My brother Ted and I have a blast skating on this frozen lake. There is just enough snow on the ice for the dogs to get good traction but not too much to prevent us from skating.
While on the ice, we take the opportunity to give the dogs a little sled pulling practice. Ted’s 1-year old Pointer / Lab cross Bella takes to the task naturally. On this occasion, we’re just out for the day, so we load logs and a spare tire into the toboggans to give them some weight. It’s a lot of fun skating along side the dogs which allows us to shoot some cool video footage. This is getting me thinking, given the right conditions…wouldn’t it be great to do a winter camping trip via ice skating? There is simply no faster way to travel on a frozen lake under your own power.
We like to keep our dogs practiced and in pulling shape because they often haul toboggans on our winter camping excursions and out to our water access cottage. It’s a great asset!
Here are a few sled dog training and trekking tips:
Harness their power
• It’s important to get a good harness for your dog if you’re going to have them pull. You can have custom harnesses made by sending your dog’s measurements into Raven’s Watch who sews them at a reasonable price. Another great resource for all things sled dog related is www.sleddogcentral.com.
Training to pull
• A dog that is reluctant to pull often just needs to learn how to get the toboggan moving. You can train them by harnessing them up to a sled and then holding a treat out in front of them. Often placing a treat on the ground just out of their reach will get them to take the first few steps. They usually figure it out pretty quickly with this method!
• Be patent with them and gradually put the treat further and further away. And in due time, you’ll have a good sled dog that will pull for long distances.
Correcting fear of the sled
• Some dogs are scared of the toboggan crashing into their hind legs, and can be skittish over the noise of the toboggan behind them. If this is the case with your dog, try training them by using a really long rope and coaxing them along with treats. Shorten the rope over time as your dog becomes more comfortable.
Booties and jackets
• Especially when heading out for winter camping trips, you’ll want to bring sled dog booties and a jacket along. Jackets are a must for shorter haired dogs but keep in mind that a jacket may cause a dog with a thick fur coat to over heat. A jacket is usually only needed for dogs with thicker fur when inactive in very cold temperatures.
• Booties are always important to bring for warmth and protection, especially when traveling in rough, icy conditions as the ice can be sharp. Don’t use the booties on glare ice though, as the dogs won’t get traction.
Bough bed and blankets
• If on a winter camping excursion, pile up some boughs for you dogs to lie on when you get to camp. Mushers often use straw. Keeping them elevated off the snow will help them stay warm.
• I bring a heavy down jacket with me when I go winer camping. It doubles nicely as a warm sleeping bag for my shorter haired dogs when cold tenting. However, in recent years, I’ve begun hot tenting with a canvas tent and wood stove which makes things warmer for all animals, both human, and K-9, but that’s another story.
• A high performance dog food will help keep your dog warm and fueled in the winter. I feed my dogs High Performance kibble by FirstMate when I take them on extended winter treks.