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Meet Jennifer Payne
Young Lady on the Move
Shiny_Red_Bar3103.gif (1372 bytes)

Name: Jennifer Payne
Kennel Name: Sundog Kennels
Home Town: Chugiak, Alaska

Update: 2/28/00

Congratulations, Jennier, on retiring the Orville Lake Memorial Trophy!

Jennifer didn't run the 2000 Women's World Championships due to an ankle injury in December that kept her off the runners for about 5 weeks, but she just retired the Orville Lake Memorial Trophy by winning the 8 dog class today after winning the 6 dog class in 1999 and the 3 dog class in 1998. 

To retire the trophy a musher must win the open class 3 times or win all three of the limited classes.   Jennifer ifs the 1st person to do this - and with the same lead dog (only 4 years old now) Fancy that was featured in the interview you did.  The rest of the 8 dog team was 2 year olds that ran the Women's World Championship last year as yearlings.   Details on the ASDRA web site.
s/Diane Payne


My mother, younger brother and I moved to the Chugiak area north of Anchorage, Alaska in 1983. We have a lot of "animal people" in my family, and we had always had at least one dog as I was growing up.

Just before we moved to Alaska, we lost our family dog that had been with us for 8 years. And, as luck would have it, we happened to move next door to a dog musher, Joe Cantil, who had a small kennel and did limited class sprint racing. It wasn't long before I was out riding in the sled when he was training his team.

Jennifer & Bullet
Jennifer & Bullet


My first race was in early 1984. I ran Joe’s team in a three-dog, two mile race at the Beach Lake Trails in Chugiak. Before I was even half way around, I crashed into a tree going around a corner. I was knocked off the sled and knocked out! The dogs went in without me, dragging a broken sled, and the race marshal came out on a snow machine to retrieve me. That’s all I remember about my first time behind a team!

Of course, being a young adventurer, I was hooked, and was soon asking mom if I could get my own sled dogs! I went to work at the age of 14 in a veterinary clinic after school to cover the costs of getting my own team. My first lead dog was "Birdie" a nine year old in poor health who just needed a good home; the other two dogs who made up my three dog team were "mutts" that were found homeless on the streets of Anchorage. Birdie had originally come from Lloyd Hessler, an old time dog driver who had run traplines and the Iditarod. She was well trained and loved to run. She taught me what a good dog could do, even though she was old and slow. She was also a great puppy trainer later.

During my years in Junior Mushing, I mostly ran three dog teams, because I only had three dogs! I was the Chugiak Jr. Club President through the 86-88 seasons, and worked hard to get more kids interest in junior mushing. My last two years in juniors, I was able to get a five dog team together. I have only run limited class sprint races, and am moving up to open class this year.

My kennel was named SUNDOG KENNELS after an inspirational pup. In 1987 we did our first kennel breeding. "Sundog" was the only pup to survive out of a litter of eight after their mother died during a C-section. All eight pups were hand fed from the beginning, but one by one we lost them. We had to give them intravenous fluids, tube them when they were too weak to suck, and do all the things a mother dog would do to stimulate them. After two weeks, Sundog was the only one who revived from the virus that killed his littermates. He was tiny and feisty, and had to be raised in a baby playpen in the house because he had an inadequate immune system. The first time he went into harness he screamed and resisted. Within a few runs, he was running lead with his father, and he stayed in lead for six years. He is still with us, but retired now because I have moved on to faster dogs!

Who have been your mentors?
I have been fortunate to learn from some of the best dog drivers in the world, I think. As a junior musher, I often sought advice from Jim Welch, who later wrote the Sprint Mushing Manual. I was never very shy about asking open class mushers why they did this or that, or how to get the dogs to do this or that. Jim was always willing to take time to explain things and talk through problems. He would also come to junior club meetings and talk to us about everything from dog care to sled handling. I am grateful for all the wisdom he shared, and the encouragement too. Two other people that influenced me a lot were Anchorage Race Marshals Dick Tozier and Jerry Tokar. Dick had a special way of offering encouragement and support, inspiring me to keep going with a limited budget and a limited kennel. Jerry is still the Race Marshall in Anchorage, and he has also been encouraging, supportive and challenges me to higher levels of achievement. A lot of other mushers, too many to name, have given me advice and encouragement along the way, and I appreciate all of them. The sense of camaraderie is one of the wonderful things about the mushing community!

Kennel Management

What size kennel do you operate?
Right now I have 25 dogs - 13 of which are yearlings or younger. I belong to the Alaska Sled Dog & Racing Association (Anchorage), Montana Creek Dog Mushers, Chugiak Dog Mushers, and the Tok Dog Mushers Association.

Give us an overview of your feeding program.
I feed First Mate High Performance dog food (I am the distributor for the Anchorage area too), Champaine Race Diet (meat) and a few other secret ingredients.

The Dogs

What breed(s) do you work with?
I have mostly Alaskan huskies and have recently added a German Shorthair Pointer cross and an English Pointer cross to my kennel.

What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
For physical characteristics, I look for high tucked waist, well proportioned dogs and I prefer long legged dogs with short coats.

What mental or emotional attributes do you require in your dogs?
In mental/emotional characteristics, I prefer enthusiastic, high energy dogs who are screaming and foaming at the mouth to run. But I have also rescued dogs that have been abused or abandoned and have rehabilitated them into happy racing sled dogs.

Tell us about an all time favorite dog or two.
I have three "favorite" dogs. Bullet is an Aurora husky (Attla and Gareth Wright bloodlines) - hard-working 10 year old lead dog who was born and raised in my kennel. He has been my main leader since 1992 and his father was my leader as a junior. He is all heart! He has tough feet, never gets sick, and always wants to run. He has never let me down, even in blinding blizzards. He was my single leader when I held the 3-dog track record in Anchorage for two years. He has trained many leaders that have the same drive and consistency that he does. He is still racing! He runs for some junior mushers that I also sponsor.

Fancy (left) & Josey (right)

Favorite number two is Josey. I bought her from a friend when she was 6 weeks old. She is a half-sister to "Sundog" (we sold her father to our friend). She was raised in the house with my pit bull, Teela, who I had rescued from the Animal Shelter. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if she wanted to be a sled dog or not because she is a great pet! She turned out to be a great lead dog too! One of the reasons she is so special is because she loves puppies, even though she has never had a litter herself. When it’s time to wean them from their mother, Josey takes over as "super-auntie" and plays, runs and wrestles with whole litters! She also teaches them boundaries and to respect adult dogs. She gets the credit for the fact that all my puppies respect and model the older dogs when it’s time for them to join the team. Even though she’s only 4 years old, she has already worked her magic on 25 pups. Sixteen of those pups are now racing in my kennel.

My three year old leader, Fancy, is another favorite. I raised her from birth and it’s hard to explain the kind of bond that Fancy and I have with each other that makes her so special. Bullet trained her, and I believe that some of the bond between Bullet and me was transferred to her. It is as if she knows she has to take his place. Since she started running, she has always been a hard-driving, hard-working mature dog. She is an awesome leader! Everyone who has seen her perform is amazed at her drive and consistency.


What criteria do you use for selecting breeding stock?
I think I have developed a sixth sense about selecting puppies, and I do my research. I look for good breeding stock, that means good conformations several generations back.

What is the most important thing you look for in a young pup?
I prefer dogs who are intelligent and even a little stubborn because they tend to be tougher-minded and have stronger heads. I look for puppies that are persistent and competitive when playing together in the yard. I like pups that are also independent of their littermates and attentive to people at an early age.

What method do you use for starting pups?
My pups get daily free exercise with Josey from the time they can walk. They are taught to come on command, to sit and shake, and they learn their names by the time they are 12 weeks old. I believe that learning something from the time they become mobile prepares them for training. The best pups I have raised have been very bonded to me from an early age. I always have my favorites, but I don’t decide who will make the team until they’ve had a variety of experiences in harness.


What is the training/racing philosophy of your kennel?

Do you have specific training goals for your team(s)?
My goal is to have the whole team performing as a synchronized unit.

What do you consider most important to accomplish in training?
I try to "set the dogs up" to succeed so training will be positive. For example, I try to know each individual dog well enough to put them in situations that they can handle so they can give me their best.

What is the most indispensable training equipment you use?
My most valuable training tool is what I call "benching". "Benching" is when a dog is taken to a training session but left hooked to the truck. Some reasons for "benching" would be fighting, goofing off in the team, or even resisting running. The dog is technically self-disciplined instead of me having to punish them. I have found that being left behind is humiliating for the dog and they are almost always ready to behave on the next training trip!


How do you choose which races to enter?
You asked how I decide what races to enter. I enter all the local races that I have gas money to get to provided the trails are in safe condition for me and the dogs!

There are a couple of very memorable race experiences that I think are worth sharing. In 1996, I went to Soldotna, Alaska to a two day race. On the first day I ended up in 6th place, and then a blizzard hit. The storm left at least 6 inches of new snow on the trail. It was like running in sand - all the other teams were crumbling. Bullet was in lead and his heart carried us to a win with a 3 minute lead over second place! The other one was the Paxon Tail Ender Puppy Race in April 1998. Josey and Fancy were in lead with 4 of Fancy’s puppies who were 10 months old. We passed six teams on the first day and were in second place. On the second day we won the race!

What are your strengths as a racer?
When I think about my strengths, I believe my greatest strength as a musher is that I know my dogs. Of the 25 dogs in my kennel, only 5 came to me as adults. All the rest I have raised. I think I am also good at preparing myself and my dogs to be confident and unaffected by the competition at races. Even though I like to win (who doesn’t), I focus on doing my best to have clean, injury-free runs and try not be too concerned about my competitors.

Do you have a mushing career goal?
My "career" goals vary each year depending on what I have in my kennel. This year my goal is to FINISH the Women’s World Championship - a 3 day race with 12 miles each day. This will be my first year entering open class racing, and I want it to be a positive experience for me and for my dogs!

What does it take to win?
However, I think to win any race, you have to have happy, healthy dogs (who are also fast!), no moose on the trail (moose have cost me 1st place more than once!) and most importantly - to believe in your dogs and yourself.

The Future

What is your vision of the future of sled dog sports?
It is important for the general public to know that sled dog racing is not inhumane! These dogs love to run and they get to do it a lot. Clubs and organizations play an important role in making sure that the public gets the right picture. These groups set standards for dog care, provide training information and mentoring for new mushers.

What part do clubs and organizations play in sport development?
Clubs and organizations also provide incentives for following good standards by providing trophies and points, or other prizes for racers. In Alaska, the clubs sponsor educational sessions for mushers to share their experiences and wisdom. It is important to promote an understanding of working dogs and their roles throughout history too. Were it not for these hard working huskies, for example, the Serum Run to Nome would never have happened, and the generations who relied on hunting and trapping for survival would not have succeeded. Clubs help the public respect dog mushers as well as the dogs as true athletes.

What advice would you give a beginning musher?
For someone considering getting into dog mushing, let me say one important thing: Dog mushing is addictive! Be prepared to sacrifice so you can fully benefit from the joys and pains (sometimes literally) of working with a dog team year round. Get lots of warm clothes, forget about those vacations in Hawaii, and be prepared to stay with it for several years so you can learn enough to be competitive! Most importantly, before you start, and always thereafter - ask lots of questions and listen to the veterans! Dog mushers are some of the most honest people I know when it comes to giving you all the ups and downs without hesitation!

Alaska Star Newspaper Article # 1

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