In this article we will discuss adding the sled to your training. You should already have your dog used to being around the sled while not attached to it, used to her harness and being able to pull ahead of you while you walk.
If your dog is hesitant about the sled, you should be liberally feeding the dog near the sled and do this before you start attaching the dog to the sled. This is so important. If your dog is worried about it, putting the dog in front of it in harness is not going to make this better.
Get your dog used to the harness and the sled separately before you do anything else.
If you want to have more instruction and better explanations along with homework on how to teach your dog this cool sport I have an online recreational dog sledding course you can find HERE
Teaching The “Line-Out”
Standing in the harness with lines tight is called “lining out“. Any dog can learn this but it takes some training. To train this you need to have your dog standing in one position, keeping the sled lines tight.
You may attach your dog to the sled if you have a claw brake that will prevent the sled from being moved when your dog leans into the harness. The sled MUST be stationary.
Stand in front of your dog. Lure him with a piece of food to put pressure on the harness like you have already done inside. The harness will pull on the gang-line which should pull on the sled (which isn’t moving). Practice having your dog feel the pressure of the lines and sled over several days or a week for about 5 minutes each time.
Reward your dog when she purposely puts pressure on the harness to get the food. You don’t want your dog to move her feet, but simply stand there leaning into the harness.
Once your dog can do this, you can start moving away from your dog since you will be behind him when sledding. This will likely take awhile for your dog to learn, especially if your dog hasn’t done this, you are working by yourself or your dog is very attached to you. Don’t rush the process. You eventually want to be standing on the sled while your dog stays in place looking straight ahead.
Pulling The Sled
Start in a small or controlled area. You dog will only be pulling a short distance because you need to be able to reward her with food easily. Being in a wide open space will not make this easier. Lure your dog along with food and an empty sled so there is no weight on it. Use really good food rewards. Do this work before anything else. You want your dog to feel a light weight of the sled, hear it behind him and associate that with something great.
Once your dog seems OK with pulling the sled in this manner it is likely that he is ready to do more advanced training. You will need a helper for the next part of the training.
Stand behind your dog but in front of the sled and have your helper hold your dog’s collar or harness. Have the helper show your dog that she/he has food rewards. Walking (carefully) backwards or turning slightly so that she can see where to step, the helper should move away from the dog and call him at which time the dog should pull the sled ahead to the helper. Do this many times, increasing the distance the helper is from the dog.
If your helper can run, that is even better. Just run slowly beside the dog, showing the food and rewarding every so often.
If you dog gets worried and looks back at you, ignore him. The helper should actively seek your dog’s attention and reward with food for doing so. If you dog seems worried about you being so far behind her, come closer to your dog and work with the helper in the same way from there. Slowly increase your distance as your dog get more comfortable with this until you are at the sled.
Don’t call your dog or talk too loudly to the helper if your dog is nervous about you being so far away. Build up your dog’s confidence with food rewards and fun successes pulling the sled. Remember, you are not standing on the sled, just walking behind it.
(In the video below a second dog is added. You don’t have to do this part, it’s not a requirement. It’s just that if you have a dog who already knows how to pull you can add him in at this time. Otherwise, the next steps in the training are shown after the section on adding a second dog.)
When your dog seems comfortable – or is really enjoying pulling the sled in this location, you can find a new location to train. For the time being, whenever you change locations, you should re-do some of the training since you are in an area of higher distractions. You can do some line-out training and work with your helper by doing what you have just done at the first location. How long you need to do this will depend on the dog. Work until you think your dog is feeling comfortable and enjoy himself but is focused.
This work is crucial to your dog’s learning and keeping his attention on the task. Any time you change something like add distractions or duration, go back a step and re-train a bit so your dog understands that it is the same exercise.
If you have a dog who is experienced at pulling, now would be the time to add that dog.
Continue working with both dogs in the same manner as above until they seem to be working together. If not don’t worry about it. Obviously, you will need more than one training session to do all this training. Make sure you don’t overdo the training on any one day as it would risk creating a dog who is over worked and learns to dislike sledding. Keep training sessions short.
At some point your dog(s) will be moving faster than the helper. This is when you will be able to work on a stronger line-out.
To do this training, have your helper leave your dogs in the line-out with you standing on the sled with the foot brake down. Your dogs must be able to stay without turning back to you for this. When your helper gets to a good distance away from the dogs, have him call the dogs. You will release the brake and the dogs should pull you to the helper. The helper should reward the dogs with food.
Do this training many times (but not all at once), increasing the distance your helper is from the dogs. You are now standing fully on the sled. The slow increase in distance will condition the dogs and make it easier for them to pull longer and longer distances.
Continue to increase the distance your dog(s) pull and the distractions around which your dog(s) are working. It is a good idea to have a cue to remind your dogs to leave things alone when they are pulling. You can use whatever words you want – I use “leave it” and then “go” for them to keep pulling.
Verbal cues are a whole new set of things for your dog to learn and you will need them for distance pulling. Below is the first of my tutorials videos on how to teach your dog sledding directional cues (left and right turns). Watch for an article on teaching your dog sledding cues coming soon.
When you are training at this advanced level, there are a few important things to remember:
NEVER LET GO OF THE SLED – this is the most important thing you can do (or not do). I don’t think I need to explain why.
Train in a location in which there are no forks in the trail. You want your dog to get experience pulling straight ahead and do it well before starting to learn turns. This will minimize accidents that could happen because of dog not properly trained.
Don’t overwork your dog at anytime. This is recreational sledding and you and your dog(s) are supposed to be having fun. The “weekend” warrior idea (where the dog pulls just on the weekends) is not advised. This could cause problems with the dog’s health and with his desire to do sledding in the first place.
In my next sledding post, we will discuss trouble shooting issues that may come up during training runs.
I hope you enjoy teaching your dog to do this fun sport!