|On the left is Max the flat-coated retriever puppy starting to learn about pulling. On the right, there he is all grown up, skijoring with his buddy Griffin. |
How did Max learn to be a skijoring dog? Can you teach your dog to do the same thing? Here are a couple of tips that can help you get started.
|Some dogs are born knowing how to pull. Many dogs will pull quite strongly the first time a harness is put on them. Others have to be introduced the the idea gradually. Adults dogs who have been trained to heel can be very slow to adjust to the idea that pulling is allowed in harness. |
I like to start my puppies young. In the picture below, a lid with a dog treats on it gives my retriever pup a reason for pulling forward.
|Even a very young pup can learn about the idea of pulling. Just keep the distances very short, and the loads very light.|
|When Max was only a few of months old, I put a tiny harness on him and I let him pull a little 4 inch piece of 2×4 down the road, while I walked him on leash. His first reaction was to turn around and pounce on the little thing that was following him, making rattling noises. Soon he got used to the sound and the gentle tugging.|
Later on when Max was older and stronger, I used a larger piece of wood, and took him walking off leash in a nearby field. The piece of wood was large enough to occasionally get snagged on a clump of grass. At first Max would stop, thinking that the resistance meant he was stuck. But after a few tries, he learned that a strong pull forward would un-stick the drag. This was the beginning of really learning to pull.
|When using a scooter with a novice dog, I find it is very important to keep the brakes on a bit at all times unless you are going up a hill. In spite of the training, novice dogs somtetimes stop unexpectedly. If your brakes are not on, the scooter will continue forward, run over the tug line at full speed, and the line will tangle in the wheel. This causes high speed crashes!! |
Keep the speed slow and only rarely let the dog run as fast as he wants. This teaches the dog that pulling is part of the fun of scootering. Dogs that are used to running with little resistance will be completely confused as to what to do when they come to a hill. Most likely they will stop and look at you, hoping you will stop pulling on their harness so they can go forward.
|When I first started skijoring, I had two dogs who liked to run, but who stopped on hills. So, I turned the situation around. I took them to a short trail with one or two small hills. I started out with the brakes partly on, and held them to a slow trot on every flat or down hill section. When I got near the bottom of every hill, I said “Allright! We like hills!” and let off the brakes. The dogs took off at a run, got to the hill, felt the resistance, but kept running because they had been pulling the whole trip - it was nothing new. After doing this for several runs, I had a skijoring team that ran up hills.|
|Another technique I tried at one time was to go out on the trail in advance and leave treats at the tops of hills. It did work, but it resulted in dogs that always stopped at the top of a hill. Not such a bad problem, but not ideal either. |
With my current dogs, I used tire training to teach the word “Pull”. For this lesson you need to use enough weight that the dog has to pull quite hard to get it going. Every twenty foot pull of the tire earns a dog treat. Once the dogs knew the word “Pull”, it was easy to use the same word when we started up a small hill, when skijoring. Once again I rewarded with food for the first few times until the lesson was firmly learned. Now I just praise them and thank them at the top of every hill.
|Passing is one most important things to teach dogs. With many dogs, it is also the trickiest thing to teach. |
If you’re lucky, you might have a dog who is born with a natural passing instinct. But most dogs have to overcome either excess curiosity about other teams, or excess fear of strange dogs.
I repeated this lesson all fall one year, when teaching Griffin to skijor solo. He still remembers the lesson well , and he knows that he is a very good dog every time we pass another team and keep going.