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Imagine cool winter air rushing past your face. Your heart picking up speed as you swiftly glide across tightly packed snow. Behind you, parallel tracks cut into the pure white canvas from the steady weight of your skis. Out in front, your four-legged friend is dutifully guiding the way.
This is skijoring — essentially cross-country skiing while being pulled by a dog, according to certified professional dog trainer and founder of High Country Dogs, Louisa Morrissey. Even the most dedicated dog aficionados might not have tried this dynamic winter sport, but it’s one to consider for anyone with an athletic bent and a love of the outdoors.
“The literal translation from the Norwegian word ‘skijoring’ is ‘ski driving,’” said Rebecca Knight, a board member of the United States Federation of Sleddog Sports who has worked with sled dogs for 20 years and raced for seven. “The sport basically consists of a skier wearing a skijor belt that has a skijor line, which attaches to the dog’s harness. The skier skis behind the dog while the dog runs and pulls.”
Almost any dog can participate, but certain types are better suited for the sport. “The traditional rule of thumb is that any dog over 30 pounds and in good health that likes to pull is a good candidate,” Morrissey said.
President of SkijorUSA Kevin Murphy recommended medium-sized working breeds. “This
is not to say some large dogs like German Shepherds cannot participate, but they are more of the exception, plus there is greater concern over hip problems with larger breeds. Conversely, many micro dogs have fun skijoring too.”
Morrissey suggested first learning how to cross-country ski if you don’t already know how and enlisting the guidance of an experienced team to help your dog learn to pull. You can even try having your dog run out in front of you, free running, as you ski, Knight said. The dog “can get used to your movement on skis, the sound of the skis and poles,” she added.
What you’ll need
As far as equipment, Murphy said you need a few things besides your dog: cross-country skis, a pulling harness, a skijoring belt, and a tug line with bungee cord to connect you with your dog’s harness. Knight noted that you can use try skis or skate skis and poles, and she recommended websites like Cold Spot for Healthy Pets for gear.
Cues to know
- “Let’s go” or “hike” — pull
- “Stop” or “whoa” — stop
- “On by” — leave a distraction alone, and keep going
- “Line out” — pull the line out, and make sure nothing is tangled
- “Gee” — turn right
- “Haw” — turn left
- “Come around” — make a 180-degree turn
Where to learn
“It’s best to find a local skijoring or dogsledding club to help get you started,” Murphy recommended. “Often, a dog will better understand it’s OK to pull and run when they are part of a group of other dogs.”
Go to Meetup.com to look for skijoring groups in your area. Or clubs by state. You can also find local listings at Skijor USA. Knight suggested reading Skijor With Your Dog by Carol Kaynor and Mari Hoe-Raitto, which includes a list of skijor and sled dog organizations. Morrissey, who teaches lessons in Colorado, said to ask your local Nordic center about any nearby skijoring trails or programs.
No snow? No problem
If you don’t have access to a winter wonderland, try other sports that involve a similar dog-pulling-person element. These include canicross — running, walking, or hiking while your dog pulls — as well as bikejoring and scooterjoring.
Whether you ski, bike, scoot, or run with your pooch, just keep it fun for you and your dog.
- Train during the summer on dry land, Murphy said. “Things get far more complicated when you are on skis.”
- Don’t overtrain your pup. Murphy said to help your dog get in shape by slowly increasing the activity level.
- “Be very careful not to run into your dog, especially if you have metal-edged skis,” Morrissey warned.
- Don’t feed Fido immediately before going on a run, and be sure to give him a potty break before exercising, Knight added.
- Bring water and keep a close eye on your dog’s health, Morrissey advised. “If you go into the backcountry, be sure to take an avalanche and snow safety awareness course to make sure you select safe routes.”
Read more about exercising with your dog:
- How to Go Snowshoeing and Skijoring with Your Dog
- 6 Tips for Running with Your Dog as Exercise
- How to Give Your Dogs the Exercise They Need During Every Life Stage
About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Brides.com, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with her dog, Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by). She and her husband (and Finley, too) welcomed a baby girl named Rowan in August.