In my never-ending quest to develop the most badass running contacts possible, it has become apparent that I needed to suck it up and actually, you know, get a proper dogwalk. Since purchasing one was definitely outside my budget and getting regular access to someone else’s was proving a surprisingly difficult endeavour, I began to research making one. I had a few non-negotiable requirements for my dogwalk:
- Be designed in such a way that one person could set it up and take it down
- Have little to no bounce when my 40lb and 50lb dogs were running across it
- Be completely adjustable from the ground to full competition height
- Be under $400 to build
I actually accomplished all four goals, some in excess, and one with a compromise. I talked a friend who knows a lot more about construction than I into helping me to formulate the best plan possible. I wanted something to share here that anyone could easily follow. We got started and I was happily talking photos of all the steps and then this happened.
So…not so simple that an idiot can put it together. Fortunately, if you’re willing to shell out for hinges, or you’ve got a buddy who can weld, than the rest is actually not that hard. So, without further ado, here’s the slightly more complicated but super cheap way to build your own dogwalk.
- Three staging planks. 12 feet long, 12 inches wide, 2 inches thick. Staging planks are relatively cheap and made to create the floors that hold construction workers and their tools while on scaffolding. You may or may not be able to find these planks at your local hardware store. We bought them from someone off of Kijiji for $15 a plank.
- Enough scrap metal to either make the hinges yourself, or you can just buy them. The advantage of the hinges we made is that there will be very little space between the two planks, so less chance of a puppy stubbing a toe along the way.
- 12 washers.
- Screws (various lengths, will update when I track down what lengths we used)
- Eight 2x4s that are five feet in length.
- Four 2x4s that are two feet in length.
- Two boards that are two feet long, a foot or so wide and two inches thick.
- Four door hinges.
- Two lengths of chain that are ten feet long each.
- Four carabiners.
- Primer for the planks.
- Two (contrasting) colours of exterior paint. You won’t need too much paint for the contact zones (you can likely get away with a smaller can for that) but you will need at least two-thirds of a larger can for the rest of the dogwalk.
- Sand, the finer it is the easier it will be to apply. However I used the same sand that my friend uses on his driveway in the winter.
- Paint roller and tray.
Now I’d like to tell you how much it cost to build this thing but I actually managed to scrounge a lot of the materials. The trestles were completely made from scraps, the hinges for the trestles were literally found in a drawer. My mom bought me the paint for my birthday (no, really, that’s what I got for my birthday #adultgifts #agilityobsessedadultgifts). I pretty much only paid for the chains, which cost about $17 CAD each. The staging planks I got at a discount as my friend purchased a few at the same time. Basically, I would check on kijiji for anyone looking to get rid of any scrap lumber to make this a really cheap project.
First thing was to prep the planks. They were rough hewn so needed to be sanded down first. Also, we were impatient and got started right away, but as the wood was green we should have waited for it to dry out as it did end up cracking a bit once we started drilling things in. Fortunately not so much that it wasn’t repairable, but something that could easily have been avoided.
Now the worst part about working with staging planks? They are heavy. Like, holy shit why did I do this to myself heavy. You can use thinner planks but you will need to build extra supports for the downramps. The last dogwalk I used was built with thinner planks and I can tell you that supporting it enough for my big dogs was often a challenge, especially as I raised it gradually while teaching Raafi the dogwalk, so I decided that dealing with heavy planks was a fair trade off.
I sanded the top but not perfectly smooth since I was going to be putting sand on it later. I mostly just made sure there were no pieces that could potentially splinter paws down the road. It might seem unnecessary since you’re painting over it, but last thing you’ll want to do is get it painted and then find splinters mixed in later.
Now, if you have the money it’s certainly a great idea to apply a rubber contact coat for grip. You can order them online at lots of places, including Affordable Agility. Unfortunately rubber coats tend to add quite a bit of weight and the planks are already heavy enough. Also, to do a full dogwalk will add at least $150–$200 to the cost. Sand is cheap. If you’re going to do a rubber coating you may or may not want to paint the planks first, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re going to do a sand coating you will absolutely want to prime before you start. Also, make sure the ends are cut before you start. The angle for the very bottom of the plank has to be fairly high to align with the ground but the top one we cut at a 45° angle. Make sure you prime the sides as well to make it easier to see the contact zone from the side. A roller works just fine and makes the work go fairly fast. After the primer dries you can apply the first coat of paint. You’ll probably need at least 6+ hours for the paint to dry before you can do the next coat. I mixed the sand directly into the paint and rolled it on. How much you use will depend on how coarse the sand is. I painted two coats each of this layer just to really give it a lot of grip. Finally I did one more coat of just paint on top to seal everything in. Don’t do more than one or two top coats as you can actually make it slippery again, which obviously defeats the purpose. Set aside a few days for this so each coat can dry fully in between.
In the meantime you can get started on the hinges and trestles.
The hinges we built were made entirely from scrap metal. Start with a rectangular section with one rounded end with a hole in it that the pin will go through. These pieces had three other holes drilled in to screw it directly into the plank. Make the fourth hole slightly oversized to make it easier to insert the pin, but not too large as that will introduce bounce. You will need to make eight pieces in total. We even welded a plate across the bottom to connect the two hinges on each board to make a brace, so there would be no chance of them breaking off of the plank after heavy use. The pins were simply made from another piece of scrap, with a tiny hole in the end to put a hitch pin in for extra security.
You can either wait until the planks are completely painted to attach the hinges, or do it any time in the process (if like me you weren’t super concerned with if they end up painted or not). When you do attach them find a flat surface and lay the planks out end to end. Take a number of steps back to ensure the planks are straight. Line up your hinges and on the top plank use the washers so that the hinges are offset from the hinges on the downramps (only do it on the top planks so that the downramps can be interchangeable). Clamp everything in place and then screw the hinges to the boards. Since the planks have been cut at a 45° the pin ends up in the triangular space between the two planks, meaning when flat there is no gap, and when raised to full competition height the gap is very small. You can now weld the plate on the bottom of each end of the plank to tie the hinges together. We screwed it through the bottom plate for even more security.
As the wood expands and contracts as it dries out the hinges may not perfectly align. I’ve had to give it a few love taps with a hammer but the problem will go away as the wood dries out completely. This problem will be worse the greener your wood is.
You can now paint the hinges or leave them be as I did.
I wanted the dogwalk to be adjustable but also stable, and a trestle design met those requirements best. The professional ones are slightly angled (like a tripod), but neither me nor my friend were up to figuring out how to pull that off with our scraps. Instead we opted to make them a little over-wide. We also made the top of the trestles flat, and have the hinges for the legs attach on the sides of that board. Once the top planks is placed on them, the trestles actually self-level, which has made the dogwalk remarkably stable on even slightly uneven ground. This is especially important when training running contacts as a little bit of bounce or wiggle can really throw off your dog’s stride (at best), or frighten them (at worst).
Another piece of 2×4 is attached across the legs near the bottom for added support. You can then loop your chain around those support pieces and connect with a carabiner or some other clip, which will make it easy to change the height of the dogwalk by whatever increments you like. Just remember to mark the chain at the appropriate length for competition height (four feet for AAC) as you will never, ever need to make the dogwalk higher than necessary.
The resulting dogwalk is super strong and stable. Short of purchasing a professional dogwalk I don’t think I could have done much better. It’s completely adjustable, cost next to nothing to make (aside from time), and will work with all sizes of dog. Just how sturdy is this dogwalk? Well…
My only dislike is how heavy the planks are, but had I used a lighter board I’m sure I would have regretted it. There is slight flexing but nowhere near what I’ve had to work with with other dogwalks that either flexed too much, or in one case a professionally made one that is so stiff the downramps actually bounced half a foot off the ground as the dogs ran down them.
The grip so far has looked and worked great and hasn’t flaked off at all, and the dogs took to it immediately. Going in to our off-season I am really excited to get started with it. Now, AAC dogwalks are not meant to have slats so I’ve put no thought into how to add those on. However, it would be easy enough to attach the slats after the first coat of paint and then apply the sand coat and top coat afterwards.
Here’s Raafi on his very first day on the dogwalk. No slipping, no shying away from the gap between planks, and running confidently.
Hope some part of this design helps any other DIYers. Any thoughts or critiques are welcome, and feel free to post any questions in the comments.