Skating With Sled Dogs & Training Your Dog To Pull For Winter...

Skating With Sled Dogs & Training Your Dog To Pull For Winter Camping Trips

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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.

The author sends snow airborne in the style seen in old hockey cards.  Photo: Ted Baird
The author sends snow airborne in the style seen in old hockey cards. Photo: Ted Baird

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.

 

The authors dog Buck pulls across some smooth ice. Photo: Jim Baird
The author’s dog Buck pulls across some smooth ice. Photo: Jim Baird

 

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.

The suthor's dog Buck hauling a toboggan along a bush trail. Photo: Tori Farquharson
The suthor’s dog Buck hauling a toboggan along a bush trail. Photo: Tori Farquharson

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

Iditarod sled dogs being covered in coats. Photo: Vern Halter (pro musher)
Iditarod sled dogs being covered in coats. Photo: Vern Halter (pro musher)

• 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.

 

 

 

Bella tries on her extreme cold weather clothing. Photo: Ted Baird
Bella (from the video) tries on her extreme cold weather clothing. Photo: Ted Baird

 

• 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.

sled dog booties
sled dog booties on top of the the type of icy snow conditions they are needed for.

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.

First Mate High Performance dog kibble.
First Mate High Performance dog kibble.

 

 

• 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jim Baird is an Adventurer, videographer, writer, photographer, and talent. His previous rolls include extensive work with a map company as well as guiding and prospecting. Jim has shot video for Cineflix productions, BBC Worldwide, 13 Minds, and The Weather Network US. He's produced video series such as “The Kesagami River Solo” and “Lessons From The Trail with Jim Baird”. Jim’s content has also appeared in print for several publications that include Explore, Canoeroots, Real Fishing, Ontario Out of Doors, Outdoor Canada, Canoe & Kayak, and Field & Stream magazines. Jim is an expert woodsman, white-water canoeist, survivalist, and a bold wilderness navigator. His expedition experience includes a solo trip down the canoe eating rapids of the Kesagami and then along the tempestuous James Bay coat, an 800-mile snowmobile expedition across the Northwest Passage, 300miles above the Arctic Circle. A month long descent of the Northwest Territories Kuujjua River in the Arctic Archipelago, followed by 120-kilometers of paddling on the Arctic Ocean. He's also completed a 33-day canoe expedition via four rivers including the Adlatok in northern Quebec and Labrador.

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