When I read this article submitted by Virginia member Susan Waltman, all I could think of to say was WOW, what a neat idea!
Bob and his one-year-old dog Major haven’t been able to get out for any real exercise in several days. Now Bob hooks up the leash with dread, knowing that they will be battling constantly over Major’s desire to pull on the leash.
Meanwhile, Cheryl and Major’s littermate Moose are also preparing for their first big outing in several days. But Cheryl is hooking up Moose with eager anticipation. This could be one of their best jaunts yet!
What’s the difference? Instead of a slow, frustrating leash-walk, Cheryl and Moose are going “dogscootering.” Cheryl puts a padded sled-dog harness on Moose, snaps a stretchy tug line from the harness to the scooter, and they’re off! Moose sets the pace at a fast trot, while Cheryl stands on the scooter and tells him what a great dog he is for pulling!
How difficult is it? Most people are amazed at how easy and fun it is to dogscooter. The scooter has independent steering and brakes and balances very easily. Even people who haven’t been on a bicycle in years are comfortable in minutes riding a scooter. If you encounter a problem, it is simple to apply the brakes and hop off to hold your dog, or walk him past a distraction. It is true that some dogs can drag a scooter even with the brakes locking the wheels, so it is a good idea to teach the dog to stop on command. A few bites of chicken will get the point across quickly. If your dog already responds to his name or the come command, you may want to use that instead.
Is my dog a good candidate? It takes only 5 lbs of force to keep a scooter rolling on a flat surface. Most dogs can pull harder than that on collars! A willing 30 lb dog can do it, or even two smaller dogs. You can help to get up hills, or get off and run or walk beside the scooter. Larger dogs will be able to give you a good ride over uneven terrain. Mushers often start 5 month old sled-dog pups pulling with short, easy trips. There are dogs with hip problems happily pulling a scooter to stay in shape (but of course check with your veterinarian first).
What do I need to get started? You will need a scooter with at least 12 inch wheels (preferably 16 inch or 20 inch), and brakes. Kid-sized scooters can be adapted to fit adults. The nicest dog-scooters come with front suspension, a wider foot platform, and fenders. You can buy a custom fitted, padded harness (either x-back or “Urban Trail”) for your dog for about $30, from sled dog suppliers. The tugline can be made or purchased; I recommend one with a bungee section to smooth the ride for both dog and person. A bike helmet and eye protection (sunglasses) is always a good idea. Rollerblade padding may make you less nervous about possible spills.
How fast should we go? Some people are happier teaching a big dog not to go faster than a trot. Simply brake and slow the dog every time he tries to go faster. Others love adrenalin and the thrill of trying to follow dirt trails through the woods at high speed! A few sled dog races are now including scooter race classes at their “dry land” (no snow) events. In some parts of the country, “dogscooter fun runs” are held, where folks get together to scooter along nice trails and stop for picnics. Bike trails away from traffic are easier to begin on. But in urban areas, dogscooters have success-fully been used to run local errands, such as quick trips to the store or picking up a child from school.
What training is involved? Initially, with one dog, you just need to go and stop! Other skills will come in time, like leave it/pass on by distractions, easy/slower, faster, right/gee, left/haw, straight ahead, finding curb cuts, moving over (right or left) for passing, etc. Two dogs will encourage each other to pull, and provide even more speed and power. But it may take a little patience in the beginning while everyone learns to avoid tangling the lines. “Lining out” (taking up the slack in the line while waiting to start) becomes important as more dogs are used.
Will it make my dog pull even worse on the leash? Initially, there may be some confusion about when pulling is appropriate. But if you are consistent, your dog will learn. Using separate trails for pulling the scooter versus walking nicely on the lead may help the dog make the distinction. Many people find that channeling the dog’s energy and giving them an outlet for pulling does reduce the leash pulling on regular walks.
Where can I go for more information? Since this is a new dog sport, the best, most recent info is available for free on the internet. My web page has a simple introduction to the sport and can be accessed at http://www.geocities.com/agiluki/scooter.html. The most complete site is www.dogscooter.com, and the e-mail discussion list is at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DogsLovetoRun/