Between 18,000-32,000 years ago, humans domesticated wolves and created what we know today as the domestic dog. Since then, dogs have changed humans and have had a major impact on our daily lives. Our relationship with dogs is not only important but constantly evolves as we find new ways to coexist.
A Life of Dogs is a podcast that explores these remarkable relationships that we have created with dogs. Our podcast is unique in that it is not designed as a “how to” or as a training resource. Our podcast shares canine and human interest stories and sheds light into some mesmerizing connections between humans and dogs.
A Life of Dogs is released monthly and is made possible by support from Highland Canine Training, LLC.
Imagine you’re an athlete competing to be at the pinnacle of your sport. Perhaps you’re a swimmer, a sprinter, a pitcher, or a quarterback. You dedicate yourself to honing your craft. You learn the skills you’ll need to succeed. You spend time mentoring underneath one of the legends of your sport. You work hard – you know that it isn’t your time yet, but it’s just around the corner. Maybe in a year or two.And then, you get the shock of your life – it turns out that just around the corner isn’t next year. It isn’t the year after. In fact, just around the corner is actually four days away. Four days. You have four days to prepare for the biggest event of your career. You have to mentally and physically prepare yourself to take on a gruelling marathon in less than one hundred hours. How will you handle the challenge? This might sound like the elaborate plot of a Hollywood movie, but in the 2020 Iditarod, this is exactly the fate that befell Sean Underwood, a twenty-nine year old musher who was born in Atlanta. Underwood was mentoring under Jeff King, an Iditarod Hall of Famer and four-time winner of the event (1993, 1996, 1998, 2006). When King had to undergo emergency surgery in the week leading up to the 2020 Iditarod, he nominated Underwood to take his place in the race. What followed was a remarkable story, as this rookie musher entered his first Iditarod with just a few days to prepare. In this episode of A Life of Dogs, we speak to Underwood about his first experience running in the Iditarod.
Underwood’s introduction to mushing
Born in Atlanta, GA, Underwood moved to Alaska in 2015 after graduating college. He spent time living with his aunt, uncle and cousin, working with them to fish commercially for sockeye salmon on Kodiak Island. His aunt and uncle were friends with Jeff King – a legend in the mushing world. Underwood started working at King’s Husky Homestead, where tours are offered and visitors can witness sled dog training in action.
After spending time working at Husky Homestead doing a variety of tasks, Underwood gained experience and learned how to control the sled and the team of dogs. Then, when King suffered a back injury just a week before a 200 mile sled dog race, he asked Underwood to step in. That wouldn’t be the last time Underwood would take King’s place in a sled dog race at short notice.
The 2020 Iditarod
Which factor determines the success of a world-class team of athletes?Is it an insatiable desire to succeed? Is it the benefits of a comprehensive training program? Perhaps it’s a truly unbreakable level of trust in one another? Or maybe it is an unrelenting focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of the team?The reality is that, at the top level of any team sport you can think of, all of those elements play a significant part in achieving success. After all, to win a World Series, or a Super Bowl, or a Stanley Cup, you need to have that desire to succeed. You need to train. You need to trust one another. And you need to take care of your team.It is no different in the Iditarod – the world’s greatest sled dog race, pitting teams of mushers in an annual race through the Alaskan wilderness. In the Iditarod, these crucial components all contribute towards the success of a musher and their team of dogs. The Iditarod is the pinnacle of the sled dog world, and it takes physical and mental endurance to withstand the inevitable obstacles faced in a 900 mile race in treacherous conditions.When we visited Alaska to witness the Iditarod in 2020, we were fortunate to see first-hand the dedication required for these human-dog partnerships to succeed. The care and attention placed upon the dogs who participate in the Iditarod is of utmost importance to the organizers, veterinarians, volunteers, and naturally, the mushers themselves – one of the most important aspects of good teamwork in the Iditarod is recognizing the health and wellbeing of your team.We wanted to dive deeper to understand precisely what steps are taken to develop these world-class athletes, in addition to getting more information on the level of care they receive during the race. For this episode, we spoke to a number of people, including mushers, veterinarians, and even the CEO of the Iditarod.In this episode, you’ll learn about:* The difference between a finely-tuned sled dog competing in the Iditarod and a regular pet dog* How the Iditarod is a celebration of the passion and purpose of sled dogs* The development of canine nutrition to improve performance* How the Iditarod’s squad of volunteer veterinarians help to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the dogs competing in the race* Misinformation and threats to the race from animal rights groups
The musher’s perspective
DeeDee Jonrowe is a world-class musher and one of the most well-known figures in the sport. Jonrowe finished as a runner-up in the Iditarod three times in the 1990s. She also won the award for Most Inspirational Musher in 2003, when she competed in the Iditarod just a matter of weeks after finishing chemotherapy following a breast cancer diagnosis.Jonrowe explains what really makes a great sled dog, and how a musher builds a strong relationship with their team of dogs, enabling them to identify the dog’s physical and mental state. Above all else, mushers have a duty of care to the dogs they are working with, and Jonrowe highlights how this helps them to recognize the potential limits of their team’s capabilities.As with any athlete, good nutrition can have a significant impact on performance. Jonrowe also covers the importance of types of foo...
The Iconic Race of the North
Cast your mind back to March 2020 for a moment.Across the world, only one topic is dominating the news cycle. The threat of a pandemic is looming larger with each passing day. A deadly virus – with the potential to drastically alter our long-held, cherished routines – is getting closer.Yet in one corner of the globe, Covid-19 is not the center of attention. Far from it. Here, the air is crisp. The ground is laden with snow. And in this place, there is one long-held, cherished routine that will not be altered.It’s March in Alaska, and that means one thing – the greatest sled dog race in the world is about to begin.The Iditarod is here.
In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be releasing a series of episodes focused on the Iditarod. This iconic sled dog race takes place throughout Alaska each March, running from Anchorage to Nome. Mushers and their team of sled dogs battle challenging terrain, sub-zero temperatures and heavy blizzards in their attempts to reach the finish line in first place. Winners typically battle for eight to nine days in these hazardous conditions.At A Life of Dogs, we were very fortunate to capture the magic of the Iditarod when we traveled to Alaska to cover the 2020 edition. It was an experience we will never forget – and we can’t wait to bring some amazing stories to you in our upcoming episodes.
Introducing the Iditarod
So, you may have heard about this famous sled dog race – but how much do you actually know about it?In our first episode, you’ll learn a little about what makes this race so special.Whether it’s the sheer amount of preparation it takes for mushers and their teams to succeed in this treacherous race, or the tradition of the ceremonial start in Anchorage, or to what some mushers describe as the almost spiritual experience of traveling out on the race route with a pack of sled dogs – there are so many interesting stories surrounding the Iditarod.
Riding through the harsh Alaskan landscape with a pack of sled dogs isn’t for the faint of heart. As you may imagine, it takes a special type of person to compete in the Iditarod.
A Climate for Change
A Climate For Change: How Conservation Detection Dogs Are Saving Species Around The World
As saddening as it sounds, it is estimated that 150 to 200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct during the course of one day on our planet. Climate change, loss of habitat and other factors continue to put more species at significant risk of being completely wiped out.Many of these animals play a critical role in maintaining the natural balance of our planet’s ecosystem. Without them, our way of daily life would be completely different, from the air that we breathe to the food that we consume.This episode explores the fascinating stories behind three special people who are determined to make a difference. Each of them uses the amazing capabilities of dogs to help preserve our natural environment and protect endangered or at-risk species.
Jacqueline Staab & Darwin, the Bumblebee Detection Dog
Jacqueline Staab is a 28-year-old grad student from Appalachian State University. Jacqueline owns a German Shorthaired Pointer, Darwin, who has been trained to detect bumblebee nests.The Alpine bumblebee is particularly important. These bees all live above 11,000 ft, with changeable weather and unusual conditions for bees to survive. As one of the few pollinators who live at such a high altitude, their importance cannot be understated – they have developed such close relationships with flowers for pollination.Staab acquired Darwin when he was a puppy – on a mission to train him to be the first Alpine bumblebee detection dog in the western hemisphere. With bumblebee populations in decline – some research suggests they have dropped almost 30% in a generation – their work is more important now than ever.During this episode, Staab describes her journey with Darwin, and how their amazing work will help to preserve the Alpine bumblebee for generations to come.
Christian Fritz & K9s 4 Conservation, protecting sea turtles
Christian Fritz is a military veteran, who founded a non-profit – K9s 4 Conservation – on the coast of Texas, focused on saving sea turtle populations.Six of the seven sea turtle species are classified as threatened or endangered. Despite living on Earth since the age of the dinosaurs – over 110 million years ago – sea turtles are at risk due to a variety of factors. Although other animals such as raccoons and seabirds can feed on sea turtles, and climatic changes pose a threat, human interference from plastic contamination and poachers is an even greater danger.
Zero/Zero: How a Blind Hiker and His Guide Dogs Tackle America's Toughest Trails.
This is the inspirational story of Trevor Thomas and his two guide dogs, Tenille and Lulu.
Stop and think for a second – how many steps do you take each day? You may have heard of the ‘10,000 step’ goal, a good daily target for most of us. Hiking the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is an ambitious feat. Stretching across 2,192 miles through 14 states, to complete the A.T., you’d need to complete a total of five million steps. Given that a thru-hike expedition typically takes five to seven months, that equates to almost 30,000 steps per day.Now, imagine you’re doing 30,000 steps, by yourself, every day while hiking the A.T. – the world’s longest hiking-only footpath, across undulating landscapes and constant elevation changes. You’re at the mercy of hazardous weather conditions and the dangers posed by animals who may frequent the trail. Finally, imagine that you’re doing all of this after being diagnosed with a rare eye disease which has left you completely blind. This episode of A Life of Dogs features the incredible and inspirational story of Trevor Thomas – the first blind person to solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.
Embarking on the A.T.
After Trevor’s diagnosis in his mid-thirties, he decided to pursue hiking to maintain his independence. After getting a taste of long-distance hiking, he set off alone and completed the A.T., followed by solo-hiking other notable ranges such as the Shenandoah Mountain Range, the Smoky Mountains and the Grayson Highlands.Trevor decided to embark upon the notoriously difficult Colorado Trail, but after struggling to complete it on his own, he realized he needed some help.
Obtaining help from Tennille
After speaking with Guide Dogs for the Blind in California, Trevor met Tennillle – his first guide dog. Tennille was athletic, intelligent and eager to learn; after a year of practice and training, Trevor believed they were ready to embark on their first long-distance trail together – the Mountains-to-Sea trail in North Carolina.The weather throughout was terrible, making the trail difficult – but Trevor and Tennille completed i...
Battle for the Alley
Rats have been reported in New York City since the colonial times. Today, scientists believe that the rat population has grown to over 2 million in NYC. New York has been called the “Worst Rat City in the World” by some. Most of the city’s rat population consists of the the Norwegian rat or Brown rat. Some Brown rats can grow to become two pounds and 20 inches in length. Controlling this population of disease carrying rodents is a huge challenge, but we found a group of hunting enthusiasts that are up for the challenge.
Ryders Alley, NYC
Ryders Alley is located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in NYC. The Alley is a rather short corridor that is lined with rat poison bait boxes. This particular alley gave rise to the Ryders Alley Trencherfed Society, also known as R.A.T.S.R.A.T.S began in the 1990’s and was founded by Richard Reynolds. With an interest in preserving the working abilities of the terrier breeds, this group of volunteers venture out most weekends to hunt Brown Rats, also known as Norway Rats. These rats are much larger than most people imagine. Weighing in at around two pounds and growing up to 11 inches long, these creatures wreak havoc on the inhabitants of NYC.
The group uses a variety of breeds, most from the Terrier Group. These feisty little dogs are tenacious in their pursuit of rats. Terriers are known for chasing and killing vermin, even underground. As such, the dogs are typically divided into two groups, push dogs and catch dogs. “Push dogs” often burrow through trash piles and garbage bins, primarily using their noses, in order to push the rats from their hiding spots. The “Catch dogs” are incredibly fast and chase after and catch the rats as they flee from the garbage. This team effort is what makes this group of dogs so successful.
Patterdale Terrier with a rat.
Richard Reynolds with a Jagdterrier
R.A.T.S has become internationally known for their work in NYC, New Jersey and other parts of the United States.
This podcast definitely is one to pull on your heartstrings. It was an inspiring story about an extraordinary person who didn’t let his disability hinder him in truly living and loving life. I would definitely give it a listen!
Battle of the ally
Great podcast. Actually knowing that dog breed for certain things are being use. Helping the city out and bringing people together. This channel in a whole is great. Some awesome stories.
Battle for the Alley
Battle for the Alley was the first podcast I listened to from A Life of Dogs. This episode contained everything you’d want when listening to a podcast, great narration, behind the scenes chats, personal interviews, and audio from the time they got to see these working dogs in action. When you think working dogs you don’t always picture terriers hunting vermin but that’s exactly what these dogs were bred to do. I am excited to listen to the rest of the episodes to learn more about the interconnection between dogs and their handlers all around the world.