Is he a wheel dog or a strike hound? This versatile New England canine loves both of his jobs. In the hunt season, Old North Bridge Hounds Chipotle 2012 (Chip to his friends) is out with his buddies in the pack, doing his day job as a foxhound for the draghunt based in historic Concord, Massachusetts. However, in the off-season, he doesn’t curl up in the kennel and watch the snow fall. He dons his harness and takes on his other occupation, pulling a dog sled.
Despite the stereotype, not all sled dogs are huskies. Many breeds are happy to do it. However, foxhounds who are suitable for this are rare, and those that take to it with enthusiasm are rarer yet. Old North Bridge’s kennelman, Meg Mizzoni, tried many other hounds in harness before she found her boy. An enthusiastic musher and president of the New England Sled Dog Club, Meg competes extensively and trains continually, using a 4x4 to exercise the dogs when Father Winter does not cooperate with snow cover for the sled.
Like foxhunting, sledding has its own terminology. We all know what a strike hound is, but a lead dog? A swing dog? A wheel dog? The lead dogs are in the front of the team and hark to the cry of ‘gee’ or ‘haw’ (for left or right). The swing dogs, directly behind, pull the team around in a smooth arc. The wheel dogs, immediately in front of the of the sled, are hefty and strong, and take up the bulk of the load. The musher has neither whip nor horn and must control the team by voice alone.
Chip is often a wheel dog and throws himself wholeheartedly into his harness. When running hard, he gives voice enthusiastically. Old North Bridge MFH and huntsman, Ginny Zukatynski, says that Chip is the same good team player in the hunt field, and his progeny are doing well also. Like many northern packs, Old North Bridge concludes its season after Thanksgiving, with a short spring season in April into May. This creates a challenge to keep hounds exercised through the cold, snowy months. Zukatynski heartily recommends cross-training for keeping hounds happy through the long New England winter.