Do you enjoy both cross-country skiing and spending time with your dog? If you're looking for an active way of getting outside with your dog this winter, Skijoring might be the right sport for you. Skijoring is an activity for people who enjoy winter sports and for high-energy dogs who love to run and pull.
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What is Skijoring?
Born from the tradition of dog sledding, Skijoring is a dog sport that involves an individual dog, or a small team of dogs pulling their handler on cross-country skis through the snow. Skijoring is popular in states like Colorado and Montana with their snowy winters, but it is also gaining popularity in other areas. Skijoring can have one dog pulling a person, or a person being pulled by multiple dogs. This winter activity is perfect for dogs and people who love exploring nature and don't mind the cold weather.
Which dogs can Skijor?
There are no breed requirements about which dogs can participate in Skijoring. Dogs who are bred for dog sledding like huskies do excel in the sport but they aren't the only dogs to participate. Skijor USA advises that although any sized dog can Skijor, dogs who are 35 pounds or larger are best suited for pulling a handler. Because this is a physically demanding activity, it's important for dogs to be healthy and orthopedically sound first. Beyond that, the most important quality for a dog is one who loves to run, pull, and enjoy the snow and cold.
If you want to get involved with Skijoring, it's important to make sure that you and your dog have all the right gear. With Skijoring, the handler is fitted with cross country skis, and the dog is attached to the handler by a Towline that runs from around the handler's waist and then connects to the dog's harness. Towlines have built-in bungee shock absorption to make the pulling more comfortable for the handler. It's very important to make sure that your dogs also have an appropriate and well-fitted harness to prevent injuries as your dogs pull. Most skijoring dogs wear x-back sled harnesses. Unlike a harness you might walk your dog on, these are designed for keeping dogs comfortable as they are pulling. Skijoring dogs should never pull on a collar — it can lead to your dog choking, or even injury or permanent damage to their neck or vertebrates.
When teaching your dog Skijoring, most people choose to train their dogs using the same terms mushers (drivers of sled dog teams) use. These terms include "hike" meaning to start running, "whoa" stop running, "gee" turn right, "haw" for turn left, and "on-by" for your dog or dogs to run past another Skijoring team on the trails. These are cues you can start teaching your dog at home before harnessing up and hitting out on the trails.
Dogs that are still developing should not participate in Skijoring in order to prevent damage to their growing joints. Therefore, they should be fully grown and be in good health when participating. Before introducing your dog to skijoring it's a good idea to schedule a visit with your vet for a full examination. Like with any other high-impact sport or activity it's important to make sure that your dog doesn't have any unknown pre-existing conditions — which might be aggravated by the running and pulling required for Skijoring.
No snow? No problem!
To keep their dogs' training and conditioning up, many skijoring teams train year-round using these same modifications for the times of the year when they don't have access to the regular snowy weather. Warmer weather versions of Skijoring involve dogs pulling their handlers on carts, skateboards, scooters, or mountain bikes. Dogs pulling handlers on bikes has grown in popularity and is known as Bikejoring. There's also a Canicross where dogs are attached to the same sort of Skijoring bungee waist leash and they run ahead of handlers who are also running.
Find groups near you
From competitive skijoring racing competitions to peaceful days spent outside in nature with your dog there are a variety of ways to get involved in Skijoring. This is a dog sport that requires a lot of trust between the dog and their handler. Although you are guiding your dog on what trail to take, your dog is in the lead and needs to be able to ignore distractions of wild animals, smells along the trail, and other dogs and handlers. To make sure that you and your dog are getting started with Skijoring in a safe way, it's a good idea to work with an experienced local trainer or Skijoring club. They will be able to help you properly fit your dog with the gear, teach you and your dog how to safely pull on cue and what direction to go, and most importantly when to stop! Skijor USA maintains a directory of Skijoring and sled dog clubs in different areas of the country. These groups will be able to help you and your dog get started with the sport.