HOW TO TRAIN TO PULL A SCOOTER
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Pull training is common to various pulling sports. The initial "groundwork" applies to training for scootering, bikejoring, sledding, weight pull, carting and dog driving (sulky driving).
• EQUIPMENT NEEDED
• COMMON COMMANDS
• PUT DOG AND SCOOTER TOGETHER
• BUILD ENDURANCE & SPEED
- HARNESS - You need a harness for your dog that will allow him to pull and run in comfort. The types used are either the x-back sled dog harness or variations of the Jeff King design which are sold as the "urban trails" or "y-back" (hybrid performance) harness. Dog outfitters sell these harnesses. For puppies and for initial work you can use an off the shelf walking harness.
- TUGLINE - You need a line to connect the dog's harness to the scooter. To start, a sturdy six-foot leash will do fine. Wrap the leash around the stem of the scooter. Run the snap through the loop and pull it tight. Use the snap to hook to the pulling loop or ring of your dog's harness. Commercially available tuglines made for scootering have a built-in bungee that acts as a shock absorber. These tuglines are available in one dog and two dog styles. The two dog style includes a neckline for hooking the collars of the two dogs together. The neckline is about a foot long with a slide snap at both ends.
- SCOOTER - Look for the following qualities in a dog scooter.
- Pneumatic (air-filled) tires, at least 12" diameter for city scootering and at least 16" diameter for off-road and rough trails.
- A footpad with room for both feet. If your chosen scooter needs a wider footpad to accomodate your feet, consider replacing or capping it with a "shortie" skateboard. These are available at stores like Walmart and Target. They cost about $12 and can be cut to fit your scooter.
- Good brakes - The wheels should lock when the brakes are squeezed hard. Be sure the brakes are adjusted properly and that the pads are not worn out. New highend pads make a big difference in stopping ability.
- Front shocks- These are not necessary, but they do make riding over rough trails more comfortable for the human.
- Handlebar height - Most low-cost scooters make fine starter scooters, but, as they are designed for children, the hand grips are too low to be comfortable for an adult. To raise the hand grips, put a stem riser between your handlebars and the scooter frame or buy a taller handlebar. Scooters designed for adults include the Diggler alpha dawg, DSK. and full suspension, as well as the Blauwerk Downhill and Willy.
- Fenders keep the mud off on rainy days. Many scooter trails are full of puddles and stream crossings. Fenders can be bought and installed at a bike shop.
- SAFETY GEAR - Whether to wear safety gear, depends on the dog. Fast dogs run 15 to 25 miles an hour. They speed faster than that when a deer runs across the trail. You are in trouble if the dog suddenly veers off the trail. Helmets protect heads. Wrist guards protect wrists. Elbow guards prevent broken elbows which are the most common scooter injury. Knee pads are often worn. Always wear long pants and sleeves. Some always wear coveralls to prevent road rash and goggles because running dogs kick pebbles and grit into your face and eyes.
The other type of safety gear is for visibility. Some people wear bright orange for protection from hunters. Others wear reflective gear for protection from cars at night. Night time scooterers wear headlamps and put blinking lights on the dogs.
1) Put the harness on, take the dog for a walk, take the harness off. Do that for a few walks, just to let the dog get used to the harness and to associate the harness with a fun activity. Many dogs are unconcerned about the harness from the first time they wear it, if so, this step can be eliminated.
2) Tie the handle end of a leash to a small "drag" such as a tree branch, bike tire, plastic water bottle... something very light. Snap the leash to the dog's harness and take the dog for a walk. Do that for a few days, until the dog is no longer worried about the thing dragging behind him. Have him drag a variety of drags (noisy, quiet, light, heavy) over a variety of terrains - pavement, lawn, dirt, gravel.
3) Teach directional commands. When walking your dog with the drag, say the commands as you lead him through the motions. Example, say "gee" as you lead him into a right turn, or say "whoa" as you come to a gradual stop. Be gentle and show your dog what you want.
Take him for a walk. When you come to a fork in the trail, or come to a corner or street crossing, use the commands "gee" or "haw" or "whooooa" as appropriate... The more you use them, the faster your dog will learn them. Some people prefer to say "right" and "left".
Hike! or Pull - "Go forward"
Whooooa - "Come to a smooth stop" (not a sudden halt)
Gee - "Turn right" (like "Gee whiz")
Haw - "Turn left"
This way - "Run in the direction the scooter is pointing"
On By - "Go on by the distraction"
Line Out - "Stand still with the tugline tight, facing forward away from the scooter". (like a stand-stay) This command prevents the dog from turning to face you or returning to you when you are at the scooter. It also prevents tangling of the line.
Easy - "Go slower."
Hup hup - "Go faster."
Spike is learning to pull his scooter by chasing the "rabbit" - his owner on a bicycle.
Photo courtesy of Cathy of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
C. PUT DOG AND SCOOTER TOGETHER
First practice riding the scooter without a dog. Ride down a hill. Have a helper pull you with the tugline. Practice using the brakes for both coasting and stopping. Practice banking around a curve. Your attention when dog scootering should be on the dog, not on riding the scooter.
For your first run with your dog, choose a familiar trail, or go the same route you've been using for your drag walking. A good choice is to take the dog to a fun place he's used to visiting, so he has a destination in mind like the park, a favorite swimming hole, or his favorite off-leash park. A trail or sidewalk is better than an open field because a dog does not know where to head when facing an open field. A narrow trail is better than a wide one. If you can, bring a family member or friend on a bicycle, and ask them to ride in front of you. This technique is often referred to as using a "rabbit"...the cyclist (rabbit) rides out front, and your dog is encouraged to "give chase". Sometimes it is best if you are the rabbit since your dog will run to keep up with you.
Wear a helmet, gloves, good athletic shoes or boots, and long sleeves and pants. Bring poop bags, water, the best treats. Hot dogs can be reserved for scootering only. Give some at breaks and especially at the car when returning after a run. A fanny pack with water bottles and pockets for car keys and supplies works well.
Never scooter in hot weather. Cool weather is best for your dog. In warm weather, scooter in the cool of the day.
The dog's first lesson is that the scooter is FUN because he gets to RUN. Keep the run short for the first few trips. Stop well before the dog is tired. Stop while he still wants to go.
The first run might be as short as a few minutes or a half a city block. Remember that a dog that is out of shape and/or overweight will tire quickly and even can damage joints or pull muscles.
Watch your tugline with an eagle eye. You do not want it to wrap around your front wheel or the dog's leg. Keep it tight by using the brakes lightly whenever the dog slows down. Keeping the line tight is your responsibility. Do not let the scooter coast up next to the dog. The dog's job is always to hold the line out tight in front of the scooter. Novice dogs may pull sideways sniffing and lifting their legs. They will suddenly stop to poop. Running causes the bowels to move. When first training the dog, steer the scooter to one side of him so that if he stops suddenly, you will miss him if you can't stop in time. Do not ride directly behind him.
Okay, go to your run place.
Walk the dog a little so he can pee and perhaps poop. When you walk your dog, snap the tugline to the collar. (The harness is for pulling; the collar is for heeling and sometmes for loose casual walking.) Get your scooter out and pointed the direction you want to go with tugline attached. Harness your dog and have your helper hold the scooter (one foot on the scooter pad, both brakes squeezed tight) while you hook up your dog. If you can, have another person hold your dog lined out, while you and the "rabbit" switch places, and the rabbit gets on the bike and ready to ride. When all is ready, have your rabbit take off, make SURE you have one foot on the scooter footpad and fingers on the brakes! Hopefully, your dog will be pulling and chasing the rabbit.
"Ready?" "Pull!" Let off the brakes, and hop on the scooter. Once you are rolling, keep your fingers on the brake levers, and use your brakes lightly as needed to keep the tugline tight at all times. Ride to the side, not directly behind your dog and have fun! If your dog gets confused, or doesn't go for the rabbit, you or your helper will run beside him with a leash while the other rides the scooter. Keep encouraging him to pull. Often, we've overdone the "obedience" thing, and dogs aren't sure that it's okay to be out front and pulling. Once they catch on, most dogs really love the pulling and running aspects of scootering.
D. BUILD ENDURANCE AND SPEED
by Susan Scofield, Washington musher
One thing that I learned over the past few years concerns mileage. Start out small and work up. Even if small means one block. One wants it to be fun for our dogs. Sometimes we have a plan in mind like I am going to do this two mile trail at a certain speed and we encounter problems in the first one hundred yards. You try to get your dog to go, he won't, frustration sets in and we end up disgruntled because we did not fulfill our goal. The mindset needs to change. Begin a relationship with your dog in a new way, where you watch the dog for subtle signals. Start out small, make it fun, then work up your mileage. With scootering you are moving along at a nice pace so it goes by fast. Five or ten minutes may not seem like long enough but it might be a good start. I often think in terms of time, not mileage I learned this from Becky Loveless and the sprint racers. (Note: Becky and her husband are mushers that compete in the Atta Boy 300 as well as other races. They are co-owners of Alpine Outfitters in Washington State)
After a while stay out a bit longer ... the idea being you are not fixing a certain mileage goal to meet but running for a certain period of time. After you and the dog become much more familiar with the routine, you will begin to know the mileage your dog can do under variable conditions. For example, one of my Sibes is very heat sensitive so he cannot be run in temps over 50. Add in humidity, conditioning, terrain and you have mileage variables.
Watch the dog, make it fun, end on a good note. Start small - smaller than you might imagine. Even a mile is a long distance for a dog new to scootering.
Of course, some dogs will just take off and go...... Wheee....Susan
by Robin Harrison, North Carolina
The various musher manuals give hydration instructions for team dogs running in winter conditions that mine would never experience here in the subtropical South, but I adapt as best I can.
I'm not sure where said musher manuals got this figure from, but an oft quoted one is that a 3% dehydration level in a dog causes a 20% drop in performance. I believe that I've seen the effects of this simply between the time that I had no knowledge of pre-run hydration and now. Before I joined this list, we just packed up with a water bottle and a bowl and took off. I had to make water stops constantly and the Grand Dames never seemed to be getting enough. Thick coated Sibe Guya would pant like crazy and never catch her breath.
After joining this list and doing some more research, I learned that I should be hydrating my dogs with at least 1.5 - 2 cups of water within 1.5 to 2 hours of running (respectively) and the difference was tremendous. We could go 2-3x as far before stopping and the dogs would not be on the water bowl when we did stop like they'd never had a drink in their lives. Basically, just a few laps to wet the tongue. Guya still pants more than short-haired Dal Kendall, but no longer like she just smoked
3 packs of cigarettes before we set off.
As Kendall's heart got worse (severe murmur), I had to start putting water in her bowl at each meal so she'd slow down, chew and not regurgitate whatever she'd consumed. I also started running dogs mostly in the morning and was having difficulty with the timing of hydrating them before the run, so I simply started providing hydration every morning with their breakfast food. I soak their food (~1/3rd of their daily total) in 2 cups of water and it's usually 2-3 hours before we hit the trail. The average amount of baited breakfast water in the musher's manuals seems to be in the 1 quart (4 cups) range, but my dogs aren't pulling near what the typical sled team would be. I generally give them a quick drink before we hit the trail and they'll mosey over to the water bowl several times before we leave home too.
Could be they'd run even better with more water, but we can get halfway through a 5-6 mile run before stopping for a break and that's usually because we've reached the turn around point or I want to stop for a smoke (my dogs live healthier lifestyles than I do. If I ever put together a pair or more of dogs that are young and fit enough to get back up to 12-15+ mile runs again, then I would probably increase the morning water to 3-4 cups.
The main point to all of this being, get your doggies used to lapping up that water! If it's just a natural event in his/her everyday life, then it's much less likely that you'll be struggling like I am now to get Charm to drink. At this point, even if I did get her to take a hydration breakfast on the day of a run, there are many more days behind that one where she barely took in 2-3 cups of water in a day, so we're working from a deficit. You don't wanna be there, especially not with the summer moving in.
Also, other than the obvious times when a dog is sick and you know it's dehydrated, how would I tell that my dog is dehydrated?
My list won't be all inclusive or nearly the best of any because I've never had to deal with it first hand; others might wish to add to this. Skin elasticity is an excellent indicator. Pull on a bit of skin when you know your dog is rested and well hydrated to see how quickly it recoils. If you do the same test when your dog is getting dehydrated, the skin will be slower to go back into place. Also, dry mouth and/or eyes, glassy eyes, standing stiffly or falling down. If this ever happens, the best solution (if do-able) is to wet your dog completely down. If not, try to give him/her some lukewarm water. Cold or chilled water should be avoided, as I understand it. It's great if you can plan warmer weather runs where streams are strategically placed along the trail! Mine wade right in at every opportunity.