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Happy, Healthy Dogs and Harness Selection

Posted on 23 November, 2017 at 0:05 Comments comments (0)


Though skijoring, kicksledding, scootering or any dog powered activity, you and your dog develop a close, trusting relationship because of the amount of time you spend together. You are striving hard to work as a team, and through exercise releasing endorphins. The love of the trail only serves to strengthen your bond.

 

The goal of is a happy, healthy, highly motivated team.

 

Throughout this blog are many tips and ideas exploring how to keep your dog happy, healthy and motivated. Today we will focus on the wide amount of choices you have for harnesses.


 

 

 

 

 

As you can see in the collage above, there are many, many, many kinds of harnesses out there on the market! I haven't even been able to scratch the surface of all the options out there. So this is only a small selection of course. Every musher has their own preference, but it really comes down to the dogs.

 

How does your dog perform when wearing a harness? We want the best for our dogs, and we want them to be happy, harness selection has a large part to play in that.

 

This article is going to get into proper harness fit, design and how the harness you choose affects the health of your dog.

 

Harness Fit

 

Seems like a good place to start! The basics of any harness, is that they should be fitting around the dog's shoulders, and not riding up to the neck. The "neck hole" should fit over the shoulder blades at the top, and the breast bone at the bottom. A harness that is too big will slip down over the shoulders, and get in the way of the dogs legs. A harness that is too small will ride up around the dog's throat. A harness that does not fit properly can distract your dog, rub their coat bald or even cause injury!

 

A typical X-back harness is meant to fit a typical northern breed dog. Wider across the chest, and narrower down to the hips. Many mushers use X-back or H-back harnesses, but pay attention to the types of dogs they are running.

 

If you are running a hound dog, look at some of the options meant for hound deep chested hound and hound crosses which are popular in the sprinting races of dog mushing.

 

For those of us running family pets, and mutts, the sizing can be a bit more tricky. There is no real standard across the industry for what a Large or a Small is, and it varies from outfitter to outfitter. Read their instructions for sizing carefully, and ask about a return policy just in case!

 

While it is true that not all harnesses are created equal, there simply is not one harness that is hands down the best harness out there. If someone insists that the harness they have is the best one out there, it may be the case, for their particular team, or their own dog. It does not mean that will translate to you our own experience!

 

Design

 

Two questions to keep in mind when shopping for a harness. What was this harness intended for? Is that what you will be doing?

 

There are so many options out there for harness designs, that there is no reason not to run your dog in a harness for the intended activity. Most important when thinking of harness design, is to look at the attachment point. Where you hook up the gangline.

 

Them compare the height of your dog, with the height of how the dog will be attached. In any harness design your dog should be pulling forward from their shoulders, by pushing against the harness. That's the basic idea.

 

 

 

For example, the attachment point for a skier who is of average height, with an average height dog, means that the gangline goes up off the dog to the skiers waist, as in the picture above. This means that when the dog leans forward and pulls, the dog is using her shoulders to pull. There is no pressure put down on the dog's hips, because the line goes up. .

 

 

In this shot, the line is going up off the dog, and the dog is leaning in to pull a skijorer.

 

 

 

The same is true in biking and scootering, the dog leans forward on their shoulders, with an angle up to the attachment point on the scooter or bike.

 

So skijoring, scootering and sledding, you can likely get away with the same style of harness. If you have a tall dog, or a low attachment point on your scooter, you will need to look at the angle.

 

If you are using a dog sled or a kicksled, the attachment point will be lower on the dog. In some cases, shoter people with tall dogs skijoring will also fit into this category.

 

A lower attachment point needs to be taken into account and the use of a harness which will take the pressure off of the dog's hips. Adding a longer gangline will also help reduce the pressure pushing down on a dog's back end. A dog pulling forward, while at the same time having a downward force pushing down on their back end is going to cause discomfort and possibly injury.

 

 

In this picture, you can see the attachment point is below the dog's hips, so she uses a harness designed to take the pressure off of the hips

 

Many people know not to make a dog Sit, but applying pressure downwards on their back end or hips. That's common knowledge. But oftentimes we are still guilty of applying too much pressure to dog's hips through pulling sports. It makes me wince when I see a picture of a dog pulling a kicksled with gangline pushing down on the dog's hips. Either add a longer gangline, or get another harness. It's a simple thing to avoid putting too much downward pressure on your dog's read end.

 

Healthy dogs and harness fit

To pull properly and safely, your dog needs to be outfitted in the harness which fits them the best. Look for a harness that fits properly, and don't outfit your dog if he is too fat. Have your dog drop some weight before asking him to pull. Then you know your dog is healthy, and ready to pull and be fit properly.

 

Now we have already gone over the importance of a good fitting harness, but now I am going to suggest you have not one, but two well fitting harnesses for each dog on your team.

 

Why is that? Well, roatating through different styles of well fitting harennes will relive the pressure points off the dog's body. We rotate our dogs through different styles of harnesses throughout the season.

 

Our dogs spend the majority of their time working in front of the scooter and skijoring. We use the sled for training, and in the shoulder seasons. When we load up gear, we pack the right harness for the dog, and the activity. If we have been working hard at skijoring for a few months, we make sure that within that time we rotate them through their harnesses, so we prevent pressure point injuries.

 

Some dogs take to a new harness, no problem at all. Other's need a bit more time to become used to it until they perform at their best. We are always careful to ensure that our dogs race in the harness in which they perform the best in.

 

Avoiding Injury in the Pulling Dog

Posted on 23 November, 2017 at 0:00 Comments comments (0)

Avoiding Injury in the Pulling Dog

All athletes are prone to injuries and pulling dogs are sadly, no exception. As I write this, I sit here with a slipped disc myself, and a dog who is recovering from a sprained knee. This article is a good place to start with thinking about preventing injuries in your dog. Injuries can sneak up over a longer period of time, or happen fairly suddenly.

If you are new to dog powered sports, start out with a good book. Click here to read our book reviews. Newbies should also talk to their vet and get the all clear before they harness their dog up.

If you are not new to dog powered sports, take a look, this is just to get you started thinking, as there are many factors which will help keep your dog safe and healthy.

I want to get a conversation going, and this is a start. Have a good relationship with your vet, and always check with them if you think something is wrong.

Practise Safe Runs

This should be obvious, but run your dog where it is safe! Skip the "urban mushing" temptation. Go for the trails that are safe and appropriate for your activity. Streets are for cars. Sidewalks are for pedestrians. When you are engaged in a dog pulling activity you are neither. So go find a trail.

In addition, avoid asking your dog to go fast in deep snow, or on uneven trails. Be aware of "punch through" snow, or snow conditions in which your dog will break through the top crusty layer of snow, into the softer snow. A dog hitting this kind of snow condition can pull a muscle. Ouch. Not worth it.

Save your top speeds for nice groomed trails!

Do not run a fat dog!

Pulling sports are physically demanding on a dog. Your dog should be in shape before you start the season. A dog running around with extra weight is putting more strain on his muscles, joints and heart. Do your dog a favour, and start in the fall with the weight loss. Get out with your training walks and build your endurance slowly, in both you and your dog.

Eating a little more in the winter is appropriate for you and your dog, you will both be burning more calories as you exercise more and try and keep warm outside. But your dog should never get fat, or over weight. Keep your dog trim and slim.

If you are unsure about his weight, talk to your vet. Find your dog's ideal weight, and keep him there!

Get better at ________

Pretty simple, no matter what activity you and your dog are participating in, you and your dog should both be participating! If your dog is doing more than 50% of the work, you aren't a team member, you are upper management.

Identify goals for yourself which will make you a more valued team member for your dog. Learn to ski, get in better shape for hill climbing, stop drinking beer the night before a run.

A few small changes, and you will both have more fun out there!

Rest

Periods of rest are important for any of us. Rest periods are when the body repairs itself and gets ready for the next activity. Too much training without enough rest will result in injuries. Allow your dog to have periods of rest in between his pulling outings. This will also keep him happy and wanting more! Everyone has a different answer, to how much rest and exercise pulling dogs need.

Find what works for you and your dog, and stick to it.

Feet

Keep an eye on those feet! Small cracks or fissures in the paw pads can quickly become major problems! Condition your dog's feet, and use a paw wax or cream to keep them in good shape. For a more extensive article on foot care, click here

For deeper cracks or when you see blood, contact your vet ASAP.

Warm up, Cool Down

Don't hit the trail at full speed right off the bat! Allow your dog, and yourself to warm up slowly as you hit the trail. Warm the muscles, then work yourself up to your top speeds. In the Winter, we drive our dogs to the trails with coats on, to keep their muscles warm. We remove the coat as we are getting ready to run.

If you are about to race, then be organised so you have enough time to warm up your dog. Walk your dog and trot your dog for a few minutes before a race. It will help your own muscles warm up as well! After the race, be sure to allow your dog to cool down properly with a short walk as well, before you put them back in the car.

Go with your gut

If your dog seems off, eating different, laying around more, less likely to play, irritable, if anything has changed at all, GO TO YOUR VET. Have your dog's joints and muscles examined for possible injury. The sign may be so slight, but you know your dog best, and you are their advocate.

Dear readers, what tips do you have for avoiding injury with your dogs?

Why you should take up Skijoring (CBC Story)

Posted on 23 November, 2017 at 0:00 Comments comments (0)

We had a blast with the crew from CBC's Now or Never! Check out the link here. 

Line Out Video

Posted on 18 November, 2017 at 19:50 Comments comments (0)

Straight up the most requested video! Here it is, how to Teach Line Out, by our friend Stephanie! 


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How to Teach Line Out

Posted on 10 December, 2016 at 9:35 Comments comments (1)

Line 

 Line Out. It’s kind of a big deal. Often times people are so focused on GOING, flying off down the trail, in our rush to get there, we forget how to get there. Doesn’t make sense does it? Neither does skipping the “Line Out” command with your dog.

 A properly trained “Line Out” means your dog, in harness, will walk to the end of the gangline and wait.

What is your dog waiting for? The command to “Hike” to move forward. You might need to be waiting your turn at the start line of race, you might be needing to turn your GoPro on, you might just be fiddling with your gloves and skis. Either way, you can certainly see the advantage of a dog who is going to walk out to the end of the line, and wait till you are ready to start pulling!

Furthermore, a good solid “Line Out” means you have a good chance to check that there are no tangled lines, avoiding injury for both you and your dog!


 How do I teach it?

 Ask a mushing question, get 20 different answers.

Here is what works for the majority of our students. We begin by ensuring the dog can only be successful. A solid skijoring dog is a confident dog. A confident dog is one who has been set up for success.

This is going to be a skijoring command, so go ahead and suit up. Put your belt on, and harness your dog. Beginning in a hallway, or another narrow corridor, walk out the length of your gangline, and include room for your dog’s body as well. If the total length of your dog’s gangline to their nose is 10 feet, place a target at ten feet, and walk back to the start. A suitable target might be a small plastic lid.

Place your dog on the starting line in a “Sit Stay”. Walk back to the target and place a really juicy reward on it. Now walk back to your dog, who is hopefully drooling and looking at the treat. Avoid making eye contact with your dog, and release them from the “Sit Stay”. Your dog will bound off to the treat, being rewarded! Repeat this a few times, until your dog gets the idea of running ahead to the end of the line to get the treat. When your dog is getting the treat, don’t be shy, PRAISE PRAISE! Eventually you will be replacing the treat with verbal praise.

 Once your dog is doing this consistently, it’s time to take it up a notch. Place the target slightly further ahead this time. Just far enough ahead that your dog has to push against the harness to reach it. A solid “Line Out” is going to be having the dog put some pressure on the harness. Not enough to pull you, just enough to keep the line tight. When your dog is doing this well, it’s time to add the command. Associating the behaviour with the command.

 


 An important note, avoid sending your dog out to the target, and then calling him back. In the dog’s mind, this might be part of the training, and you certainly don’t want a dog who is going to “Line Out” then come bouncing back to you. Like some crazy Yo-yo! After you have asked your dog to “Line Out”, go and collect him, gather up the gangline, and walk him back. Only repeat this a few times, leave your dog wanting more. Don’t be a bore!

Please also avoid teaching your dog to “Line Out” by standing in front of them. To be a succesful skijroing team, you are going to be needing to communicate to your dog from behind them.  

 Extensions of this activity, are going to see you sending your dog to the target, waiting for a few seconds, and then moving forward. If your dog can wait patiently at the end of the line while you finish your coffee, bonus points to you!

 There are as many ways of training "Line Out" as there are mushers and dogs. Everyone has something that works for them. The end result should always be the same. You have a dog who is at the end of the line, and waits for your command to tell them to go. Don’t forget what our end game is here. Walk to the end of the line. Go forward. Soon enough your dog will be moving forward down the trail, and that is reward! 

UPDATE:

Our friend Stephaine sent us a video she did,  on teaching your dog to Line Out.  Please watch the video https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B53OBlBn4PlDUWJOaGRCYjRHRUE/view" target="_blank">here 


The AbC's of Skijoring

Posted on 4 November, 2016 at 0:45 Comments comments (0)

The ABC's of Skijoring

 

A- A is for the Adventures you will share with your dog!

B- B is for Booties! Bootie up for your dog's feet, and avoid ripped, torn and worn pads. (For more bootie tips, check this article on Petguide.com)

C – C is for Climate. Be ready for whatever it's going to throw at you! I have skijored in the rain, fog, howling winds, and white outs. So check the weather before you go!

D – D is for done. Know when to call it a day. Your dog is unlikely to tell you when she's had enough, so that's your job to call it quits. Ideally, you want to stop while your dog is still wagging for more.

E – E is for Equipment. Check your equipment each and every time you head out. It's a long walk home should something break!

F – F is for Fall Training. Start your skijor season early by doing some dryland work. Get your dogs feet conditioned, and brush up on some of your skills to make the most of the upcoming season.

G- is for “Gee” call it with enough time for your dog to turn right on the trail!

H- H of course is for “HIKE” a ski-dogs favourite word! Let's go, Hike!

I- I is for Iceballs! Trim, Wax and Watch! Trim the hair between your dog's feet, wax the paws (or use booties) and watch for the build up of painful iceballs between the dog's toes! A little bit of wax goes a long way. 

J- J is for Jingle! If you are running on a multiuse trail, attach a bear bell to your rig. The noise of the bell will help warn other people of your presence.

K- K is for Kicksled. Investing in a kicksled is a great way to extend your skijoring season. Kicksleds can be taken over rougher patches where you would never dare ski. They also need less snow, so really help with the shoulder seasons.

L- L is for Love. You and your dog love the sport! If either of you sours at the experience, take a step back, and see what's changed. Sometimes a new trail, or a week off is enough to put the spark back in it!

M- M is for Morning. Dogs tap into their natural instinct when skijoring. They love to run in the early morning, or later into the evening. Take your dog out for a dawn or dusk run. Just be careful, as wild animals are also more active at these times of day.

N- NO DOGS ALLOWED. These signs are disappointing, and often the result of a dog owner not following the rules. Train your dog to be a good citizen, and pick up after them. This will ensure that we see less of these signs.

O- O is for “On-by!”. Which comes in handy if you want your dog to leave the dead deer, passed out skier, or pee spot alone. Train “on by” on your daily walks first, and then on your skijor runs. A good “on-by” is going to keep your runs safe and fun!

P- P is for Pee! Pay attention to your dog's pee, and notice when the colour is off. A well hydrated dog will have urine that is almost clear. Pee that is too dark and yellow could mean your dog needs more water.

Q – Q is for Quiet. For the peace and quiet you will find on a beautiful winter's day. Frost on the trees, hard packed snow under your skis, and your best friend out in front of you. Enjoy it!

R – R is for Rest. You and your dog need to rest and recover after a hard work out. Monitor your dog for any signs of stiffness or soreness after a run.

S- S is for Skis! Whether you choose to use skate or classic skis, make sure you opt for the sturdy pair. Those fancy racing skis likely won't hold up to the pressures of skijoring!

T- T is for Training. Keep your goals in mind for skijoring, and train accordingly. Skijoring is both mentally and physically challenging for us, and our dogs. Ensure you are training your dog's mind as well as body. You too can also learn something new every time you go out, by paying attention to your dog.

U- U is for Underwear! Invest in a good quality pair of long-johns! They should wick the sweat away from your body, and keep you dry on the trail. Nothing ruins a day like a pair of wet undies!

V- V is for the tracks you will leave in the snow! When you are skating behind your dog, you want to see a nice “V” pattern in the snow. Not too long or wide of a “V”, as you don't want to slow your dog down, or throw off their momentum.

W- W is for Water! Bait it! Bring it! Your dog needs it, and so do you! Dipping for snow is not an effective or efficient way to stay hydrated, so offer plenty of water for your dogs!

X- X is for X-back, the most common style of harness. Harness styles come and go, but the X-back, with slight variations has been around a long time. A custom size is a good way to splurge for your skijoring buddy. Keep in mind, X-backs have been designed for northern breed dogs, with northern breed dog body shapes. If you are running a mutt, or family pet, custom is the way to go!

Y- Y is for Youth. You can start running your dog as soon as they are trained and their bodies are ready, which is usually around the one year mark. Skijoring is not just a sport for young dogs. Older dogs that have learned to conserve their energy make great skijoring partners!

Z- Z is for Zinc. Your dog can get Zinc from beef, turkey, pork, fish and peanut butter. Zinc supports your dog's entire body, but is also beneficial in helping them toughen up their feet. So spoon out the peanut butter as a healthy treat for your dog! Looking for a seriosu dose of zinc? Consider some NutraZInc! 

 

 By The Trail Outlaws:

 K.C. Roberts, A. Pressenger, C. Leah.



 


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