Sled Dog Central Your on-line sled dog advertising & information source!
Sled Dog Central Home Page Current Classifieds Advertise on SDC Race Info Search Site Index Contact Us

SDC Tallk!
Discussion Forum

Place Your
Classified Here

Dogs that Do It
Fun Photos

Become a Mentor
Find a Mentor

Start here..

Buy online

(Buy a Round
  of Kibble)

Fun Photos
Trail Groomers
Product Reviews
Truck Photos

Classified Ads
Site Index
What's New

Clubs & Orgs
Dog Food
Dog Software
Equip & Supplies
Equip: Sleds
Mushing Sites
Race Sites
Rides & Tours
Sled Dog Schools
Video Links
Yukon Quest
Add your link

Beginners Page
Books & Videos
Kennel Tips
Headline News
Check it out
Seminars &

SDC Talk!

Check it out Race Schedules
Race Results
Race Web Sites

List Your Race

Training Trails

Fun Photos
Today's Smile
Dude Dog

About SDC
Advertise on SDC
Contact Us
Privacy Policy

Meet Sprint Musher Sherri Pristash!

Name: Sherri A. PristashSherri Pristash
Kennel Name: None yet!
Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii
Home Town: Fairbanks, Alaska
Occupation: Publications sales at Alaska Sea Grant Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks

I grew up in Hawaii, training and showing horses. I came to Alaska to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks and received a BS in Biology. After spending summers riding horses here, I realized this isn't really horse country. So what to do to satisfy my love of animals? I started running sprint dogs! It's really the fault of friends and now husband, Robert. They all got me hooked. Robert and I have a kennel of over 30 dogs, which is a cooperative venture between Robert and I--all decisions are mutual. We race the Alaska Dog Mushers races in Fairbanks and have traveled to Montana Creek, Anchorage, Tok and Paxson for sprint races there. I am an active member of the Alaska Dog Mushers Assn., being Secretary on the Board of Governors and the symposium planning committee. When I'm not working or running dogs, I love to garden and go fishing.


What is your primary sled dog activity or area of interest?
8-dog and 10-dog sprint races.

How long have you been involved with sled dogs?
We got our first dogs in 1987, started racing 6-dog in 1990.

What sparked your initial interest in sled dogs?
My husband did some recreational mushing and my college buddy, Bonnie Borba, ran limited class sprints. Robert and I would run dogs with her on the weekends, taking our German Shepherd along to plug into a slower team.

If you remember your very first time behind a team of dogs, tell us about it.
My first time behind dogs was a thrill and a spill. I was behind a friend's 3-dog team and wiped out around the first corner. But I hung on and didn't lose the team!

Kennel Management:

What size kennel do you operate?
We usually have between 30 and 38 dogs. That includes old dogs, puppies, young dogs and, of course, the racing adults.

Give us an overview of your feeding program.
We feed Annamaet brand dry food, raw meats and corn oil. Annamaet is an excellent dry food source and some successful mushers feed strictly Annamaet. We like to feed a perishable race mix with raw beef, chicken, liver, and cooked eggs. We feed meat to the dogs throughout the entire year, just less of it in the summer.

What advice would you give a beginning musher?
Get the best dogs you can, some experienced leaders, take excellent care of the dogs and gain their trust, and find a mentor. Good dogs will teach you a lot, and won't cause you some of the frustrations often associated with poor dogs. Experienced leaders will teach your future leaders and maybe keep you out of trouble. Take excellent care of the dogs, which they deserve, and will keep them in good health and allow them to perform at their best. You'll gain trust in each other with lots of time spent together -- even going for walks in the summer is good. And if you can find a mentor, you'll learn a LOT! Keep your ears open and your mouth shut, I've been told, and it will pay off. I can't thank Harvey Drake and Linda Leonard enough for the encouragement and guidance they've given us.

Summarize your basic kennel management style.
We limit the number of dogs to what we can take care of ourselves, without requiring a handler or kennel help. We like to breed a couple of litters every year and raise the pups; the goal is for a high success rate, meaning a large number of the pups making the race team as adults.

The Dogs:

What breed(s) do you work with?
Alaskan huskies. We have primarily line bred Drake/Leonard dogs and a few D/L crossed with George Attla, Gareth Wright or other stock.

What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
Overall balance and proportion are very important. I also like long dogs more than tall ones. I like to see a long back; long, sloping croup (point of hip to base of tail); sloping shoulders; and a long neck. Legs should be pretty straight when viewed from the front or behind, but a slight toe out in front or slight "cow hock" in the hind is OK.

What mental or emotional attributes do you require in your dogs?
The dogs have to have a lot of natural drive. Ours tend to be pretty nuts to go, even by sprint mushing standards. I like confident, friendly dogs. Dogs that focus on me are something I look for, too.

Tell us about an all time favorite dog or two:
I know you're not supposed to play favorites, but I have to say that Champ and Bingo are my favorites. They are so devoted and such great performers, and they exude confidence. They are brothers, and both have been my steadfast leaders. They're buddies with each other and have a special bond with me. We raised them from pups and have bred Champ, who has thrown a high percentage of leaders. On top of being top notch race leaders, the brothers love to snuggle with me on the couch!


If you raise puppies, do you use any pre-training evaluation?
Unless something is seriously physically wrong with a pup, we don't cut it. We try to give them lots of different, positive experiences to prepare them for careers as race dogs. I guess if we had to choose (and we will soon, as we're splitting a litter), we would select on general conformation and personality. But remember, the friendliest pup isn't necessarily the hardest worker! Sometimes it seems the most "average" pup turns out the best in the litter.

What method do you use for starting pups?
We take them for walks as pups off leash as a group. Once they're tied up for a week or two, we may leash train them so they learn to go forward when pulled by the collar, instead of sitting back with the brakes on. Then we may walk them back and forth on the dog trail with their harness on. Their first time on the sled is VERY SLOW and short, just 1/2 mile or so. We (usually Robert and I will both go with the pups the first time or two) use the old, slow leaders and try to put a pup next to their mom or another nice adult.

What is the most important thing you look for in a pup?
Probably work ethic is the most important. We also try pups in lead once they're steady in the team, so we look for those with leader potential, too.

At what point do you decide a pup is likely to make it in your team?
Unless the pup is really awful, we'll keep it until we can run it as a yearling. Then sometime during that yearling year we will make another decision, though most will hold over until their two year old year. I've heard that a dog should reach its top speed by 18 to 24 months of age, and I think that is true. As the team goes faster, it becomes harder and harder to find dogs that will make the team. We should be able to fairly evaluate yearlings after the first few races of the year if the trails are fast.

Training & Racing:

What is the training/racing philosophy of your kennel?
We train slow and race fast. Seems to minimize injuries that way, and the dogs naturally go as fast as they can when we let them. We control speed in training by limiting team size, training with a heavy sled, and using a snowmachine track or "mat" as necessary. We have 13 miles of groomed trails at home.

With young dogs, we like to expose them to as much as we can. Training at different locations on the weekends is good for the youngsters. Robert races the yearlings together and the best may make a big race or two with the adult dogs by spring.

Do you have specific training goals for your team(s)?
To run the 8 dog Limited North American in mid March, we like to have over 600 miles on the dogs. It's a three day race and sometimes in the 30's and sunny, so the dogs need to be in good condition. We start racing them in December and race about every two weeks through the rest of the winter, so a fair number of those miles are race miles.

How do you choose which races to enter?
We're very fortunate to live about 20 minutes from the ADMA race trails, so we race the five ADMA Challenge Series races, plus any limited class races we can get to out of town. Then we hit all the spring championship races in the Interior of Alaska - ADMA Gold Run (10 dog); North Pole Championships (10 dog); Limited North American (8 dog); Tok Race of Champions (8 dog); and Paxson Tail Ender (8 dog). I raced the Women's Fur Rondezvous one year and it was fun but a pretty tough race.

What classes do you compete in?
6, 8 and 10 dog are the classes we usually enter, but Robert has run some shorter open class races and I ran the Women's Rondy that is an open class race.

What does it take to win?
It takes so much to win, especially with the tough competition out there today. Top mushers like Linda Leonard and Terri Killam are at the top of the game and incredibly can keep it up year after year. To win takes fast dogs -- not just a few, but real depth of kennel. It takes leaders with incredible drive and talent. It takes a real dog person who knows how to train and care for the dogs, and someone who pays attention to detail and is fair and is consistent. And, of course, it takes a bit of luck!

The Future:

What is the future of sled dog sports?
What can individual mushers do to support and promote the sport?
What part do clubs and organizations play in sport development?
I'd like to address all three questions together. All sled dog sports are under pressure from animal rights groups. It is the responsibility of individuals and organizations to be on their best behavior and ready to extol the virtues of running dogs or our sport could be in danger. It's up to mushers and clubs to "police" their own communities and either educate or root out those would be mushers who are cruel or negligent of their dogs.

Sled dog sports can have a healthy and exciting future if everyone plays some part in keeping them alive. Organizations can hold symposia to educate mushers, as the Alaska Dog Mushers and other clubs do. Individuals can visit schools and public events to share the wonderful world of sled dogs with other people. Go out there and help your local club to get donations of purse money and prizes for the races. Every little bit adds up to a great whole.


Tell us about one or two of your most memorable sled dog experiences.
I'll never forget the first time I took five dogs out by myself. I was terrified and thrilled at the same time! Since then the thrills have changed in character.

This spring I had some incredible racing experiences that are the kind to keep you going for a long time. In the North Pole Championships on the second day the trail set up nicely and the dogs were nuts to go. They cruised around that trail in fine fashion and gave me such a strong finish it was really incredible--one of those runs that you dream of having, when everything comes together. The dogs were pretty pleased with themselves after the run, too -- you could tell they had a great time and were proud of how they did! And well they should be, as they moved us from 6th to 3rd place.

The Paxson Tail Ender is the last race of the season. It's an 8 dog race over 9 miles of VERY twisty trails -- it doubles back so close in some places you can nearly "high five" your competition! A real mind game for the dogs. The second day was even hotter than the first -- 54 F when I ran -- but the dogs worked well. So well that we turned in the fastest time of the day! What a way to end the season -- we were faster than Axel Gasser (Rondy winner), Linda Leonard (8 dog LNAC champ) and Kathy Frost (Women's Rondy winner). We didn't win the race, but now we feel more confident about our conditioning, and also in breeding dogs that can run in the heat. It was an honor and a thrill to race with some of the top mushers--who I respect so much--and know we could compete with them!


Any final comments about sled dog sports?
Running dogs is addictive. Once you're hooked, don't get so caught up in "gotta get in xxxx number of miles before that race" so that training becomes more of a drag than rewarding. Keep in mind the individuality of each dog, and remember to have fun!


Check out Champ's picture and pedigree here.

[back to Interview list]

top of page  |   home  |   feedback   |  search

Copyright 1997-2016 Sled Dog Central, all rights reserved.
Email Sled Dog Central