Are You Experienced: Dog Driving

I wanted to take a little bit of time to explain about hooking up dogs to a bike or any contraption be it ski’s, scooter, or your body without some basic knowledge of what you are doing.

– First and foremost you don’t just get a wild hare and do it. If you do, you probably are going to sustain a crash and possible injury to you or the dog(s)…maybe both! There are two things you must do before you ever hook them up and get on board.

1. You must be fully competent with your own skills at riding a bike or scooter etc.

2. Your dogs need a minimum amount of training. The more the better!

In my case I started riding mini-bikes in 7th grade. That quickly progressed to riding motorcycles and racing moto-cross, and trials over the next 20 years. I’m completely at ease on two wheels. That doesn’t mean that you need twenty years of experience but you must be able to balance, brake, and control the bike without any thoughts about it. Things happen fast, and the faster you are going the less time there is to fix it, or control it.

Basic training is pretty simple. Of course that depends on the breed. Some dogs are pre-destined to be pullers and runners. Huskies, Malamutes, and other northern breeds have it in their DNA. If you have one of these dogs the instinct is there already. The problem is training them to obey directional commands. At the bare minimum “Left and Right” have to be well known and acted on by the dogs. “Stop” is fun to yell but to a hyped up dog it goes unanswered for the most part. Do not count on that one at all…that’s when good brakes are your best friend.

In my case I use standard mushing commands. “Gee” is right, and “Haw” is left. “Hike” is go. And “Whoa” is just a wish. Any short distinctive words will work if you train them that way.

“So how do you do that?” you may ask.

With a naturally pulling dog it isn’t difficult. It just takes a lot of footwork. There is no shortcut for practice of commands. Some dogs take to it quickly, and some don’t.

I start walking a young pup and if they already are out front pulling I pick a spot and yell “Gee.” I immediately turn 90 degrees and walk to the other side of the road. Then we walk some more and I yell “Haw!” turn left 90 degrees and go to the other side. The dog on the leash gets the idea the more and more you do it. Eventually when you say either of these commands the dog will do it without you pulling on the leash. They go right and left on command.

“Hike” is probably the easiest. Especially if you use and excited voice, “HIKE-HIKE-HIKE!” It’s similar to telling a dog to “Get HIM!” when you want that dog to run off a vermin of your choice. They get excited and they go for it.

“Whoa or Stop” is pretty much a wish, but in time some smart dogs figure it out. How much? That depends on the dog and the level of excitement. Deer or rabbits running across the road in front of me? Not much is going to stop the prey drive from kicking in. That’s when “Disc” brakes make a huge difference in crashing. Good brakes are the safety valve!

Next on the list of important things is your equipment. You must ensure the rope does not get into your front wheel. If it does your front wheel will lock up and you will find yourself doing what is called an “Endo.” That is when you do a front somersault and end up with the bike smashing you into the ground and on top of your back. Not fun as you might imagine!

There are cheap and expensive ways to prevent this. A simple small pipe of PVC that extends past your front wheel is the cheap method. Your tug rope goes through the pipe and attached to your bike frame. More expensive is a device that automatically keeps tension on the rope at all times. It’s like a power reel that can let more rope out, or reel it back in as the dog goes faster or suddenly slower.

Eventually you have to take that first ride. Go slow and make sure your dog is obeying the commands. Be prepared with your hands on the brakes at all times! You only have a second or less if a squirrel decides to make a suicidal run in front of you. This I know from the only crash I’ve had when I first started out doing this. You would be amazed at how strong a dog can pull, especially when a meal appears in front of them!

It is a slow process to become a disciplined team. I’ve known folks that said, “Hey that looks cool!” and hooked a couple of dogs to their bike and made it almost a block before they crashed. Heed my warnings!

In spite of the work to train, the miles walked, the equipment bought I can tell you this. There is nothing that compares to running down the road being pulled by dog power. It’s exciting, it’s amazing, and it’s satisfying to know you did it. People stare, people yell about how cool it is to see. But they have no idea what it’s like to feel the surge of power and speed as you cruise by with a big smile and wave! Nothing comes without work. Dogs are work that never ends.

My first “Real” Siberian Husky. Mr. Cooper Lee. Puller of bikes, and instigator of my quest for knowledge of his kind. Thanks Coop! Without you I wouldn’t have learned anything about your people.

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