Sled Dog Training Tips

Sled dog training is as much an art as a science. What works for some dogs won't work for others, but with these training tips, you'll be on the right track to creating a sled dog team that works.

Start with Collars and Harnesses
Don't make collar or sled dog harness training painful and negative; make it a positive experience, so sled dogs learn to love it. Start by training sled dogs to a collar and stake. This gives dogs the experience being tethered to something. It also teaches them to stay away from the lines and to clear tangles. Try tethering sled dogs to stakes at feeding time so they have a positive association with the collar.

Don't overdo it when you're breaking a sled dog to the harness. Again, make the harness a positive thing for the dog. Find a sled dog harness that fits your dog properly, so he can run easily. Use something lightweight as drag, and put it on a 15- or 20-foot line. You don't want the drag to be too close to the dog and scare him, and you don't want to risk stepping on him as you run behind the drag.

If the drag weight is too heavy, you may hurt the dog, or you may discourage it; make it something lightweight and easy to drag to encourage your dog and get him used to the idea of dragging something. Start with one or two sessions per week, and work up gradually from there; don't start your dog working every day from the beginning, or you might burn him out and give him negative associations.

Train Teamwork Slowly
Don't throw new sled dogs into the mix and hope they'll catch on; start teamwork training slowly and easily. Let one or two new sled dogs work with older sled dogs that won't move too fast and overwhelm the new dogs. Keep your first runs to short distances of a quarter to a half mile, and try to avoid letting the new dogs get dragged. Limit your teams to three or four dogs when you're training new sled dogs, or you'll have too much chaos to effectively train.

Young dogs are still developing, and asking them to do too much, too soon can cause permanent damage and health problems. Even when a sled dog reaches his age of physical maturity, around three years old, he still isn't automatically ready for a 10-mile run. Take your dogs out regularly, and build up the length of the runs gradually. Start with quarter-mile and half-mile runs with young dogs, gradually increasing the distance and difficulty of your runs to condition your dogs.

Change Trails
Dogs are intelligent creatures. Even the most enthusiastic sled dogs get bored running the same trail day after day. Whether you're training and conditioning your dogs or just taking them out for a run, vary your trail regularly to keep your dogs fresh and enthusiastic. Trail changes can help build endurance, as different trails require different degrees of effort at various points.


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