In the snowiest of climates, dog owners must still find ways to keep their dogs fit and active. While many dogs prefer the warmth of the fireplace in the winter, still others thrive in the cold environment, relishing the cooling bliss of snow and ice along the ground. For most people, the breed that springs to mind is the Siberian Husky, among other winter-bred dogs. However, the Husky remains one of the more famous breeds with some of its members starring in Hollywood in movies like Balto, Eight Below, and Snow Dogs.
The one thing that many of these famous dogs have in common is their ability to lead the charge on sled teams, pulling their handler along the frozen ground for miles at a time. Huskies are proven to be one of the best breeds for sled pulling and the ideal dog for sled pulling in the snow. But while Huskies are bred to be pulling champions, they still require training, often from very early on when they are still puppies.
Sled pulling is not something that a Husky can do right from the get-go. Like any major sport or job that a dog participates in, there must be training that can prepare them for the physical requirements that the job entails. For sled pulling, dogs must be physically fit enough to be able to pull the average sized human along with the sled they ride on, while maintaining formation if they are within a sled dog team.
Training sled dogs begins with leash training and then requires a proper pulling harness to be fitted. From there, a Husky puppy will go through weight training until he can reasonably be expected to pull a person on a sled, though, this usually doesn’t happen until the dog is full grown in order to reduce stress on growing joints and muscles. Sled training is a process and not one that can be easily skipped. Consider that you may spend up to a year training your puppy for true sled pulling.
Before anything else, be sure that your puppy is cleared by a veterinarian to begin training. He should be vaccinated and in good health. If he is sick or injured, training should not begin until he is fully recovered.
You’ll need to invest in several items for sled training. First, is a leash harness that is used for walking as normal. A sturdy leash is also necessary. Second is a pull harness, which is specially made for dogs who pull objects. These two types of harnesses are NOT the same. Be sure you are looking for the right items when purchasing them. Other items that are necessary include a sled and treats or toys to use as rewards during training.
How young can you start training? Can 1 dog pull me around town?
Hello John, You can begin things like teaching directions, getting a puppy used to a harness, the basics of getting used to something dragging behind them, and the general training need to teach a dog how to go, turn, stop, and pull, as early as 8-12 weeks but you do not want to make the exercise strenuous and actually do real sled pulling until the dog is at least a year old, because a dog's growth plates are not finished closing and growing until after 1 year of age and the dog will be more prone to injury with strenuous activities like hard running and pulling. You can start commands as early as 8 weeks (be patient - puppies this age have a shorter attention span, but getting them used to a sled and harness is really important). You can start having them pull very lightweight things as soon as they seem able to easily do it without tripping or getting too tired - simply to get them used to something dragging behind them but not work their muscles too much. You can start adding weights after a year. When you add weight, do it gradually, working up to your own weight so that they can gradually build muscle - just like a person improving at the gym. As far as how may dogs you need, it simply depends on your dog and you. A larger, stronger dog and a lighter weight person would probably be fine as long as you are not doing long distances, like races, but just going around town. If you are larger and your dog is smaller, you will need additional dogs. The answer is - whatever your dog is capable of is fine. Just make sure that you ease your dog into the weight and don't let them injure themselves by pushing too hard - many Husky's will keep going until they drop they love it so much, so pay attention to how he is doing and don't wait until he is overtired before giving him a break. Many sled riders only have one dog. Those who race in things like the Iditarod have up to 16! because of how strenuous it is. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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