by Carol Browne
Dog Scootering is an activity which is rapidly gaining popularity across the UK – dogs love to run and what better way to allow them to; you may have seen somebody in your local neighbourhood whizzing past you on a scooter being pulled by their dog or dogs. It is a great way to exercise and bond with your pet and is suitable for almost any fit and healthy dog.
Dog Scootering is a sport where one or more dogs pull a human riding an unmotorised two wheeled scooter. The human can help the dog along by scooting and together can cover a much wider area than by walking in the same time frame. This is a great way to exercise for both you and your dog. The dog obviously gets exercise by pulling the scooter and running, but people also get exercise, as they have to assist the dog by pushing the scooter, and at times, getting off and running with the scooter, especially up hills! Most dogs take to scootering immediately and need little or no encouragement to run as fast as they can, whilst going out to new and exciting places. As a scootering team get more experienced and confident, you can visit new trails and travel further, and can lead to a stronger bond between owner and dog.
Almost any type of dogs can pull a scooter, from Huskies, to Great Danes, and Schnauzers to Spaniels. The smaller the dog, the more you will have to help out on hills and rough spots. All dogs, regardless of size, must be slowly worked into fitness, along with their owners. Don’t expect to run the Iditarod in your first month!
So how do you start scootering?
All you need to get started is yourself and your dog, a scooter, a harness and a gangline.
There are a variety of different types of scooter on the market currently, ranging from £150 to £400. Scooters are unmotorised and most have mountain bike type tyres, ranging from 16″ to 26″. The scooters have a large footplate to balance, stand upon and kick off from, and usually have a front and rear brake.
You may find some models only have a rear brake, and other models are now incorporating front shocks to absorb the bumps when riding over rough terrain. Most scooters allow the gangline to be connected around the head stock of the scooter, but there are some varieties of scooter which have introduced a “brushbow” attachment, which cover the front wheel. This protects the dogs from the wheel and also allows the gangline to be connected in a direct line to the rear of the harness.
An alternative sport similar to scootering is bikejoring. This is where a bike is used instead of a scooter, although some people view this as a more dangerous alternative, as it can be more difficult to dismount a bike in an emergency. Others feel more secure on a bike.
Scooters are easily transportable. They can fit inside a car (if you don’t mind the mud!), a car boot or can be carried on a bike rack attached to the back or top of a car.
There are two types of harnesses that are generally used for scootering; the X-Back Harness and the Shoulder Harness.
The X-Back Harness is the mainstay product of the majority of professional and recreational mushers. Most commonly seen on pictures of sled dogs around the globe, this harness is the traditional style of capturing a dogs pulling power. It is important the harness fits snugly but not tightly around the neck and extends along the back stopping just short of the tail. As well as sledding and dryland mushing, this harness can be used for skijoring, bikejoring, cani-cross and scootering. The Shoulder Harness; this style of harness connects around the shoulders of the dog with the hitching point just below the shoulder blades. This has the advantage of allowing all the power generated at the shoulders to be harnessed directly, which is particularly useful when the hitching point is not directly in line with the dogs topline, such as with scootering, skijoring and bikejoring. If the connection point is significantly higher than the dogs topline, then the use of an X Back harness can cause the dogs back legs to be lifted away from the ground slightly reducing the power. Some long distance mushers in the Iditarod have also cited shoulder harnesses put less stress on the lower back and hips of the dog. Finally, you will require a gangline which is the line that connects your dog to the scooter.
The gangline will usually consist of two sections; the first called a tug line and the second a bungee line. Alternatively, you can obtain a single longer line which incorporates a bungee within. It is important to use a bungee within the lines, as it will absorb any sharp impacts from the scooter away from the dog and make the experience far more enjoyable.
There are double tug lines that are available once you progress to running two dogs. Most double tug lines will come with a neckline, which clips to the collar of each dog, to keep them running alongside each other.
There is no need for any special attachments to connect the gangline to the scooter – the lines can wrap around the head stock of the scooter; alternatively, as previously mentioned, some scooters are manufactured with special connections points for dog scootering.
Besides the equipment stated above, there is plenty more items and supplies you may wish to take with you whilst out scootering:
Water and Dog Bowl – dogs will drink lots of water especially after exercise. Always make sure your dog has access to fresh clean drinking water before and after exercising.
Treats – you will want to reward your dog after a great time scootering!
Poo Bags – most places now request that you use poo bags after your dog. This is a good reason to encourage your dog to go to the toilet before starting your scootering session.
Protective Equipment – you may wish to wear a helmet, wrist guards, knee pads and or googles when scootering, depending on the speed of your dog and the type of surface you are scootering on.
Dog Booties – Booties protects dog paws from hot pavement, sharp gravel and stones. There is often an adjustment period for the dog’s paws, and they may get sore or cut initially if on a longer run, until they toughen up. The owner should ALWAYS carry booties along for cuts and abrasions, and to prevent infection.
Getting started for the first time
For your first run with your dog, choose a familiar route or trail. A good choice is to take the dog to a fun place he’s used to visiting, so he has a destination in mind, like the park. A recognised trail is better than an open field because a dog does not know the direction to take when facing an open field. A narrow trail is better than a wide one. If you can, bring a family member or friend on a bicycle, and ask them to ride in front of you.
The dog’s first lesson is that the scooter is FUN because he gets to RUN. Keep the run short for the first few trips. Stop well before the dog is tired. Stop while he still wants to go. The first run might be as short as a few minutes or a few miles. Remember that a dog that is out of shape and/or overweight will tire quickly and even can damage joints or pull muscles.
Most people starting out will have just one dog. As always start off slowly. Before you start off on the scooter, walk the dog a little so he has the opportunity to go to the toilet. This will reduce the possibility of your dog having to stop whilst running in harness. Put the dog into his harness and attach them to the scooter with the gangline. An assistant is useful to hold the scooter (one foot on the scooter pad, both brakes squeezed tight) whilst you hook up your dog.
Once you are rolling, keep your fingers on the brake levers, and use your brakes lightly as needed to keep the gangline tight at all times. Ride to the side, not directly behind your dog and have fun!
Watch your gangline carefully – you do not want to ride over it and get it stuck round your front wheel or the dog’s leg. Keeping the lines tight is your responsibility and can be done by using the scooter brakes lightly whenever the dog slows down. Do not let the scooter ride up next to the dog. The dog’s job is always to hold the line out tight in front of the scooter. Novice dogs may pull sideways sniffing and lifting their legs. They will suddenly stop to poo as running causes the bowels to move. When first training the dog, steer the scooter to one side of him so that if he stops suddenly, you will miss him if you can’t stop in time. Do not ride directly behind him.
If your dog gets confused, you or your helper can run beside him with a leash while the other rides the scooter. Keep encouraging him to pull. Heel trained dogs may be unsure that it’s okay to be out front and pulling. Once they catch on, most dogs really love the pulling and running aspects of scootering. Again start off with short distances and build up gradually. Another way to encourage your dog to run is by getting somebody (your assistant!) to cycle in front calling your dog on.
A very important part of the training is command training. Remember, you cannot easily reach your dog without stopping and getting off the scooter and it may be too late to sort the issues, so an obedient dog which listens to your commands is very important. It will also make the experience far more pleasurable if both of you know what you are doing and what is expected.
The basic commands are “Gee” for right turn, “Haw” for left turn, “Straight on” for straight on, “On by” for overtaking or passing a distraction. There are many other commands such as “Hike on” or “Get on” for speeding up, or “Steady” or “Easy” for slowing down. Many people use these commands or variants of these, but the main thing to remember is to be consistent. “Whoa” is essential to get down before hooking him up to the scooter. Having good brakes on the scooter is essential for stopping dogs as most dogs consider the command “whoa” as only a suggestion!
Teach your dog mushing commands even when out walking to get them used to them:
Some basic commands:
Gee = Go Right Haw = Go Left Straight On = Straight On Hike / Pull = Go Forward Whooa = Gentle Stop Trail = Stay on the trail On By = Go past (e.g. past a distraction) Easy = Go Slower
These are just examples. Use whatever commands you feel comfortable with; just keep them consistent.
The younger a dog is in terms of training, the easier it tends to be to train them. However when it comes to strenuous pulling exercises, it is advisable to let them finish growing and for their hips to have fused before undertaking any serious training or exercise. Many dogs start being trained from 6 months to work in harness, but will not pull any significant weight for any distance until they are at least a year old. It is recommended to get your dog checked over by your vet before starting to scooter.
When and where can I do this?
Depending on your dogs overall demeanor and your general control, this can be done on virtually any off road trail that is firm enough to cycle on. Generally pavements and roads are not advisable as the hard surface will put impact pressure on the dogs joints and the risk of incidents with traffic and pedestrians is high.
The best time of year and weather to scooter in will heavily depend on your dogs coat and temperature tolerance, while it is typically a winter activity for densely coated northern breeds, other dogs with thinner coats would be able to run at virtually any time of year as long as you avoid particularly warm days.
NEVER scooter in hot weather. Cool weather is best for your dog. In warm weather, scooter in the cool of the day.
There is a fair bit of information available online on the sport and I would recommend anyone seriously looking into the sport to read “Dog Scooter: The Sport for Dogs Who Love to Run” by Daphne Lewis.
Equipment is available from www.snowpawstore.com as well as other stockists.
Lastly, but most importantly – have fun scootering! Your dog will love it, you will love it; you’ll become a team and you’ll get fit too! Dog scootering is addictive!
Snow Paw ltd
Recreational Musher and Sled Dog Enthusiast