Tandem sledding on Big Trout Lake
Newsletter Vol. 9 Issue 2
Fall 2009


Welcome friends and sponsors of Suomi Hills Kennel. The dogs and I have made the trip back from Alaska and are comfortably settled into our Suomi Hills home. After being gone for 5 months and returning, it seems I am about 5 months behind on chores. I have been busy doing yard work, working on my house, cutting firewood, and of course training dogs.

Hiking at Sheep Creek Trail Alaska Fall is our main training season. This is when it’s just me and the dogs. This is when we really get to know each other and what we expect of each other. This season I am training 2 teams: a main team and a yearling team. My main team consists of 16 adult dogs that have been with me for a number of years. The yearling team consists of 2 litters of yearlings and 11 year old Sosa, who is semi-retiring this year and taking on the job of leading the yearlings.

Fall training consists of the dogs pulling the 4-wheeler. This year I have opted for running 16 at a time so that I can run all of the main team together. When I run the yearlings I fill in with 4 dogs from the main team to bring us up to a 16 dog team. It has been a while since I have had so many young dogs to train, and it has been a lot of fun. It is immensely rewarding to see these young dogs develop into a really solid bunch of hard working dogs. The yearling team is brought along at a little slower pace and not expected to do quite the number of miles that the main team does. The yearling team is going through their basic training and learning to always pull hard. This is when they graduate from just goofing around and having fun to taking their jobs seriously and really making themselves into a team to be reckoned with.

Cabin on Sheep Mountain Alaska Our summer in AK was good. This year we lived on the ground giving cart rides instead of living on the glacier and giving sled rides. It was a little different. I missed the beautiful scenery of the Denver glacier, but the Sheep Creek Valley has plenty of its own magnificent views. I was able to observe many mountain goats and black bears right from our camp. The Sheep Creek hiking trail went right past our camp, and I was able to explore its heights on several occasions. Next summer, I am expecting to return to AK again.

Thank you to everyone that has been supporting SUOMI HILLS KENNEL through your sponsorships for all of these years. I hope that you will continue to do so. New sponsors are always encouraging. If you would like to help support this kennel please see the sponsorship information below. Thank You!

If you are having troubles receiving this e-newsletter let me know, and I will try to make it easy for you. If you would like to comment on anything else, I am always happy to hear from you. I can be reached at 218-244-1265, suomihillskennel@yahoo.com, or 37515 Orange Lake RD, Deer River, MN 56636.

Happy Trails to You, Joel

View of Dog Camp from Sheep Mountain


The dynamics of a sled dog kennel are constantly evolving. Puppies are being born, growing up, and eventually replacing the older dogs that are getting old, retiring, and leaving us for good, even though we hate to let them go.

In this article, I would like to walk you through the life of one sled dog from beginning to end. I chose Sosa because she is the oldest dog in my kennel and is still going strong at 11 years of age.

Sosa was born in June of 1998. The very first day of her life I start handling her and cuddling with her. I feel this is the beginning of the bonding process that will help to make our relationship so close in the years to come. For the first few weeks of her life, she is totally dependent on her mother. Her mother keeps her warm and provides food for her. Sosa does have to compete a little with her litter mates Sammy and Mack for food, but there is plenty to go around and during these first few weeks her weight will multiply several times.

Around 7 to 10 days of age, Sosa starts to open her eyes and pretty soon starts wobbling around and playing with her littermates. Around 2 weeks of age, she starts to eat dog food and by 8 weeks is totally weaned from mother. This is also when she is starting to grow teeth. During all of this time I try to play with the puppies daily. If I have company I like to bring them out to the puppy pen and let them help socialize the puppies also.

It is at this time that I start teaching them to be careful with what they do with their teeth. Their teeth are razor sharp and can cut through my fingers rather easily. I let them take my fingers in their mouth, but as soon as they start biting down I pinch down with my fingers until they release their grip. I think this eventually helps them learn not to chew, which saves on my gang lines and harnesses when they start getting hooked up and going for runs. As soon as they are able, I start taking Sosa and her liter mates for walks. While going for walks Sosa learns that she is part of the team, and I can see her personality start to develop.

At about 4 months of age Sosa receives a collar and is put on a chain with her own dog house, until now she has lived in the puppy pen with her littermates. She adapts to the chain very quickly, and this becomes her life. Within a day or two of being chained, she goes for her first run. This is a puppy run, not more than 4 miles and is mostly puppies with a few adult leaders. It is amazing how instinctively she takes to running as part of a team. Within the first few hundred feet she realizes that running forward and pushing into her harness is the thing to do. From now until she is about a year old, Sosa goes on several runs - always short, easy and fun.

Meet Sosa At around one year Sosa starts going on runs on a regular basis, several times a week and some times maybe even 2 or 3 days in a row. The length of the runs gradually gets longer until we are doing 10 or 15 mile runs. Eventually I will take her on a campout where we will run out 10 or 15 miles, spend the night, and come back in the morning. This is where she needs to learn how to sleep in her harness, which works quite well if she worked hard on the run and is truly tired. She has already had some practice relaxing and eating in her harness because after every run, I feed the team in harness and then let them relax while I clean the dog yard before un-harnessing them and putting them away.

At this stage of her life Sosa is still not really part of the main team. She does not go on all of the long runs with the big dogs, but she is working towards that. I continually monitor her attitude, ability, and confidence. Confidence is a big thing with me. If Sosa is exuding confidence, I will move her up a notch; if she appears apprehensive or nervous, I will back off a little or give her a little break. Without even realizing it, Sosa gradually becomes a part of the main team.

After running with the main team for some time and feeling really good about it, I put her in lead with my most trusted main lead dog. She will get a neck line from her collar to the main leader’s collar, so if she doesn’t turn when I say to turn the main leader can nudge her in the right direction. She only gets the neck line for the first few runs in lead and then is expected to get along without it. This way she can’t rely on the other leader to always show her the way but must learn the commands for herself. If she becomes discouraged and upset with running in lead, I will run her further back in the team for a couple of weeks until her confidence returns and then try it again.

Sosa took to leading quite readily, and eventually came to feel really good about running in lead. To start with, I pair her with leaders that will make her feel confident and help her succeed as a leader. Eventually I pair her with all of my other leaders. As time goes by I learn to trust Sosa more and more, and I ask more and more of her. Without knowing it by the time Sosa is 6, she has become one of my best lead dogs. Now I call on Sosa when I need a lead dog that I know will not miss a command or when I have a young dog running in lead for the first time.

At 11 years old Sosa has been leading my team for several years. As with all of us, time eventually catches up with Sosa. Now she is having a hard time keeping up with the main team, so she is relegated to running with the puppies again. Often times she is leading the puppy team. As a reward for her many years of loving, dedicated, and devoted service, Sosa has earned the privilege of spending nights sleeping on the couch in the house. She has taken quite well to it, and I like it too!


Wigian is a big boy weighing in at over 60 pounds (most of my dogs weigh 50-55 pounds). Wigian (said Wid-jun) is the off-spring of Arrow and Kayak and his litter mates include Dutch, Swede, and Dane in my kennel and Mud and Ratchet in other kennels. Wigian is happy, healthy, strong, hard-driving, motivated, responsible and reliable.

Wigian relaxing Wigian is 8 years old and has just become a main leader. His most obvious traits are his enthusiasm for running and his size and power. When Wigian decides to go, you’d better be hanging on! For years I was pretty cautious about putting him in lead because if he decided to go the wrong way it would be hard for anyone else in the team to keep him in line. I usually start training new lead dogs by neck lining them to an older reliable lead dog. This way if the new leader tries to turn around, the older dog can hold them in place. With Wigian, there aren’t too many dogs that can hold him in place. Another thing with Wigian is his excess of enthusiasm. When hooked in the team but not yet running, Wigian let’s everybody know that he is ready and wants to get going. This raucous and vocal show of his will often times intimidate the dog along side of him, but as soon as we get on the move, he is all serious and working hard.

Years ago I started trying him in lead every now and again. Starting in the summer of 2008, he ran lead regularly giving tours in Alaska. This fall he has proven himself to be one of my most reliable leaders. I now feel I can count on him at anytime and run him with any other dog. As a lead dog he has more responsibility and has to be a little more serious, and I think this has helped to contain his enthusiasm. Whether it took 8 years for Wigian to become a main leader because of my lack of confidence in him or his lack of confidence, I am not sure. At any rate, now we are there.

Become a Suomi Hills Kennel Sponsor!

For only a small annual contribution you can be part of this kennel. You can help socialize puppies. You can ride the second sled on a training run. Perhaps you’d like to organize a sled dog party with sled dog rides and/or a hands-on presentation. To become a sponsor simply fill out the sponsorship form and mail it with your check.

Beargrease Sponsor - $250
Kennel Tour, Newsletter, 5 Mile Ride, Advertisement In Trail Notes Newsletter, Business Name On Dog Truck

Yukon Quest Sponsor - $500
Kennel Tour, Newsletter, Group Rides and/or Presentation, Advertisement In Trail Notes Newsletter, Business Name On Dog Truck

Iditarod Sponsor - $1000
Kennel Tour, Newsletter, 5 Mile Ride, Group Rides and/or Presentation, Advertisement In Trail Notes Newsletter, Business Name On Dog Truck

Puppy Sponsor - $25
Kennel Tour and Newsletter

Wheel Dog Sponsor - $50
Kennel Tour, Newsletter, Half Mile Ride

Lead Dog Sponsor - $100
Kennel Tour, Newsletter, 5 Mile Ride


Sponsor Level: _________________________________

Name: _______________________________________

Address: ______________________________________

City, State, Zip: ________________________________

Phone Number: ________________________________

Make checks payable to: Joel Kersting – Suomi Hills Kennel
Mail payment with completed sponsorship form to:
Joel Kersting, Suomi Hills Kennel, 37515 Orange Lake Rd, Deer River MN 56636.
For questions, call 218-244-1265.

Gift certificates are also available!
Thank you for being a Suomi Hills Kennel Sponsor!


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Past Newsletters: Fall 2008  |  Spring 2009