WinterStar Farm - Frequently Asked Questions

How long have you owned Malamutes?Buck - Tim's first Alaskan Malamute
Tim got his first Malamute, Buck, in 1991.  When Buck was old enough to pull, Tim hitched him into the team of some friends and went dogsledding for the first time, and was hooked on the experience!  From then on, he aspired to increase the size of his team with good working dogs. 

Tim grew up showing dogs in the conformation ring; his family raised registered Irish Setters.  He appreciates the work it takes to breed dogs that not only do the job they were bred to do, but excel in meeting the breed standard for conformation, and display good temperaments and structural soundness.  As he moved from purchasing dogs fo
r dogsledding to becoming a Malamute breeder, he was more and more selective of the dogs he bought, often waiting two years or more for the right puppy to be available from the right breeders.  From these carefully selected dogs from lines proven in both the conformation arena and the sledding trails, Winterstarz Alaskan Malamutes began.

I have never owned a Malamute but I think they are beautiful.  What can you tell me about them to help me decide if a Malamute is the right breed for me?
The American Kennel Club has some great basic information on our breed, comparing them to other breeds. 

Training and socialization with people and other dogs, on a lifetime basis, are important for successful ownership of a malamute.  Exercise is critical; malamutes have a lot of energy and dogs who are not exercised enough tend to express that energy in destructive ways, such as chewing or digging.  The Malamute Mantra is "A working dog is a happy dog, and a tired dog is a good dog."

Do you have any puppies for sale?Puppies at play on WinterStar Farm
See the Puppies Page for the most current information on any breedings.   

See the Puppy Photo Gallery for fun pictures, videos and movies of our past puppies.  Please Contact Us if you are interested in being on the waiting list for a puppy.

How do you evaluate your puppies?
We spend a lot of time with our puppies and get to know their personalities so we can help match the right puppy with the right home.   Our puppies are given an obstacle course that increases in complexity each week to help them develop balance and body awareness, to get them used to and comfortable in a variety of environments, and to start developing their brains for training.  View video of our puppy raising methods here.  We have also used Volhard Puppy Aptitude temperament testing at seven weeks of age to further assess their personalities.

In addition, at age seven weeks we test the puppies for sled dog aptitude.  This test can identify puppies with good pulling instincts, but we have seen several puppies that did not test very well become strong working dogs, so it is good to remember that sledding is somewhat of a learned skill - it is not entirely based on instinct. 

Lastly, we have asked longtime Malamute breeders for help evaluating which puppies have the best conformation and should be show ring and breeding prospects.  In particular we have been aided by the breeders that sold us our foundation breeding dogs.  Helen Schultz of Tol Istari Alaskan Malamutes, who sold us our foundation dog Procyon, has given us the benefit of her many years of experience breeding and showing Malamutes multiple times.  Shilon Bedford of  Black Ice Kennel, who sold us our foundation bitch
Sirius has also visited WinterStar Farm to evaluate puppies.  Shilon is an international dog show judge as well as a Malamute breeder and owner.  We truly appreciate the talents and experience of these good friends in being able to pick up a squirming bundle of fur and predict how they will look as adults!

Based on these multiple evaluations we decide which puppy will go to which home.

How do you screen potential puppy buyers?
We like to ask prospective buyers a lot of questions.  For example, what experience do you have with Malamutes or other dogs?  What dog training have you done in the past?  Where do you live; do you have a fenced yard?  Do you have children and if so what ages?  What are you looking for in a puppy - a family pet, a working sled dog, a performance or show dog? Are you interested in a male or a female puppy, or is either one fine?

Learning as much as we can about our prospective buyers helps us to decide if we are the right breeders for what the buyer wants and also aids us in matching buyer and puppy.  Placing our puppies in the right home is very important to us.  We sell each puppy with a contract that stipulates the responsibilities of us the breeders, and of the buyer. 
As veterinarians, we encourage our buyers to develop and maintain a good working relationship with their local vet.  To aid that, each puppy leaves WinterStar Farm with a complete health record of their life from birth onward, detailing their weight, vaccinations and deworming.  All of our puppies are microchipped before placement.  We also provide general information on puppies and training, registration materials,  their pedigree, feeding instructions and a bag of food to make the transition of our puppies to their new homes as smooth as possible.

On several of your web pages there are "Health Clearances" listed on the right side,  for example "OFA: Good AM-12590G45F-VPI, EYES: AM-EYE116/101M-VPI, DNA Profile #: V585613, CHD: AMCA 13912".  What does all this mean?
This information is found on the pages of our breeding dogs, and indicates the health certification test results for each dog.  The abbreviations stand for:

OFA (or HIPS or ELBOWS) - Orthopedic Foundation for Animals - this is a hip or elbow dysplasia evaluation, and lists the grade the OFA gave the hips/elbows, and the OFA reference number.

CERF or EYES - shows that the dog was checked and found clear of inherited eye diseases, and the reference number.

DNA Profile # -  This reference number shows that DNA profiling was performed.

CHD - Chondrodysplasia - The CHD number shows that the dog's pedigree has been analyzed and they are not a carrier of chondrodysplasia.  Several organizations perform this pedigree analysis, so the organization that performed the evaluation is listed prior to this number - in the example above AMCA, or Alaskan Malamute Club of America.

For more details on health certifications, please read the next question.

What testing or evaluation do you do on your dogs for breeding?
We evaluate our breeding dogs in many ways, to have the best chance of producing healthy puppies that grow into good working dogs with excellent temperaments.

Temperament - we carefully evaluate our dogs in multiple environments, such as with strangers and children, and in dog shows and classesWe choose to breed attentive dogs with stable personalities, that are well behaved in a wide variety of environments.

Working Attitude - We strive to preserve the grand working heritage of the Alaskan Malamute, a breed developed in America to work with humans.  We enjoy dogsledding, backpacking, carting and weight pulling with our dogs.  To produce the next generation of strong willing workers, we only breed dogs that work well.

Hips - At 2 years of age or older, we have our breeding dogs screened by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia.  Hip radiographs are taken and OFA has three board-certified veterinary radiologists evaluate and grade them.  The grades are averaged for each dog and the evaluation is publicly posted on the OFA website.  There are three grades for normal hips, meaning dogs that do not have hip dysplasia - Fair, Good and Excellent.  There are four grades for abnormal hips - Borderline, Mild, Moderate and Severe.  OFA recommends only breeding dogs that score Fair or better, to reduce the chance of producing puppies with hip dysplasia.  Here at WinterStar Farm, all of our dogs have scored Good or Excellent, and we have only bred dogs with Good or better hips.  For more information on hip dysplasia, click here

Elbows - We started screening for elbow dysplasia in 2016.  Radiographs of the elbows are taken and evaluated by the radiologists at the OFA.  Elbows are scored as Normal, Grade I, II or III.  For more information on elbow dysplasia, click here.

Eyes - we regularly have a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist examine the eyes of our breeding dogs for inherited defects or diseases.  This information is reported to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and is available on their website.  The examination is considered to be good for one year, as some inherited diseases do not show up until later in life.

Polyneuropathy - This recessive inherited disease is a heartbreaker, as puppies are normal until 6 months to 2 years of age, and then develop weakness and inability to stand, which they can die from, but some do survive and recover somewhat, after a long illness.  It was a great day for our breed when researchers working with clubs, owners  and breeders found the gene and a genetic test became available.  We test all of our dogs for PN unless they are clear by parentage (if neither parent carries the PN gene, the offspring also will not carry).  To learn more about PN click here; in addition, we recommend highly this article describing how breeders, owners and researchers from around the world worked together to figure this disease out and create the genetic test.  This article shows how important DNA banking is for the future health of our breed.

DNA Banking - All of our dogs have DNA banked and we encourage all of our puppy buyers to bank DNA as well.  Genetic research for health works the best when DNA from families of dogs is available.  We inform the bank over the life of the dog of any health problems, and the bank alerts researchers to the availability of relevant samples for their studies.

DNA Profile - DNA profiling is recommended by the American Kennel Club for registered purebred dogs, to prove parentage.  We enrolled our breeding dogs in the Voluntary DNA Profile program and they have been DNA profile tested.  For more information on this program please visit the DNA page of the American Kennel Club Website.

Chondrodysplasia (CHD) - this inherited disease in Malamutes, also known as dwarfism, is something many breeders have successfully worked on to decrease the prevalence in our breed.  Responsible breeders united to identify dogs that carried the CHD gene, and chose not to breed them so that their next generation would not have this disease.  Our foundation dogs Procyon and Sirius were CHD certifiable, which means their pedigrees can be traced back to show they are descended from dogs that did not carry CHD.  The CHD program was suspended in 2013 by the Alaskan Malamute Club of America because the club and breeders worldwide are working with genetic researchers to try and identify the gene and come up with a genetic test for this disorder.  There are very few dwarf malamutes produced today, due to the successful program the AMCA ran for many years.

Thyroid - Alaskan Malamutes as a breed are somewhat prone to developing hypothyroidism and screening breeding dogs for thyroid function with a full thyroid panel performed at a laboratory approved by the OFA is recommended, starting at two years of age or older, and testing every 1-3 years until the animal is six years or older.  The full thyroid panel can show a problem long before the dog has any signs of hypothyroidism.  We do thyroid screening on all of our breeding dogs.

Long Coat - This is a recessive gene common in the breed.  Dogs with one copy of the gene have normal coats; dogs with two copies of the gene have very long and silky coats that do not meet the breed standard and are more work to care for than the normal Alaskan Malamute coat.  The long coats tend to collect dirt and snow/ice.  We have decided not to produce long coats, so that is one thing we look at when doing a breeding - we won't breed two carriers to each other.  A carrier can be bred to a non carrier, and all the pups will have normal coats.  A non carrier can be bred to a long coat and all of the pups will be carriers, but will have normal coats.

What training do you do with your dogs?
Practicing obedience at home with puppies Pegs,  Minnie and Howler, 2004
We do quite a variety of training with our dogs.  Malamutes are bright dogs that can get bored easily with repetition, so it helps us to keep our dogs engaged and eager to please by varying what we ask them to do.  All of our dogs go to Puppy class for socialization and through Beginner Obedience at minimum, and we continue to work them on basic obedience at home.  It takes a lot of discipline to be able to hook 4-8 excited and ready to run dogs up to a sled or cart one at a time and maintain order!  Tim often hitches up the team by himself and runs them, and they have to obey the basic commands or he would not make it out of the yard!

In addition, the dogs we are competing with take extra classes in Conformation if they are Tim training Howler for Rally competitionshowing in the breed ring, and Rally or Obedience if they are showing there.  Many of our dogs take Intermediate Obedience or Rally class on an ongoing basis, not for competition.  Karina has trained several of our dogs in Agility everyone has had a great time!  We have noticed that these agility-trained puppies are in a great mindset for learning anything we want to teach them.  We may not show in Agility but the classes have been worthwhile in and of themselves, and the puppies really love them. 
Hauling firewood
We also train our dogs for work - they learn to pull the cart, sled and weights like loads of firewood; and recently we have begun training them to carry backpacks for hiking trips, and for weight pull competition. 

What we have seen is that the more we work with our dogs, the better the dog is and the more fun it is for us to own and raise them!

Where do you train your dogs?
We are very lucky to have a terrific training facility just 10 minutes away from WinterStar Farm!  Water's Edge Dog Center is the place we go, so often that at times it feels like a second home!  We have had our dogs in Puppy Class, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Obedience, Rally, Conformation and Agility.  The various instructors we have worked with at Water's Edge have been tremendous resources for us and taught us a lot over the years.  Water's Edge is owned and operated by Dan Rode, who has become a good friend and helped us in many areas, including temperament testing our litters of puppies.  We have enjoyed getting to know other dog owners at our classes and like to cheer each other on at classes and shows.

For dogsledding and carting, we train the dogs mainly here on the farm.  In the fall and spring we get the team and the cart or ATV out on the gravel roads, and down to the Luce Line Trail.  In winter, we like to dogsled on the North Fork of the Crow River.  WinterStar Farm is situated on the river so the team can leave right from our kennel and get onto the river by a short run through the horse pasture.  Our horse Fred is a great spectator for our team and is now dogsled spook-proof!  We were thrilled when Wright County Parks decided to open up the East Unit of Robert Ney Park for dogsledding and skijoring, and we frequently visit that park, particularly when the river isn't frozen or is thawing.  For back pack training, we like to take the dogs to several county and state parks in the area and hike their trails.  Some of our favorites are Lake Maria State Park and Collinwood County Park.  Our local St Bernard Club and the Samoyed Club of Minneapolis and St Paul hold weight pull training classes which we have found very helpful.   We feel very fortunate to have excellent guidance from these experienced weight pull enthusiasts!

I noticed several of your dogs have working dog titles.  What are they and how did your dogs earn them?

The Alaskan Malamute Club of America (AMCA) encourages Malamute owners to use their dogs for the jobs they were initially bred for, such as pulling a sled or cart, back packing, and weight-pulling.  The AMCA has guidelines for how a dog can earn various working dog titles, proving that the dog can do the work that Alaskan Malamutes were developed to do. 

Several of our dogs have WTD - Working Team Dog titles; to earn this title they had to complete at least four sledding or carting runs of at least 10 miles long; these runs had to be witnessed and verified by an impartial party.  The dogs had to pull the entire way to earn the title.

Our dogs Major, Aurie and Wes have a WLD - Working Lead Dog title.  They had to do the same four runs as above, but had to run in single lead the entire way.  It is mentally harder on a dog to run in single lead - out in front of all the other dogs - for a long distance, and the lead dog also has to learn to obey more commands than the rest of the team, which is why fewer dogs achieve the WLD title than the WTD title.

Minnie and Howler are the first dogs we worked with toward a WPD - Working Pack Dog title, though almost all of our dogs have this title now.  For this title, the dog has to complete four hikes of at least 10 miles long, carrying a backpack that weighs 30% of their body weight at the start.  These hikes have to be witnessed by impartial parties at the start and finish, and the pack weight also has to be verified.

Sirius was awarded a ROMWD - Register of Merit - Working Dog title when four of her offspring were awarded their working titles.  Procyon received the same award when five of his offspring earned working titles.  The ROM titles recognize dogs for passing on the genes for working.

Major and Pegs were our first dogs to earn WWPD - Working Weight Pull Dog titles, although most of our dogs have at least the basic title and we have several dogs with Advanced or Excellent titles (WWPDA or WWPDX).  In weight pull competition, the dog pulls a cart or sled for 16 feet.  The event is timed, and most weight pull organizations allow the dog 60 seconds for a pull.  Dogs wear a special heavy duty weight pull harness for this event, which has extra padding to protect the dog and a wooden dowel in the back that prevents the harness from compressing their back legs.  The amount of weight a dog can pull varies quite a bit depending on the rig and surface pulled upon.  Pulls with a sled on snow have much lower top weights pulled than when using a wheeled rig on concrete or carpet.

It takes a lot of time and work to condition the dogs for these titles; to get a team of dogs in shape to run many miles, or hike 10 miles carrying significant weight, or pull a maximum amount in a weight pull competition are goals we work the dogs toward gradually.  And of course, we have to be able to go the distance too!  We really appreciate the AMCA having the working dog program, as it gives us goals to train our dogs toward and an impartial and consistent way to compare working dogs.

What does the CH in front of a dog's name mean?  What about the other abbreviations before and after a dog's name? 
CH stands for Champion, and refers to a purebred and registered dog's performance at Howler wins and is a New Champion, 2007conformation/breed dog shows.  In the USA, this title is awarded by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and also the United Kennel Club.  In conformation shows, the dog is judged against the Breed Standard, which is a written description of the "perfect dog" for that breed.

Dogs become Champions by winning over other other dogs at the show.  At each show, the best female in each breed is awarded Winner's Bitch and the best male is awarded Winner's Dog.  These dogs earn points toward their championship - the number of points is between one and five, and is determined by how many dogs the Winner defeated that day. 

To achieve an AKC Champion title, a dog must accumulate at least 15 points.  In addition, at least two of the wins must be "major" wins, where the dog competes against and places over enough dogs to earn at least three points.  The major wins have to be awarded by different judges, and at least one other judge has to award some of the total points.

For more details on how AKC conformation dog shows work and the point system, see the American Kennel Club Website and the United Kennel Club Website.

Now for some of the other abbreviations - we'll start with letters in front of the dog's name:
BIS - Best In Show; a dog with this in front of their name won against all the other breeds in a conformation show;
BISS - Best In Specialty Show - this dog won a show where just their breed was shown
A/C CH or Am/Can CH - American and Canadian Champion
UWP - United Weight Puller - a basic level working title awarded by the UKC
UWPCH - United Weight Puller Champion - an advanced working title awarded by the UKC

The letters after a dog's name indicate a variety of accomplishments.  Here are the ones you may encounter on our website, please note this is not a complete list:
Working Titles (Awarded by the Alaskan Malamute Club of America):
WTD - Working Team Dog
WLD - Working Lead Dog
WPD - Working Pack Dog
WWPD - Working Weight Pull Dog
ROMWD - Register of Merit - Working Dog
The above titles also can have Advanced and Excellent added to them if the dog meets the qualifications for those titles, which usually means going more miles and/or carrying or pulling more weight than the Working Title.  For example WTDA is Working Team Dog Advanced, or WPDX is Working Pack Dog Excellent.
Performance Titles (Awarded by the American Kennel Club)
CD - Companion Dog - indicates the dog has successfully competed in Obedience
CDX - Companion Dog Excellent - the next level of Obedience
UD - Utility Dog - an even higher level of Obedience
HIT - High In Trial - means the dog achieved the top score in an obedience trial
RN - Rally Novice - the dog competed successfully at the entry Rally level
RA - Rally Advanced - the middle level of Rally
RE - Rally Excellent - the top level of Rally
RAE - Rally Advanced-Excellent - the most accomplished Rally title

What is Brace class and how do you show dogs in it?Karina showing Aurie and Penny in Brace class, 2009
Brace is a special class which some conformation/breed shows offer.  In this class, two dogs are shown together by one handler; they are joined at the collar by a short leash called a Brace Lead.  In Brace class, the dogs are judged by how similar they are to each other as well as how well they meet the Breed Standard. 

Do you race your dogs?
Currently we do not race; we enjoy using our dogs for recreational dogsledding and cart runs of 1-20 miles in length.  In the past, Tim competed in some short freighting races.

When you say you run a dog in "wheel position," what does that mean?
There are several positions on the team for sledding or carting.  The Wheel dogs are closest to the sled; typically heavier and stronger dogs are used in this position.  Team dogs run between the wheel dogs and the lead dog(s).   Lead dogs(s) run in front.

What are the commands you teach your dogs for dogsledding? 
Let's Go! or Hup! - signals the dogs to move forward
On-By - this is a very important command that the lead dog especially must obey - it means the
dogs are to ignore a trail-side distraction such as a loose dog, wildlife, another dogsled team, a person with a camera trying to get shots of the team pulling, or anything else they want to go investigate, and continue down the trail. 
Gee - turn right - another command the lead dog needs to know!
Haw - turn left
Out Front - this command is given to the lead dog(s) when the sled or cart is stopped and tells
that dog to face forward and put tension on the gangline (the line all the dogs are hooked to).  If the gangline goes slack, the dogs get tangled in it and they can become very irritated with each other when it pulls on their legs!  The lead dog is responsible for keeping the line taut so the team stays in place, both while pulling and at rest breaks.
Whoa - used to stop the team 
Easy - command used to slow the team.
  When starting out the dogs want to sprint and can
wear themselves out quickly if we let them run too hard; so this command is especially important when we are trying to do a longer distance run and need the dogs to be able to pull for several hours.

Where do you purchase your dogsledding equipment?
Our equipment comes from Black Ice Dog Sledding Equipment.  We really like the help we have received from Black Ice on how to measure a dog and determine which harness size and style will fit them the best.  One of our favorite items that we have not found at regular dog supply stores are the limited slip collars - these are very helpful for sledding, as the dogs are less likely to pull out of these collars and cause a team pile-up!  

Do you compete in weight pulls?
We started competing in weight pulls in 2010 after a break of several years; Tim used to compete with his first two Malamutes Buck and Cid.  Buck was an excellent weight pulling dog with tremendous natural technique - he instinctively knew to stay low and pull, and he won several trophies at weight pulls.  He weighed less than 80 pounds and competed in that division; but he out-pulled the 95 pound Cid at every competition, even though Cid competed in the 80-100 pound class! 

In 2010, we started attending weight pull practices, which we found very helpful in training our dogs to weight pull.  Our team is trained not to pull the dogsled when it is tied off or braked, so one issue we had was that when the weight pull rig got heavy, our dogs would think it was tied and not even try to pull - they would give us some very comical confused looks!  We started training with Major and Pegs and both have gone on to earn WWPD titles; both dogs are getting very good at weight pulling and have pulled high enough weights to qualify for the WWPDX - Working Weight Pull Dog Excellent title.

We also have used our dogs for "practical" weight pulling at WinterStar Farm - they haul loads of firewood from the woodshed to the house!

Do you ski-jor with your dogs?
An avid cross-country skier, Karina resisted suggestions to try skijoring until the winter of 2011.  And the rest is history...  She enjoyed it, especially with Minnie.  Now they are working toward a team dog title for Minnie and also training puppies in harness using Minnie as their partner.   Karina is a very experienced cross-country skier - she has completed the 33 mile long Birkebeiner Ski Race three times.   Tim prefers to dogsled or cart, and Karina has been sledding more and more as the years go by.

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