Introduction: Skatejoring With Dogs
When you have a large dog, or perhaps several small dogs, you might as well put them to work. One activity I enjoy, and my dogs seem to enjoy as well, is skatejoring. The name derives from skijoring, which is having dogs, horses or motor vehicles pull you on cross-country skis over snow. Skatejoring is similar, except using skateboards (or longboards or roller skates) over roads or sidewalks. I've tried a variety of methods for this activity, and recently developed the optimal gear for two dogs. In skijoring, the skier wears a harness or belt that connects to a sled dog harness via a rope. This arrangement, though sometimes used, doesn't work well on a skateboard, as we don't generally enjoy being dragged across pavement if we should fall off. Normally, I uses a dog lead (leash) connected to the dog's harness so that I can more readily maintain balance, as well as change hands or let go when necessary.
This instructable involves the how-to of skatejoring with one or two dogs, and provides instructions for modifying a water ski rope to make the ideal skatejoring lead..
Water ski rope, double-handled type
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Step 1: Cut the Ski Rope Down for a Lead
Skate joring is similar to water skiing in that one is being pulled forward by an external force. Hence, a similar type of connection between the puller and the pulled might be appropriate. A single-handle ski rope has a handle that is too large and cumbersome. A double-handle ski rope has two small handles, one for each hand. This type is frequently used for people learning the single ski, as it keeps the ski centered in the rope Vee between the two handles when starting up. I happened to have one left over after selling my boat. I reasoned that one handle of the two would be perfect for skatejoring. It would provide a solid grip, unlike the nylon webbing of a typical dog lead. Polyethylene ropes of this type are also strong and resistant to sun damage.
I cut one handle out of the rope, then cut a length of rope that was about 8 feet long, plus one about a foot long. Most dog leads are too short. You need a considerable amount of space between the front of your board and the hind feet of the dogs. Even so, they may occasionally cut you off, requiring an emergency bail off. I hope to train my dogs out of this practice at some point.
Step 2: Tie the Knot on the Snap
While disassembling the ski rope, I discovered that every knot was made in the same elegant way. They were self-tightening, and neatly tucked the tag end into the center of the rope, which forms a tube made of many strands. Too make the knot, first sharpen the end of the rope with scissors to make a point on it. This step will make it easier to complete the knot. Pass one end of the long rope through the eye of the snap swivel. Be sure to use the swivel type of snap so that any twist that develops in the lead will be relieved by the swivel. Part the strands and make a gap about four inches from the end. Pass the tag end through the gap and out the other side of the rope. Part the strands again about one-quarter inch upstream and pass the pointed end into the center of the rope downstream past the first crossing. Tighten up the knot.
Step 3: Tie on the Handle
Take the other end of the foot-long rope and tie the same type knot into the longer rope about a foot down. so that the ends of both ropes are about even. Pass the end of the long rope through a hole in the side of the handle and out the nearest end. Tie a regular overhand knot in the end. Do the same with the end of the foot-long rope. Adjust the position of these knots so that the handle ends up straight.
Step 4: Just Add Dogs
For a single dog, attach the snap to the ring on the top rear of the dog harness. For two dogs, you will need a yoke, a piece of rope or webbing with a ring in the center and a snap swivel on each end. While not difficult to make, yokes are remarkably cheap and readily available. I have one made of nylon webbing that is very firm, and another made of stretchy woven rope that helps absorb the shock when the dogs head in different directions. The freshly made ski rope lead attaches to the ring, while the snap swivels attach to a harness on each dog. It's best to use a harness that distributes the weight across the chest of the dog, but for short distances and brief outings, almost any harness will do. It will need to have an attachment point on the back of the dog. I use Kurgo Travel Harnesses on my standard schnauzers, Indigo and Isabel.
By the way, I made a bamboo longboard according to an instructable I found here.
Step 5: Safety and Technique
I always wear a helmet when skate joring. I also wear biking gloves. The only time I fell, I scraped my knee, so sometimes I'll wear knee pads too. Though incredibly fun at times, it is also unpredictable. The dogs might suddenly cut you off, or you may hit a rock that's too big to go over. I avoid steep hills that would result in an uncomfortably high speed. There are no brakes on my longboard, and unless you are really good at footbraking or sliding (which I'm not), you will want to avoid reaching such speeds in the first place. It can become very exciting if the dogs see a squirrel or a rabbit. You can always let go of the rope if things get out of hand. You can also tack on a skateboard, kind of like you would with a sailboat. For example, if the dogs are pulling to the left side of the road, you can lean to the right and keep going straight. The ski handle makes it easy to change hands with the lead when necessary. My skating skills are very modest. I can't do any tricks, but you wouldn't want to while being pulled by dogs anyway. Sometimes I reel in the lead to keep the dogs from getting too far off the road or to prevent them from passing on the other side of a tree or post.
Step 6: On Dog Training, or Not
Most dogs have a natural inclination to run, and, therefore, pull on the lead. In fact, much effort may be required to teach a dog to heel on a loose lead without pulling. For joring, we harness (literally) the natural pulling inclination. In its most basic form, that's all you need to jor. Let the dogs pull you, and you can try to direct them. My first giant schnauzer, Big Guy, would take hand signals or even gestures from a ski pole. Teaching dogs Gee (right) and Haw (left) commands takes awhile. The way I understand it, you simply have to give the command whenever the maneuver is done. You cannot stop to give the dogs food rewards; they have to pick it up by experience. Whoa is not hard to teach, as you can forcibly stop them and give them a reward for doing so. Other more subtle skills are probably more challenging, such as not crossing behind signs and trees, staying on the road or trail, and ignoring distractions. I have been working on some of these skills but have done pretty well by avoiding crowded areas and simply reeling in the dogs to avoid hazards.
Step 7: Videos!
I've taken video footage of various skatejoring adventures over the years. Big Guy was a 100-lb giant schnauzer and the reason I started joring. What else are you going to do with a dog that large? He was a natural at it. Helmet cam footage shows the time he saw a bunny, and the ride changed suddenly. More helmet cam footage shows my wipe out. It's bad when the horizon does a 360. Big Guy and our miniature schnauzer Gretchen were on separate leads. These days I most often skatejor with a pair of yoked standard schnauzers, using the lead and harnesses described in this instructable. There is some nice footage of joring along the Mississippi River and in a state park.