Include your four-legged friend when ski training!

Posted by Jan Guenther on Nov 9th 2017

Have a dog who loves to run? Do you love to cross country ski? Add skijoring to your list of fun things to do in the winter and start training now! Skijore is derived from the Norwegian word “hundekjoring” which means dog driving. Your dog is supposed to pull you – across snow or through the field, called canicross.

Can any dog learn? Not all dogs have an instinct to pull and some will quizzically look at you when they feel a tug on their back (like my Standard poodle). Other dogs will burst forth with so much enthusiasm that you will have little control on where they take you (often into a tree!). But when dogs are taught, most of them will LOVE to pull.Even little breeds, which I coin ‘micro dogs’, can learn to lead, although you will have to provide the propulsion. But big or small, fast or slow, your dog and you will really enjoy the bonding rewards from working together as a team.

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No snow? You can start training your dog now on the run trails and have as much fun on dryland as on snow. Canicross is ‘cooperative running’ with your dog, cross-country style. It is an inexpensive way to spend fun time outdoors with your dog while harnessing your dog’s natural desire to pull. A properly fitted waist harness on you,attached to a lead on your dog’s harness, enables the dog to pull smoothly and consistently without yanking and jerking.As the dog learns to pull wearing a harness (as compared to a collar) you both can have fun communicating and teaching basic commands such as when to pull, turn, go by others, or stop.All these skills are transferable to skijoring, which means you will be on skis rather than in running shoes.

What do you need in terms of equipment? The equipment for canicross is nearly the same as it is for ski joring:

  • A good fitting dog harness which will fit snuggly to the dog and not chafe
  • A belt for the human to wear. This belt is designed with an attachment to connect to a rope or lead which can be clipped to the dog’s harness. Many ski belts will have leg harnesses, a thin webbing that lops between your legs to keep the belt from circling your waist should your dog do a 180 and pull in an opposite direction. Strictly canicross belts may not. The belt may also have a quick release buckle to cut the connection between you and your dog if you become tangled.
  • A lead or webbed leash with an elastic bungy that attaches the dog’s harness to the human harness. The built-in bungy absorbs some of the jerkiness felt when the dog begins to pull.

That’s it! Of course, you will need skis, boots and poles for the snow portion. My suggestion is to choose skate skis over classic skis if you want your dog to have success pulling you. Skate skis offer much more glide and will skim the snow more easily than classic skis which grab the snow. Poles are useful and will aid your skiing up a hill as the dog leads.Just make sure you keep them from becoming tangled up in the line. Last year at the City of Lakes Loppet skijore race, a competing dog had an issue with my Doberman/German Shepard mutt and lunged at him while we rounded a corner. As I pulled the dogs apart, the lead tangled with my pole and I fell flat on my hand, on top of the pole. Guess what broke? My hand. So, try to stay free from lines and poles and dog legs.      

                                     

My suggestion, don’t make it too complicated. Get out there and have fun with your four legged friend. Discover more about your dog and what he/she wants to do and can do. Talk to Gear West or someone that has experience in ski joring and knows what you need.At Gear West we carry two ski joring brands and have a selection of harnesses to best fit your dog and you. Sign up for a ski joring event! Check out the Barkebirke in Hayward. The event happens a day before the American Birkebeiner and is rather hilarious to watch or participate. (Unless you are one of the serious racers with their German Shorthaired husky mixes.)But for the rest of us with our mix of dog breeds making our ‘unique’ way down main street skiing and pulling and barking…. will bring laughter to your soul. Exercise, outdoors and a connection between you and your dog, what could be more fun?