Métis Way of Life
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Métis Way of Life
All content, pictures, text, formats, etc is protected under copyright law.  ©  Arctic Toboggan 2010
Socializing Your New Puppy

There are two main factors that determine whether your dog will be either sociable with everyone they meet, overprotective, aloof, or somewhere in between.  These two factors are genetics and environment.

Most dog breeds were created with certain characteristics in mind.  Characteristics that would be passed on genetically from parent to puppy.  For example, scent hounds are bred for a good nose, and this trait is passed down to their progeny.  Sight hounds have a genetic, uncontrollable urge to chase.  Livestock guardian dogs have a built in protection switch, whether they are protecting sheep or protecting the children in their family.  And most spitz breeds naturally love to run.  These traits can also vary within their respective breeds as well.  Dogs that come from certain kennels or lines may exhibit more or less of certain behaviours than others.  Which is why it is so important to choose wisely, a puppy that will fit in with your lifestyle.  A basic rule of thumb is to always remember that the puppy will often behave much the same as it’s parents.

But just because a dog is genetically predisposed toward certain unfavourable behaviours does not mean that there is no hope.  Proper socialization early on in life will help make your puppy a wonderful, trustworthy member of your family.

Some key points

As soon as your puppy comes home start introducing it to everyone and everything.

Always, always make absolutely certain never to scare the puppy.

Make every experience as happy and fun as possible.

Never force the pup to endure an experience that it is afraid of.

A puppy that is frightened early on in life, will often carry that bad experience into it’s adult years.  If it is frightened by a strange person, then it may always be scared of that person or the situation where it was first frightened.  Then of course the pup may fall back on it’s natural survival instincts and bite or bark ferociously to defend itself from what, in it’s mind, is a very real threat.  So it is imperative to always make every new experience a happy one.

Every day, the pup should be exposed to new sights and sounds.  A car ride, new people, new smells, another dog (short, sweet, and supervised), cats and other animals, etc.  The key is to socialize the pup every day.  Even an adult dog that has had a bad experience can become less afraid, if it is properly socialized afterward.  The older dog may still feel nervous about the scary situation, but it will often learn how to deal with those feelings and control them.  But again the key is to ensure that each experienced is well planned and executed for success.

Lack of proper daily socialization will often result in serious behavioural problems

Some sled dog breeds are notorious for being territorial and over protective, then others are happy-go-lucky pups that never give a moments trouble.

Some are protective over their food, toys or tails, and others love to share,

Some never warm up to strangers, and some like everyone they meet,

Some do not like strange dogs, and others may run off and play with anything furry,

Some individual sled dogs love playing for hours at a time with any child, while others will not tolerate being touched, even by children in their own families,

While some spitz dogs may be happy covering only 50km each week, most thrive with 3 or 4 times that much at least, and if their needs are not met, may find destructive outlets for their pent up energy.  


It is always good to keep in mind that, you can take the Spitz off the trail, but you cannot take the call of the trail away from the Spitz.  No matter how socialized, domesticated, or how trustworthy your pup has become, it is still a sledding dog, and should be properly supervised at all times.

Over the years, I have raised several sled dogs in my home with my children, not to mention the numerous friends and other teams that come to visit, and have never had any incident, proof that good socialization can work wonders.

The age old argument of nature vs. nurture may rage until the end of time, but one thing is for certain.  There is no substitute for proper socialization and proper supervision.

A well socialized dog is a happy dog, and a joy to take with you where ever you go. 
©  Arctic Toboggan January 27, 2011

Ice Balls

At certain temperatures, and certain snow conditions, ice balls can be very troublesome.  Ice balls can be very dangerous to your dog, and to the moral of the team as a whole, so it is very important to check your dog's feet often. 

The first thing to understand is, of course, how ice balls are formed.  Generally speaking, loose snow get's between the dog's toes and melts just enough to stick to the fur there, creating a bit of ice.  And in a few steps, the ice will grow and cause damage to the dog.  This normally happens at warmer temperatures (above -15C), usually when running on fresh snow, or windy conditions when small granular snow is blown onto the trail. 

Also, when the team is working very hard they will be more likely to pick up ice.  One of the dog's primary ways to cool itself, and to sweat, is through it's feet.  So obviously the harder the dog works, the more it will sweat.  And the more heat in the feet, the more the loose snow will stick between the toes.  [As a  side note, if the conditions are perfect for ice balls, and everyone on the team has ice balls on their feet, except for one dog, then you can be certain that dog is not working hard, or not honest.]

There are several ways to deal with ice balls, and each type of musher will extoll the virtues of their own method, which is exactly the way it should be.  It is entirely situational, but the number one method of keeping ice from building up is to put booties on the dogs.

Some racers, since they run mostly on groomed trails, will trim the fur on the feet to keep the snow from sticking.  Trimming the fur will also keep the hairs from chaffing and cutting into the pads.    Though it is my personal preferrence, that if the fur on the foot is to be trimmed, not to trim it too short.  Instead trim it flush with the pad.  Dogs grow fur on their feet for a reason, they need that fur to keep their feet warm, dry and safe.  But on fresh groomed trails, there is very little in the way of loose snow to be collected between the toes. 

For a recreational team, just putting on dog booties when needed is the easiest and safest method.  Just be sure to remove the booties immediately after the run.  A dog's feet need to breathe, and wet clammy feet has the same effect on a dog as it has on a human.  Not to mention the dangers of the dog chewing and swallowing the booties. 

Skijoring dogs that live in the house year round never grow the super long fur on their feet that outdoor dogs grow, so just using a set of nylon or fleece booties will work well. 

Outback teams go through different trail and temperature conditions in the course of the expedition, and will need different precautions at different times.  I always carry a couple sets of booties for each dog.  And since the outback team has to live on the trail, I do not trim the fur unless absolutely necessary.  I have found that for those few times that ice balls collect on the trail, I prefer to melt the ice balls out with my hands and dry off the foot.  Or if the situation is in favour of ice balls, it is best just to put on the bootie for the dangerous terrain, then take them off immediatley afterwards. 

Always keep the team happy and healthy.   
©  Arctic Toboggan January 21, 2011

Paper Training/House Training Your Puppy

Some of the most frequent questions that I am asked is on the subject of house/paper training puppies.  There are many different methods that can be used and all of them seem to have something to offer.  It is best that a household do a little research and learn about the different methods and to decide on which method will work best for their new puppy and their own particular situation.  The following is the method that works well for me:

Be Prepared

It is never too early to begin training your puppy, and it is always best to begin at the moment your new puppy arrives home.  Some things you should already have considered and prepared for are:

A warm and dry room/indoor pen/permanent place for the puppy to sleep
A soft and comfortable bed that will be large enough for the puppy as it grows
A good set of no-spill water and food dishes
A package of scent-impregnated puppy training pads, and a good supply of newspaper, or large but shallow litter box and puppy litter
A solid and safe puppy kennel/crate
An appropriate supply of top quality (grain free) dog food
A collar and leash of the proper sizes
A rawhide chew toy and a ball
And of course, a camera to capture all the adorable puppy antics

It is best to have everything ready for the new bundle of joy before it gets home.  It’s sleeping quarters should be set up so that it is ready to be occupied immediately.  A new puppy can have a small bedroom of no larger than 1 metre square (or smaller) for the first few days.

First, take the door off of the kennel, then put the dog bed in the kennel and put the kennel in one corner of the pen (preferably close to, but not in front of the door), and the litter box with newspaper in the opposite corner (away from the door of the pen), and the water (filled) and food dishes in the fourth corner (assuming that the door is located in the first corner).  Put a training pad on top of the newspaper or litter and you are ready to go.

If you have carpet in part of your house, but not all, it is advisable to put a piece of carpet under the kennel (sticking out a little for the pup to smell), but not necessarily the entire pen.  The pup will get used to the carpet being where it sleeps and not want to pee on it.

First Impressions

As soon as the puppy comes home put it down on the training pad and let it sniff around and pee.  If it begins to pee off the pad, just pick it up gently and put the pup gently on the pad.  Do not chastise the pup or it will associate the pad with chastisement and will always be anxious when it needs to relieve itself around the pad.  If the puppy poops on the pad, distract it with one hand while picking up the poop with the other (toilet paper works well, and can be easily flushed).

Be Consistent

The key is to always put the puppy on the pad as soon as it wakes up and stands up, not a few seconds later.  After relieving itself, the pup will probably want a few licks of water and then to play.  Young pups are like young children, they crave playing and learning and cuddling, but spend most of their time sleeping.  During play, the puppy’s bowels will start moving and it may begin to sniff around in circles and this is the sign that it needs to poop and it is time to put it back on the pad.  Sometimes it is good to stay close by (but not too close) so that the puppy does not leave the pad before it relieves itself.  The pup has just been separated from it’s littermates and will be anxious about it’s new family leaving it as well and it’s desire to be with you may override it’s desire to stay and poop alone, but it certainly does not want to be crowded either.  It is also good to keep in mind not to stare at the pup while it is doing it's business.  Staring can make the pup feel anxious.

After play the puppy will be tired and will want to nap, so it is time to put the pup back into the pen.  I like to put a used sock on it’s bed for comfort and let the pup sleep.  Always put the pup in it’s pen when it is sleeping, or not being played with.  Then set your timer for 20-30min (oven timer works well), to remind you to check on the pup and put it on the paper as soon as it wakes.  If the puppy does not need to pee again, give it a small amount of food or a chew toy and set the timer again.

After the puppy has peed, it is time to play.  It is best not to let the puppy have the run of the house just yet.  Always watch and supervise as the puppy explores it’s new environment, and be ready to gently pick up the puppy and place it back on the pad if it needs to go (usually about 20-30min), then bring it out to play again.

Be vigilant to put the pup on the pad every 20-30 minutes (as long as it is awake) and it will get the hang of things very quickly.  After a couple of days the pup will be used to this pattern and will be using the pad on it’s own.  Change the pad often, but be sure to leave it in the puppy’s pen at night time.  Even if the puppy misses the pad a couple of times, it will soon catch on as long as you are consistently there to help it.  The puppy training pads are scent impregnated which will attract the puppy to pee on that spot.  It will not take long for the puppy to remember and want to pee on the pad.  Just remember, never to chastise the puppy when it is learning anything new.


After a few days, your new puppy should be using the pad reliably, but don’t let it have the run of the house just yet.  The puppy should be let out often for supervised play near enough to it’s pen so that it will know where the litter box is at all times, but should spend all it’s free time in it’s pen when not supervised.  Then after about a week, we like to increase the size of the pen to about twice the size, giving the pup a larger room to play in, but still small enough to get to the litter box reliably.  By the end of the second week, we like to put baby gates in the door ways and let the pup have one entire room to run around in.

Switching to Paper

During the second or third week we lean the training pad up against the side of the pen, but still in the litter box, so that the pup goes to the litter box and smells the pad, but pees on the newspaper.  This will cut down on the number of pads that are used, because they are no longer being soiled, but it is advisable to leave the pad like this for a couple of weeks, until the pup gets used to the newspaper or litter.  Always be vigilant when cleaning the litter, but beware of using strong cleaners, bleach or deodorizers.  Many strong cleaners are abrasive to sensitive puppy noses and will actually train the puppy to find a new place to pee.

If it is not too cold outside or raining, then the pup should be carefully introduced to the leash and to the outdoors.  With all kinds of new scents to explore, the puppy will relieve itself outdoors as well.  When indoors at night, the pup should be put back in it’s room/pen, where it can be left safely for the night and be able to reliably relieve itself on the pad.  As the puppy grows, it will naturally prefer to go outdoors to relieve itself, but will gladly use the litter box at night as long as it knows that you approve.

The Kennel

When the puppy is old enough (usually by the time it has the full run of the house), the door of it’s kennel can be put back on (a larger kennel should be provided as the puppy grows) and the puppy should be confined to it’s kennel for a few hours as it sleeps (always start with just an hour and work up to more time), then let out to relieve itself.   Even though the pup should feel very comfortable in it’s kennel, it should never be locked in for too long.  Nevertheless, it is important to kennel train the puppy for safety reasons, such as travelling in a vehicle, visiting relatives, trips to the veterinarian, or any other contingency that may arise.  In an emergency, the puppy can be put in it’s kennel and even emergency personnel can carry the puppy safely and securely.

In Conclusion

The decision to paper-train your pup or to teach your pup to relieve itself outside, is best left to each household’s situation.  Paper training is easy and successful with far less accidents for those who may not be able to keep a rigid schedule of taking the pup out doors every twenty minutes or so.  Not to mention that it is very easy to get the pup to go outside after it has learned paper training, but it is not so easy to teach it to use the paper if it has been trained to go outside first.

Some other benefits to paper training are:

Almost entirely eliminates messes on the carpet, even when no one is at home to take the puppy outside.

The new puppy (and owner) will not have to brave the cold or elements just to relieve itself.  Many times in the cold the pup will hold it, being too cold to go, then when brought inside it will relax in the warmth and then relieve itself against it’s owner’s wishes.

It only takes a few days for the new puppy to be sufficiently trained that it will be able to relieve itself on it’s own in the night (a feature that is well appreciated by parents who have to get up and go to work in the morning).

With fewer accidents the pup will be scolded less and the new owner will not be disappointed in the pup for the accident.

The old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is an accurate axiom when applied to dogs.  There is no substitute for proper training.  A small amount of dedication in the beginning will provide a lifetime of joy.

A well trained dog means a happier dog, and a happier family.
©  Arctic Toboggan December 27, 2010

Training A Skijor / Sled Dog

Several generations of careful selective breeding has made the task of training a Métis Sled Dog very easy.  The Métis Sled Dog is born with a tremendous amount of natural instinct and inclination to work in harness.  All the musher has to do is learn to work with that instinct, not against it.  ...  Read More

Refinishing Oak Toboggans

Winter is just around the corner and it is time to get our toboggans and gear ready for the season.  Clever mushers will have summer-ized their toboggans, but the humidity of the summer can still cause some damage.  So here’s how to get the toboggan ready for the season. 

Bring the toboggan into a heated shop or into the house to dry for a couple of days.  If needed, lightly sand the bottom to get rid of any scratches and gouges.  Check the bolts to ensure they are tight, but do not over tighten. 

Wooden toboggans are traditionally waterproofed with linseed oil, and I have found that this is still the best product for the job.  Use a cloth or brush to apply a light coating of linseed oil, then air dry thoroughly.  After thoroughly dry, apply a second coat.  Make certain that the second coat is completely dry prior to taking the toboggan outside. 

The next step is to polish the bottom of your toboggan.  After the oil has dried, use an electric buffer to shine the bottom of the sled.  If there is snow on the ground, polishing can be accomplished quite easily by placing a large amount of weight in the sled and pulling it quickly behind a snowmobile down packed trails.  The fresh oil will make the toboggan quite difficult to pull at first, but will quickly polish up and will soon slide with very little effort.  If you live in a cold, dry climate, this should be sufficient for the season.  But if you live in a warmer climate where you are running often on wet snow, you may need to repeat this process mid-season.

Before storing your sled for the summer, it is a good idea to follow this same procedure.  If you follow these simple steps, your sled will last for generations, even if it is stored outdoors.
©  Arctic Toboggan September 23, 2010

Pemmican and Dry Meat

History tells us that a hundred years ago and more Pemmican was the common food for the trail for the Canadian Aboriginals and the Métis, though it was considered poor fare for anyone else.  Buffalo is a very tough meat and unless prepared properly it is almost inedible.  Pemmican was made by drying buffalo meat, then pounding it until it begins falling apart, then to keep it watertight it was covered in melted tallow.  The dry meat was then stuffed into a dry bag and sealed with even more tallow.  If kept mostly dry, the meat could last a month or more in the summer, and would last the entire winter.  After the majority of the bison were killed off, other meats were substituted with anything that they could get, deer, caribou, moose, beaver, rabbit, and fish. 

Today, instead of pounding the meat soft, it is common practice to put the tough meat through a grinder then press it flat and dry it.  Of course when spending winter in camp we don’t always have access to a grinder and have to revert to traditional methods.  My Métis family method is to take the meat off the bones in long muscles, put the meat outside in the winter, or in the freezer until it just barely begins to freeze.  This will break apart the grain and hold the meat stiff to cut evenly.  Cut the meat across the grain and marinade it in your flavouring of choice, then dry it high over the fire.  The partial freezing of the meat softens it, and the cutting across the grain makes the meat even easier to chew.  Adding a bit of melted lard with berries for flavouring isn’t necessary, but sure adds a lot of flavouring and energy for the cold weather.  These days there are many different types of water tight containers commercially available to keep the dry meat dry on almost any type of wilderness adventure. 
©  Arctic Toboggan September, 2010

A Rabbit Or Two For Breakfast

On most trips I pack all the food that I will need, but I do often take along a bit of snare wire and return to my youth and Métis heritage.  I like to find a campsite a couple of hours prior to sunset.  This gives me time to set up my camp, get supper cooking, and scout the area for wildlife and picture opportunities.  On such ventures I pay special attention to the local rabbit trails and set a couple of snares.  Rabbit is quite tasty and one of these days I will get around to posting my rabbit recipe, but for now this is how I snare the rabbits. 

My French ancestors came to Canada long before it was called Canada, and of course my aboriginal ancestors have been here long before that.  My Métis family settled and worked out of Nova Scotia, more specifically the Cape Bretton area.  The rabbits that inhabit the east coast are small and infest the coastline in masses.  They are easy to catch, but the techniques used to snare rabbits in the east do not work well on the taller hare species found here in the prairies, so I have had to make some adjustments in the snaring techniqes that I was taught.  And these are they.

First locate suitable rabbit or hare trails, then using simple brass or copper wire set the snare.  Now this sounds simplistic, but it is generally that simple.  Some points to note are exactly how and where to set the snare.  First, make the eyelet by making a small 2mm loop, then rolling the wire back around itself in a clovehitch formation.  Never twist the wire.  This will weaken the wire and may allow the breakfast menu to escape.  Second, make the loop at least 15cm in diametre, if not a little larger.  Third is the placement of the snare.  Rabbit feeding locations are quite easy to locate by all the droppings left behind and the trampled vegetation, but never place the snare at the feeding spots.  Follow the trails a few metres and find locations where the trail is going straight and there are clearly marked landing pads.  Place the snares directly over the landing pad, with the bottom of the loop at least 15cm above the ground.  It is best to find natural branches to anchor the snare to, as well as a natural funnel in the vegetation to reduce the chances of the rabbit seeing and avoiding the snare.  But if not available, just use a small stick to hold the snare at the proper height. 

Leave the snares alone and in the morning breakfast should be readily available. 
©  Arctic Toboggan August 14, 2010

How to build a campfire
Contributed by Will Jacobs

There are many types of campfires starting with the tepee style that they teach you in boy scouts, let me tell you that this does not work. I have tried it and the only way to get it to light properly is to soak it in gasoline!

The best way to start a fire is this;

1.Place two logs parallel to each other with enough space in between for the kindling (If it is windy you may need to place a third log at the ends of the first two to make a horseshoe facing away from the wind).

2.Place the kindling in between the logs (some of the best kindling is birch bark which lights better than paper and (white) pine gum which will burn and light other wood even in a light rain).

3.Place thin twigs (the bottom dead branches of evergreen trees work good) crosswise on the logs, then slightly thicker twigs running the same direction as the logs (if your wood is damp you should light the fire now and add the rest of the wood slowly so it has time to dry, to much wet wood will put your fire out).

4.Continue to place thicker and thicker sticks on the logs, first crosswise to the logs, then parallel, and so on until the fire has reached the desired size.

5.Start the fire.

6.Roast your hot dogs and marshmallows.
©  Arctic Toboggan August 5, 2010

What is the best way to tie your pack into the canoe, and should you?

Well, I prefer to always tie my gear into my canoe, but it really depends on the situation.  When paddling flat water, most people forgo tying their gear into the boat.  If paddling fast water many people tie their packs in, then if the boat flips, it will fill with water and sink with all the gear together.  Though some people prefer to leave the gear loose on fast water, then if they should dump, they love to spend the next several days searching the banks for their gear. 

My personal preference is to tie my packs in no matter what water I am paddling.  I have a long bowline with a float attached and when I dump, the float comes to the surface and I just retrieve it and haul my canoe out. 

When paddling solo, I like to tie my pack in the proper position to balance the canoe, depending on the wind and water conditions.  For example, paddling down wind, weight the canoe further back to lift the bow just slightly.  Vice versa, when paddling into the wind, move the weight slightly forward, but just slightly. 

One thing to remember is that bungee cords and rubber straps are fine for the weekend paddler who loves to take short trips on calm water, but they stretch and loosen over time and rough water, so they are the wrong things to choose for tying things down on longer trips with wind or fast water. 
©  Arctic Toboggan July 29, 2010

How can I get my dogs to stop chewing on their harnesses?

Lots of early training when the dog is still a puppy is my prefered method, but if you have an older dog that gets very excited and chews out of excitement or frustration, then I like to use an old and reliable method.  It is really very simple, but not too popular these days because of the smell.  Just take an old harness and soak it for a day in kerosene.  Then put the harness on the chewing dog and take the dog for a walk.  Upon return from the walk, let the dog run around by itself in the exercise pen for a while, but keep an eye on it.  When the dog attempts to chew on the harness, the trainer should walk into it's line of sight but not directly toward the dog.  This interuption in the dog's thinking will give the kerosene taste time to work it's wonders.  Kerosene is quite unpaletable to a dog and is quite effective at deterring chewing.  The kerosene soaked harness should be left on the dog for a few supervised hours.  This process repeated a few times works wonders.  Just make certain that you do not bring the harness or dog close to the campfire. 

A side benefit is that a harness soaked in kerosene and allowed to dry, will not collect melted snow or freeze in the winter, but will remain plyable and comfortable for the dog. 
©  Arctic Toboggan July 16, 2010

With all the rain in the Prairies this year, how do you keep your electronic gear dry?

Anyone keeping an eye on the weather patterns throughout the Canadian Prairies this year will quickly take note of the more than average rainfall.  Towns are being flooded, people relocated, and highways shut down. 

The upside to all this rain is that the rivers are full to overflowing and there is plenty of room to get out paddling.  High water levels are times of great excitement for me.  Time to take a trip down memory lane and take an easy sojourn down the river.  I love reliving those Huckleberry days gone by where life was stress free and easy going.  Then “beep, beep, beep,…” nothing ruins the peaceful glory of a wilderness river like a cell phone chirping the latest chart topping caterwauling.  Although it is kind of funny when ten fishermen turn to cuss out the ignorant “city boy” who wasn’t clued in enough to turn his phone to vibrate only. 

These days, for safety reasons, most outdoors people do carry a few pieces of modern technical gadgetry.  The challenging part is keeping it dry and safe.  Myself, I use a variety of dry packs and watertight boxes.  Many people seem to like the Pelican boxes, but I have had them leak all too often.  They are guaranteed not to leak, but that guarantee does very little for you when you are stranded on an island somewhere because your satellite phone is drenched.  I find that the Plano boxes work just as good and better, and at a fraction of the cost. 

Dry bags from top of the line name brands may be nice to have for a status symbol, but in reality most high priced name brands work no better than the less expensive versions.  When ever I am tempted to purchase a more expensive name brand, I keep in mind the axiom, that the more I spend on status, the less I have to spend on fun.  But when I do find a good product, I stick with it no matter the cost.  But back to the question. 

I pack light when I head out on the river in the summer, or the trail during the winter.  I usually carry two bags, my main bag being an internal frame, ripstop cordura back pack where most of my gear is stored.  The second being a very small day pack, in which I have my camera, GPS, cell/sat phone, snacks, etc.  Both are lined with an inexpensive dry sacks that keep my gear completely dry, even if I am pushing my luck and dump in a storm, I can still fish out my packs and find everything dry. 

©  Arctic Toboggan July 5, 2010
Strait From the Dog's Mouth

"Always be a contributing member of the team.  Don’t just stand on the runners ... get off and run."
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