Dog mushing could be the best exercise you can do with your dog in Australia.
You don’t even need to be fit for some styles of mushing!
Dogs and their owners in snow-laden regions in the northern hemisphere have excelled in mushing for transport and sport. A few years ago I went mushing with a pack of huskies through a wonderful winter wonderland in Lapland, and it was exhilarating!
In this article we’ll look at various dryland mushing disciplines suitable for Australia, such as dog scootering, bikejoring, canicross, dog trekking and backpacking/hiking.
All these activities allow you to enjoy active time with your dogs, doing what they love the most: running!
Related: Fun things to do with dogs (less intense ideas!)
What is dog mushing?
Firstly, watch this. I’m sure you’ll be excited:
Mushing is a general term for a sport or transport method powered by dogs.
In winter, mushing is sledding, pulka (a dog-powered toboggan or sled) or skijoring (where a dog, or horse, tows a skier) across snow.
In other seasons, and regions without snow, dryland mushing is known as dog scootering, bikejoring (a dog leashed to a pushbike), canicross, dog trekking, backpacking or weight pulling.
Is mushing good for dogs?
Dogs get plenty of fun and challenging exercise with mushing. Walking on leash provides limited exercise for an energetic dog, and in some areas of Australia the numbers of off-leash parks are limited.
Dogs love to run to meet their exercise needs, which is why mushing is such a great activity for our dogs.
“Mushing is more than sport…it’s a life style”
For you the best benefit of mushing your dog will be fitness, health, and wellbeing. Here are some reasons professionals in the canine world mush their dogs:
- Some breeders mush to keep their show dogs in peak condition, with well-defined muscles.
- Agility competitors mush to build fitness without continual jumping, preventing strain on joints.
- Hunters mush to build endurance.
Which dogs can go mushing?
Originally mushing dogs were of sledding or Spitz types such as the Husky, Malamute, Samoyed or Pointer. This is in part due to these breeds being common in areas of the world where dog mushing has historically been popular.
Today, such as in Australia, other breeds have begun taking part: dogs from small terrier breeds, medium breeds (Border collie, Cattle dog and the like) to large breeds such as Labradors, Rottweilers, Boxers, Ridgebacks, Shepherds) equally enjoy mushing.
Not only do most breeds have the ability to run and pull, but also people of all ages and different fitness levels can take part. Yes, you read that right – even if you’re not in peak fitness, mushing can be an excellent activity to enjoy with your dog.
If your dog loves to run and has lots of energy, then he is a natural mushing dog.
You may think larger dogs are more suited to mushing, but this is only the case if you plan to win races. In fact, breeds of all sizes can take part in mushing. Some dogs pull hard, some don’t pull much at all, regardless of size.
Dog mushing disciplines
Dog scootering (Scooterjoring)
Dog scootering is an activity where one or two dogs pull a human on a kick scooter (dog scooter).
Your dog would wear the same harnesses that sled dogs wear, and are hooked to the scooter with a bungee line. The bungee line should incorporate a bungee cord to smooth out the shocks of speeding up and take off, and it’s worth investing in a decent one to prevent injury (or lack of enjoyment).
Some prefer for their dog not to pull the scooter, which is completely fine if you’re happy to put the effort in or get fit yourself. In this case your dog can just run in front or on the side of the scooter when on the leash.
Dog scootering is a great activity for medium to large breeds who loves to run, and can even be done on inner-city cycle paths assuming you have control of your dog!
As awesome as scootering is, out of all mushing disciplines it requires the most equipment. However, these are all good investments and can be used across other mushing disciplines.
Not including the scooter (your biggest outlay), consider the following:
Gear for your dog:
- Gang line
- Dog booties
- Neckline – for riding 2 dogs
For your safety:
- Cross-country shoes (or similar)
Other useful accessories:
- Water bottle & bottle cage
- Light (bicycle light) – for riding in the dark
- Handlebar bag (not necessary, but very useful for carrying a first aid kit, phone, keys etc)
- Spare tubes
- Tyre repair kit
Bikejoring is similar to dog scootering but uses a bike instead of a kick scooter.
The bike is also equipped with a special adapter to keep the leash away from the front wheel – if you’ve read my guide on cycling with dogs you’ll already know how disastrous this could be, and why you need the right equipment.
The main difference between dog scootering and bikejoring is you’ll move faster on the bike, meaning it’s arguably more exhilarating. On the other hand, kick scooters are safer because the centre of gravity is lower. It is far easier for a rider to get off a kick scooter faster than a bike, and stopping a kick scooter is also quicker.
Canicross is the sport of cross-country running with dogs. Originally being a popular activity in Europe, in recent years it has really gained popularity in the UK and Australia.
The great thing about canicross is you don’t need much in the way of equipment to get started. All you need is a canicross belt, bungee line, and a harness. These three items won’t set you back much, and are easily available to buy (probably easiest on the Internet).
Canicross races are usually on a course five to seven kilometres which are optimal for your dog.
The method of canicross is simple. As a runner you will wear a waist belt, and the dog is connected to you via the bungee line. This reduces and possibility of shock to you or your dog if your dog pulls.
Canicross is so easy to get into, and not only is it a great way for you to keep fit, but it’s great exercise for your dog as well. You’ll build a better bond with your dog by participating in an activity you both enjoy.
The other benefit of canicross is it gets you and your dog outside in the fresh air with other like-minded individuals who will likely become good friends.
Oh, and yes it’s possible to run with two dogs as well! Assuming they won’t pull you over…
Dog trekking, hiking, and backpacking
Dog trekking is an activity similar to canicross. It combines running with walking on long distance tracks such as 50km or even 100km.
Dog hiking and backpacking is an outing where dogs go for a hike with their owners who want to enjoy both the environment and canine companionship and where the dog may also provide some extra haulage capacity.
Did you know some dogs can carry up to 30% of their weight?
Trekking, hiking, and backpacking with dogs is suitable regardless of your fitness level. Use an app such as AllTrails to find short dog-friendly hiking trails in your local area. You’ll likely discover some excellent local walks you weren’t even aware of.
If you’re not used to hiking then start with a few 5km or 10km walks, and work your way up from there.
Dryland racing carts and rigs
Dryland racing carts and rigs are a variation on dog scootering. The benefits of a cart are they are more suited to rough terrain and off-roading.
Carts are generally more costly than scooters as well as being harder to get hold of, or possibly with some customisation involved to provide better comfort and stability.
As an activity it’s better suited for two or more dogs, especially on tough terrain which requires more pulling power. It’s also more suited if you really love speed and adrenaline!
Skijoring is one of the original dog mushing disciplines, and more suited to regions with a lot of snow. Options are limited in Australia unless you live in a more mountainous area in ACT, NSW, or VIC.
Health & Safety for your dog
Before you take part in any dog mushing disciplines, please pay attention to the heat.
Dogs can overheat and collapse when exercising on warm or humid days, so use caution when the weather is warm. Most mushers will not scooter (except really short distances) when the temperature is above 15C.
Never run your dog on hot pavement.
You as your dog’s coach are responsible for your dogs health and safety, so please keep in mind the following safety issues with mushing:
- Foot and nail care
- Heat stress
- Muscular/skeletal care
Foot and nail:
Mushers prefer to run their dogs on dirt. Pads can wear from running on pavement. When running dogs on pavement they slow the dogs do a trot. Some scooterers put booties on their dogs when running on crushed rock and pavement. Don’t use dog booties in warm days and rather give your dog rest as dogs regulate their temperature by tongue, paws and chest where is less hair.
Nails are an extension of the toe bone. If they are too long, they change the alignment of the toes when the foot lands and pushes off. Dogs get traction from their pads, not from their nails. Nails are too long if they click on the floor when the dog walks.
You should give your dog water about an hour or two before a race or training run. And also after the run. Mushers often add special powders that speed recovery from muscle exhaustion. If your dog is well hydrated and you are only running for half an hour you might not need to carry water but you never know what can happen so is better to take some water with you anyway. Common sense and awareness are key to avoiding overheating. In warm weather is better to choose trails that run in the shade of trees.
Watch the tongue. It gets longer and longer as the dog needs to cool off more. When too hot, the tongue begins to turn blue. Avoid that! Stop, rest, cool and water the dog before he is that hot!
As mention before be aware that dog scootering is high tense activity for your dog and in warm weather they can overheat very quickly. Should your dog overheat, cool him immediately!
- Get him into the shade
- From your water bottle squirt the water down his throat, onto his skin through parted hair
- Douse his feet and ear leather into the water bowl
- If you can get him into a pond or stream
Depending on the severity of his collapse you may need to rush him to a vet. Once your dog has overheated, he is more susceptible to overheating in the future.
The dogs/puppies shouldn’t be exercising too much before the growth plates as the ends of the bones complete their growth.
Generally speaking, smaller breeds can start earlier than larger breeds. Small breeds about 1 year old and larger breeds when their are about 1.5 year old.
If you can seek the advice of local experienced mushers then this is always recommended.