Downeast Dog News
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Joring & Other Fitness Fun

By Susan Spisak | Apr 01, 2021
Photo by: Regan Smiley Smith Sara Vanderwood and Koko of Nooksack Racing Team winning the 1 dog scooter at Sunset Ridge Dryland Challenge Westbrook

Welcome to April, it’s National Canine Fitness Month. There are many interesting sports designed to bolster your dog, so he can burn off energy, improve his mood, and get in shape – and some you can join in on, too. Here’s the lowdown on a few of those activities including various types of joring.

What is joring, you ask? Also called dryland or urban mushing, joring is a fair-weathered sport where you hop on your wheels, be it a bike, manual scooter, skateboard, or skates, and get a speed boost from your harnessed and attached dog who runs ahead and provides the joring – the Norwegian word for pulling or driving. These dog-powered sports allow your 4-legged pal to join in.

For the 411 on joring, I turned to Kathy Pickett, co-owner of Nooksack Racing Supply (with husband Grey), a world-wide provider of quality, US-made equipment for recreational and competitive dog-powered sports-lovers and mushers. She said bikejoring, and likely all “no-snow” joring and dryland sports, originated with sled dog enthusiasts and skijorers (a winter sport blending cross country skiing and dog sledding), so they could extend their season and train year-round.

While the usual suspects - sled dogs, northern breeds, and natural born pullers will excel, most confident, in-shape dogs can partake, provided they weigh 35 lbs. That said, a smaller dog’s okay – as long as he loves to go, can stay focused, and is sturdy – but you’ll probably have to provide extra giddyap. (Use common sense, no teacups, please.)

In addition to your wheels of choice, you’ll need a bungee tug line with quick release clasp – this connects you and your dog – and a helmet and knee pads. Your dog will need a pulling harness with tug line clip and tough paw boots.

For bikejoring or dog scootering, get a special attachment that keeps the tug line out front and over the wheel. “Bikejoring and scootering help keep dogs happy, healthy, and fit with great muscle tone. A fit dog is usually a happy dog and helps the owners get exercise, too,” explained Pickett. For a skate or skateboard scenario, add a joring/trekking waist belt with tug line clip. For essentials, nooksackracingsupply.com.

Training is required to become a skilled team. Pickett said walking your harnessed dog while he tows a small log helps him learn pulling, and simultaneously teaches him the universal joring commands. “Hike” means go, while “gee” is turn right, and “haw” is turn left. “Straight,” “yield” and “whoa” are self-explanatory. For commands, training videos, and how to incorporate multiple dogs, internet search using keywords “dog joring” and “dry land mushing” for details.

Whatever joring sport you choose – once you’re ready to give it a go, Pickett said it’s best to choose dog-friendly pathways with dirt surfaces. Pavement, especially on warm days, can scorch dogs’ pads.

If joring doesn’t sound like your thing, go old-school and bike with your dog. To avoid injury, use easy-to-attach, hands-free products like the Bike Tow Leash, Springer, or Walky Dog – check local pet supply retailers. (If they don’t carry, all are available on Amazon.) They fasten to the frame, keeping your dog at a safe distance from the bike. Again, a dog harness and tough paw boots are recommended for street/pavement cycles – and don’t forget to pack plenty of water.

Does your hound stop on walks to sniff, sniff, sniff? Tracking may be the ticket. Kathy Duhnoski of Carolyn Fuhrer’s North Star Dog Training School said, “AKC Tracking is a canine sport that demonstrates a dog’s natural ability to recognize and follow a scent, and it’s the foundation of canine search and rescue work.” She added that the dog is completely in charge, “Only he knows how to use his nose to find and follow the track.”

AKC Tracking is a pass or fail sport - the dog either leads its handler to the end of the track or not. But Duhnoski said for many, the greatest pleasure is the hours spent outside training with the companion. To learn more, there’s a Beginner’s Tracking Workshop on Saturday, April 10 at North Star Dog Training School in Somerville. For info, dogsatnorthstar.com/ or 207.549.4613.

Like guiding and cheering on your boy? Look no further than Agility at Positively Best Friends! Dog Training & Canine Activity Center in Edgecomb. Agility requires you – the handler – to direct your dog through a challenging obstacle course, racing for time and accuracy. Their certified instructors teach Foundation Agility through Agility, Level III. The Center’s Managing Member, Marcia Welch, offered another interactive option, “Nose work is a great activity.” Based on the K9 detection skills, it’s taught using positive, enjoyable, and motivational methods.

Or try the low-key Herding classes with Welch. Set at beautiful Parson Creek, the program is designed to encourage and accommodate the hobbyist as well as the competitor. The principles are that dogs, handlers, and livestock, are treated kindly and with respect. A new AKC Farm Dog Certification Program is coming as well. If you’re not a current student but interested in herding, contact Welch directly via email, Marcia@positivelybestfriends.com and visit positivelybestfriends.com/ for more.

Don’t like group get-togethers? Perhaps the Mr. Dog Squad “Jocks” online club is for you. Mr. Dog Training’s owner and certified trainer, Sara Sokol, offers this with the focus on sports, games, and tricks for all breeds/activity levels. “The club gives dog guardians the opportunity to have structured activities, ones that they wouldn’t usually do with their dog, provided through emailed videos that allows them to work at their own pace and have fun with their dog.”

Jocks also includes weekly homework, a Zoom class, and entrance to a private Facebook group to share ideas and challenges. Sokol feels Jocks is not just for entertainment, “The benefits include happy, relaxed dogs and a better bond and relationship between human and dog.” For all info, mrdogtraining.com/the-jocks.html. And if you’re a yogi, look for deets on the site for Zoom Doga – yoga with your dog!

If you have a water-lovin’ dog and rain showers are threatening activities, let him blow off steam at Kate Griffin’s Water Bark Wellness aka WBW in Rockport. Certified Canine Swim Coach Griffin has had extensive aquatic training, is certified in Canine CPR and First Aid, and is a member of the Association of Canine Water Therapy. Your dog will enjoy assisted swims with Griffin, and WBW provides towels, hair dryers, floaties, lifejackets (if needed), and treats. The “appointment only” swims in the new 31x21 heated, saltwater pool reduce stress, provide cardiovascular exercise, may reduce joint pain, can improve your bud’s confidence, and for the terribly busy canine, exhaust him.

“When a dog comes into WBW, happy and enthusiastic to get into the pool and have some fun, it makes my heart very happy. And seeing an older dog, post swim, with a little spring in its step, makes this all worth it,” explained Griffin. For more, including hours, rates, all policies including COVID precautions, waterbarkwellness.com/. Griffin invites readers to follow WBW on Facebook and Instagram.

Further south, you’ll find another dog-friendly swim facility, the holistic All 4 Paws Wellness in Portland. Owner and Maine certified veterinarian Christine Fraser has two types of hydrotherapy – underwater treadmill and swims. “The underwater treadmill is great for gait training, strengthening, low impact exercise, and encouraging normal range of motion for walking,” said Fraser who also has extensive training in veterinary rehabilitation and acupuncture.

The assisted swim sessions are in the heated 13’ x 25’ saltwater pool. Fraser said, “Swimming is great for strengthening, cardiovascular fitness, and no-impact exercise that encourages a large range of motion for the joints. Both are good for conditioning and weight loss.” Fraser indicated these benefits are condensed, so for more and to schedule sessions, all4pawswellness.com/.