Mushing on a Bike
Because of the numerous posts requesting instructions on mushing with a bike, I will now happily give the details. I also made a mistake earlier when I said that this could be done with all breeds. That is not true, obviously, toy breeds are not suitable. The dog should be at least medium sized, 30 pounds and up. I do not believe there is an upper limit.
The dog should be minimum of 12-14 months old before starting any serious mushing. Whether you wait 12 or 14 months depends on the breed and its individual rate of maturity. Check with your vet to make sure. At 8-10 months you can do short easy little training runs with you helping by pedaling a lot and avoiding all hills. You must give the dog time to develop his bone structure before putting any serious weight on him/her.
I don't think I need to tell this group this step but I will do it just in case there is any misunderstanding. While engaged in mush training, there must never be any physical punishment of any kind. That means no choke collars, no pinch collars, not even haltis, as all these can cause serious injury to the dog in the event of tangles and sudden stops while moving at high speed. In fact, if you are running only one dog, you will not have a leash on him anyway, so technically, you do not even really need a collar. Keep one on him anyway for control during rest periods.
Another reason for no punishment is that mushing is supposed to be fun for the dog. If the dog does not view mushing to be fun, he will never do it well and you should not force him. My dogs consider mushing to be the ultimate reward. Instead of click and treat, I can click and mush. You can tell your dog "no" or "wrong" in accordance with standard CT training techniques to tell the dog that he is making a mistake but no more than that. Remember, if you want to be successful, this must be fun and play time for him, not serious training (not yet anyway).
Assess your dog's desire to pull. Put a leash on your dog -- does he try to pull your arm off? Good. If your dog has already been trained not to pull on the leash, put a leash on your dog and run alongside him and see if he gets excited and wants to run even faster and ahead of you. If so, good. If not, all hope is not lost, he may be just too well trained. However, if he gets depressed and you end up dragging him, then it is not a good sign. He may hate it or he may have a medical problem.
Assess your dog's physique. The perfect physique for pulling is that of the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malemute. If you don't know what they look like, get a book on dog breeds and look at the pictures. The closer the dog looks to the picture the better. (color of coat and eyes are not important, we're talking shape here.) If you do not have immediate access to a picture of a husky or malamute, think of what a wolf looks like and you have it pretty close. The closer your dog comes to looking like a husky, the more efficiently he will be able to pull and will have a lower risk of sprains and standard sports injuries. If he looks nothing like a husky, that does not mean he can't play, it just means you need to be more careful and aware of his limitations.
Assess individual physical attributes. Primarily the pasterns. These are the wrists on the front legs of the dog. Are they very straight when the dog is standing or do they look double-jointed? Excessively double-jointed pasterns can mean concern for pulled tendons and you should keep an eye on it. Doesn't mean he can't play, just means you keep an eye on it. Are the pasterns totally straight? If so, this means propensity for the canine equivalent of shin splints. Once again, not a disqualifier, just keep an eye on it and don't over run the dog on asphalt.
Next are the back legs. Is the dog pigeon-toed or duck-footed? Pigeon-toed means his back elbows (heels) point outward; duck-footed is the opposite. Excess in either one can lead to hip problems. Remember, I said excess. Excess is impossible to describe here so if you suspect excess then take your dog to a vet and let them know what you are planning and ask their opinion. Remember, there are plenty of fun games to play with your dog that are safe. A good musher keeps the health of her/his pet as number one.
Next check the front elbows. They should be straight and not sticking out or in. Excess in either one could lead to shoulder problems.
Now remember that as a recreational biking musher, you can have a lot of tolerance in your dog's physique as you will probably not go more that 5 to 10 miles at a time. I just feel that you should be properly informed and know what to watch out for. Also remember that these defects can all exist in a Siberian husky or malamute or any other Nordic northern dog so do not omit this step regardless of your breed.
If you do not have a dog that is suitable go to your local shelter and adopt a young dog with the above mentioned conformation and disposition. Or you can check out any of the husky rescue groups who will be overjoyed to hear from you. If you live in California you can log onto the following: www.ccndr.org. This is the Central Coast Northern Dog Rescue and we will be happy to supply you with as many huskies as you can handle.
Log on to this Web site and order a proper mushing harness. Please do not use the harness sold in pet stores. They are nothing more than glorified collars and all the weight will be put on the dog's neck instead of his breast bone as it should.
If you are unsure as to the size, order a couple. They are really cheap ($15-$17 u.s.) and you can always give one away or sell it. When you put on the harness, the dogs breast bone should take all the weight and the back end of the harness should lie right at the base of the tail. Make sure you put it on properly and stretch it out to assess the fit. They always look too small. Also remember that the fitting around the neck lies behind the collar. Look at the picture on my Web site:
Click on Shredder's Hobbies
Put your harness on your dog and attach a seven foot long cord with a clip to the harness. Attach the other end to a three foot long, four by four piece of wood. The best way is to drill a hole through the wood at one end and tie the cord through the hole. Put a leash on the your dog and walk/run beside him as you encourage him to pull.
At this point, you can use standard CT. Remember, positives only!!! This is not just because this e-group is a positives only group. It is because any negatives or punishments WILL NOT WORK!!!
At first, your dog will be startled and possibly frightened by the wood rattling and following him, but encourage him over his fears and soon he will be pulling it around faster than you can keep up.
This step may take a few minutes, or it may take a few weeks. Be patient. It is a crucial step and if you mess it up, the dog will fear mushing and you will have ruined him for the sport, possibly for good. By the way, you can start this step at 3 months of age. Use lighter pieces of wood for younger fellers.
Teach commands, "Hike" for go, "Whoa" for stop, "Gee" for turn right, "Haw" for turn left, "Come Gee" for make a U-turn to the right, "Come Haw" for make a U-turn to the left. You can substitute whatever commands you want and the only one he really needs to know is Hike. When you get on the bike you can actually force them to turn and stop. More advanced commands will be "Line Out" for stretch the line out to the front, "Pass Gee" and "Pass Haw" for pass someone on the right or left respectively.
Get a bike. It must have good brakes. It must be one you can easily ride. The one I use for mushing is undersized for me so that when I put my feet down, I have total control. It is basically a kid's BMX bike. Do not spend a lot of money on a marvel of biking technology, in fact try for less than a hundred bucks. You dog/dogs are going to drag it through hell and back.
Get a 1-2 foot bungee cord with hooks on the end. Loop the bungee around the base of the handle bars on your bike and hook the hooks to each other. Wrap duct tape around the hooks so that they are permanently hooked and cannot come apart. Your end result should be a bungee loop or ring around the base shaft of your handle bars. This will be your shock cord.
Incidently, I do not have one in the picture on my Web site. (Shame on me.)
Now get another strong rope longer than the shock cord and tie it in a loop around the base of the handle bars with the shock cord. When you are done, you should have two seperate and redundant loops with the bungee version significantly shorter than the cord version.
Take a strong cord and tie a dog leash type clip to both ends. At least one clip must be large enough to clip around both the cord and the shock cord on the bike. When you are finished tying, it should be about 5 feet long total with a clip at either end. This will be your gangline.
Check the length by cliping one end to the two loops on the bike and pulling it tight. The end clip should be exactly 6 feet away from the bike. If it is too long you will not have enough control of your dog. If it is too short, you will tend to run over your dog when he comes to sudden stops.
Once you have clipped the gangline to the bike, give it a good yank to test the shock cord. It should take up the shock until you come to the maximum reach of the second loop.
Check your dog. Run your hands down all four of his legs and massage his shoulders. If he shows any sign of tenderness or soreness, then he is not going to mush today. It does not have to be anything serious. It is just that we all get a sore foot or tweaked elbow every once in a while and when that happens we rest for a day.
If your dog seems sound, then put on his harness, attach one end of the gang line to the shock cord and loop on the bike FIRST! then clip the other end to the dog. When doing this, make sure that your bike is lying down and you have a good hold of the gang line. Go back to your bike while still holding your gangline and when you have mounted your bike you can let the gang line go.
If properly motivated, the dog should run to the end of the gang line and lunge forward giving the line a HUGE jerk. The shock cord around the handle bars should take up much of the shock. If the dog does this, praise the dog. No more treats can be given, as stopping to eat something you throw to him will be dangerous on the road. If the dog does this consistently, attach the cue "LINE OUT". It is a desired behavior and should be encouraged.
Give the bike a light pedal and yell enthusiasticaly and happily "HIKE" and hang on as your dog begins to pull. He will get faster and faster if all goes well and may reach speeds of 20 mph. Help him up hills by pedaling and avoid running him over by braking on down hills. When you want to turn, slow down by braking, give the command for left or right and the turn your bike. With a little practice, you should be able to force the dog to execute turns. Soon your dog will know the commands and you will have what is known as a "Gee Haw Leader."
CAUTION: Remember your dog is working hard and does not handle heat as well as you. Do not run in temperatures higher than 65 F for long haired breeds and 75 F for short haired. These are only guidelines and if the humidity factor or distance dictates, then you should abort your daily mush accordingly at even lower temperatures. I sometimes have to get up at 5 in the morning to get in a mush at an appropriate temperature. Buy a thermometer so you can always know for sure. They are really cheap.
CAUTION: Your dog will need to get in shape slowly. His pads will also have to toughen up slowly. Start your first run at NO MORE THAN ONE MILE. Even if he tries to tell you he can go more. He is not experienced and doesn't yet know his own limits. At the halfway point, offer water and check his pads for rawness or bleeding. If they are raw or bleeding and you can take a short cut home then take the rest of the way home in stages, stopping to rest often and then give him however many days it takes to heal.
MEGA CAUTION: While mushing, if the gangline gets slack it can sometimes hit the front tire and get wrapped around the wheel and whipped up under the bike. This will be painful for your dogs as it brings everything to a VERY sudden stop and is to be avoided by constantly paying attention to what you are doing and the speed of the dog. If the dog is a trotter who goes at a leasurly pace of about 8-10 mph, it is rarely a problem. However, a fast loper who goes from 15-20 mph requires that you keep your eye glued to the dog and the line in front of you. If the line starts to go slack immediatly apply light brakes.
Dogs who are first learning to mush will often stop to pee and especially to poop. For many dogs, running fast tends to have a laxative effect. As a result they will be running and then suddenly stop to squat. You must watch out for this and be sure not to run him over. As a recreational musher it is no big deal to stop and wait for him to finish pooping but do not allow him to stop and sniff and check his pee-mail at every bush or you will never get anywhere. He will quickly learn to do that on his own time which is when walking on a leash. When he tries to check pee-mail, put on the brakes and back your bike up away from what ever it is he wants to sniff. Tell him "On by" and encourage him to run past the object and veer your bike away from it. You will be able to pull your dog past it with practice.
CAUTION: Wear glasses or goggles to keep dust and rocks from being thrown into your eyes. Fast dogs especially kick up a lot of dirt.
CAUTION: Do not attempt this with three dogs. They are too strong and you cannot stop them with the brakes of your bike. If you want to try with two dogs, get experience with single dogs first and then contact me about doubles. It is by far much more of a training challenge and will require some measure of dedication beyond the casual pet owner. In fact, it's pretty hard.
CAUTION: Avoid asphalt when you can and stick to dirt roads as mush as pawsible. Asphalt is hard on the paws and legs and usually has too much traffic.
Final Note: Remember this is all fun time for the dog. As he gets better at it he will love it even more. When you pull out the harness, he will recognize it and start to go absolutly nuts. He will dance around, bark and howl, he will act like a completely undisciplined pup. DO NOT REBUKE HIM FOR THIS!! He is presently going to work his tail off for you and the least you can do is relax the obedience standards for two minutes while you harness him up and get on your bike.
Please ask me any questions you like, I love talking about this and I also want everyone to be successful. Success means no dogs are injured and everyone is happy whether they end up mushing or not. Also let me know if it worked. And if you discover any cool training tricks that made this process any easier, don't be a stranger.
Getting the dog to stay out in front
I have had several questions concerning how to get the dog to stay out front instead of wandering back and forth, zig zagging, stopping to sniff or comming back to check out the human on the wheely thingy. How indeed, it is not easy.
Go back to step seven in the above, step by step instructions.
In that step, you hook the dog to a log or piece of wood and teach her to pull and not be afraid. Then when she starts to wander off her duties you stop her completely. You do not allow it and you tell her "no" or "wrong". Do not bother with CT for this behavior because she can very easily think she is getting rewarded for stopping and sniffing. This will by no means train your dog not to wander off course. It does, however, teach your dog what is expected and what you mean when you tell her no when you are on the bike. Basicaly it is a vocabulary drill.
When you finally get on the bike, you will get your dog going. What a lot of people do not understand is the high speed at which a dog will go when it finally understands that you are happy to let it go as fast as it wants. When it really gets going, it will enjoy the speed so much that it will be much less inclined to stop and sniff.
Many people tell me, "Oh yes, Ijog with my dog." A human jog is nothing compared to what a dog is capable of. Remember, race dogs go 100 miles a day for 10 days in a row. If your dog is only one third as good as a race dog, she could go 33 miles a day with no thought.
Now your dog will still try to stop and sniff or Pee. Many will also stop to poop. For some reason, high speed running has a laxative effect on many dogs and they will want to stop and poop within the first 1/4 mile. When this happens jam on the brakes and let them do their thing. Be careful not to run over them as they will basicaly stop right in front of you with little or no warning.
Once again, as a musher with sled or bike, when going fast, you must be awake and vigilant. However, when your dog veers off to sniff, you slow down then veer the opposite direction SLOWLY. This will pull your dog by the harness away from whatever it was it wanted to sniff. Tell it "NO" or "Wrong" and tell it to "Get On By!". When you say "get on by" it must NOT be as a rebuke but as an enthusiastic alternative to stopping and sniffing. (Line out is a command that you should be able to teach in accordance with the instructions on step seven using CT.) After a few WEEKS or MONTHS of this, (one of my dogs is in its second year and is still not reliable) the dog will learn that nothing is to be gained by trying to sniff and it will concentrate on just the joy of pulling.
The reason you do not bother with the command "Get on BY" during step seven is because of the following scenerio:
In other words, the command "Get on By" takes the place of the click and the dog's wrong behaviour gets reinforced.
BE FORWARNED!! Mush training is VERY Challenging and you will essentially be training a "Gee Haw Command Lead Dog" A good Gee Haw leader can cost upwards of ten thousand dollars. They are very expensive BECAUSE they are so much work to TRAIN. You do not need yours to be of that caliber but you should need to have it know the following which can be taught by CT:
Once you get going, do not continuously talk and praise your dog. Reserve lavish praise for good deeds or the dog will ignore you when you need it as a training tool. Do not talk to it excessivly or the dog will start to tune you out and will not be attentive to commands.
NEVER EVER lose your temper. IF you feel onset of fustration (and I guarantee this will happen often), stop all training and go get some ice cream or something.
You can however sing to it. Many dogs like to hear you sing and if they are Nordic dogs they may join in and it can alleviate boredom on a long slow run. Contact me for various lyrics proven to lift a dogs spirits near the end of a long run.
List and Site Owner: Melissa Alexander, mca @ clickersolutions.com