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Skijor - pup motivation to pull?

How do I motivate my 1/2 border collie 1/2 Aussie to pull?

I tried with a skier down the trail with dog treats - kinda works.

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Thanks for reaching out!

About four years ago, when we were living in Alaska, we adopted a sled dog from the local shelter. She was about two years old (they thought) and had exactly zero inclination to pull (or listen to anything I was saying, if I'm being honest). While I'm not co-ordinated enough to skijor with Hadley (my sled dog), I did want to train her to pull on my bike, 'bikejoring' as it's called in the interior of Alaska. While it was less about having her pull me on my bike and more about simply having her leashed up for safety, the idea was the same; she needed to be able to pull to keep tension on the leash and prevent it from winding around the tire and bringing us to a sudden, and spectacular, crashing stop.

We started by having a completely independent set of commands for when she was pulling: 'Go!' for pull, 'Gee' for turn right, 'Haw' for turn left, and 'Whoa' for stop. To introduce these commands I used a lot of treats and a sled, usually with my kids in it, but occasionally with a load of snow or firewood if it was too cold or the kids weren't interested. I would put Hadley in her harness and connect it to the sled. then I would use another leash and connect it to the line. This allowed me to walk beside her and give commands and reinforcement while she was also pulling. This process was slow and methodical and we likely looked ridiculous. But, for the most part, it worked! Hadley is a great trail dog and has no problems pulling when we're out riding and she needs to be on leash.

Here are a few recommendations of things that worked well for Hadley and I:

  • I only used those four commands when Hadley had her harness on, to create an association that this was a time for her to focus and get to work.
  • We practiced in the evening when distractions, vehicles, and ambient noise was lower so she could hear me clearly and we didn't have to worry much about maintaining her focus.
  • While we were learning together I also made sure that Hadley had plenty of time to get her 'regular' exercise and have fun and time that she wasn't 'working'.
  • Lots of treats and positive reinforcement.

One other option that I considered, but ultimately didn't do because Hadley seem to pick everything up quickly, was to have another musher (or skijorer) attach her to their team and work her alongside their dog who knew how to do everything. This is likely the quickest way to get your dog up to speed, as they really respond well to seeing the commands done by another dog. I'm employing this tactic with our 8 month old lab puppy, Apollo, right now as he learns the ropes by observing Hadley. 

All in all it takes lots of patience and time but can be so rewarding. Good luck!


Apollo and Hadley enjoying some well-earned trail time!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

John J - hey, those are some great ideas!
Now I can not wait again for snow but for now I will try to have my dog, Nuuk, pull a wagon. 
(BTW - I am just south of where you were - Palmer.)