During the year of the snowless winter that sucketh, it was difficult for some citizens of the Minnesota kingdom to get excited about skijoring. Those people (like me) who tend to be more into the fun aspect of hooking up to a dog and having her bound down the trail, propelling them on their skis faster and faster, may pay for their folly by being joyfully pulled into a tree.
Thus, when an opportunity to attend a snowless, free, two-hour, skijoring training clinic, put on by the Midwest Skijoring Club, came up on Saturday, I was less than enthusiastic about attending, but even less enthusiastic about broken bones. Okay, I’ll admit it, the real issue was being afraid Latte would embarrass me. A terrier doing skijoring? Let’s be real.
They say any breed can learn how to pull, and there was a large variety of breeds at the clinic, including a Sheltie. Now that’s a herding dog, pulling something that perhaps, in their mind, is wrongly herding them. Talk about an unnatural situation.
Latte’s issue is that she’s a sniffer. She rarely moves forward without her nose being to the ground. Kind of like this dog was doing for a little while (not constantly!), who looked a lot like Java but is not her.
I asked Jim how to deal with this breed trait. He took control of Latte and showed me how I could pick up my pace a bit, without running. When training, you want to do things as slow as possible so the dog is thinking, rather than just running. But when Latte would try to sniff, Jim would change the pace or ask her to haw (turn left) or gee (turn right) so she was forced to pay attention. The trick was to make what we were doing more interesting than sniffing. Jim suggested using a scentless trail. Funny guy!
I’ve had help from Jim before at other clinics. He’s very good at explaining things and helping you work with your individual dog. Java is very different from Latte in that her reaction to getting overwhelmed with too much going on or if she doesn’t understand what I want her to do, is to lay down and refuse to budge, like this dog (to the left) also did at one point.
The other trainer, Vicki, told me you have to watch for signs of the dog getting anxious and shutting down and try to quit before that happens. Short training sessions are best at first. But eventually you have to push the dog beyond that tendency, not too far, but enough that they start to realize they can do what you’re asking successfully so they become more confident and remain relaxed, not just in skijoring but in other unfamiliar situations.
I understood what Vicki was saying because it’s the same when working with horses. You always want to end your ride on a positive note. So when you push to train something new and the horse makes mistakes and gets nervous or angry, you take a few steps back to something you know they will do correctly. You may quit with that positive note, or you may go back to trying the new thing. It’s a feel you eventually have for your animal that tells you which choice is best. Whatever you choose, you don’t quit until there is something positive you can praise, no matter how minute the correctness was.
And check out the three-wheeler with the front bar to hook your dogs to. I like how sturdy and stable the bike looks. There were a couple other options you could try, including a kickbike.
I wish I had photos of how the Brew Babes did at the clinic, especially Latte who was pretty cute in her harness when she was pulling around a hunk of rubber behind her. But I knew my focus needed to be completely on her during training or both of us would end up very frustrated. Steve helped me out by working with Java.
I was really glad I went to the clinic, which was part of a larger city winter event, which included a bon fire and horse drawn wagon rides. I learned a few new training techniques and was able to see that skijoring is not an impossible dream for Latte — if it ever snows…