It's spring: don't release the hounds, harness them for a sport called scootering.
It involves one or more dogs pulling specially made scooters, a summer version of dogs mushing with sleds. The dogs are tethered to a scooter with a special flexible cord called a gang line. These pets are trained to respect commands in the same way canines are in dog sledding.
Kevin Roberts of Snow Motion Manitoba hopes the sport is about to take off. Roberts is an experienced skijorer (a winter sport involving a cross-country skier being pulled by dogs). He recently placed second in the world's largest skijorer race with his all-rescue dog team.
It's hard for Roberts to hide his passion for his team: River, Willow and Belle. He even puts up videos on YouTube showing how much fun he and his dogs have.
Roberts doesn't recommend a scooter you'd buy at a big-box store or borrow from your 12-year-old kid. These are specially-made scooters meant to ensure that the dog and owner don't go head over heels. Scooters typically cost around $500 or the price of a good bike.
"Dogs like a job," Snow Motion co-founder Lorne Volk says. "If they partake in sports, like scootering, they'll get one.
These dogs don't stop to smell the roses -- or other things dogs typically sniff. They're ready to move. Roberts describes the dogs' experience as "jogging while lifting weights."
Because this is a sport, don't expect to flop off the couch and let the dogs pull you like you're taking a rickshaw ride. Owners have to do their part, too. It's the reason dogs and owners are referred to as teams and why owners shouldn't jump into hard-core training if they're not in good shape. This advice bodes well for the dogs, too. Time should be taken to adjust to any new sport.
Roberts and Volk are adamant about safety. The flexible gang line and the right harness prevent injury to the dogs. Accidents can happen, so helmets are suggested for pet owners.
Scootering may not be for everyone. And not all dogs are suited for it. Special care should be made for dogs prone to hip dysplasia. Also, Roberts suggests that dogs should weigh more than 30 pounds in order to pull.
According to club members, the dog often chooses the sport for which it is best suited. For instance, huskies or border collies love to pull and will keep going no matter what the sport, whereas a greyhound is good for quick sprints. Owners have to know their dog's capabilities. One woman, Roberts remembers, trained with Pomeranians.
When I met Roberts and his club last Sunday, it was chilly. But this failed to diminish anyone's excitement. Not everyone was there to try scootering. Club members participate in various forms of dryland training, like bikejor or cani-cross (sports that also involve a form of tethered owner/pet dog team). One member has even created a specially designed three-wheeled bike to keep in shape. The type of activity matters little. The main objective is to get the owner and dogs moving as a team.
Wheeled sports aren't recommended on urban roads and sidewalks. There are too many distractions and dangers. Trails are the best place suited for these dog-related activities.
As much as Roberts and Volk recommend that dogs start training after they reach a year old, learning the cues and the feel of the harness can start as young as seven months.
All safety guidelines are set to ensure that the dogs will remain healthy. "They like to please us," Volk said. For that reason, they may run when they're over-heated, over-tired or injured. When mistakes happen "it is never the fault of the dog," Volk said.
Volk and Roberts both recommend that owners take a class before they start this sport.
Owners considering scootering or any similar sport involving pulling may fear that the dogs will get accustomed to pulling and forget how to be walked on a leash. But this isn't the case. Once the dogs see the harness, they know what it's for. "It's a licence to pull," says Roberts.
By the looks of the members, and their dogs, these sports are a licence for fun, too.
Tips for those interested:
-- Giant dog breeds should wait to train untilafter they're fully grown.
-- Dogs shouldn't train in hot weather.
-- The city's leisure guide shows the best trails suited to these sports.
-- All dogs need to follow commands.
To see this sport in action, go to the following link: http://youtu.be/ylL_WbZh0m8
Also, there will be two workshops in May. For further information on the club, scooters or to register for one of the workshops, go to www.snowmotion.ca. The registration deadline is May 1.