Conditioning the Urban Bird Dog–Problem Solved? Just What is "Roading?"

The old ways are often the best. Even better are old ways just discovered and renewed!

How to keep Pride, the three year old English Pointer, conditioned during the off season in a densely populated urban environment and further, one in which even if a little land can be found, rattlesnakes abound and it’s just too dangerous to let her run, that was the question?

Enter the good old roading harness. I always thought roading was a technique utilizing harnesses and lines to tie dogs to sleds or wagons for pulling to keep in condition, and that they had to run!

Not so! I was reading the instructions for the harness I ultimately bought at

and discovered the following:


Slowly walk the dog? Would it work?

Here’s what it looks like in practice—and she is pulling!

We do this now every morning for 30-45 minutes. It is a terrific workout for Pride, and for me! I am carrying a 10 pound weight to strengthen my arm, to emulate a shotgun. I switch arms every 5 minutes or so or whenever the “pulling arm” gets tired. We walk on trails and gravel roads in a wild area near our home. The fields would be great to run her during the winter but now are choked with the enemy of all bird dogs–foxtail! Plus, a goodly supply of rattlesnakes. The trails and roads are wide enough to see any creepy/crawly things well ahead so we are safe enough.

For those of us stuck in urban areas who need to keep an active, energetic and lively canine friend in shape for the next season, may I recommend roading? The harness I bought that is described at the website above is one of many. I like this one because it is a.) all leather and cleanable and b.) stoutly made. Don’t think a 38 pound Pointer bitch can’t pull! She is all muscle and bone and has tremendous strength. I hope this is going to keep her fit for next season. I’ll report on the results in November, if she doesn’t wear me to a frazzle in the meantime.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Eric G says:

    Good Post! I always thought roading was when you dropped the dog off on a seldom used gravel road, drove, and watched the dog run ahead of you. I need to look into getting one of those harnesses.

  2. Looks like it’s working! Good thinking on your part! I also liked the chariot idea!

  3. Shawn:The used chariot market is pretty inflated right now.

  4. Dale Hernden says:

    Walter, you are absolutely correct that roading is an outstanding way to keep you both in condition. Congratulations.I’d suggest however that you look at a sled dog harness at While the type of harness your using is very popular, the front chest strap tends to ride up and put pressure on the dogs neck and breathing. The sled type harness is more difficult to put on because you have to put the dogs legs thru it but it distributes the pressure more evenly across the dogs chest and shoulders rather than its neck.Don’t know if you ride a bike but there is also a unit that attaches to the bike frame with a large spring that allows the dog to run much faster.Email me if you’d like more info.Dale

  5. Dale:Actually with the double belt across the back and shoulders the pad stays where I put it on her chest. This one is designed very well.I have seen the sled dog harnesses and recall Bob Wehle’s English Pointer Sled Dog Team that actually won some trophies against Huskies many years ago. I once bought a dog from him and still have a copy of his book with the picture of the dogs pulling the sled! Cool!We did 40 minutes on dirt trails this morning and were both pooped.I thought about the bike, and the chariot Shawn mentioned above(grin) but decided I need the workout just as much as she. Carrying that 10 pound weight is going to make a 6# bird gun seem like a feather in the Fall.Thanks for the comments. Has the snow melted yet?

  6. Andy W. says:

    Walter, You keep it up and you will be out-walking and out shooting all of us. Good on you, my friend. Andy

  7. Walter + others: I do use a roading harness for our Mr. Enthusiasm, although I don’t use it for him to pull me. Our two dogs, for example, are still city dogs and need to know that a leash (or line) is not for pulling against. I gather there’s also some debate over what the goals of roading a dog should be and therefore what technique you use, ie. pulling or dragging. I for example, am not looking to add muscle to my dog, but to increase his aerobic capacity… and so I have him running free while dragging arguably lighter weight cables for longer. And at the suggestion of fellow Upland Equations author, Kim Sampson, I use lengths of welding cable: it’s both rigid enough and flexible enough to both drag and not get hung up and it’s easy to figure out how much weight you want them to drag. So, for example, Mr. Enthusiasm will happily drag just over 4lbs of cable (in two 5′ lengths) for 45mins or longer at a time.The other factor to consider with your dogs, I gather, is how old they are. Which is to say, folks probably shouldn’t start roading their dogs till they’re pretty much finished with their juvenile growth, ie. 18mos or older, to avoid prematurely stressing the dog’s joints.all bestAndrew

  8. Randy says:

    I use the roading harness here on my farm in Georgia,but we tie them to the front of our ATV and ease around the pasture at about 9-10 mph for about 2 miles. It's a super way to get and keep a dog in shape in minimum time! Last year was the first full year I did it and my dogs were seriously ready to go, come September!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s