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:
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.