What The Heck Is Dog Skijoring?
Ready. Set. Mush! We’re not talking dog sledding here. We’re talking about dog skijoring, which pairs cross-country skiing with dogs and lets you and your dog work out together.
The term “skijoring” comes from the Norwegian word for “ski driving,” and refers to getting pulled on skis by a horse, car, motorcycle, or in this case by your dog (or dogs). While the word likely conjures up images of harnessed huskies racing through the snow, your dog doesn’t need to look like an Iditarod champion to have fun skijoring. You can skijor with a wide variety of breeds. The main qualities needed in a dog for skijoring are simply a love of running and pulling plus an affinity for the snow.
Before you head for the snow, it’s important to understand that dog skijoring is not as simple as strapping on skis, holding onto your dog’s leash, and yelling, "mush!" In fact, attempting to skijor with a traditional leash and dog collar will put your four-legged friend at risk. Dog skijoring requires a dedicated harness that’s properly sized for your faithful companion and a tow line designed for the purpose. You’ll want to get yourself a dedicated skijoring waist belt, too.
The number one priority with dog skijoring is simple: It needs to be fun for your dog, too.
You’ll also need to be a proficient cross-country skier. Your ability to kick and glide, skate, turn, and handle speed are essential. In fact, dog skijoring is not simply about being pulled by your dog. It’s about skiing under your own power with an extra boost from your furry friend. Skate and classic skis work well for dog skijoring, but stay away from metal edge skis, as they are sharp and can hurt your dog if you get tangled up.
The number one priority with dog skijoring is simple: It needs to be fun for your dog, too. A pup that likes to run and always seems to be pulling on their leash is a good sign that you might have a match. But be sure to gauge their enthusiasm and energy level. Do they get excited at the sight of the harness? Or do they hunker down in the car when you pull up to the trailhead? If you sense hesitation or fatigue, it’s time to think twice about skiing with your furry friend. Even if your dog enjoys skijoring, it’s critical not to overdo it. Start with short outings, and work up to longer routes. Dogs need to warm up and get in shape just like you do.
You also need to consider the size of your dog. While breed is not important, the Pacific Sled Dog and Skijor Association recommends that skijoring dogs should weigh at least 40 pounds or more. Some breeds also naturally handle the snow better than others based on their type of fur. Test the waters with short sessions to see how your four-legged pal fares in the snow. Watch out for icy paws and snowball buildup on the chest and legs. Iced up paws can lead to painful, cracked, and bleeding paw pads. Consider a dog jacket, paw covers, and paw wax to keep your pup healthy and happy in the snow.
Don’t forget food and water. It’s easy to bring small treats on the snowy trail, but it’s harder to carry or find water in the winter. Be sure to encourage your dog to eat and drink before you head out, and always have supplies back at the car.
Just like taking your dog for a walk in the neighborhood, you’ll need to be prepared to pick up poop on the snow, too. Cleaning poop off your skis isn’t any more fun than cleaning it from the soles of your shoes.
Weather and conditions
Always keep an eye on the weather when you’re planning a winter outing. Winter weather can change fast, and keeping your dog warm and dry is just as important as you staying comfortable. Be sure to check the forecast before heading out to avoid big storm cycles and rain events. Our KEEN tips for winter adventure apply to dog skijoring, too.
Ok, so you’re an avid skier, and your dog loves to run in the snow. What’s next? Safe skijoring requires a well-trained dog. You’ll need to work on voice commands for keeping your pup focused on pulling versus checking out other skiers or chasing wildlife. You’ll also need to figure out where you can skijor with your faithful companion. Chances are good that if you live in a snowy area, there’s a local skijoring club that can help with commands, training, and locations to ski with your dog. Check out Skijoring USA for a list of clubs around the country. Happy mushing!