Tuesday, February 2, 2010


When I was a kid, I used to sit on my flying saucer sled and hang onto Sheba and let her pull me around in the snow. She loved it. I loved it and it was way better than just taking her out for a boring old walk.

Ever since, I've been kind of fascinated with dog pulling sports. I'm not talking about anything overly strenuous, or potentially abusive like Iditarod, but more along the lines of "let's hook a dog up to a skateboard and see what happens" (nothing good for the skateboarder as it turned out).

Seems like others have had some similar childhood experiences and now a whole bunch of dog centric pulling "sports" have sprung up. There's skijoring where dogs pull people on cross country skis:

There's scooterjoring:

And there's bikejoring:

I started thinking about all this stuff again recently not so much for Stella and Rocky (Stella's normal walking pace is that of a cow and Rocky, while his spirit is young and eager, his old bones aren't) but for the dogs at TAS.

A big problem facing dogs at any shelter is lack of exercise. This coupled with understimulation can often lead to the development of problem behaviours. So, short of building an outdoor dog run - which TAS South has talked about doing but haven't gotten round to yet - or a swimming pool - which, rumour has it, Bill Bruce of Calgary Animal Services is talking about - I thought maybe doing some type of joring activity might make the dogs' exercise time a bit more exciting and energy intensive.

Thing is, though, I didn't really want any of the dogs to be pulling.

The problem with pulling is that for the dog to be able to do it properly and not be injured requires harnessing and I don't have harnesses, certainly not harnesses for every size dog that TAS gets in. I also don't want to encourage pulling as that isn't going to help get a dog adopted out. Really, I just wanted them to be able to run fast and me to be able to keep up. I ended up deciding to try something along the lines of bikejoring just without the pulling part and more of the pedaling part.

I've seen people on bicycles holding onto a leash with a dog at the other end but that wouldn't work with most of the TAS dogs since many of them are untrained (from being with inconsistent owners) and hyper (from being locked up all day) and the last thing I want is some over-excited 80 pound plus dog yanking me around at top speed while I'm trying to ride my bike with one hand.

So, here's the contraption I made. I ripped off most of the concepts from bikejoring how-to sites:

The wooden pole is velcro-strapped onto the top tube of the bike and it's anchored in place with a couple of bolts. The pull line is attached to the frame of the bike with a D-ring and it threads through an eyebolt at the end of the wooden pole. This is to keep the line from getting tangled in the front wheel. The line is actually two-parts. One segment is a non-stretch leash with attachment clips at both ends and another segment is a length of bungee cord. The bungee cord provides shock absorption so neither the dog nor bike rider (me) get jerked around too much.

I first tried it out on Benny, a somewhat high energy Beagle. The contraption worked well enough. I was more than able to keep up with Benny whenever he decided to break out into a run but Benny, being a Beagle, wasn't much of a straight line runner, instead preferring to follow whatever scent caught his nose, and so there was a lot of stop and go, basically just like walking Benny except I was on a bike.

Next I tried it out with this Husky expecting some sled pulling instinct to kick in but instead the guy was the perfect healer and we had a very pleasant run/ride around the parking lot a few times.

Boone was my next victim and he was like Benny except ten times heavier. While the ride wasn't a total failure, it wasn't exactly a resounding success. We got in a few good sprints but Boone too was very easily distracted by scents and would often stop and suddenly try to pull in some opposing direction. At first I was worried this would lead to precarious situations on my bike but the set-up actually afforded a lot of control and it didn't take long to figure out how to guide through steering this dog who had no concept of how to walk in a straight line.

Finally, I tried Kibosh (in the two accompanying photos) on the bike. He was a natural. As soon as I hooked him up, he ran ahead and kept running in a fairly straight line. I took him along the mostly unused bicycle path by the lake and he had a natural instinct for staying on track. We went for at a least a mile before turning around and heading back.

Kibosh was a fast runner. As I said, I didn't want the dogs to pull but there were moments, especially coming back against the wind, when Kibosh would race ahead and pedal as hard as I might, I could still feel the line go taut. I didn't feel too bad about this. If I had been walking with him, he would've been doing a lot more pulling than while riding with him. With a dog like Kibosh, though, I'm highly tempted to go out and buy a proper harness.

Maybe if the snow ever covers the ground again in this city, I will get a harness, and a pair of skis.


Anonymous said...

Fred, I hope these dogs know what a good friend you are to them all.

Why isn't TAS South building an outside dog run or what can we do to make this happen?


Fred said...

GB, I think it might have something to do with CNE grounds bureaucracy but I'm not sure. Or maybe it's budgetary or maybe they just haven't gotten round to it yet.

Laura HP said...

I love it! Such a great idea for the dogs! I bet they had a blast =)

I'd put my bet on CNE grounds bureaucracy when it comes to the dog run, the CNE grounds people tend to be pretty into micro-managing. That's not based on anything though, it could be something else entirely. It would definitely be awesome to have!!

Anonymous said...

I've often had similar thoughts while trying to keep up to my hyperactive two out in the Bashundhara wild lands. And, being a certain age, the idea of gliding along the bike paths while we all get sufficient exercise has real appeal.

Now, if you could devise a *two* dog system, possibly with something tempting on a stick in front to keep them both going in the same direction, I'd know what to do when we are back in the land of muzzles and leads and too much regulation....

Anonymous said...

Cross country skiing with Blondie has been on the top of my to do list this winter but, ya, no snow isn't doing us any favors. I have been known to rollerblade quite frequently and bike with Blondie holding the leash. We have gotten very good at both these activities. It took quite a bit of practice, and yes I have fallen down, but now that shes got the hang of it, it's probably the most fun I have with her. We both love the speed and the team effort.

Love the bike contraption Fred!!!!! very cool. I bet you had a ton of fun with Kibosh and I bet he was incredibky grateful to you for the run and fun!!!

Way to go


CyborgSuzy said...

That is so cool. I am inspired.

Heather Houlahan said...

Fred, I strongly urge you to invest in one of these:


(Not necessarily from that vendor; I think you can find a better price elsewhere.)

What worries me about your setup is the amount of leash the dogs have, which is not only a tangling hazard, but allows the possibility of up to about 12 feet of shock-loading. Bungie or no, that can ruin your day.

I have a Springer that I've used for years to run the snot off of over-energetic foster dogs. Even the most disorganized and spazzy of them has quickly settled into a comfortable trot (I don't go over trotting speeds), and all jerky movements, up to and including attempted squirrelicide, are absorbed by the spring-dingus.

Once you install the mount on your seat post, the device itself goes on and off in seconds.

Nancy said...

This isn't the safest option (no quick release like the Springer) but I bike with my border mix by leashing her harness to my seat post, with a 4-5 foot leash that keeps her beside my knee. Using the seat post keeps the centre of balance firmly set - even if the dog lunges it is difficult to overturn the bike.

Fred said...

Hi Heather, someone else recommended this unit to me as well. I'll definitely check it out. It's good to get an objective review of the device. Thanks. I hope they'll mail order Canada.

The bungee on my contraption actually does a really good job of absorbing shock, as confirmed with Boone, but the drawback with the thing is it doesn't afford as much control as the commercial product which, it looks like, keeps the dog right beside the bicycle, so if I'm going through a more crowded area, I have to dismount and hang onto the leash part of the line. The plus side of this is that it lets the dog sniff around more freely when it wants to.

Fred said...

Hi Nancy, the way the contraption is attached, the torque from the dog is actually distributed along the whole top tube of the bike from the seat to the handlebars so it's actually quite stable. And also, because of the bungee, any force is gradually applied so no jerking at all.

Obviously this would be affected by the size and exuberance of the dog. An 80 lb. nutbar is probably my upper limit with the contraption because then the riding just becomes an exercise in dog control. This is where I can see the commercial product doing a better job.

Anonymous said...

Ok I feel more normal knowing I'm no the only person entertaining the skijoring/running idea!

TAS west has a pretty unused free-run area- really helps when evaluating dogs for adoption, plus I think the dogs really like going out to just play. I would love to volunteer just to do that instead of 'dog walking'. Think I could?

ps- just thought of this- what about using the horse ring when the lessons aren't on?? oooh- think of it- agility with rescue dogs..ok think I'm going a bit overboard now-lol

Fred said...

Hi Anonymous, I don't really know much about the set-up at TAS West but if they have volunteer dog walking, I don't see why you can't volunteer to just hang out with them in the free-run area.

As for using the horse ring, officially we're not supposed to because of the possibility of disease transmission or some such thing. Some of those horses are worth more than our first born and the owners can be pretty particular about the conditions of any surface their horses touch down upon. Anyway, that's what I'm told.