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Canine Couch Potatoes It's Time To Get Your Dog Involved In Sports (sledding)

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Canine Couch Potatoes: It's Time To Get Your Dog Involved In Sports (Sledding)

Do you live in the snowy, ice-filled regions of the world? If so, consider training your dog to master the art of snow sports, particularly dog sledding.

You may think that dog sledding is a little out of your league when it comes to your dog, but you you'll be surprised to learn that most breeds can mush right along with the husky leaders in the cold region.

Clearing Up The Fallacies

First let's clear up some fallacies when it comes to snow sports for dogs. Any dog can mush as long as it weighs more than 30 pounds and is in good health. You don't need a northern breed (such as a Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute) to run a sled team, and unless you're planning long distances you only need one to three dogs.

Being in top shape is important for sled dogs, so before you start, have your veterinarian okay your dog's health, then spend some time jogging with your dog or running it beside a bicycle to get it physically fit. Every dog is different, but in general it's a good idea to begin running him short distances – about ¼ mile a day until it has had a chance to improve.

Gradually lengthen the distance until your dog can easily run for 30 minutes a day, five times a week. Once he is able to run up to three miles a day without showing signs of strain (heavy panting, overheating), you can begin to train for sledding.

Sledding Details

Two dogs make a team when it comes to sledding. If you decide you want to do more than mush around the local park, you'll need a minimum of three to four dogs for competitions.

Sledding can get a little pricey when it comes to equipment. You need a sled, gangline (which hooks up the sled to the dogs), X-back harnesses (made of nylon) for each dog, snowhooks (which are sled anchors), snublines (which hold the sled when you're stopped), and a sled bag to hold extra gear.

Most well-seasoned dog sledders do not recommend doing long-distance runs (from 20 to 250 miles) with the breeds that are not naturally bred for this type of activity, such as most sporting dogs like Labrador Retrieves, Setters, Pointers, etc.

Most of these dogs do not have the thick, insulated coats of the northern breeds to protect them in extreme conditions. The average dog may indeed have a lot of stamina, but when it comes to dog sledding, most breeds' physical makeup are not ideal for long-distance pulling.

To be competitive in sledding (for racing distances under six miles), your dogs should have completed a minimum of 300 to 500 miles of training that season before your first race. This seems like a lot, but running your team three miles a day is a good goal to shoot for. If the weather is cool enough, you can begin your training in September, and have the 300 miles under your belt by your first race on December 15th.

In addition to learning how to pull, your dog will also need to learn the standard voice commands in dog sledding: whoa (stop), hike (go), gee (right), haw (left), easy (slow down) and hike it up or a tongue click (go faster). These skills are often best taught when a beginner dog is harnessed up with experienced dogs.

For more information about sled dog events and training, contact the International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA) or the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS).

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BONUS : Canine Couch Potatoes: It's Time To Get Your Dog Involved In Sports (Tracking)

Tracking is a great sporting event to get your active dog involved in which will hone in on his ability to follow a scent trail and find strategically placed scented items, such as a glove, leather wallet, bandanna, etc.

Tracking tests usually take place outside, and depending on the course, may be laid over a natural surface (such as a field of grass) or over what is called variable surface (several surface types, including gravel, concrete, dirt and grass).

Tracking isn't an easy sport to master – plenty of distractions can lead dogs astray, such as furry or feathered critters, or yummy-smelling food fragrances. Even so, your energetic sporting breed could quite possibly make an excellent tracker depending on his intelligence and willing to learn. It all depends on the dog's ability to focus on one scent and its desire to find it.

To get started in tracking, look for a professional trainer who trains and competes in AKC tracking events. Look in your phone directory under “dog training” and contact trainers who specialize in obedience. Many obedience training facilities also offer tracking training.

To compete in an AKC tracking test you must first arrange to have your dog certified by a tracking judge. The judge (or tracklayer – a person chosen by the judge) will mark out a Tracking Dog (TD)-level (most basic) scent trail. If your dog successfully follows the track under the gaze of the judge, you'll receive four tracking certificates which are viable for one year.

Next, find a real tracking test and sign up, presenting one of your certificates with your entry form. The TD-level test calls for your dog to follow a 440 to 500-foot-long track with 3 to 5 turns that has been aged 30 minutes to two hours. The dog must clearly indicate or retrieve the scented item at the end of the trail.

You can't yank, pull or otherwise tell the dog where the trail or scented items like. You can, however, offer verbal praise and commands. Two judges decide to pass or fail a dog depending on how well it follows the track and whether it actually finds the article. A dog can earn its first title after passing only one test, or leg.

To earn a Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) title, you must follow an 800 to 1,000-foot-long track that has been aged 3 to 5 hours and has 5 to 7 directional changes. This task is made more challenging because other human scents cross the true track.

Variable Surface Tracking (VST) tests are the most challenging. Your dog must follow a three to five-hour-old track over a minimum of three different surfaces, including two that have no vegetation, such as sand, gravel or concrete. A dog that has earned all three of these titles is awarded the Champion Tracker (CT) title.

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