"Swiss Cheeses! Daddy-O! You're embarrassing me."
One of these dogs is doing the sled dog thing all wrong. Can you tell which one?
Poor Juno. She's the only pro among the four of us. We're all amateurs compared to her.
Poor Loki. This is just not in his blood. Every time I hook up the dogs, Juno faces in the direction we're going and Loki, well, he faces me. It never fails. I'm just as amateur at teaching him. I know I have to do some foundation training off the bike (for commands like "pull" and "tighten up") with Loki when I get some time and energy, but for now, we "train on the go." And this is how he looks. He's actually pretty fabulous at doing what I ask him to do, when he understands it. And when he doesn't, well, he just looks at me, confused.
One day, he was keeping his line super slack while Juno was raring to go faster. So I kept cheering him on, encouraging him to get up front with Juno. Finally he stopped and refused to go on. He had enough of my gibberish and couldn't make heads or tails of what I was talking about. Juno caught hold of his strike and decided to protest too. "I'm not going if he's not going," she said to me! Both dogs stopped dead, refused to move forward---forget pulling! So I got off the bike, shut my pie hole and just walked the bike along while practically dragging them along beside me. Within a few minutes, they both stopped their weirdness and started walking out front again. I hopped on my bike and that was the day I learned to keep my mouth shut unless absolutely necessary.
To be honest, I've been cheating a bit in this sport. For the first 2 miles, I leave them both off leash so they can get all their sniffing and pee-mail done. While off leash, they're only allowed to run beside my bike in heel position or fall about 20-30 feet behind. Acting as their rabbit, it helps them increase their speed a bit more while giving them the liberty they need so when they are hooked up, they're ready to work for me.
"Pop, I can't help it I was born to work my chompers and Juno was born to work her jodhpurs!"
That's ok, buddy. We're all learning.
A few readers left excellent comments and questions on my last Bikejoring post, so I'll take the time to address some of them here.
First, the dog's harnesses: For the me, this has been one of the hardest parts of breaking into this sport. Finding a proper harness that would be comfortable, safe and enable free movement, while being inescapable should I need to physically restrain them, proved to be difficult. As I started researching various styles, I realized I did not want a the typical X-back harnesses often used in this sport, because I didn't want downward pressure on Juno's hips due to her hip dysplasia. Whatever she used, I wanted to use for Loki as well. We went with the custom Urban Trail harness from Alpine Outfitters and overall, we're really happy with them. Loki's fit like a glove but I needed to order a second round for Juno as I measured her wrongly the first time around. I have to say I really like Alpine Outfitter's customer service and their harnesses came with the names embroidered on them! We also use their bikejor leash line equipment for the bike.
"Professional sled dogs need their massage time in between workouts, Pop. Make sure you get my shoulders."
In regards to safety and how the dogs are hooked to the bike: KB has it right, the dog lines are attached to the head tube of the bike so the dogs have zero control over the steering. I would never hold a leash in my hand as I ride nor would I hook it to the bars! When the dog pulls, it pulls from the head tube, even if the dog goes slightly to the side or if he jerks in one direction, the bike rider has a lot of control using a combination of brakes and steering to keep the dog on the correct path. In addition, there are tons of bikejor arms you can buy that attach to the head tube to keep the leash lines off and away from the front wheel, should they go slack. Mr. Wild Dingo has a sweet bikejor arm that is metal and really does the job very well, however it doesn't fit my tiny frame and I have to use a scooter noodle made by Alpine Outfitters. It does the job fairly well, but since my dogs don't always keep a tight line, it's always hitting the front wheel. It does keep the lines from tangling the wheel hub.
Some bikejorers who race, actually tie the dog to a canicross belt around their waist and ride like that. Hell would freeze over before I do that with my dogs.
Keep in mind, no matter how you ride with your dogs, you have to have excellent voice control with your dogs. Even with this safer hookup, they still can make you endo (go over the bars), but any bike rider can endo even without a dog's help! I've been riding for years and for me, adding the forward (or sideways) motion from 2 dogs is just one more element of balance to add to bike handling--- a bit like increasing the technicality of the trails you ride. While brakes are your friend in the beginning, they also need to be used carefully as too much braking at just 2 mph can easily cause an endo from mere the sight of squirrel! Not that would ever happen to me! (Ahem.)
And finally, another reader asked how can I tell when the dogs need a water break. It's pretty simple. They go forward when they're happy and not tired and they stop when they need to rest or take water. But seriously though, when doing any sport with your dog, it's important to be able to read your dog's body language for sighs of fatigue, thirst, heat stroke, exhaustion. That just comes with experience. I know these guys pretty well, sometimes better than myself!
The video below shows some repeat footage seen on Facebook and the earlier video, but includes how the dogs ask for water, as well as my amateur attempt at teaching them to "line out" (hold the lines tight while I mount the bike). Check it out!