Sledding with Dogs
Sledding with dogs is becoming increasingly popular, with many different breeds of dog being used for pulling a sled, not just huskies like most people presume or expect. As long as the dog is relatively large and fast, it will be able to pull a sled, however dogs are not just for sledding; they must be well maintained and kept happy and in high spirits, or they will not listen while pulling a sled, and this can cause personal injury for either the dogs or the owner.
Everyone has to start somewhere, so choosing equipment that is suitable for your size and breed of dogs is a necessity. The equipment that is needed includes harnesses, tug lines, gang-lines, necklines and booties. A scooter is an ideal start for dogs; however if you live somewhere very cold with snow most of the year round, you can buy a sled instead. Safety gear is also necessary for you; the first few tries can go horribly wrong. The scooter, sled and personal safety gear will not be needed initially, but it is worth having for future use.
Get the dogs used to wearing harnesses and having a level of drag behind them.. Attach a leash or gang-line to the harness, then let the end that would normally be held drag along behind the dog, attaching something to it – start small with something like a pair of shoes and gradually build it up over the period of multiple weeks until the dogs are comfortably pulling a light tire or something of similar weight.
Teach them the commands you will use when you take them sledding. This is the most time consuming part of the training and will require a lot of patience. Initially, take them on walks and runs with their drag attached, showing them the turns and moves; shouting ‘gee’ when turning right and ‘haw’ when turning left, using ‘whoa’ to make them stop. Gradually, you will need to move behind the dogs and ensure they continue to react to these instructions during walks and runs, as the sled or scooter will always be behind the dogs. Once they can run with the drag and respond to these instructions without looking at you, they are ready to try pulling a sled or scooter for the first time.
Pulling the Sled or Scooter
Ensure you have all of your personal safety gear on – knee pads, elbow pads and a helmet. Hitch your dogs to the scooter or sled, and see if they will run and pull you along; they may just turn and stare at you. And ideal way to get them to run may be a person to chase, either on a bike or just running. Make sure the lines stay taut and the dogs do not run on them; also keep your foot or hand on the brake at all times. Start with short sessions and gradually increase them, ensuring you keep all dogs well fed, watered and happy with treats and praise when necessary.
Teaching your dogs to pull a sled can be a brilliant exercise to increase the bond between pets and owner, and an excellent way to put some of their energy and strength to good use with something they will enjoy. Remember, it should always be about having fun, not competition!