How to Train Your Dog to Pull a Sled

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Luna Lobos Dog Sledding is a family-owned dog sledding operation based in Peoa, Utah. Owners Fernando and Dana Ramirez believe that dog sledding is a work of art, and that all the pieces have to work together to create a successful team. Fernando has raced professionally, competing in both the Pedigree Stage Stop Race and the World Championships, the dog-sledding counterpart of the world series. His dog sled team comprises an interesting mix of professional racers as well as rescues. Below, he shares his experience in training a dog to mush.

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Sledding is an incredible way to bond with your dog. Working together to get down a trail builds a rewarding relationship based on trust and loyalty. The one thing you cannot teach a dog, however, is the drive and passion to want to run. If your dog is active, high strung, and charges out of the house, congratulations. That’s eighty percent of your battle. You cannot make a dog run if they don’t want to do it, and they will make that very clear.

Starting out, you’ll want to buy a sled dog harness and a basic set of tug lines, the rope that connects your sled to your dog’s harness. You can purchase any dog sled equipment on websites such as AdanacSleds.com.

Then work on commands. In the mushing world, the commands “Gee”, and “Haw”, used for turning right and left are most common. One of the most important commands is “On-by”, or “Leave it”, running past distractions or rogue squirrels racing past you. Racing as a young boy, I gave my dogs commands in Spanish, so choose what works for you! Remember, consistency is key. Stick to the commands you plan to use and reinforce them with your pup, even on daily walks. Praise your dog for following through with what you asked. It is so important they know they are doing a good job. We constantly shout praise throughout our run.

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Foot care is also important. Trim those nails properly. A broken nail can lead to serious injuries. Before and after a good run, massage ointment into their pads to prevent cracks in their paws. We typically use Emu Oil or Bag Balm, and both work amazingly well.

Note: Every dog I’ve had hates booties! I only use dog booties only if the dog is prone to stress in their feet or if trail surfaces are rough. In most cases, you will be fine without them for runs of ten miles or less.

Sledding with your dog for the first time can be a little intimidating, but both you and your dog will learn by trial and error. You will soon find out how to work as a team. When hitching your dog to a sled or a bike, ask a family member or a friend to help you by running in front, encouraging your dog to chase, giving them the motivation to pull. In this way, you are able to stand on your sled or control your bike, cheering your dogs on as they pull.

Use your commands to strengthen their skill. Do not feel discouraged if your first run did not go perfectly. There is always room for growth – both for your dog and you as a dogman/dogwoman. And remember, dog sledding is a work of art and a lifestyle – not a hobby.

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