train for six-dog races no room for injuries and I have to run to the slowest dog. That is the life of the small kennel. I believe this fact has made me a better dog trainer.

If you could, what are your racing strengths and weaknesses?
My weakness is the fact that I have to work full-time in order to support my dog habit. Therefore, I can’t train as many days a week as I need to really go the miles I want to go in this sport, and to be as successful as I want to at races. But I give it everything I have and enjoy watching them do well in spite of me!

What Does the Future Hold?

What do you hope to accomplish with the dog sledding sport?
I would like to get up to doing a bit more mileage because what I truly enjoy in all this is being on the sled a longer period of time. Stage races interest me, 50-100 mile races interest me, but I don’t think realistically that I’m going to get there anytime soon because you need more dogs to run larger teams, and train longer miles, and I just can’t do it right now. Perhaps if I win the lottery or marry a rich man!

What changes do you hope dog sledding makes in the near future?
In my area dog sledding is almost disappearing, the weather changes as well as politics are simply making it very difficult to own many dogs, and to race close to home. (The recent gas prices aren’t helping either.) In reaction to that, smaller classes are being held (and things like scootering and skijoring are becoming more popular) and more races on dirt (Dryland Racing) are popping up around the country. I think this will be a valuable to the future of this sport. I also see Junior’s classes disappearing, and in reality, no junior classes means no adult classes later on. We need to encourage young folks whenever we can, and we need to be good ambassadors to this sport ALL THE TIME, without the younger generation coming behind us, there will be no mushing in the future, and without sponsors and spectators, well, the same!

To the beginning musher, what advice would you give?
DON’T BE IN A HURRY! Don’t get more dogs than you can handle and afford (you can skijor with one to three dogs and you can race with 3) or you will not enjoy the experience, and your mushing career will be short lived. Visit many kennels, talk to many racers, find a mentor who can spend time with you and be open to their comments. Be a sponge.

BE HUMBLE. Everyone is going to fall, everybody is going to get dragged by their team and then watch it run off into the sunset. Everyone is going to make mistakes, whether a novice or experienced. ALWAYS help another fellow musher on or off the trail, NEVER think you are better than anyone else out there. Always be a good sport and hold your head high whether you are first across the finish line or carrying the Red Lantern, because you will do more of the latter than the former.

HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR. These dogs are going to try your patience. This sport is going to try your patience. You will see some of the strangest things you have ever seen in your life, and be in some of the scariest positions. Take it all in stride. These dogs get their confidence and strength from you, no matter what kind of a storm, what kind of an injury, what kind of a mood you are in, you must be enthusiastic with them. They will feel your feelings through those lines and it can make or break a dog and a team of dogs. You must learn to laugh at yourself and to laugh at the problems you are encountering. AFTER you come in from the run, AFTER you have fed, watered and put to bed the dogs, only then can you CRY.

If mushers were to do something to perpetuate the dog sledding sport, what would that be?
When people come up to you at a race with a gazillion questions, no matter what kind of timing they have, be polite. People don’t know what they are looking at, they have never seen it before and it is an amazing, deafening, and awe-inspiring sight to be walking down the line of dog trucks when teams are getting hooked up to race. Tell them when would be a good time to talk to you, and then talk to them, let them see your dogs, let them see the inside of your boxes, let them stand on your prized sled. Be a good ambassador for the sport.

Anything else for the dog sledding community to hear?
Join your local clubs; be active in the sport that you love. Help others. Don’t lose sight of the fact that these dogs are animals, and they are 100% committed to YOU. Treat them right.

Related posts:

  1. Interview with Ed & Tasha Stielstra


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