If you come to the kennels this time of year, you will hear a lot of talk about "the dog box".
No, this is not that place where spouses and significant others go when they're in trouble. I am talking about how we, the Denali kennels, transport dogs from one place to the other if we want to run our dogs from another location other than park headquarters. Now the dog box is exactly like it sounds - picture a box shaped camper top with alcoves for 30 dogs inside.
This time of year the dogs get a little crazy - and loud - every time we open the door to the dog box. It has been a few months off from running long distances for both the dogs and humans. That enthusiasm carries over into loading the dogs which means overexcited dogs in a small area which amplifies sound.
The dogs' excitement can tend towards things other than barking. Sometimes the dogs are just too excited to get into their alcove. Then we give them a little help into the alcove by having a "meeting of the minds" if they continue to squirm or hop out. The "meeting of the minds" is a show of wills between the musher and dog, but in lay terms we use the top of our heads to keep the dog in place while we clip them to the alcove and block them from running out. Some dogs appear disconcerted since they might think we are trying to get into the alcove with them. I understand the dogs' perspective; who wants a roommate when you have a room the size of your bed and only one bed?
Another interesting facet of the dog box, excessive drool, is presented when you combine excitement and nervousness, like with our 1 year old Sylvie. Some dogs are dribblers, but this otherwise normal dog appears to drop a bucket in this situation. Once there was so much drool it froze the ramp at the bottom of the dog box in place and required two kennels staff to break it out of the ice.
At the end of the day you return from a successful run or patrol with the dogs and they are ready to run out of the dog box and back to their homes. Most of the dogs are calm, relaxed, and experienced enough to realize you will get them out of the box and home faster with cooperation. However, a few dogs are under the belief that this makes mushers bored and that they need the excitement of helping a struggling dog out of their alcove. These dogs just want you to know they struggle because they love you and love to run.
If you want to hear the excitement of dogs running in and out of the dog box, please stop by the Denali park kennels in fall and winter. Maybe someday you too can help load a dog box and feel (and hear) the love of a dog who just wants to run. ---Matt K.