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Great dogs in the Dane - The sledging dogs of Swettenham

PUBLISHED: 17:08 22 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:20 20 February 2013

Toby’s wife Suzanne training the team in Swettenham

Toby’s wife Suzanne training the team in Swettenham

Mush, mush is the strange and unexpected sound you may hear in the village of Swettenham these days PHOTOGRAPHY BY SARA WALKER

Mush! Mush! In the quiet country lanes of Swettenham, the sound is incongruous in the extreme. Nestled in the heart of the Dane Valley, the traditional Cheshire village is best known for its daffodils, pretty Norman church and arboretum. However, this year ramblers may get more than they bargained for with a chance meeting with a team of working sled dogs.

Swettenham resident Toby Young has a team of three purebred Greenland dogs, husky-type dogs native to Greenland and Arctic Canada. Also called Canadian Inuits, they are extremely rare in the UK, and Tobys two dogs and one bitch are part of only 100 in the whole country. These three Cheshire dogs are also unique in the UK as every winter they travel to Norway for four months to work as sled dogs in Tobys adventure holiday business.

After a lifetime of interest in dog sledding, Tobys passion for the breed peaked in 2005 when he accompanied an American expedition to the geographic north pole. He then went on to spend six months working for Americas leading dog sled company before buying his own dogs. His current team is made up of Keiko, an eight-year-old dog, and Tundra, a seven-year-old bitch both bought ready-trained from Norway. The most recent addition is Loki, a huge black and white two-year-old that Toby bought as a puppy and trained himself.

Although aptly named after the Norse god of mischief, Loki has settled well into the team and works happily alongside the more experienced dogs. The strongest of the three, he acts as wheel dog in the team, running closest to the vehicle and providing strength and stamina. Keiko and Tundra are lead dogs, running at the front of the team and setting the pace.

Part of the reason that there are so few Greenland dogs in the UK is that they are not well-adapted to life as pets. Highly intelligent and pack-orientated, the dogs have strong personalities combined with huge physical strength. Extremely hardy, they are used on all polar expeditions due to their ability to survive in temperatures of up to minus 60 degrees centigrade. As their digestive system is so primitive, they require a diet abnormally high in fat which Toby imports from Norway.

In the UK Keiko, Tundra and Loki are kept outside all the year round in specially constructed pens. Bred to live in extreme temperatures, the dogs have dual layer coats of guard hair over a downy undercoat which they shed in the heat. As the temperature rises, the dogs become more sedate.

The dogs are exercised at least every other day, either as a team in a wheeled exercise road carts or individually. Born to pull, they are difficult to walk conventionally on a lead and Toby uses a waist harness with a 25 metre rope to prevent himself from being pulled over!

After spending the spring and summer in the comparatively warm environment of Cheshire, Toby and his dogs undertake the three day road trip to Norway, where they spend the winter and where the sledding holiday business is based. Tobys own three dogs take their place amongst 16 other dogs pulling dog sleds, driven by apprentice mushers.

Toby is also hoping to breed his first litter this year from Keiko and Tundra. Only a handful of British puppies are bred each year, and the birth of a litter from true working parents will be particularly unusual.

Most of these Cheshire puppies will go on to join their parents as working sled dogs on the team, continuing to bring a touch of the Norwegian snowfields to sleepy Swettenham.

For more information on Kavanagh Young Adventure Holidays,
visit www.kavanaghyoung.com.


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