Tips to Start Training your Dog for Kicksledding: Q&A with the Owner of Jack and the Pack, Dog Powered Sports
BravetheSnow: Why do you think people should try kicksledding with their dog?
AJ: Winter is long in MN, might as well enjoy the weather with your dog, and get some exercise while you’re at it. Kicksledding with your dog is a great way to get involved. We can help you get the proper equipment for your dog and offer classes to help set you both up for success.
BravetheSnow: How did you first get started with dog powered sports?
AJ: I was looking for a way to exercise my high energy mutt, Jack, and found I could run with him while he pulled me along. I wore a hip belt, he wore a harness, we were connected by a long line with a bungee, and we discovered canicross. We fell in love.
Then, a friend introduced me to other dog pulling sports like bikejoring, scootering, and rigs, where multiple dogs can pull you as you help. I was hooked!
BravetheSnow: What breeds of dogs can pull a kicksled?
AJ: Any breed, as long as they’re healthy, at an appropriate age (typically 1-2 years, check with your vet) and enjoy running/ pulling. I’ve seen shih tzus, corgis, dachshunds, and russell terriers on the trails. But the main breeds out there are huskies, malamutes, German shorthair pointers and working dog breeds.
BravetheSnow: What age should I start training my dog?
AJ: You can start training when they’re still a puppy. Get them comfortable wearing a harness, but not pulling. Teach them commands like Ha (left) and Gee (right) when you’re on walks or in Home Depot.
When they get a bit older you can have them pull something behind them for short distances like a tire/ log/ jug of water, so they get used to the sensation of pulling. You can also introduce bikes, sleds and equipment to be a neutral object so they aren’t scared or overly excited around them. Even placing gear on a path and walking past, or having a bike move past you and having them ignore it is great. Also, practicing the “on by” command is great for walks. Similar to “leave it” you want your dog to avoid whatever has caught their attention: squirrel, dog, human, trash can, and keep walking forward.
BravetheSnow: How do I teach my dog to pull a kicksled?
AJ: Lots of dogs are already naturals, but if your dog needs to build confidence, you have to see what motivates them. If they want to play with dogs, maybe have another dog walk 15-20 ft in front of you, make sure your dog is wearing a harness and attach a leash to the back so they start to pull toward the dog. If they begin to focus, you can reward by going a little faster, but making sure the leash is taught.
If your dog just loves you, maybe have a friend hold the leash, while you call to your dog in front. You can teach a lot of basics by walking/ running with your dog.
Jack and the Pack provides intro classes (private or group).And there are many mentors around the Twin Cities area to look to for advice. Some of them may even hook up your dog with their team, because sometimes dogs learn best by seeing other dogs doing the activity.
BravetheSnow: What if I taught my dog NOT to pull on the leash when we take walks. Can my dog still be taught to pull?
AJ: Yes they definitely can! I have some dogs that are amazing loose leash walkers, and they are able to separate the gear with different expectations. Encourage pulling when they’re wearing a specific harness, and continue to focus on not pulling when just on leash.
BravetheSnow: If I don’t have any equipment yet, what are things I can do right now on walks to train my dog for winter kicksledding?
AJ: Purchase a correctly fitting dog pulling harness, and a line/leash with a bungee to protect their spine. They will start to understand the harness means it’s time to pull, and they’ll begin to build new muscles.
BravetheSnow: Do I have to get a special harness or can I use a walking harness?
AJ: Yes, you absolutely need a pulling harness. They are designed to keep your dog safe and comfortable. Regular harnesses may cause chafing, restricted airways/ movement, and they could break because they’re not made as strongly.
Pulling specific harnesses are padded, offer dogs a full range of movement while running and often have reflective patches. There are also different pulling harnesses for different pulling sports. They range from $40-110.
BravetheSnow: We specialize in ESLA Kicksleds and Kainpo running lines. Which other items stocked by Jack and the Pack do you recommend for kicksledding with your dog?
AJ: Natural Hound paw balm, made in Anoka MN, booties to protect paws, harnesses, jackets to keep your pup warm, and necklines if you are running with 2 dogs.
BravetheSnow: Is there anything else I need to know about keeping my dog healthy and safe?
AJ: We always recommend fueling your dog with good food, and checking with your vet.
As far as trail etiquette goes, make sure you're using a multipurpose trail, and leave plenty of room for anyone else you may share the trail with. As always, pick up after your dog, and get out and have fun!
BravetheSnow: What kinds of classes do you teach?
AJ: I teach beginner classes for dryland dog powered sports and winter mushing with your dog. In summer that's, bike, scooter, canicross, and rig. In the winter, sleds and kicksleds. We help anyone with a dog that likes to run, and hopefully pull, try out the equipment and find the gear that works best for them as a team.
BravetheSnow: Do I have to be in shape and physically fit to kicksled with my dog?
AJ: I think every sport requires a bit of fitness, but the nice thing about kicksledding is that you can turn around when you get tired, or go when the snow conditions aren't favorable. If the snow is packed and your dog is pulling, you should only need to help on hills. Frozen lakes are a nice surface to practice on, and there are several multipurpose trails around the twin cities that get packed down so you can pick up the speed!
BravetheSnow: We are very excited to be sharing a new retail space with you at Jack and the Pack. What made you want to open up a store?
AJ: It became clear to me after struggling to find a correctly fitted dog-pulling harness, that the Twin Cities needs a place to try dog sporting gear, compare brands and ask questions before purchasing. Initially, I wasted a lot of time and money on gear. And after coordinating the TCDPS dryland race, I knew a store would flourish.
BravetheSnow: What types of things will you offer at Jack and the Pack?
AJ: Multiple dog sports and overall health for an active dog. Sports like mushing, agility, PSA, dock diving, fly ball, and obedience. We will also offer dog harnesses and equipment specifically for pulling sports, agility equipment, performance food, local dog treats, CBD, paw balm, slip leads, collars, toys, kicksleds, Wolftrack rigs, scooters, and sleds. Also, we’ll have an in store slat mill that you can rent out to burn some energy for your working pup!
Many of our brands are local. We want to support our local Twin Cities and Greater Midwest dog powered sports community.
You can talk more with AJ about dog powered sports by stopping by Jack and the Pack and Brave the Snow in our shared space in Downtown St. Paul. Or shop at https://www.jackandthepack.com/
Interview by Melisa, Brave The Snow