Skijoring for Winter Fun: For dogs that like to go in the Snow
Winter often forces even the most active dogs and owners indoors. Skijoring can be a wonderful way to make the most of the snowy landscape and beat the winter blues. Skijoring is great for those who already love cross country skiing. If you have never tried it, you should. It is the ultimate “mush”…I mean rush…on a cold winter’s day. Skijoring conjures images of sleds racing across the frozen tundra delivering supplies to frozen villagers. Well, maybe that is a little romantic, but skijoring is a great sport and great fun for both skier and dog. What is skijoring, you ask? Skijoring is canine powered cross country skiing for fun, or for competition for those who want a little challenge.
Is my dog right for this sport?
The first question that any potential skijorer must ask is if their dog is right for this sport. This is not a sport for all dogs, bur for the right dog, skijoring can provide hours and miles of tail-wagging fun. Certain types of dogs are the obvious choice for this type or sport. Any dog that is bred for sleddogging is right for skijoring. These include malamutes, Alaskan sleddogs, Siberian huskies and other related breeds. If you have one of these breeds, this is definitely a sport for you to try. These dogs were bred to go long distances without tiring and have the double coat to make them impervious to the elements. However, other dogs can also make good skijoring companions. Any dog designed for pulling such as a Newfoundland, rottweilers, akitas, anatolian shepherds, and bernese mountain dogs will love this sport. However, if you happen to have a boxer, german shepherd, giant schnauzer, labrador, or border collie don’t count them out. The most important thing is to make certain that the dog is sound, has had a recent physical and received clearance from the veterinarian, regardless of the breed.
This sport is not for every breed. Obviously, small dogs are not suitable. They need to be able to pull your weight with ease. Another requirement is that they have thick enough fur to not be concerned about the cold and weather conditions. Double coated breeds are wonderful for this reason. Some dogs, such as labradors, rottties, german shepherds can do the sport, but they might need a jacket. Dogs with extremely short fur or sensitive skin should not be used.
What do I need?
Skijoring equipment can range from under $100 to a couple thousand dollars. The most expensive equipment is for the human, not the dog. The human will need a standard set of cross country ski equipment including proper clothing, skis, boots, and poles. New boots, skis, and poles can be pricey and are available in any outdoor sporting store. The expense of cross country ski equipment can make this sport seem restrictive for the beginner. Who wants to spend money for a sport to try it out? Never fear, there are alternatives. I found my equipment on eBay. I paid $34 for a pair of used three pin boots, $19 for a pair of not-so-bad Rossignol Skis and $12 for poles. This equipment was used, but still in good enough shape to see if I liked the sport or not. I would suggest going the cheap route for the first few times out. If you find that you and your dog love the sport you can always buy better equipment later. The same goes for winter clothes and gear.
That takes care of the human gear, but what about the dog? The most basic equipment includes a skijoring belt. This same belt is used in canicross (dog powered jogging). The belt is adjustable and retails for around $50. Next you need a tow line. This can be found for under $10. This is the part that hooks you to the dog. A quick-disconnect release is suggested for those times when you end up with your skis up in a snow bank and your dog is still going! It might be noted that there are some people who hook more than one dog for faster, more exciting skijoring adventures. These brave souls use the same Y-connect that is used in sleddogging. Skijorers can use the same equipment for their dogs as is used in sled racing.
The most important part of your dog’s equipment is the harness system. Most people prefer the X-back harness because of the ergonomics of the design. However, there are also other styles available, such as weight pulling harnesses, heel harnesses, and other styles. The most important thing about harnesses is that they are designed for pulling and that they fit properly. If the harness is not designed for pulling, the dog can be seriously injured. Improperly fitting harnesses can result in sores, muscle problems and will not make the experience a positive one for the dog. Padding on the harness is also good to prevent sores. Harnesses are from $30-$600, depending on what you want. Price is not always a good indicator of quality. Fit and design are the most important factors. Jackets and booties are also available for short haired dogs. If you use jackets make certain that they do not interfere with the fit of the harness system.
How do I begin?
If you are this far, you are probably wondering how to begin. The first step is to see if your dog likes pulling. If your dog does not enjoy pulling, they will not be motivated in this sport. If this is the case, it will result in frustration and lots of wasted money for you and your dog. If you still think that skijoring is for you, there are many resources available to get you started. There are several books written about the subject that include information on training. In addition, several websites have information on skijoring and point the reader to even more information. Some of the best sites include Arrowhead Trading company, Sleddogcentral.com, and Skijornow.com. Another site you might want to visit is Canadog Supply.