You Are My Sunshine...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wagon Shafts

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*Note:  What follows are not instructions:  this is simply a  description  of what I did to build something my dog could pull with me walking beside.   It is not something a person or child could ride in. I do use a line on the wagon, so I can hold it back in case something lets loose, and I do keep the dog on a leash.  This is not an instruction package. I make absolutely no claims for the safety of this design and cannot be held responsible for any outcome should anyone choose to imitate it with or without modifications.

Wagon Shafts

I have been asked to show how I made the shafts for the wagon.  The shafts are made out of rigid PVC conduit pipe, half inch.  I bought one 10 foot length  of pipe, a "T" junction, and two "sweeps" to make the corners.

I bought the wagon a number of years ago at Canadian Tire.  The handle that came with the wagon fits on a piece that connects to the front turning axle by way of an upside down u structure.   

Then I called  my dad, Bill Sallans.  What came next is largely his work!

If difficult to see, pass your cursor over the image and it will go full screen.
Click back again, off the pic and you will be back in the post.

 Initially my dad and I just talked on the phone. We got into some confusion because he has the same wagon as me, but bought it a year or so earlier. The handle hook-up is different from mine.  Mine is shown in the picture on the left.  The picture on the right, with the blue writing is the way his handle worked. If mine were like his, it would have been easy to simply cut the handle off near the end, insert a stub in bit that was left, and then insert this stub into the box that makes the T for the PVC pipe.  If I'd had  that kind of handle then  what follows would have been a little different. 

The "u" that connects the wagon handle 
to the piece that goes to the turning axle.

My handle worked with an upside down u that had been welded to the shaft of the wagon handle, and a bolt  to fix it in the piece that goes to the axle. So we had to do it differently. We cut the handle off pretty short, and then stuck this piece itself into the PVC "T". In the end it was a good fix because that the handle pivots on a bolt means that the shafts can also pivot. So when not in use I can stand the shafts straight up against the wagon.

The "T" junction available for PVC rigid pipe.
You can also see one of the "sweeps" here.
The opening on the T is where we put the wagon handle end .

I am pointing to the "u" from the handle.
You can't see the handle stub itself because
it has been inserted into the PVC "T"

The handle stub  comes right out the other side of the "T". You can see the top of the eye bolt that we put there: that is where I hook up the "tug line" that goes to the back of the dog's harness.  You can also see that  there is a D-ring on the piece that goes to the axle with an old leash attached to it. I use this as a brake when necessary and also to pull the wagon myself rather than pulling on the shafts when moving it around.

Here you see the hook up on the piece that goes to the axle.
The shafts are now in a vertical position, so you are looking at
the bottom of the PVC "T" .
The "u" part that was part of the wagon handle is actually
now in the position it would be if the handle were still on it.
 This is how it looks with the shafts in pulling position.
You can also see the eye bolt that is pushed through a hole
we drilled in the stub of the wagon handle. 

Here you see the shafts all hooked up to the dog.
I put loops on the side of his pulling harness to hold the shafts.
You can also see the  clips I put  there too to make the "hold back".
The "hold back" is necessary to keep the cart from riding up on the dog.  The clips are just swivel tugs. They are fixed to the shaft with hose clamps.  The loops for the shafts are sewn into the harness, and then a second loop is provided for the clamps for the hold-back.

I finished off the ends of the PVC pipe just by sticking an adapter that you use to join two pieces together on the end with a nickel inside to close the pipe.  

The harness I use is our wintertime sledding harness.  It is  called a toboggan harness. It comes down the sides of the dog's back legs and has a spreader bar to keep his legs from being squeezed when he pulls.  I modified it by putting a piece of elastic at the back so that when it is slack, the spreader bar does not drop down and catch his leg.

This harness can be seen at this web site:  (scroll down to toboggan harness).

If I were buying a harness specifically for this purpose I think would go to Black Ice and get their Sierra Drafting and Pulk Harness  because it already has the shaft hook up on the harness itself. It also advertises that it can be used for weight pulling which suggests it may have wider webbing making heavier loads more comfortable for the dog. We are very happy however with the toboggan harness and it is very versatile, especially since I modified it to keep it up off the dogs legs when the line is slack.

I prefer these options to the commonly seen cart pulling harness that goes straight across the dog's chest because I think the x crossing on the chest is more comfortable for the dog. I also prefer the way the spreader bar allows for a single tug hook up, rather than hooking up two lines coming from the dog.  Also the spreader bar acts as  "breeching" -- Papa says "britching" -- helping to keep the harness and therefore the cart from riding up on the dog when going down hill, or stopping on the flat. 

A note on the choice of PVC pipe: It may not be elegant, but it is cheap (less than $20 for all the materials in the shafts) and when you put it all together, it remains quite flexible.  I am teaching Benny to make sure he lies down like a sphinx between the shafts, but once in a while he rolls. The shafts just give way and nobody gets hurt, nothing is broken. It is also quite light weight, yet sturdy.

When we got the whole thing assembled and were sure all the parts fit, we used PVC black glue, the kind designed for the pipe, to put the pieces together.

And that's it!  Thanks Papa! (that's my dad.  He builds cool stuff.)

"Papa"  (Bill Sallans)

Benny's Summer Job

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Benny's Summer Job

Benny's summer job: moving next winter's wood from driveway to woodshed. I made shafts for the wagon - he is so steady, he took to them right away, and has already mastered tight turns (requires him to cross his legs) and hold back on the hills! Malamutes rock!  

I was asked about the training for this, whether or not I had to start with just the shafts. The answer is no.  Benny is a rock steady dog. I just laid the shafts down on the ground and asked him to line up, so he did, just like he does on the sled. Then there was a lot friggin around while I fitted everything. I told him to stand still, like I do for harnessiing or grooming , so he did. Once I got everything adjusted I said lets go, walked beside him as I wasn't sure he wouldn't jump the shafts, but he didn't. He right away figured out what to do with his body to make the turns and the down hills etc. easier. 

I think Benny is a dog who likes to use his own head in his own good time. The slow work of hauling wood with the requirement that he think where he puts his feet and his weight, particularly as we have a lot of steep hills up and down and sharp turns throughout to negotiate when we are doing this, seems to suit him. I think a more high energy dog would require more training.  

My Nico would be very nervous about the shafts.   He has pulled wood in the wagon for me in the past, but only only  a line, like we use for the sled.  I would not put him between shafts; he's never liked the wagon much. Its too erratic, without shafts, and yet  I know he would feel trapped in the shafts, especially if something went wrong. Benny on the other hand just waits calmly for me to solve the problem. Benny also is a much slower, but steadier puller. Nico likes to run, and pulls because something is attached him when he is running. 

Benny on the other hand just likes to pull.  Benny is calm and very trusting. So he can devote all of his mind to figuring things out as he goes, instead of getting all panicked,  and not being able to learn for wanting to run away.  Once he's shown something that works, he remembers and does it again on his own. He also loves weight. I am going light right now while he figures things out, but I learned with the toboggan that the more he has to pull, the more he seems to get excited -- er,, in a calm "Benny"sort of way!

So Benny has become my wood hauling dog; Nico, as befits his station as the senior dog around here watches over the work from the yard, giving, no doubt advice which Benny, no doubt, ignores.  When Benny is done his job, they both get a nice treat: Benny for doing the job, Nico, for  just being Nico. What a team!

Small Steps: A Training Odyssey

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Small Steps: A Training Odyssey

From my training journals of  the Nico-Benny Team:  February 20, 2012

So we did it! After many months of individual training, working on spooky Nico's comfort zone and young Benny's discipline, I put them back together on the sled, and off we went. That was a couple of weeks ago, early in February. My husband helped, once he stopped falling off the sled. I ran a lot: in front which keeps Benny going but pisses Nico off because he likes to be out front; beside which makes Nico happy but distracts Benny because he likes to chase my boots; and finally behind which made me happy because it was a prelude to actually being on the sled. So now as of about a week ago they're doing it! Nico gets that they its o.k. for Benny to run beside him, he doesn't have to try to cut him off and "take control"; Benny gets that you don't go off the trail at the least bit of interesting smell or squirrel activity, and also that Nico isn't going to jump him if he pulls even with him; and they are both getting that when they both pull together it is easier than when one does and one doesn't, also they get that when neither pulls, we go nowhere. Today I sent my husband home once we got going (he got the camera so he could catch us coming across the field) and it was just me and my boys on the trail (including the Turtle War Zone -forgive my elation but taking that trail was a psychological victory for me as that was big trouble). We still have a long way to go, but at least we look like and go like a "team" now. Happy!

Nico: Focus Benny, Stay with the job, not the paparazzi.
Benny:  Paparazzi? Is that like Pizza? I'm going that way!
Nico: No.  (Nico is the lead dog in this team.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Winter Tales

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This was the crappiest winter ever,  so little snow, and when it did come it was followed hard on the heels by rain, then ice. Nonetheless, by the end of it, which came all too soon - February! -- Nico and Benny were a sledding team.   That made me very happy. It was a long process. I spent a lot of time  running the boys making sure Benny understood his job was to stay on the trail and pull, while developing Nico's confidence as leader.     Rick was on the sled, and since he's never done any of this before with me, it was a totally new learning experience for him too.  Needless to say we had our moments.  The story below describes one of them.

I found this on a web site* "Tell a Golden Retriever to sit and he will. Tell an Alaskan Malamute (or a Siberian) to sit and he may run in a circle around you. He may woo-woo at you. He may ignore you. He may jump up, jump over the gates, retrieve the dumbbell from the next ring, jump back across the gates, and present it to you. He may actually sit. However, harness a Golden and tell him "Gee" and he will turn right. The Malamute will wait for the opening in the trees... " 

 So true! A few weeks back my husband was manning the sled, I was still running alongside to make sure my boys understood what was required. My husband is very new at this (only recruited this winter for this training) and isn't too sure of his command words. He wanted them to pick up so started shouting in a very loud excited voice "Haw Haw Haw". Ummm... there were trees to the right and trees to the left, no fork in the trail. Fortunately my dogs are Malamutes not Golden Retrievers. Nico stopped. Benny stopped, I stopped. And all three of us turned as one and looked at Rick who said, "Woops. I meant hike?" Nobody died. I love my Mallies!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Short Stories: Why We Should Sled our "Pets"

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I wrote this for a group on Working Malamutes, but I think this readership will enjoy it:

Why "pet" Malamute owners should train their dogs for  sled, and work with them regularly: Yes, it is by far the best exercise and training for both their bodies and minds, but I have a story that  illustrates a far more compelling excuse – er, I mean reason.

This morning my husband and I were doing the morning leash walk with our boys. My husband was getting well ahead with Nico on a long flexi, I was behind with Benny. Neither one of us are very fit right now due to injuries, but I was lagging more. I didn't want to fall too far behind  so two or three times I called out to my husband, “Could you wait for me?  Hello?  Can you wait?”

You think Mallies have selective hearing!  Husbands are way ahead on that one.  But my husband really can`t always hear very well; what with the snow being crunchy, the wind blowing and his hat down over his ears.  So I`m thinking, forget this.  Instead I drop my voice low and say in a much much quieter tone, ``Yo Nico, Whoa.”  My boy  is at least 100 - 150 feet ahead, but he stops dead in his tracks.  Rick trudges up beside him and says, “Come on Nico, lets go.”  Nico doesn’t budge. Just turns his head and looks directly behind Rick, at me.  Rick, looking to see what he is interested in also turns.   He sees me, and I smile sweetly, batt my eyelashes and say, “Darling, would you mind waiting up for me?”

Yes – Marital bliss: Women who sled their dogs have better marriages. A man who is smart enough to pay attention to his wife’s lead dog, even more so!

I've posted this pic before I think, but really, it says it all.
Nico, I  do love you -- Yes I do! We are a great team!