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Beargrease winner shows the work that goes into training a family of sled dogs

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FINLAND, MN — Winner and runner-up of the 2019 Beargrease shows us the work required to train a family of sled dogs.

Come winter, a lot of eyes are on sled dog racing here in the Northland, but what not many get to see is just how much work goes into training and raising a whole team of racing dogs.

We had a chance to visit Blake and Jennifer Freking, the winner and runner-up of the 2019 Beargrease, at their kennel in Finland, MN where they have sixty-two Siberian huskies.

Sixty-two may seem like a lot, but that doesn’t stop them from providing each of the dogs with special attention. According to Jennifer, “They all have names. They all have nicknames. You have to know everything about them.”

To help exercise and socialize with all of them, they have about a two and a half enclosed area for the dogs to free run every day. Blake said, “It really allows them to be dogs. So not only are they running around, getting some exercise. It’s also really good social time.” Both of them emphasized how important it is for them to socialize.

Blake and Jennifer both work full time jobs in Ely, and they commute together every weekday. Though they rely on handlers to help out, their day starts as early as 4 A.M. performing various chores and exercising the dogs before work. “Yeah, we don’t watch television,” Jennifer added.

For them, it’s normal routine: managing, keeping in mind everyone’s needs, warming programs, vaccination programs, diet needs, and so on. “For somebody else to step in our boots all of a sudden, it would be completely overwhelming, but for us it’s quite normal,” according to Jennifer.

Both of them stressed the importance of providing the best life for each of these dogs. According to the Blake, “This is what they love to do, so they’re going to have fun regardless, and it’s our job to not inhibit them in any way.”

When things are not going as planned and they’re not performing the way they hope, the Frekings recommend that instead of looking at the dogs are doing wrong, look at what you’re doing wrong. “The dogs are always doing their best. Their so honest,” Jennifer said.

The Frekings also discussed the importance of working together as a team. The amount of time and energy required to raise and train these dogs truly requires the whole family. Blake emphasized by saying, “If both parties aren’t involved, it’s just not gonna work out.”

Despite the hard work and heavy commitment, they both believe they are living their best lives by raising these dogs. “Being a family of mushers is really quite a commitment, but we consider it a real honor to live the life we live.”

Both Blake and Jennifer plan to race again in the 2020 Beargrease.

Photojournalist Wyatt Buckner

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