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Annabell Dennis

Togo – the husky sled hero who inspired a Hollywood movie

By | Alpha Feeds | No Comments

Today, husky sled racing around the world is a highly popular sport. Intense, exciting and requiring incredible teamwork and skill, it draws in a vast crowd.

But you don’t need to live in Alaska or Siberia to enjoy this fantastic sport. Here in the UK, the BSHRA (The British Siberian Husky Racing Association) exists for one reason only – to deliver the annual BSHRA British Husky Racing Championship. Formed by a determined group of Britain’s leading Sled Dog Drivers; it’s now enjoying its 24th season. There is no membership fee, just a commitment to keeping the UK’s racing scene thriving!

With all the thrill and excitement of today’s modern sport, it’s easy to forget the brutal and intense work these fantastic dogs once undertook, and the lives they changed. Here’s one particular champion with a story so epic it inspired a Disney film.

Togo and the 1925 Serum Run

Nome, Alaska, USA; In January 1925, child mortality was at an alarmingly high rate. Infected with diphtheria, each day, another son or daughter was struck down by the deadly respiratory disease. Nome’s solitary physician, Dr Curtis Welch, feared an epidemic was unfolding. He ordered a quarantine but knew in his heart that only an antitoxin serum could halt the rapidly-spreading disease.

The nearest batch of the life-saving medicine was more than 1,000 miles away in Anchorage, and Nome’s frozen harbour meant that sea transport was impossible. Moreover, the closest train station was 700 miles away, and the open-cockpit planes of the time couldn’t fly in Alaska’s brutal subzero bitterness. The best hope for the children of Nome was its dog teams.  

Sledge dogs regularly battled the snow to deliver the mail, and knowing this, the territory’s governor, Scott C. Bone, recruited the most skilled drivers and dog teams to attempt a frantic relay to transport the serum from Nenana to Nome through the most brutal of conditions.

On the night of January 27, 1925, the first team left from Nenana. Musher “Wild Bill” Shannon bound the precious parcel to his sledge and pushed on his nine malamute pack. 

With temperatures plunging to 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, by the time Shannon handed the serum to the second team, he was already showing signs of frostbite hypothermia, even though he had run by the side of his faithful dogs to keep his body temperature up.

Illuminated by the northern lights the country’s most renowned musher, Leonhard Seppala, took the next leg. He left Shaktoolik on January 31 on a substantial 91-mile run, the longest and most intense leg of the entire journey.

Seppala’s lead dog, 12-year-old Siberian Husky Togo – our hero – was by now an old dog and had run tens of thousands of miles in his life. But this would be his last, and most significant. Togo, born the runt of a litter, was from birth deemed too small, and far too naughty to join a sled team. He was so cheeky that Seppala gave him to a pet store to sell on. However, Togo had other ideas. Breaking out of the store, he made his way home to a surprised Seppala. Noting the dog’s loyalty, Seppala saw him in a renewed light – and the rest is history.

Togo and his 19 fellow dogs skidded and slipped across the sheer ice face underfoot – struggling for traction. Togo, with incredible instinct, strength and fearlessness led them with staunch determination.

Charlie Olson took the baton from here. Charlie, after 25 miles handed over the serum to Gunnar Kaasen for the second-to-last leg of the relay. Kaasen’s team went on the battle through severe blizzards, delivering the vital antidote to the desperate town.

The aftermath

The teams involved saved the lives of thousands, and the media frenzy alerted the rest of the world to the dangers of the deadly virus. Although more than 150 dogs and 20 drivers shared the poignant relay, with numerous dogs sacrificing their lives to the cause, it was Balto, who led the final miles that became a superstar. Togo, who had undertaken the most dangerous and arduous leg of the journey, sadly only received his recognition and celebration years later. Would he have ever imagined he’d be starring alongside Oscar-winning William Defoe, in his own Disney movie? Who knows? He died happily of old age, at the age of 16, in 1929.

So, from delivering life-saving serum’s, all the way to taking their mushers across the finish line of the race track, Huskies continue to thrive as a popular breed in a modern world. At Alpha, we’re proud to sponsor The British Siberian Husky Racing Association – keeping this incredible working dog thriving in what he does best – being a champion.

Gundogs as family pets

By | Alpha Feeds | No Comments

Good working gundog traits include a positive disposition, sharp intelligence, high energy, and trainability. Funnily enough, these factors translate perfectly into making gundogs fabulous family pets.

However, there are a few things to consider before bringing your working dog into the home, or vice versa. Here are our top tips for making the transition;

When does a working dog transition into becoming a family pet?

How many days a year does a dog have to work to be classified as a working dog? Is a dog who sleeps outside a working dog? If my dog works 50 days a year but naps in my bed and enjoys movies on the sofa; does that make her a pet? The questions are many, and the lines blurred!

The answer is simple; your working gundog CAN also moonlight as your family pet. As long as she qualifies in both disciplines, i.e., sporting and sofa training, she should live an incredibly happy life, living the best of two worlds.

Possible issues

Although gundog varieties are keen people-pleasers, many families can experience problems with their pet gundogs. These difficulties arise due to the breeds instinctual hunting drive, explosive energy and independence.

Another red flag is a lack of house-training and ‘pet-dog’ discipline, leading to destructiveness in the home. A lot of these unfavourable behaviours often come down to a lack of exercise, and confusion. The rules have suddenly changed, and your dog can’t make head nor tail of it, which results in a stressed animal.

If you’re choosing to bring a highly intelligent animal into your home, you need to honour her needs. A gundog breed kept as a family pet requires long walks, proper training and an active lifestyle. A dog who knows her place in the family and is mentally and physically content means a happy home, left in one piece!

Summary

Although the answer to the question of whether your gundog can be a family pet, is yes, the result isn’t always completely black and white. If, for example, your trained gundog, freshly introduced to the family home, becomes distressed – it’s best not to force your agenda. Alternatively, if your gundog is happy living the couch-potato family life, while working simultaneously, and seems glad to switch off its hunting instinct when necessary, it can comfortably double up as a pet.

For information on our range of working dog food, which offers a variety of feeds for when your dog is both busy working and when resting, speak to your local stockist, or get in touch with us through our website.

Spotlight on Lurchers

By | Alpha Feeds | No Comments

The Lurcher originated from bygone times where aristocrats dominated the field of hunting with hounds. Only the elite set was entitled to own greyhounds, deerhounds and whippets; and the punishment for a ‘commoner’ caught in possession of these breeds was death.

In time, the ordinary folk, in need of a hunting dog of this calibre, found a cunning way around the problem. By cross-breeding a sighthound with a pastoral working breed such as a Border Collie, or a terrier, the result was an exceptional hunting dog cleverly disguised as a pauper!

Fact file

  • Life Span: 10 to 15 years
  • Height: Ordinarily 27 to 30 inches at the shoulder but can be smaller
  • Weight: 35 to 100 pounds
  • Temperament: Affectionate, loyal, intelligent

Movement

The Lurcher was the first British designer, cross-breed. Quick as a flash, agile on the turn and gloriously elegant in motion – the Lurcher is a marvel to observe. Be thoughtful where you let your dog run free, a Lurcher at full sprint is best suited to open spaces, rather than woodland areas where collisions are a risk.

Exercise

Contrary to popular belief, the Lurcher doesn’t need masses of activity, although they require slightly more than Greyhounds. A couple of 40 minute runs a day is sufficient to keep your lovely Lurcher calm, happy and fulfilled.

Temperament

Like border Collies, Lurchers are incredibly intelligent; so much so that they worked as messenger dogs in both World Wars. Lurchers are loving, loyal and very affectionate. After an extended play and run, they like nothing more than to curl up on the sofa with their faithful person. They adore human company, and due to their super-smart nature, shouldn’t be left alone for long periods.

Cats

The simple fact is, no matter how many centuries pass, the prey drive instinct within lives on with a burning ferocity! If a lurcher pup grows up with cats, he or she may grow up to recognise they’re off-limits for hunting. Otherwise, unfortunately for kitty, she’s fair game.

For information on our range of working dog food, including our High Performance and Adult Maintenance feeds, speak to your local stockist, or get in touch with us through our website.

Spotlight on: Gundog directional training

By | Alpha Feeds | No Comments

gun dog standing to attentionA well-trained gundog in action, slinking elegantly to retrieve, and stopping, statue-still – at the pip of a whistle, is a marvel to observe, and something a working gundog owner endeavours to master. The good news is, this unwavering connection between trainer and dog is far easier to achieve than you may think.

The purpose of training

Directional control enables the handler to present his dog with the information she needs to perform efficiently. Sometimes your input isn’t necessary, and your dog can complete the task solo. However, at other times your assistance and guidance help things run more smoothly.

Starting from scratch

Using a combination of hand signals and whistles; the handler communicates to his gundog from a distance. For this partnership to work, his dog must be willing to pay undivided attention and to respond to his cues swiftly.

Directional training

  • There are two main components to directional training; the brakes, and the steering. The ‘brakes’, AKA stopping when necessary, can be taught with a ‘stop whistle’.
  • Once you and your dog have forged a strong connection and mastered the stop whistle, it’s time to move onto the ‘steering’ part of directional training. A paddock or large park works well for practice purposes.
  • Begin with left and right. What you ultimately want to achieve is your dog running in a straight line, at your command.
  • Keeping your dog stationary and with eyes fixed on you, throw one ‘dummy’, or ball to the left – not too far away in the beginning.
  • Using your arms; signal to the ball on your left. Use exaggerated motion as you’ll be working at far greater distances in the future, and your dog will need to identify your signal. When your dog returns the dummy, reward her with a pat, or a small treat.
  • Bring her quickly back to sitting and focused on you. Next, signal – with exaggerated motion – to the right and when your dog returns the dummy, reward her once again. Repeat.
  • When you’ve mastered left and right, try two dummies at once. You want to avoid your dog second-guessing you – so exercising the unwavering focus is essential. With both dummies set out – left and right – make your commands
  • Continue this training with the addition of the ‘back’ command (sending her directly away from you). For this command, you will raise your arm high, up and away from you.

In a nutshell

This communication and understanding is teamwork in action and makes working at great distances, and in unfavourable conditions possible. Once mastered, you and your dog will be the envy of many!

The Right Diet for Your Working Dog

By | Alpha Feeds | No Comments

Dog runningActive dogs like working, sporting, and hunting dogs, burn a serious amount of energy – up to four times more than that of your average dog. To counteract and support this extreme athleticism, they require a suitable high-energy feed.

Joint health is also crucial to your dog’s longevity, be it farming, policing, sporting and so on. Your active dog is invaluable to your team, and a carefully thought out diet will mean a long, happy, healthy and action-packed life.

When deciding on your dog’s diet, ensure it covers the following;

  • The food should be doggy-delicious.
  • The feed should provide your dog with enough energy to work hard, play hard and thrive.
  • Your dog’s food should support a healthy digestive system, help build lean muscle and aid in muscle recovery after strenuous athletic activity.
  • If your dog is extremely active, his feed may need additional nutrients to support joint health and mobility.
  • Your working dog is an athlete; his food will need fortifying with essential vitamins and minerals.

When to opt for high energy food

If your working or sporting dog is exceptionally active, chances are he’ll need a high-energy feed to match his energy outputs. Fat is your dog’s primary source of energy. Specialised high energy foods – alongside additional minerals, vitamins and highly digestible ingredients – possess a high fat content to meet this requirement.

Keeping weight on your sports dog

Highly active dogs are prone to weight loss. The correct feed will nourish your dog, help maintain a healthy weight, and provide all the energy he needs to perform. However, if your dog seems to be losing weight without cause, speak directly to your vet; they may need to conduct a complete physical exam to rule out any underlying health issues.

Joint health

For working and highly active dogs, joint ailments can be a real problem. Dogs that were once performing athletic movements and covering vast distances can begin to feel pain and discomfort – leading to slowing down and disengaging from the sports they once loved. When pain is obvious, and you see a decline in your dog, veterinary advice is required ASAP.

Hypothermia in dogs

By | Dog Welfare | No Comments

St Bernard working dogAfter a shoot day, it is imperative to ensure your dog goes to bed well-fed, warm and thoroughly dried. Although it is unusual to witness dogs with hypothermia in the mild winters of late, a dog left wet, and already tired after a hard day’s work, is especially vulnerable to it.

Using a heat lamp to dry off after a day’s shooting ensures your dog goes to bed properly dried off and warm. If your dogs live outside during the winter, raise their house off the floor at least four inches, make sure it has a sloped roof and is well insulated. If they live in an outhouse or barn, provide closed-in beds with warm and dry bedding.

Recognising the signs

Identified as intense shivering; the onset of hypothermia will slow your dog right down. With this reluctance to keep moving comes more significant danger of deterioration. Muscular stiffness and a visibly escalating lack of co-ordination will follow. Left untreated, the dog’s heart and breathing rates will decrease, the pupils will dilate, and it will collapse into a coma.

As hypothermia is an emergency, you should call your vet immediately.

What to do if you think your dog has hypothermia

A rapid response could save your pet’s life. It’s essential to call your vet immediately and follow their instruction.

In the meantime, you can do the following;

  • Do not place your pet anywhere hot. Warming them up too suddenly can send them into shock. Get them out of the cold, to somewhere warm and sheltered. Warm them up gradually with thick blankets, under and around them.  
  • If your dog is wet, dry them gently with a towel. If the dog is conscious, try and encourage a drink of lukewarm water. 
  • Regardless of your opinion regarding the severity of the situation, get your dog to the vet for assessment.

Dogs more susceptible to hypothermia

It’s essential to recognise that some dogs are much more vulnerable to the cold than others. These include dogs that live outside for long periods with inadequate shelter and space to run around, wet dogs, puppies, dogs with diabetes, smaller breeds, and shorthaired dogs.

How to keep dogs warm in an outside kennel

By | Dog Welfare | No Comments

Working dogs, when cared for properly, can thrive in outdoor kennels. Providing you have a dry outhouse, barn or well-built kennel, your dog should stay cosy, happy and well through even the harshest of winters.

If you have a doghouse, the floor should be raised at least four inches off the ground. Ensure it is well insulated too. Shredded paper or cardboard boxes under the bedding will block the ground-cold from reaching your dog. Secured to the floor; the house should also have a sloped roof.

Here are four more tips to keep your working dogs warm in an outdoor setting;

Provide ample bedding

If you have more than one dog, they will often nestle together for warmth, while some dogs prefer the space to spread out. Provide enough bedding space for everyone.

Use a closed-in bed

Closed-in dog boxes or beds are much warmer than an open bed. Teamed up with some warm blankets, or even shredded paper, which doesn’t hide pests and rodents as straw does, they’ll keep your dog happy and well through blizzards and gales.

Keep your dog dry

After a day of shooting, your dog will no doubt be muddy and wet. Toweling them off is an essential measure; however, a heat lamp ensures your dogs go to bed warm and perfectly dry.

After a day out in the elements it’s also good practice to check your dog’s paws; In icy or snowy conditions, painful ice balls can build up in between their toes.

Keep dogs hydrated and suitably fed

Make sure your dogs have access to unfrozen and clean water. There are heated bowls designed especially for outdoor living, or a cheaper version is to check and refresh containers, daily and diligently.

Dogs that live outdoors in a warm, dry and safe space are less likely to burn off valuable calories in efforts to stay warm. However, if your dog is expected to get cold, it may need more feed to help keep their metabolism up.

Alpha Working Dog Food – Champions of Sustainability And Independent Retailers

By | Alpha Feeds | No Comments

spanielFounded over a century ago, Alpha is a family business, forged on a passion for optimising the health, vitality and performance of your pet with world-class quality foods.

Located on the North Nottinghamshire/Lincolnshire border and firmly established within the pet food industry, The Alpha brand is a trusted and highly reputable name – one synonymous with science, nutrition, excellent service & outstanding value.

This fiercely independent company champions local producers and distributors, with regional farmers growing most of the natural ingredients and shipping them directly to the factory. This firsthand contact with the growers ensures in depth knowledge of our ingredient’s provenance.

Take a walk around Alpha’s manufacturing plant, and you’ll witness the enormous investment made in their team, research, development, factory, packaging and operational systems to ensure that Alpha products dominate the market and continue to deliver excellence.

With a highly dedicated team of skilled people, who are passionate about the quality of their products and the service they provide – Alpha products are now more in demand than ever.

Moreover, not only is this brand consistently providing the market with their innovation, duty of care and flavours; they’re also enormous advocators for sustainability. With an unwavering commitment to the environment; packaging materials used are sourced from sustainable forestry and are 100% recyclable.

Furthermore, Alpha sticks firmly to its values as an autonomous brand and continuously supports independent retailers. You won’t encounter Alpha on the shelves of big-name supermarkets.

Since the first bag rolled off the production line, until now, Alpha continues to ceaselessly champion and cherish their legacy of honesty and quality. Your animal’s health and vitality are their life’s work and with a longstanding commitment to producing nutritional excellence – Alpha products guarantee a healthy, happy and thriving working dog.

Spotlight on a working dog breed: Greyhounds

By | Alpha Feeds | No Comments

dog, greyhound, racingGreyhounds are lean, powerful dogs, with a keen hunting eye and a knack for sprinting. Once owned exclusively by royalty, this magnificent breed dates back to Egyptian times.

Not only are they regal in looks and gentle in character, but they’re also relatively low maintenance. Contrary to popular belief, the breed is more couch potato than a sprinter – needing only one hour of vigorous exercise a day.

Fact file:

  • Lifespan – 10 – 14 years
  • Height – Male: 71–76 cm, Female: 68–71 cm
  • Weight – Male: 27–40 kg, Female: 26–34 kg
  • Temperament – Affectionate, Intelligent, Athletic, Quiet, Even Tempered, Gentle

Movement

Greyhounds, while mostly docile, are very energetic in short bursts. Their action is graceful and elegant, moving smoothly and sleekly with the minimum of effort, and able to turn quickly while in full flight, without losing pace or their balance. They are renowned for incredible speed, used mostly at track races.

Exercise

The Greyhound will live a happy and fulfilled life with one significant workout per day. This session will be full speed, high octane and interactive – this breed loves to play. Many owners take their canine friends ‘lure coursing’ which is an excellent way for them to let off steam whilst also enjoying something they were born to do.

Temperament

Greyhounds usually get on well with other dogs, but instinctually chase cats and other small fluffy animals – and being so lightning-fast, they may catch them, much to the distress of your neighbour.

While this breed may act aloof, and a little nervous around strangers – they’re incredibly loyal and affectionate with their family.

Prey drive

Deeply embedded in the psyche of a Greyhound, chasing down prey is such a powerful instinct, that your neighbour’s cat may be in real peril, should they meet. For this reason, a well-fenced garden is necessary – as greyhounds can jump up to six feet.

Separation anxiety

Highly intelligent and emotional, Greyhounds form strong family bonds and don’t like being left alone for long – they’re the perfect dog for someone who works from home. Greyhounds in isolation are vulnerable to separation anxiety, leading to destructive behaviour. Unfortunately for your sofa, ripping things apart is their way of relieving any stress.

For information on our range of working dog food, including our High Performance and Racer feeds, speak to your local stockist, or get in touch with us through our website.

How to train your gundog to hunt using a whistle

By | Training | No Comments

dog trainingDogs can often be sly and stubborn when receiving instructions. If you are experiencing problems with selective hearing or other obstinate behaviours, then a whistle could be the next level tool your routine requires.

A dog whistle can help you train your dog by reaffirming positive behaviour at the exact second they do something correctly.

A wide range of everyday dog whistles are available on the market and are helpful for training commands and discipline over both short and long distances. In fact, the sound of a whistle can travel much further than a voice.

A whistle is small and flexible enough to be conveniently carried everywhere you go. Should your dog wander away when you’re looking in another direction, a simple blow of your whistle will beckon her back.

Here is our guide to getting the most from your whistle training:

Tip one

As soon as your dog starts to fail at responding to commands, bring out the whistle. As soon as their response is positive, reward them with a treat and plenty of praise. This reaffirms that the whistle sound is a positive one.

Tip two

Use different cues for different pitches, for example, a short, sharp whistle could mean sit, while a long one says fetch. You can also alter the tone of the whistle to suit different commands.

Tip three

Remain consistent with your commands so that your dog will always know what you expect of it.

Tip four

Use words until your dog responds on command and then reward it with a treat. Your dog will eventually be able to read the whistle cue and then you can drop the verbal command altogether.

Tip five

Repeat, repeat and repeat some more. Multiple training sessions are necessary until your dog responds without receiving a treat.

Tip six

Use your whistle for multiple situations. Whistles can prove useful in different situations, such as breaking up a fight and calling your dog back to your side too.

Tip seven

Think of your whistle as your voice, or as a shared language between you. Unfortunately, we can’t have a conversation with our dog, but whistle commands come pretty close.

Choosing the perfect gundog for you

By | Training | No Comments

Spending time with your gundog, training together and appreciating your time out in the field is one of the great joys of working together. Selecting the right gundog for you is a crucial decision because finding the perfect dog will make for many exceptional and memorable days.

The first question to ask yourself is: what kind of work will your gundog be doing? Different dogs are better suited to different roles.

Dogs such as terriers specialise in the control of pests. The Jack Russell, for example, is famous for their rat-catching abilities. Whereas Springers excel in the art of hunting. Alternatively, breeds such as Alsatians and Border Collies can make excellent dogs for beating.

Let’s find out a little more about each working breed.

Spaniels

Hunting is a spaniel’s primary job, and his strongest instinct. Traditionally, he has to hunt up and flush game within proximity of his handler. The moment the game is shot, he must stop and then retrieve on command.

Hunting at a remarkably fast pace, the Spaniel flits from side to side in front of his handler, covering a tremendous amount of ground. However, the fantastic ability to work in this manner comes with a price, he is a live-wire of a dog, particularly when young, and may prove a restless housemate. Harnessing that incredible energy requires a trainer with great ability.

Retrievers

The Retriever, despite the distractions around him, remains unwaveringly steady and only leaves the handler’s side when commanded to do so. Possessing great patience, the Retriever awaits commands while also accurately marking any shot game. He is prepared to face lengthy and complicated retrieves.

He calls on his experience and initiative, and is incredibly responsive to his handler’s every command, even at great distances.

Setters and Pointers

The role of the Pointer or Setter is to find game, when scarce in open countryside. He should then point to it, enabling the handler to advance within gunshot before the flush.

The pointing breeds are impressive and athletic dogs. These powerful creatures require large open spaces in which to run and vast amounts of exercise.

HPRs or Versatile Gundogs

The HPR is a multi-faceted dog that is becoming increasingly popular. There is an extensive range of breeds from which to choose, each with their unique working style and personalities.

At this moment in time, however, they’re still a minority in the shooting field, so specialists in their training are hard to find.

Putting in the research before you choose your field companion will be hugely beneficial to your future.

Alpha sponsor victorious team at 2019 Euro Challenge event

By | Results | No Comments

springer spanielAlpha was very proud to sponsor the Great British team at Hatfield House again this summer, at the annual Euro Challenge event. Especially since the Great British team claimed the prestigious Euro Challenge title for the second time in three years.

Captain of the team, Phil Wagland, has been sponsored by Alpha for many years with the URC and the NGRA, so it was a great moment for us to see him lead his three-man team to victory, edging out defending champions Germany by just three points.

When asked about this win, Wagland said:

“It’s great because we have had the same team for three years in a row… The first year we won, narrowly from Belgium. Last year we came third when Germany won, so it is very satisfying to get a win again.”

What the competition involved:

The competition involved a variety of tricky retrieves, with each team consisting of three handlers and three dogs which have to be from different retriever breeds. The test simulated the many and varied situations that arise when shooting and picking-up with dogs, including walking-up in line, standing at a drive and retrieving from cover; over fences and from water.

Wagland was handling four-year-old Fieldquest Funnyline Kelbrook, who also won the prize of top golden retriever on the day too! He added:

“We have thoroughly enjoyed this year’s event. The organisers set up an interesting working test that gave every dog the opportunity to shine. It was a great atmosphere and it was fantastic to see so many people watching the action from all round the arena.”

Other members of the winning Great British team include Paul Birkbeck and Gary Ellison, experienced handlers who not only thoroughly enjoyed the event but also enjoyed watching their dogs truly shine.

Alpha are thrilled to have been supporting such a fantastic team and such a wonderful event too.

If you’re interested in future Euro Challenge events, then tickets for the 2020 event are on sale now via www.thegamefair.org or 0844 8586759.