Once you have the correct size sledding harness you will want to change over to that exclusively for training. The sledding harness is a little different than the walking harnesses in that there are no buckles or anything to really contain the dog in it. In other words, your dog could slip out of it easily.
The way to avoid this is proper training for pulling. If you dog is moving forward or standing still waiting to go, he is not trying to get out of the harness because he wants to be there and is enjoying himself.
Standing with the harness and lines tight is called “lining out“. Any dog can learn this but it takes some training.
Where to start
Start with training inside your home which is where you should really start training any behaviour using no distractions and lots of yummy food rewards.
You will need to get your dog accustomed to having the harness put on and wearing it. If your dog is used to a harness (which he probably is by now) then any trouble will be minimal.
Teach your dog to stand still to have the harness put over his head.
You will be facing your dog for this. Hold the harness in an open position with the head opening and the back opening together in a kind of circle. The tail end of the harness needs to flog over to the front for a second so your dog’s head doesn’t go through it. Slip this over your dog’s head and then turn and face the same direction as your dog. You may straddle your dog if you have done training for this and your dog is comfortable with this position.
You don’t want your dog to be uncomfortable during this process.
Many dogs are wary of having people, even their humans at first, stand or hover over them. Do this training before your start with the harness.
Here is a video showing how to put the harness on properly (beginning of the video):
Teach Pulling On The Harness
Once you have the harness on, start training your dog to put pressure on the harness in a controlled way. Watch the rest of the video from above.
In this video you will see how I am working with my dog to get her to understand that pulling straight ahead is OK. Not all dogs will need to have this training but some dogs can be hesitant to pull or prefer not to pull much if other dogs are pulling as well.
This training can help you dog love to pull. not overdoing the training will keep your dog interested and not give up wanting to pull.
Again, if you have a dog who stops pulling during sledding try to figure out why. If it happens on a consistent basis, then perhaps that particular dog is not a good candidate for sledding. Your dog has to love the sport.
If you can think up other ways to training, this go for it. Dog training is also an art. Whatever you can think up to make you dog feel comfortable with the training process is good.
Getting Your Dog Used To The Sled
It is important to have you dog get used to being around a moving sled. Many dogs start off barking and lunging at a moving object like a sled. One way to prevent this is to expose you puppy to a sled early in life and reward him for being calm around it when it is stationary and then when it is moving.
The process is simple. Have your dog on leash and tasty food rewards on you. Reward your dog in the presence of the sled for staying calm. Move the sled around with your dog nearby and reward for calmness.
If you dog becomes agitated at any time, it is likely that he will need more training to help him stay calm with it. Some dogs are like that at the very start of training and then relax fairly quickly. Other dogs will need much more work.
Go at your dog’s pace and teach the behaviour that you want well. Reward well for calm behaviour.
Below is another video to demonstrate how to do this.
Start Adding Weight
Once your dog is good with having the harness put on, readily leans into the harness and is not reactive to the sled, stationary or moving, you can attach her to your waist with a skijoring harness OR you can simply hold the line in front of you and teach your dog to pull.
Our lines for sledding are homemade. You can buy some ready made from a company that sells them OR you can make your own. Again, there are good articles and videos on line to show you how to do this. I will not discuss it here.
You will need a helper for this part.
I started by simply walking behind the dog and letting her pull ahead on the line and harness. To make sure the dog keeps the line tight, you can pull up on it and put pressure on the back of the harness, like you practiced already, only from the back.
As your dog gets more comfortable with you walking behind, it is likely that she/he will start pulling more. If not, it sometimes takes a bit of practice for your dog to understand that it is OK for you to be behind if you have trained a solid walk on loose leash.
If you can pick up your speed by walking faster or even jogging if your dog is OK with that. This is something you will have to try out with your dog. Some dogs get very stimulated by running humans, so take care and do the training to accustom your dog to this. Below is a photo of how it might look after a bit of work.
If you can’t run, you may want to get a helper to go in front of your dog and encourage her to pull. This is a quick way of getting the behaviour you want without too much trouble. Your helper should have food rewards on her/him to reward the dog for putting pressure on the harness.
Work on this until you think your dog is feeling comfortable with the whole idea of pulling and having you behind. Some of this training might seem kind of silly and a waste of time to do but I have found that it really helps create good habits and a dog that really enjoys sledding. You want to be sure that your dog is completely comfortable with all of this so that when line get tangled or there is a distraction, it won’t matter very much.
Not all dogs will need every exact step of this training, so you will need to adjust what you are working on for your particular dog or group of dogs.
Next time we’ll add the sled.