JEANETTE: Today’s guest is Tom Andres from Germany. He is doing sprint and middle distance. Can you tell us a bit about how everything started?
TOM: It started now 25 years ago with my first Siberian husky, which was a show dog. After school, I was of the opinion I needed to have a dog. I needed to have a friend beside myself, doing many sports. So I thought it was a good opportunity to have a dog. Of course, it had to be a Siberian husky. It was nice-looking, black and white, blue eyes. So I bought the first one. It was a kind of show dog, but with already a nice body for running.
Then I started to meet the first people out of the competition scene who compete in the sled dog sport. I was interested, and half a year later I had four dogs and bought the first running Siberian huskies and started to compete in the sport.
Two years later it was then 16 Siberian huskies, so I was the guy who was jumping up very fast with the amount of dogs – which brings also some problems, because you should grow inside. Especially a kind of dog like this, which has not always the best behavior and it’s hard to teach them because they have their own head, and it’s a strong head. But I managed it after a few mistakes and after a few years. From mistakes you can just learn.
JEANETTE: What kind of challenges did you face?
TOM: One of the big challenges perhaps was the collecting of good dogs out of different kennels. If you want to have a good start, you need to go to the best kennels. But every kennel wants to reduce the problem dogs, so I was the one who got the best fighters. This was a problem, but I think it was very good for the purse of the veterinarians because I was there many times in the first years.
But we managed to do it on the other side. These dogs’ heads, really strong heads, which the people who sold me the dogs can feel after the first two years, when I started winning the races against them with the dogs they sold because they had a problem with this dog. I managed to get this in a lane that it’s still working. The secret always was to have a small kennel and less dogs. Then you can manage it.
You have the chance to pick out of a big kennel with perhaps 40 race dogs, you can pick out the problem dog because you have only 10, not 12 dogs, and you have more time for each individual. It was possible to bring them in a way where there was a handlebar. This was the start.
I was into the Siberian husky scene 7 years, and then looked over the border to the people on the other side, which was much faster than we, and fell in love with the Alaskans and with the Hounds. To this time, I was one of the best Siberian husky drivers, so it was easy for me to find a good kennel who would take nearly all the time. We are still friends, so after more than 20 years now, we are still friends. He’s not competing anymore, but he bought my whole race team, so I know all the team stayed together. He had quite good success a few years later. It was easy for me to step from the Siberian huskies to the hounds because the kennel was empty after a few days.
To the time I was racing the Siberian huskies, I was also going to the championships, like the German championship, European championship, world championships. You are always proud of yourself when you win something like this. It was the chasing after medals, let’s say. When I changed to the European hounds, my opinion also changed a little bit. I started to know people who had a completely different opinion to this and a completely different way of leading their dogs.
JEANETTE: Can you specify that?
TOM: Especially let’s say one name. It’s Heini Winter who is still a hero for me and is still I think one of the best dog guys in the world. How to lead dogs and how to think about all the race. He says winning is always super fantastic, everybody wants to win, but there’s only one guy who can win, and there are many guys behind. But if these guys behind do not exist, then also the winner is not there. He said always he loves to win, but also second place or perhaps tenth place – or if you have to give up a race, it’s not neck breaking. It’s still something we can live with.
In the end, we cannot win anything. On one hand, perhaps a sponsor or something like this, but this is not important in life. Important in life is to have fun with the things we do. I always have a talk with him about this because I’m very – I still like to win, to be honest. I give a lot to still be in front of the races or win the races. But when I talked to him, he said, “Okay, this time you don’t win, but it was fun. It was the same fun we had in first place like we have now in fifth place.” And he’s right.
JEANETTE: Yeah, many people tend to forget this, even if they do any kind of dog sport. It’s easy to forget, why are you doing this?
TOM: Yeah. Always keep in mind that if you have 100 competitors, there is only one on the top. Mostly it’s the three same guys for many years. As long as they have a superstar dog because they had the luck to get one of these real superstars, perhaps 1 of 1,000 dogs, as long as they have this dog, in this small part of his age where he can bring 100% or 110% – this is perhaps from 1.5 years or 5 or 6 years, depending on his weight and his desire to go – as long as this is like this, it will be always the same people who are in front if they work on themselves also.
People should not forget that nobody starts as a champion. everybody starts because he finds a solution or he finds a sport to come out of his normal business, day life, to come home from work, and then I take my friend – in this case it’s my dog – and go for a run in the forest, or go just for a walk, or play with him. It’s always important to think about this, why we start with this, and that we do it not for us and have a machine in front.
Always be careful of this machine, because we are the guys who are responsible for them. They always want to give 100%. If we overdo it and we do not keep him back, it’s easy to destroy our partner.
JEANETTE: Do you see this often, that dogs might be pushed a bit too hard?
TOM: Pushing is one side. The other side is perhaps also the organization responsible for a race or for a competition. They should also be on this side and say, “okay, the athletes, everybody wants to win and we have a big competition, but we are responsible that we look for them,” like a teacher is looking for children.
I think this is missed many times. If you go to some competitions and you see the dogs coming in shaking because the weather was much too extreme for let’s say a 5k run, and instead of shortening the distance, they say “no, we don’t shorten it because this is a competition and the dogs need to do 5k” – but if you run as a human in 20 degrees and have to do the same distance in 35 degrees, it is a big, big difference.
Like I always say, if the electricity circuit, if a fuse burns, I can take it out and put in a new one. But if the fuse of a dog burns, you never have the chance to reduce this and to make a new fuse inside. This dog will never give 100% because out of collapse, the organism of dogs always learn to stop earlier, to not reach this point anymore. We are responsible for this. We say this is too much or not, and it’s not something to be ashamed of to stop the race.
When you are in a race – and I also did it on myself one time – I was in a race, and in the middle of the race the dog was not healthy, but I was thinking “perhaps they can do it and then we have a one day break.” It could be. After 20 kilometers I stopped the race and went on the side. All the teams passed, and I walked back with the dogs to the finish line, because I said “for me, it’s done, because the dogs are not in the best health.” This you always have to remember.
JEANETTE: How do you see that now it’s enough for the dog? This could be a bit difficult for people, maybe, to know when to stop.
TOM: If you have one dog, like the canicross scene now, or two dogs, I think it’s not very difficult to see it. If you have a team of four, six, eight, or twelve dogs, the important thing is this team can only be as good as…
JEANETTE: As the weakest one on the team.
TOM: Yeah, as the weakest dog of the team. This dog you have to keep in your eyes. If this dog comes to the border, then you know we have to be careful. If perhaps one of your best dogs starts shaking or gets a problem or falling or was not drinking enough before the run, so they get a problem with water in the body, then you really have to think about what to do. It’s always easy to take out speed or to give them a break.
Even in a long race, if you go like me in a middle distance race for 45 kilometers, it’s not a problem to stop for 30 seconds or 1 minute. Give the dogs a snack. Let them perhaps go into the snow and eat some snow to get water back. Because if you lose the race in this 30 seconds, then from the beginning there was no possibility to win it.
Always be smart with this, because the dog you ruin in this day will not run the next day. If you see before that the dogs perhaps are not in the best condition, leave them at home. You win a race with the dog in the car, but with the dog in the team which is not possible to make what you have to do this day. The canicross people, I just can say be careful with this hot weather. The climate is changing so much at the moment, which we can see in the last 10 years in this sport. It’s getting warmer and warmer.
JEANETTE: And you actually have proof of this, because you have been tracking your training throughout the years with temperatures and everything.
TOM: In the beginning I was really tracking the trainings with temperature, humidity, how long was the distance, was the ground frozen or was it muddy or raining, whatever, and who was the best dog and who was not so good. I don’t do this now because now I’m training more out of feeling. But at the beginning I say it’s good for everybody who starts with this sport to do something like this, because you can learn a lot out of your mistakes. This is very important.
Let’s say if I see the training tracking 20 years ago, we had minus degrees going in September, and now I’m very lucky if I have minus degrees training in the beginning of December. This changed really a lot. Also, the snow conditions changed a lot, which we can see with the paws. When we started I never used booties because we nearly have always perfect snow. But now, the snow is melting, then freezing again, then it’s raining, then it’s snowing, then it’s freezing again. So take care of the paws because the paws are the things the dogs need for running. The use of booties and paw care cream gets more important, I think, in our bad conditions.
Mostly when I’m on the tracks, they are not perfect anymore, which has nothing to do with that people don’t work on the tracks. They do always the best out of the conditions they have.
JEANETTE: I interrupted you a bit. You started talking about the canicross people and what they have to be aware of.
TOM: The people should know that sometimes it’s better to lose a race or to stop a race, because there will be a next one next week or in two weeks and say, “I don’t give a shit about this weekend. I know my dog has a problem with the heat.”
It’s also individual. Every dog has a problem. There are existing dogs which have no problem, and if you see when the temperature is getting really complicated, around 15 degrees – which I think is already much too high; never touch a dog when it’s over 10 degrees – if you see this, look at the race and think, how could it be that the people who were only tenth place are now winning? This is especially because they have the dog which was not pulling so much all the time, which do not give 100%, always running 90%. But because of this, they don’t have a problem with the heat because they don’t pull so strong, so they don’t overheat so fast.
Also, let’s say you can steer it a little bit with breeding, that you take dogs which have less problems with hot weather. But some people say “breed the perfect dog for this,” but this is not existing. Every dog has a problem with hot weather, or if they have diarrhea, then you cannot say “I have to breed that the dog can run with diarrhea also, perfect.” The super mushers try to tell this to the people, but it’s not the truth.
Every creation on this planet has a limit. You can breed as long as you want; you cannot overstep this limit. Sometimes you have perhaps one individual who is the super superman, but this is very, very close.
The problem in the scene with less dogs, let’s say when the #1 in the four-dog class breeds with #2 in the four-dog class, it will not come out #1 for the six-dog class or for the eight-dog class, because the best dogs for this class were perhaps a little bit limited. They are limited in the distance because of the hard going or because of their big buddies. Mostly, the siblings or the offspring out of this combination has a limit which is even closer.
What we see now is that it’s going steps back. Especially in the middle distance – because the market at the moment for many dogs exists. You have breeders who want to fill this market and earn some money. It is like a business. But be careful of buying too many dogs of these self-called “gods of breeding.” They breed because they know they can sell the dogs. If I have about five or six females in the kennel and breed all six females, this has nothing to do with breeding. You breed your best dog to perhaps the best dog out of the kennel in front of you, or perhaps the one who’s next to you.
But this breeding only in their own kennel to have less expense, but a lot of benefit out of it because the market is there. That’s my opinion, it’s not the best. You can see if you open, for example, the social media, you can see puppies – they have much too much puppies. Always take care of where you buy your dogs and what you buy, not to breed diseases. More and more, I hear that dogs start to get problems with epilepsy or heart problems, and they have problems. They die in training from one step to the next because of a heart attack. Their heart stops working in one to the next minute.
A lot of times it’s a breeding thing because the dogs get more and more limited, and people don’t look for these diseases. They say “I have a champion. He has a problem, but he’s a champion.” The disease problem doesn’t matter, even if dies at six years because of epileptic problem, but he made 100 superstars. But from these 100 superstars, 50 will have the same problem. The breeding at the moment is coming in a direction which I think is not really good.
JEANETTE: What do you recommend puppy buyers to look for and to be aware of when they’re searching for a new puppy?
TOM: You do not always have the possibility to buy from the best guys, because mostly the best breeders or the best mushers or athletes have nest litters. It’s also a reason, because they do not spend so much time on this or they do not need the benefit out of a litter or the money out of a litter. So if you buy a dog, do not make a fast shoot. It’s better to wait one more year and buy really the thing you want to have instead of saying “I want to have a puppy out of this litter but it was only five puppies, so I have nothing now. Then I go somewhere else.” Perhaps wait one more year or find another solution or share a dog with a friend. Sometimes this could be a good thing to create a team. It’s hard to say or to find the best way for this.
JEANETTE: For you, when you are looking for a new dog or when you are breeding, what’s a good dog in your eyes?
TOM: For me it’s not so easy to buy a good dog. Perhaps that sounds a little bit strange, but most of the time when I buy a dog, the dog is not able to run in the team. The team has a real high standard, and if I want to let’s say replace an older dog or a dog which was falling out of the team, 90% I have to breed my own dog for this. I have perhaps a special line or a special kind of dog. We are two to three people with the same breeding.
It’s really like this, that dogs from outside don’t fit in this structure because the behavior of our dogs is nearly the same. Only if the behavior is the same you can work with the dog in the same way. If you have 10 or 12 dogs and with 11 you can do the work you are used to and with one you have to do special work, it’s mostly that this one doesn’t fit. In the end, he will never fit.
So for me it’s quite hard. Sometimes we can manage this or we try to get a dog from USA to us, out of the best kennel, perhaps out of the stripper kennels. We bought two dogs in the last year and tried how they fit in our team. But with them we also have the problem that the first year they are normally not the best because all the terrain and the surroundings and the training and the leading of the dog and of the pack is completely different from USA to us.
They have kennels with 200 or 300 dogs, and then this is one individual, and he comes into a kennel with 12 or 16 dogs. Now he has to run into the mountains and pull like hell, and there they are running with floppy lines. It’s two different worlds. If we sell a dog abroad, they have the same problems. They have to teach the dog not to pull too hard. We have the opposite way. We have to teach the dog, now you have to pull.
This can make a big difference. There, it was a superstar. When it comes to us, it’s a normal team dog because he never learned to pull so hard. It makes a big difference that in the USA he can run 60 kilometers no problem, and when he comes to us, after 30 kilometers with pulling, he is finished. But this is something you never know before.
JEANETTE: Your team is quite a team. I’ve seen some videos on YouTube of free running sled dogs, and that’s your dogs.
TOM: Yeah, that’s my dogs. We are a few people who teach the dogs to be like this. Perhaps it’s also kind of our success. All this I learned from the master of leading, from Heine Winter, how to teach a dog to run free in a group and not try to bite any other dog or to hunt deer or a rabbit or whatever. It’s a hard way to bring all the pack to this point, but you get a really big benefit out of it.
The secret for this, that you can do this, is to have really a small kennel. If you see other kennels run open class middle distance or open class sprint, they do not have 12 dogs like we have. At the moment I have only a 10 dog group, which mostly is still enough to win the races. But they have 20, 30 dogs. They never have the chance or the possibility to teach the dogs in the same way. The group has to be small because you are only as strong as your weakest dog. If you have a dog who is not listening, then you have not one dog who is running away; you have five or six, and you stay there with the other six.
So it’s a kind of way of living we have with the dogs. The free running that you can go wherever you want with the dogs, and also at the stakeouts, we never use stakeouts or something like this. Of course, because of the rules now, we put fences around the car. But still, our dogs can run free and we do not have to leave the stakeout.
It’s really a way of living, and it’s to give the dogs free space. This starts very early. We start with the dogs perhaps with 8 weeks, really to teach them to listen. Perhaps around 12 weeks to go by foot, to go very close with the line, of course. We have to slip long lines behind them. It’s not a secret, but it’s one reason why we have the success we have.
For example, we go for between 500 and 1,500 – depends on the weather; I don’t like the rain – kilometers with the bicycle only in summer with free running dogs. I think this is a big step in front if you can do this instead of the dogs staying in the kennel the whole summer or just have free running. Because when the dogs come out of the kennel, they run for 2 minutes and then they start digging a hole or eating grass or doing something like this. They never run around for 2 hours. They should do this.
But if you go in front with the bicycle or you do something and they’re running free – and also the temperature is not a problem. If you have water, you can do this to really hot temperatures. It’s not a problem. If you have a lake or a small river where they can jump inside, it’s good because they don’t have to pull something. They have to free run. This I teach them a lot.
Some years you are better; some years it’s a little bit worse because you have less time. Like now we’re working a lot, so I reduced the dogs a little bit more to still have a pack I can lead and that they listen to me. But I always say, a dog learns to love you, and he respects you. A dog wants to be led. He always follows the leader. In a pack of let’s say 12 dogs, you have to be this. There will always be one of the dogs who tries to get this position from you, so teach him not to get it. Even if it is sometimes hard. I always say it’s better to be one time really strict on a dog instead of say for all their life, 10 times a day, “No, no, no, don’t do it, no.”
JEANETTE: Also consistency, to be consistent all the time, not let the dog get away with cheating every now and then.
TOM: You have to be consistent. Every day. If you give him one day one finger, the next day he wants the second one. A dog is a small child. He always wants to know this border and always tries to come over this border and get one step more and one step more. Sometimes it is like in a company. You get blind of your own work. Sometimes you need somebody from outside to say “since when is your dog allowed to do this?” Then you think, perhaps this is the problem I have at the moment. It’s not working like it was working before. Then you control this again, and it’s perfect.
But you never know, because in small steps, you unlearn things yourself. You have to have a focus on this. Really being strict – it’s not necessary, like I see sometimes, to kick a dog or something like this.
There is one thing which you need to get really hard, and this is fighting, because if the dogs learn how to fight, the problem is if they fight many times, it gets more and more. The dynamic in the group can be very dangerous then for a single individual in the group. Because if they find out the dog with less power in the group, it could be that they really try to kill a dog in a group like this.
You have the dogs free when you work with them. So even if two have a bad relationship and you’re playing with a ball and exactly these two were at the same time at the ball and perhaps start or want to start to have a fight, they should listen to you. If I say “no” and I run to them, they exactly know now it’s better to go apart from each other, and they really go. But I take both to me and put both on the ground, because if I say “it’s okay now” because they stopped, next time they’ll stop one second later, next time 10 seconds later, and then they don’t stop.
Then you have a problem with the other ones around who join the fight or not join it. If you do it in the way we do it, like me, and the dogs are many times in groups – not in the kennel – and when you have no eye on them and they’re in small groups of two or three dogs and you’re out with the bicycle or going for a walk, it’s really important that the dogs have nice behavior to each other. Then you’ll also have no problems in the race to other teams.
JEANETTE: Yeah, because I’ve also seen on YouTube bicycling with a pack of dogs, and you meet another dog that’s coming towards you, barking, being a bit crazy towards your dogs. But they do not react.
TOM: It’s hard to teach, but if I have one dog who reacts when we meet a small barking dog, there’s a little bit of danger inside. Because if one reacts, and then two or three or four react. This I do not want to have, so I give some direction. It’s enough if you have a grasp and show them the direction, so they have to go on the left side of the bicycle or they have to go on the right side, and we pass.
People always think it’s good to pass fast because if you have a bad situation, it’s good to be fast away. But this is completely different. Go slow and under control. If you go fast, then the dogs exactly feel in this moment “ah, he’s afraid of something.” Your adrenaline is going up. Show them you have control, and you can go slow because then you have more control than when you are fast. This is the same when you go for a walk.
It’s not a problem, for example, if I go with the bicycle and a woman is coming with a small child, I leave the way. It’s not necessary to meet somebody who is perhaps afraid or afraid for the child and is not used to a pack of 12 dogs. You know the guys who say “my dog is doing nothing”? Everybody says this. But this is 12 dogs, and if I’m bicycling 10 or 12 kilometers or 20 kilometers, it doesn’t depend if I turn around and go 2 kilometers more or less.
Always look for your surroundings, because we are the crazy guys. People are not used to this. You have to go a step back when you meet a horse or anything. Even I the horse rider says, “my horse is used to dogs,” yeah, perhaps to one or two. But this is too many. So I turn around and go, or the horse rider turns around and goes. Always expect that you have to go by the side, because you never know how they’ll react.
In this case, avoid bad situations. But in other ways, it’s also do not avoid them. Look for situations and teach the dogs how to work with this. If I’m outside and come to a situation which I’ve never had before, it’s hard to tell the dogs how they should react or how they should behave if this was never before. So don’t only avoid everything. Sometimes teach them how to do it.
JEANETTE: If you meet a challenge and the dogs fail, what do you do?
TOM: Try to learn out of it. It’s never 100% when you work with an animal. You have to be sure that you don’t have a dog with you who only has the idea to kill a rabbit or the farmer’s chickens or something like this. This dog has to stay at home, or it’s not good for your team.
But if one of your dog goes to another dog or something like this, the most important is to react in this moment. The thing is, many people then start screaming, but for the other people then it looks more like “He has no control. He has to shout at this dog because it’s coming, so perhaps this dog wants to eat my dog.” Then they do the total mistake and lift up their dog and hold it over their head. So, wow, more interested.
JEANETTE: By screaming and freaking out, you create a chain reaction that will not end good.
TOM: Mostly not. Try to keep control. Even if this dog is going, pass with the other dog and then call him. But then show him this is not allowed. Sometimes it helps if this dog is perhaps not allowed to join the pack anymore. This I keep up through the whole distance we go, and he is not allowed to come closer than 50 meters or 100 meters. The next day he will not do it, because for him this is a really hard situation because he wants to come back. Keep his mistake high.
If I see perhaps in races that if dogs are passing, if teams are passing, and other dogs are biting into the teams, for me this is really not understandable. Why don’t people stop and correct their dogs? They say, “Yeah, but how can I teach this at home?” You do not have to teach this at home, because you are always training alone. But if you do it in a race and stop – “But it is a race.” Of course, this time it’s a race, but if you cannot control your team, then use this for controlling your team. Use it then for teaching your dog.
Because if I pass you and your dog bites my leader, it could be that my dog is so afraid that he never passes a team again. This has nothing to do with a strong head because this passing at high speed and then a bite can be really bad ones. The teeth come and make normally a small hole, but then it hangs in and makes a 20 centimeter scratch. We often see this. This is one kind of behavior. You as a musher or as a dog owner are responsible, even if it isn’t a race. Stop and control your dog, and correct your dog.
JEANETTE: Then we are back to consistency again.
TOM: Yes. There were many, many discussions of mass starts in the four-dog class or in the sprint classes, or “they did so bad with the dogs biting,” blah, blah, blah. If you see our big competitions like Norway Trial or AlpenTrail, we have 40 teams with eight dogs on the team and have mass starts and we don’t have this problem. It doesn’t exist.
So why there is it working and with four dogs it’s not working, or with only one dog it’s not working? Because then you have the canicrosses and they say start and one of the canicross dogs bites into the calf of one of the runners. It’s not possible. To say “because he wants to run” – no, because you have no control.
These are small steps, and I think very easy to control. Even if you lose the race, then you lose it. It’s better to lose the race but not have this problem anymore for the next years.
JEANETTE: Then you win in the long run.
TOM: Yeah. This is much more important to win in the long run instead of winning this race, because how nice could it be to stand on the podium and say, “I won the race but I destroyed one complete team for somebody else, because his dog will perhaps never pass”? Reactions like this we see many times, and we cannot understand why people don’t correct the dogs when they have the chance to do it.
The chance you have only perhaps in the training camp where many people are, and if you know “I have a dog which has this problem,” if you have perhaps a head on passing and it’s very close, very narrow, and you know one of your dogs could bite there, stop. Exactly stand to this dog, let the other one pass, and if this dog just looks over at it, correct him.
This is the way it should be. The problems we have with the dogs who have this bad behavior to bite others, even humans in races, or bicyclers – I saw many things like this – this is not good. We are in the focus of the media, and we want to be more in the focus of media and want to have television and sponsors and everything. It’s not good if somebody’s coming in and has an open calf or another dog gets bit really hard because the emotions are cooking, and mostly they explode when they cross the finish line. There are the most people watching. This is not good for us at all. Or you have videos that in a mass start, two teams start fighting with each other.
So try to get this under control, and if you don’t have this control, it’s better if you have less dogs. Then you have perhaps more time to control your dogs. I think a big secret is never have more dogs than you are possible to control. This is really a big thing. People are overdoing themselves. Some people have the potential to lead 20 dogs or perhaps more and have enough help or have enough time, and others think they have, but in real life, just one dog is enough. It is like this.
But I don’t think I will change this. [laughs] You can just show up or tell the people so they start to learn out of these situations, and perhaps think about “perhaps now I made the mistake and not the others.” It’s always easy to say “but it was his dog who was showing to my dog and looking at my dog, and my dog was afraid and then he bit.” Stupid.
JEANETTE: Nice to have some excuses.
TOM: Yes, nice to have some excuses. The leading of dogs or how to teach dogs is a book with many, many rules, but with more exceptions. You never find a book where it says “Here are 100 rules. If you follow these 100 rules, you have the perfect dog.” No, there are perhaps 30 rules which don’t work on your dog. This will never end. You never end learning.
I’ve done it 25 years now and I learn every year to do something better or to see, “hmm, I was thinking in the last 10 years what I was doing was super perfect, and now I learned this was not.” Even if I succeed, it could be better. Never stop learning. This is something which I can tell everybody. Even if you think you are the best, you aren’t. There will be somebody who will be better.
And it’s not only the winning. Who will be better, perhaps, in walking around? When I learned to walk around with the dogs, I saw one girl had six Siberian huskies. Everybody said it’s not possible to have them free running, and she was walking through the stakeout and the dogs were just looking at her and were so nice. I thought, that’s crazy. How to do this? How to teach this to my dogs? Then I was looking for the people who can do this and started to learn. It’s a never-ending story.
JEANETTE: Where do you find your inspiration today? Do you actively seek inspiration from other people, or does it just come by accidentally?
TOM: After 25 years, it’s hard to be inspired all the time. Sometimes you lose the inspiration. Sometimes you say, “perhaps it’s enough now and stop competing, or should I keep on running with dogs?” It was not the first time that I was thinking I’ll stop now with the competing sports. I have less dogs now, and when they are too old we’ll stop completely.
I think you reach this point many times in your life, if perhaps your job is changing or from one day to the next, you have problems with a neighbor who was living there 20 years and says “your dogs are barking, they have barked for 20 years.”
So it’s hard. It’s hard to keep on running, but always think about why you are doing it. What comes out for you? It’s not only the races. It’s the whole year work on a dog, which is really exciting to do. It’s like growing up children. Every day is something new. If you think the same for dogs, then it keeps on running. But if you say “I saw everything and I did everything,” then perhaps look for something new.
Always think of your work as a life creation. It’s not a snowboard where you can say “winter is gone, it stays in the corner and I’ll pick it up next year.” You have to do it every day. This is something you have to remember. Always try to give the best to your dogs. If you say “I do not have enough money to buy the best food or feed them the last 10 years,” it’s better to reduce the team. To give the same I gave before to my dogs, but I do not have perhaps 500 euros now to spend every month for food and for equipment I need; I have only 300. Then don’t try for an eight-dog team. Do six dogs, or look for a partner, make a dual, which is very popular now.
The people I work with together, we’ve known each other many years. They’re getting older, we’re getting older. We say, okay, there is also a life between the dog lives. Perhaps it’s good to make a team and share a kennel, and this is getting more and more popular. But you need to have the same way of living. I cannot work with somebody where the dogs are only on the stakeout or who has no idea of how to teach dogs free running. To keep this up, you need to have the same experience and the same way of living. Then it is a very good thing to share a team.
JEANETTE: It sounds like you’re talking about how to build a dog team, but obviously it’s the same for people to be on the same level.
TOM: It’s exactly the same.
JEANETTE: Is it hard to find the right partner?
TOM: Yes, I think so. It’s not so easy. But you have to try. If it’s not a fit, then quit. Don’t try it too long. It’s better to say goodbye and still be friends instead of trying it so long that you’re building a problem out of it and you never look to each other. This is the way it runs. If you have a business, if you have a job and you have to work with somebody and it’s really not working together, then talk before it explodes. It’s like a relationship. A relationship is work for all your life. It’s not everything coming from its own.
JEANETTE: If you had to do a major change and start with a different dog sport, what would it be?
TOM: I would not do the Frisbee sports or something like this. [laughs]
JEANETTE: Why not?
TOM: I don’t know. It’s nice, but – it’s hard. I do not know if I would change. Every sport you do with a dog is something good. A dog wants to move. A dog does not want to lie on the sofa. It doesn’t matter which size the dog is. The smallest dog also likes to run. They have four feet from nature, so let them run.
Like I said, it doesn’t depend on this. Just look for your dog should not be too fat or not be too skinny, and then your dog is happy if it can run around. If it is a chihuahua or something like this, they like to run. And they like to bark. It’s their life. It’s their way of life.
I think we have so many sports, but I have not thought about what to do if I stopped with sled dog sports, what else I can do. It was a good question. I don’t know. [laughs]
JEANETTE: As long as you’re doing something with dogs, you’re happy?
TOM: Yeah. Perhaps there are also other things you can do. I don’t know if it has to be a dog, but after living together with dogs 25 years and growing up as a small child with two Shepherds from my grandfather and his brother – they have two Shepherds and I grew up with them, so I’m used to dogs since the beginning of my life. We are a little bit addicted to this, and to being outside and to doing something. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s hard work, especially for me. I don’t like rain. [laughs]
JEANETTE: You dislike it that much? You mentioned it several times now.
[laughs] TOM: Yeah, I dislike it, really.
JEANETTE: You should be glad you’re not living in Norway, then.
TOM: [laughs] Yeah. I always try to do the best for my dogs. Not the best for me, to do the best for the dogs. Feeding the best, or try to feed the best. Everybody has a different opinion, of course. The one has a completely different opinion to the guys who are feeding dry food. But there are many ways of living and there are many ways to success or to get a healthy dog. Not everything is the devil beside. I think this is really important. I try to follow this.
Now we have a small child. She will soon turn two years of age, and we already can see that there will be somebody behind me who will love the dogs also. Also my girlfriend, she is in the dog sports, so I think our daughter will be the same. She has nearly no chance. She loves the puppies and she loves the dogs, and already she doesn’t my real name, but the dogs’ names. She knows I’m Daddy, but she knows who is Trixie and who is Mas, and she can already say. She runs out the door and runs to the kennel and goes to the dogs.
JEANETTE: Do you think it’s important for a child to love animals the way you did? What did it mean to you?
TOM: It’s really important for any child to grow up with animals. I cannot imagine how it is to grow up in really big cities without any animals. We’re living outside the city, so we have cows, we have cats, birds. She likes everything. You see the eyes of a child working with an animal or touching an animal or even giving an animal a kiss – it’s crazy. I think the way we live and our way of living, especially in the company I work, in Non-stop, you can see how much it brings into your life to have not only a human partner, but also to have an animal partner. It has to be always a dog.
I think children should grow up to get used to animals. Also, you can teach them a lot of how to respect nature. When you go to big cities and ask where the milk comes from, they say out of the Tetra Pak. They don’t know it, because they have no idea and no interest. This is something I don’t think is a good way. But there are always two worlds. For me, it’s important that children grow up with dogs.
But also, be careful there. Children are small, and it’s still animals. Always take an eye on it. Never say “she knows how to do the dogs and my dogs never will do something.” It’s the same – cows are always nice, but what if your child is in the middle of a field with 10 cows?
So always take an eye on your children when they’re working with animals and teach them how nice a life with animals can be, not being afraid, “an animal is a dirty thing” or “this animal has hair, and perhaps I can get a bad disease or allergy” or something like this. Where does it come from? Because they never get used to dirt or to the animal fat or hair. It is like this. Then the allergies start or the diseases start.
This is something of our environment. The air pollution and everything getting so much worse, I think the allergies also – the whole production of our food and everything is fast and has to be finished, and I think there are so many families or people who don’t even cook anymore. They have a microwave or something like this.
There’s also a difference between the people who have animals and the people who don’t have them. They have the fast life, everything has to go fast, fast, fast, and business and career – and our life on the other side, out in the nature, go for a run. I’m not a runner, but many people go for a run, and working in different parts of life.
JEANETTE: That’s a nice way to end it. Thank you so much for coming.
TOM: You are welcome.