Skijoring is a Norwegian term which translates to “ski driving”. Its origin lies with horses and skis. You get the idea, slap on some skis, let the horse pull you and try to hold on and stay upright. It’s actually still a sport with horses, but in recent years, it’s become a popular activity with dogs. So what am I proposing you try exactly? I want you to consider trying skijoring with your dog (or dogs if you have more than one). That means strapping on some cross country ski’s, investing in a proper harness and skijoring kit, and hitting the trails. You’ll feel the magic of working as a team with your dog to glide over the snow, the wind on your face, the excited look of your dog, it will be the best experience of your life. There you have it, you are ready to go. … Just kidding. I’ve broken down this post into two because there is quite a bit of information to include. This post will talk about the basics you need to get together before you start working towards getting on skis with your dog.
Is skijoring for you? Well firstly, if you don’t have any snow where you live, you are out of luck for skijoring, but you can still practice pulling sports. Bikejoring, canicross (running with your dog pulling you), and using a scooter can all be done to achieve the same result! But this post will deal with the snow version: skijoring. So if you have snow, congrats! Now you just need somewhere you can go with your dog. That means either designated cross country ski trails where you are allowed to take your dog, or designated dog sport trails. Some of you may be lucky enough to have multi-use trails where you can cross country ski as well. Either way, make sure you can take your dog with you before you head out.
The second thing you should have is experience on cross country skis. You do not have to be an expert cross country skier but being able to stay upright is pretty important. When I went skijoring for the first time, it was my third time on cross country ski’s and I fell down A LOT. This is bad, since if you fall a lot, your dog may learn that he/she is causing this and start to refuse to pull. I avoided that by getting excited and happy to keep my dog pumped every time I fell. So he was all excited while I was bruising my body. But it worked to get us through that rough ride. So instead of following in my terrible example, log some hours on skis until you feel comfortable going down some hills, taking corners, stopping, etc. If you want to get into the gear side of things, skate skis are the top choice for skijoring since you will be using the skating motion to help your dog pull. But if you already have a pair of classics, you can definitely give it a shot with those and still have some fun.
The last thing you need before you start is the pulling equipment. There is a LOT of equipment for skijoring out there. Everything from big dog gear companies like Ruffwear, to small independent gear makers. Personally, I bought my first kit off a local skijoring product seller. I’ve since added a Hurtta waist belt to my kit. Really, the most important thing is that the harness fits your dog well and that you like the waist belt you use. Your kit should also include an appropriate line as well which should include a quick release near your harness (this is for the “dog sees squirrel” scenario, but personally if I have to stop my dogs and cannot do so verbally, I just do a controlled fall onto the ground), a bungee section, and a regular line. The harness should attach on the back and there are various styles. The cross back is the most common style, but there are a couple out there if your dog doesn’t do well with it or it doesn’t fit them due to their proportions.
Finally, some of you may be wondering if you can do this sport with your dog. That’s an important question and if your vet has advised against hard physical activity, then this is not the sport for you. But even if your dog is small, you can probably skijor with them! Size is always a big debate and dogs under 20lbs would have a hard time with this, but I have seen some fairly small dogs skijoring. Cold is also a big factor, so if temps drop very low, always think about frost bite and hypothermia. Many dogs will require boots and coats for skijoring in cold temperatures.
Once you have your equipment sorted, you are just about ready to start, but don’t just head to the trails just yet. My next post, I will get into how to introduce your dog into pulling, and how to have a successful first ski!