By far the most common question we get when folks are just starting to learn about dog powered sports is how to even begin. There is a ton of info out there and frankly it can be super overwhelming for the beginner. This article is intended to serve as a simple roadmap to all the canine powered sports.
The first thing you should have is an appropriate harness you are going to use in running your dog. There is an excellent page on harnesses, and as each breed is built slightly different, please feel free to ask the group for recommendations. Someone here will have the same breed/build dog as yours and will be happy to help. You can accustom your dog to the running harness while training him/her to commands in what we call “groundwork”. Dogs learn quickly that collar (or walking harness) is for walks; joring harness is for runs. So train your dog in the harness you are going to use for joring; most of us also use the collar to guide the dog while he/she learns commands.
In addition, Midwest Mountaineering is a local brick and mortar store where you can bring your dog to be fitted to a harness. They carry the X1 by Kondos Outdoors.
If you are still struggling to fit your dog, we recommend you contact Windigo Kennels & Outfitters, in Iron River WI. Windigo has some of the best harness makers in the world and can work through pretty much any issue that is preventing your dog from getting that perfect fit.
The next step is start teaching your dog the basic commands and the most basic of commands is “line out.”
“Before you get started, there is some groundwork to do. Begin training your dog on foot. Ensure that everything you want your dog to do at great speeds on the bike, is understood and rock solid while you are on your feet. Harm reduction people. This includes no randomly running after bunnies and squirrels as well as controlled turns and stops. But by far, the biggest dangers to bikejoring are untrained dogs and inexperienced owners. Train your dog properly to ignore distractions, keep the line tight and to listen. The more training you have done with the dog, the more communication the two of you have together. Keep things slow, and always leave your dog wanting more.”~Kevin Roberts, “The Basics of Bikejoring with your dog”, petguide.com
For those of us not running a huge team, this may not seem like a necessity, but it’s a great way to start laying the groundwork for your dog to understand that the line must remain taut.
Begin by placing the dog in a Sit Stay. Walk forward and place a treat on a target, placed on the ground about 6 feet in front of the dog. Return to the dog and release them. The dog will run forward to the treat. Offer praise as soon as they reach the treat. When the dog has reached the treat, collect the line and move forward. Never call the dog back or reel them into you. The ultimate goal of Line Out, and the ultimate reward is the forward movement. That’s the key to any successful mushing, moving forward. Once your dog is performing pretty solid “Line Outs” increase the time they wait at the end of the line before you walk forward. Over time you will want to build this up to a point in that you can get ready to pedal and head off down the trail. A well trained Line Out means less stressful starts and less chance of injury with the dog keeping the line tight and out away from the wheels.” (Kevin Roberts)
As to the other commands:With the dog in harness close at your side, using the collar to guide them, say “Go!”, “Okay!”, “Walk on” (there’s a link to the list of most common commands in the Supplies file, but you can use any terminology you want, as long as you’re consistent; real mushers actually never say “Mush”, lol) and move forward. As you’re walking, say “Gee!” and turn to the right, with the dog close at your side. Same with “Haw!” to go left, “Hike!” to go faster, “Woa!” to stop, etc. Much praise, treats if you use them; basically keep it FUN, stop before the dog gets bored, and repetition, repetition, repetition until it’s really solid. It’s really as simple as that.Once the dog has commands down solid, many of us move on to having the dog pull a light weight on a line attached to the harness, like an old bike tire or plastic jug with pebbles in it (with leash still attached to collar to guide them). This accustoms them to the feel/sound of pulling something. More repetition with commands, and with the human slowly falling behind, until the dog is out front, pulling on their own. It can help to have another person the dog likes walking ahead of both of you, encouraging them to move out front.
Once they get the idea and are solid on commands, then you can move on to hooking them up to bike/scooter/skate/etc. or just you (canicross). The options are myriad, essentially anything with which a dog can pull a human. There are links to many of these in the Supplies file, and members will be happy to recommend what they’ve found works best for them.
Start out right, and you’ll have less problems on the trail, and it will keep both you and your dog safest. These sports are incredibly addictive, amazingly fun, will strengthen the bond between you and your dog, give them mental as well as physical exercise, teach them to use their brains and think for themselves, and give you both years of enjoyment. But if you start out wrong, you can look forward to myriad problems and a lot of injuries, possibly to both of you. So do it right in the beginning, and ENJOY!
Unit 1: Intro to Dog Powered Sports