20 November 2015

Photo Contest!

Photo Contest!

Oxford Dogs is having a photo contest, which really isn't a contest celebrating photographic skill, it's more of  a contest to celebrate working dogs!  We will send the winner a gift certificate for $25, good for anything in our web store!

The winner will be randomly drawn on December 6th.  So let's see what you got!  Post a photo of your dogs pulling in harness on our Oxford Dogs Facebook page.  Of course you can enter more than one photo, but they better be good! Contest is open to residents of Canada only.  No nudity, unless you were mushing in the warmer months.  

Show us what you got!

16 November 2015

Line Out

Line Out.  It’s kind of a big deal. Often times people are so focused on GOING, flying off down the trail, in our rush to get there, we forget how to get there.  Doesn’t make sense does it?  Neither does skipping the “Line Out” command with your dog.

A properly trained “Line Out” means your dog, in harness, will walk to the end of the gangline and wait.  What is your dog waiting for?   The command to “Hike” to move forward.   You might need to be waiting your turn at the start line of race, you might be needing to turn your GoPro on, you might just be fiddling with your gloves and skis.  Either way, you can certainly see the advantage of a dog who is going to walk out to the end of the line, and wait till you are ready to start pulling! 
Furthermore, a good solid “Line Out” means you have a good chance to check that there are no tangled lines, avoiding injury for both you and your dog!  

How do I teach it? 

Ask a mushing question, get 20 different answers. 
Here is what works for the majority of our students.   We begin by ensuring the dog can only be successful.   A solid skijoring dog is a confident dog.  A confident dog is one who has been set up for success. 
This is going to be a skijoring command, so go ahead and suit up.  Put your belt on, and harness your dog. Beginning in a hallway, or another narrow corridor, walk out the length of your gangline, and include room for your dog’s body as well.  If the total length of your dog’s gangline to their nose is 10 feet, place a target at ten feet, and walk back to the start.  A suitable target might be a small plastic lid. 
Place your dog on the starting line in a “Sit Stay”.   Walk back to the target and place a really juicy reward on it.    Now walk back to your dog, who is hopefully drooling and looking at the treat.    Avoid making eye contact with your dog, and release them from the “Sit Stay”.  Your dog will bound off to the treat, being rewarded!   Repeat this a few times, until your dog gets the idea of running ahead to the end of the line to get the treat.  When your dog is getting the treat, don’t be shy, PRAISE PRAISE!  Eventually you will be replacing the treat with verbal praise. 

Beautiful "Line Out"!  Good Dogs! 

Once your dog is doing this consistently, it’s time to take it up a notch.    Place the target slightly further ahead this time.   Just far enough ahead that your dog has to push against the harness to reach it.    A solid “Line Out” is going to be having the dog put some pressure on the harness. Not enough to pull you, just enough to keep the line tight.  When your dog is doing this well, it’s time to add the command.  Associating the behaviour with the command.  
Burger "Line Out"  Notice he leans into the harness, but is not pulling.

An important note, avoid sending your dog out to the target, and then calling him back.  In the dog’s mind, this might be part of the training, and you certainly don’t want a dog who is going to “Line Out” then come bouncing back to you.  Like some crazy Yo-yo!   After you have asked your dog to “Line Out”, go and collect him, gather up the gangline, and walk him back.   Only repeat this a few times, leave your dog wanting more.   Don’t be a bore! 

Extensions of this activity, are going to see you sending your dog to the target, waiting for a few seconds, and then moving forward.  If your dog can wait patiently at the end of the line while you finish your coffee, bonus points to you! 

There are as many ways of training "Line Out" as there are mushers and dogs.  Everyone has something that works for them.   The end result should always be the same.  You have a dog who is at the end of the line, and waits for your command to tell them to go.  Don’t forget what our end game is here.    Walk to the end of the line. Go forward.   Soon enough your dog will be moving forward down the trail, and that is reward!  

12 November 2015

Guest Post: Review: Howling Dog Alaska Second Skin Harness by Tamara MacLaren

Howling Dog Alaska Second Skin Harness

Tamara MacLaren is an urban Musher who lives in British Columbia.  Check out her Facebook page BC URBAN MUSHING.   We are happy to welcome Tamara back to Skijor Oxford Dogs Blog as a guest.  We sent Tamara and her dogs a Second Skin harness by Howling Dog Alaska to review! Tamara was not paid for her comments, and her views are solely her own.   Tamara did receive one free Second Skin harness from Oxford Dogs to review.

First, a few comments on half verses full length harnesses:

There are a few general advantages to a half or urban mushing style harness.

The first is that they are generally adjustable around the girth, and many styles are also adjustable around the neck. Measuring and ordering a non-adjustable harness such as an x-back harness is difficult. There is no standardization, and exactly where on the dog to measure for the specific harness changes from manufacturer to manufacturer. Additionally, as you get some miles on your dog, your dog gains muscle and may loose weight, changing the fit of the harness. With an adjustable harness, it is simple to expand or tighten a girth or collar, but with a fixed size harness, you need to get a different size.

Secondly, because they have a girth, the dog can't back out of the harness, a common issue with dogs new to the sport. Some do it accidentally, as they dart to the side to sniff, chase, or greet and when they are blocked going forward, reverse causing the harness to come over their head. Some have discovered this accidentally, but then continue to do it any time they want to go in a different direction than you do, like chasing a squirrel up a tree. Nobody wants their dog to suddenly be off-leash and potentially in danger.

Third, because the connection to the harness is just behind the shoulders, the handler retains more control of the dog, a very important and needed feature when bringing new dogs into the sport. Most dogs will at first behave the same way they do on leash. Some want to walk beside you, some want to dart in all directions, and most want to do a walk-and-sniff walk.  With a half-harness it is much easier to block unwanted behaviours, particularly those to the side, which is almost always where the dog is wanting to go.

Fourth, half-harnesses can be used for other things besides mushing. Restrained recalls, fly-ball, agility, etc, so for someone who doesn't want a different set of gear for every activity they do with their dog, the half-harness can be a very good option.

I like and use x-back style harnesses on my dogs, but when only running 1-2 dogs or when starting a new dog, I think a half-harness may be the way to go for many.

So, which half-harness should you get? I've used the Urban Trail harnesses from Alpine Outfitters and Canadog, and the Second Skin Harness made by Howling Dog Alaska and sold by Oxford Dogs.
The harnesses from Alpine and Canadog are very similar with padded nylon straps. The one from Alpine is adjustable at the neck and the girth which I thought would be the best option, but I found that as my dogs learned to pull, the neck buckle would slip and so every time out, I had to re-tighten that strap.

The Second Skin harness sold by Oxford Dogs is completely different. It is primarily made from a breathable waffle-weave soft padded fabric with bright coloured trim, reflective strips, and an adjustable girth. This style spreads the pulling load more evenly across the dog’s shoulders to minimize any pressure points from pulling. The neck hole is not adjustable but is soft and flexible. To help with heat dissipation and improve shoulder movement, the design includes an open area across the shoulders.

I used this harness on 4 dogs, a 55 lb German Shepherd, two 43-47 lb pointer crosses, and an Alaskan Malamute puppy, also about 55 lbs.  These dogs have very different builds and coats, yet the Second Skin fit perfectly on each!

I ran two of the dogs together with my bike and the harness did pull minimally to one side, but still worked very well. One of the things I noticed using the half harnesses on each dog is that they were less likely to get tangled (running very new dogs). Running a single dog from the bike or canicross style on foot was perfect and gave that extra level of control typical of most half-harnesses. I walked the Malamute puppy on the harness and she was able to pull to her heart's content, but without me worrying about pressure points with a puppy.

For a final test out, I took one of the pointers to a fly-ball practice and used this harness with her. Practice includes a stranger holding the dog by the harness while I go to the other end of the run and call the dog. The dog then runs to me, jumping several low jumps along the way. What I especially liked with this harness for this activity is that I could give the tug loop to the holding person and she could use it to hold the dog back without actually touching the dog, an important feature for dogs who are sensitive. When she released the dog, due to the loop's location, there was no risk to the dog tripping on it or getting it caught on something, and the harness is cut perfectly not to interfere with shoulder movement, so the dog ran freely clearing the jumps. If there had been an issue and the dog needed to be caught, the harness could easily be grabbed as the dog zipped by.

There would be no need to switch from this style of harness unless the tug line would be going from the dog to some connection point close to the back height of the dog or lower.  For lower connection points, the tug line would bump the dogs back, hind end, or cut to the side and potentially rub a hip.

My overall impression of this harness is excellent and I would recommend it to anyone doing multiple sports, training young teams, wanting to minimize pressure points, or looking for a flexible fit. 

11 November 2015

Product Review – Kurgo Pinnacle Harness

Product Review – Kurgo Pinnacle Harness

 AndrĂ© and Burger, and the Oxford Dogs were not paid for this review.  We did receive one free harness from Kurgo to test.  

Good Day All! Even though you may have seen plenty of me over the years this is my first post on the blog. I am the other human member of the Oxford Dogs team and I enjoy participating in all kinds of human-canine sports with my fur family. Received I got a chance to test out Kurgo’s Pinnacle Harness with my youngest dog Burger.

In any kind of pulling sport a good solid harness is your most important piece of gear, I have a few harnesses for Burger that I absolutely love so I was excited to put the Pinnacle Harness to the test.
The product itself

Before even trying the harness on Burger I took a few minutes to examine it. The harness appears to be made of very durable material and has solid hardware. This is very important to me as Burger is a strong pull dog that has ripped or broken more than his fair share of gear. The chest plate is fairly broad which should support solid pulling form the chest, and there is a handy back handle to suitcase the dog easily.

The fit

Overall the harness is extremely adjustable. Burger has quite a deep chest and I had no problem fitting him. Because of the design, the harness fits easily over the dog’s head then clasps on both sides, so there is no awkward leg twisting needed. The one thing that I found odd was the clasps, they are metal and fit into each other. At first I thought I would have difficulty with them, but they turned out to be very easy to work with. The only concern I have with these is that they may be more difficult to handle during the winter, as the metal would get cold and there is no way you can handle them with gloves on.

Putting it to the test

The harness is advertised for hiking, running and walking, so in order to give it a good test I used it for all three on separate occasions. For every one of these activities the harness performed well. Because of its adjustability and broad chest plate Burger was able to pull solidly from his chest. I also found the length of the harness to be quite good and the belly strap didn’t rub at all in Burgers armpits, as I have observed in some other harnesses.

Burger can get a tad bit excited when he comes across wildlife, deer and squirrels are some of his favorite things, so I found the handle especially helpful to rein him in when he got overly excited with his surroundings.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get him to walk nicely on a leash while in the harness, but to be honest I have trouble getting that behaviour out of him on the best of days, so it’s clear that the harness is not to blame.

Overall impression

Overall I found Kurgo’s Pinnacle Harness to be a good fitting harness that I would recommend to anyone, with a gentle dog, that likes to hike with their dog or cani-cross.

The harness also has some additional features such as the front attachment which can be used to turn it into a no-pull harness, which I chose not to test for fear of confusing Burger as I always encourage him to pull in harness. The harness is also machine washable which could come in handy if you’re like me and like to go out in all weather conditions and are not afraid to get a little dirty.

Unfortunately, after a few months of use, Burger was able to rip this harness apart.  It started with a few small rips in the fabric, and then most of the top tore off.  Burger is a solid dog, and this is not the first harness he has destroyed.    Thankfully, the re-enforced stitching along the back of the harness held in place, we were still able to hike back to the car.   This harness would likely be fine on a dog who is not a constant puller, but it was not able to withstand Burger’s strength. 

Happy tails!

André and Burger