How to Train Your Dog to Pull a Sleigh

Medium
2-4 Months
Fun

Introduction

If you are lucky enough to live an area with plenty of snow, why not teach your pup to pull a sleigh? Maybe you could take a sleigh ride to work or have your pup haul the groceries for you. How about having your dog pull the kids or grandkids around on a "one dog open sleigh"? While there are some breeds such as Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Samoyed, Chinooks, and Canadian Eskimo Dogs that have pulling in their blood, many others can be trained to do so.

Training your dog to pull can help calm him down, build muscle strength and endurance, and give you both something to do together that provides a ton of exercise. Before you begin training your dog to pull a sleigh, you should have your vet check him over and make sure he is physically up to the task. After that, the rest is on the two of you to work together and master this fun skill. 

Defining Tasks

You can start training your dog to pull a sleigh at as young as 8 to 10 weeks of age, but you should not introduce him to heavy loads until he 2 years old and has been cleared by his vet to start "real" pulling. If you start heavyweight pulling before this, you put your pup at risk of serious injury to his bones, muscles, ligaments, and much more. 

Imagine how cool it would be if your pup could haul your groceries home or move loads around the garden. With the right training and the desire from both of you to succeed, you would be amazed at how much weight you can train your pup to pull. And the best part? As long as you work your pup's weight moving capacity up slowly, there is very little, if any risk of injury. This is a fantastic and fun activity for you and your pup to share and a great way to bond. 

Getting Started

It goes without saying that before you consider training your dog to pull a sleigh, he needs to have mastered at least the basics such as 'sit', 'come', 'stay', and 'down'. Responding to these commands ensures your pup knows his place in the pack. Beyond this, you will need a few supplies to help make the training go a little more smoothly. These include:

  • Your pup
  • A pulling harness
  • Treats
  • A sleigh
  • Training grounds

Beyond this, you will, of course, need plenty of training time and an endless supply of patience and treats. Be patient and have a great time, pulling a sleigh is supposed to be fun for both of you. 

The Meet Your Harness Method

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Step
1
Say hello to your harness
Bring the harness into the house and put it on your dog. Let him wear it around the house for short periods of time at first to get used to wearing it. Then extend the time until he no longer seems to notice the extra weight and the feeling of the harness.
Step
2
Something small to pull
Using a rope, attach a small piece of lumber to the rope and get your pup to pull it around the yard. Be sure to reward him with plenty of praise and, of course, a treat. Move up to saying "go" when you want him to take off and "stop" when you want him to stop. Reward with treats for success.
Step
3
Become the sleigh
This time, attach the rope to your pup and tell him to "go". Let him pull you along and praise him continuously as the two of you keep going. If your pup doesn't seem to be too interested in doing this, you can try having a friend with a dog run in front of him to get your dog up and moving.
Step
4
Introduce turns
Time to introduce the left and right commands. You can use "go left" and "go right" or go with "haw" (left) and "gee" (right), which are the traditional mushing commands. You can do this by using treats as a lure, tossing them in front of your pup in the direction you want him to go while calling out the command. Be sure to praise your pup when he gets it right.
Step
5
Add to his pulling power
Now it's time to try your pup with a sleigh (skis for snow or wheels for the rest of the year). Start out with an empty sleigh at first and slowly build up the amount of weight your dog can pull. How much your pup will be able to pull depends in large part on the size, breed, and amount of training the two of you put in.
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The Harness Pull Method

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Step
1
Time for your harness
Give your pup a few days to sniff the harness and get used to it. Then put it on him for a little while each day, giving him time to get used to the feel and weight of the harness.
Step
2
Adding in some weight
Over the course of several weeks, slowly start of adding a little more weight to the end of the harness. If at any time your pup looks like he doesn't want to get up and pull the weight, try using a treat to get him moving and toss a few more in front of him to keep him going.
Step
3
Add the command
Start using your choice of go commands such as "go", "mush", "hike", or your choice of words each time he starts pulling. Then work with getting him to stop on command using "halt", "whoa", "stop", or whatever you choose. If you do this for a few weeks, he will soon put the commands together with the action. Be sure to reward him for getting things right.
Step
4
Up to the cart
Time to move up to the sleigh or cart (depending on the time of year) hook your pup up to the cart and let him get used to it being there.
Step
5
Working the rest of the way
The rest is all about practicing the basic commands and slowly adding more weight to the cart until you and your pup are having a blast going all over town together.
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The Milk Jug Method

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Step
1
Use leash training
While you are walking your dog on his leash, use this time to start teaching him the basic commands, 'mush', 'gee', 'haw', and 'wait', which are in plain English, 'go', 'turn right', 'turn left', and 'stop'. This will make working with him in his harness and pulling a sleigh much easier.
Step
2
On with your harness
Put your pup in his harness and snap on the tug-line. This will come to mean "time to go to work" for your pup. Attach a dragline of around 7-10 feet long to your pup's harness so that it drags on the ground behind him. Add some weight to the line such as a milk jug filled with water or a large piece of firewood. Give him time to get used dragging the weight around behind him. Be sure to praise him and give him plenty of treats for encouragement.
Step
3
Go for a walk
This time, walk beside your pup while he is hauling his load around until he seems to feel comfortable with you there. Then start slowly letting him get in front of you, he may not feel comfortable with this at first, but take it slow and easy and he will get used to it.
Step
4
Add the sleigh
Time to introduce the sleigh or cart. Start by hitching your pup to the cart and giving him time to get used to it. Take him out to your training area let him pull the cart from the heel position at first. Use the commands you have been working on with your pup as you go along.
Step
5
Move to the musher position
Slowly move back towards the cart until you are in the "musher's" position, which is behind the sleigh, and your dog will continue to obey all of your commands. The rest is all about having fun, get out there and hit the trails with your pup and let him show you how good he is at pulling you all the way!
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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