The Dog Wagon

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, April 06, 2010 | , , , ,

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When I was ten I spent the winter reading a lot of Jack London and building a dog sled. After cutting the wood and nailing it all together, I set it out in the snow and tied it to our youthful Labrador Retriever, ordering her to mush. She just sat there mulishly and gave me a look that told me to get a goddamn Siberian Husky.

One of the best things about being an incredibly childish adult is that there's nobody to tell you that you can't use the power tools. Or in this case, a simple ratchet and screwdriver, because that's all I used to turn our old jogging stroller into a wagon that our German Shorthaired Pointer has been joyfully pulling around the neighborhood for a week. And with this I have further cemented my reputation as a total nutjob among all our neighbors:


That double jogging stroller gave us a wonderful summer of use, but it had front alignment issues and it was taking up a lot of space in our basement. When I was trying to figure out how to build an axle for a dog wagon, I remembered the jogging stroller and just took it apart to use the back axle and wheels and then detached some of the tubing to create the wagon shafts. I used about twelve $1.59 hose clamps to attach everything together, knowing that I would have to make adjustments later and not wanting to drill anything yet. But the clamps (which require only a standard-head screwdriver) have turned out to be really strong. I took the handlebar seat from the Popscycle and attached it with a five inch bolt between the foot rests and an extra large clamp in the rear:

I can take it off again pretty quickly when we want to go for a bike ride. I'm still working on a second seat; right now the girl will occasionally sit in the basket on a broke-down toy horse we found at the thrift store. I'm rigging up a seat belt and handle this week. Most of the time only one kid rides in it, and when we take the wagon to the market the groceries go in the basket (that was scavenged from the neighbors' trash). You could probably make something similar out of any jogging stroller (we used a Babyjogger Twinner II) or one of those kid trailers you pull behind a bike. If there's any interest, I can post a more detailed how-to so you can build one for your kids and dog(s). I'd really love to see wagon pulled by a team!

I did a lot of research on the types of carts used in recreational dog carting and I was happy to read that a two-bicycle wheel sulky like this is much easier on a dog than a heavier four-wheel wagon. I also researched the harness that the dog would need to wear, and determined I could either pay $70 for a nylon "one size fits all" harness, or make a leather one myself that fits Wendell perfectly. I found diagrams online for a standard Siwash harness and went to the thrift store and bought five or six of the best quality leather belts they had. The big coup came when I was on the way out of the store and noticed an old leather golf bag loaded with brass rings, clamps, padded leather straps, and tons of good leather, all for $3.40. I bought a bag of leather rivets and used an awl to puncture the leather and put the harness together making sure he had a nice padded piece across his chest. I had to figure out a way to keep the shafts away from his body while still allowing him to steer the wagon and after a bit of experimentation I got it right:

The shafts are just for steering; he "pulls" the wagon with leather traces. I still have a bit of fine tuning to do, but I'm pretty happy with how it all came out, using almost exclusively recycled materials and spending only around $30 for everything I needed to complete both the wagon and the harness.

* * * * *

This is the good part.

Now, I fully expect to get some nasty e-mails/comments from dog lovers telling me this is cruel. Never mind that we're not trekking across the Yukon Territory here (we're just trotting around our neighborhood). Never mind that he's pulling children, not adults. Never mind that dogs have been pulling carts for hundreds of not thousands of years. I would even agree that for some dogs this sort of thing might be cruel. Carting is not for every dog, but I will say that it is for our dog. He has boundless energy, and we went for a 5-mile run every day for several weeks before we started carting just so I could be sure he'd be in good enough shape after the long winter. He loves to be outside. It would be far more cruel to leave this dog in his crate while we played outside. His tail wags the entire time he's pulling and he dances around with excitement whenever I pull out the harness and move the wagon towards the front door. While he carts I keep hold of his leash and he pulls against the leash as though the wagon isn't even there. He wants to jog with the wagon and when I get out of breath and stop he turns to look back at me as if to say, Come on, fat ass. This is more fun if we run. I didn't even really have to train him for any of this; the first few times he was strapped in I rewarded him with treats whenever he made a confident turn or if he came when called. But this adopted Detroit street dog truly is a natural. When he started pulling the wagon with the kids, he became even more careful, as if he knew his kids were in there and it was his job to keep them safe. He even loses interest in squirrels.

Wherever we go, we hear a lot of the same comments, but my favorite so far is, Those are the luckiest kids ever. Who wouldn't want to get pulled around in a wagon by a beloved dog, his tail tickling your knees as it wags? We've taken practically every kid in the neighborhood for a ride around the block. The girl's best friend shouted, "I want to do this every day!"

Gram insists on wearing his new "cowboy" hat every time we go out in the wagon, and we have totally been dressing him like an Amish boy. I am planning to buy one of those orange reflective triangles you see on the back of buggies the next time I stop by the Feed & Seed, just in case one of those Yoder boys are on Rumspringa and don't see him as he circles the playground. 

Here's a very shaky video I made as I ran backwards ahead of the wagon trying to get some perspective other than me holding the leash. This is not how we ordinarily do this (but don't worry, we were on a very safe sidewalk and I was never more than a few steps away):