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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.
The Leash Method
Find a well fitted harness
Harnesses made for leashes are widely available in every pet store. Be sure to choose one that provides comfort, visibility, and support. A walking harness should not be too tight or too loose.
Go for a walk
With the leash fixed properly to the harness, take your puppy for a walk regularly. This should be a daily exercise if not multiple times a day.
Let your dog pull
Contrary to most other methods of dog training, your Husky puppy should be allowed to pull on the leash using the harness. You should encourage this behavior, as it will allow him to learn to get leverage when pulling larger and heavier objects later on.
Watch the amount of resistance
It may be natural for you to want to pull back on the leash, but don’t offer so much resistance that your puppy can’t continue. Provide just a little in order to get him used to having to pull something.
Keep walks fun
Your puppy should enjoy going for a walk. Go down different paths, explore different areas, and get him accustomed to walking in the snow and ice. Use rewards like toys and treats to reinforce good pulling behavior when he shows it.
The Pull Harness Method
Get the right pull harness
Remember that walking harnesses are not the same as sledding harnesses. Be sure that the pull harness is well fitted.
Get used to the harness
Have your puppy sniff and smell the harness and reward her often so that she can associate it with good things. Eventually she will know that the harness means it’s time to pull.
Start with something light
Get your puppy used to having to pull objects by finding something like an empty plastic sled or something else that is comparable in weight. This is just to get accustomed to having some kind of weight on the harness.
Walk alongside your puppy
Set your pace either alongside or slightly in front of your puppy to encourage her to follow you. This will help her focus on you as she pulls.
Use a command
When you want the pulling to begin, use a verbal command. The most common one for sled dogs is ‘mush’.
Keep training short
Don’t expect your puppy to be able to pull for very long, at first. Keep training sessions short enough to not overwhelm her.
The Weight Train Method
Start with nothing
When you first begin to train on the pull harness, the amount of weight should be very light and almost unnoticeable.
Add a little at a time
With each progressive training session, add a little bit of weight at a time. Keep the increments very small. You want your puppy to almost be totally unaware of the shift in weight.
While you add more weight, increase the amount of distance your puppy must pull the weight. This can be done in yard or meter increments.
For puppies especially, trying to put more weight than your puppy can handle can damage or injure him. Be prepared to take plenty of time to work him up to heavier weights.
Use a team
If you’re in a position to have older, more practiced sled dogs help teach your puppy how to pull successfully, have him join a team to run along with them. Learning to use multiple dogs to pull a certain weight will help adjust him to a variety of pulling techniques.
Take breaks for play time
Remember that your puppy is still a puppy! He should be allowed to take breaks often to freely run around, play games, or socialize with other dogs.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 02/12/2018, edited: 01/08/2021