K9 Corner 0113

January 13, 2004

The last time I watched the weather on television, they were predicting snow showers for Wednesday and bitter cold temperatures for Thursday and Friday nights. Sounds like perfect weather for skijoring with your dog.

Skijoring is a Norwegian word that means "ski-driving," according to Carol Kaynor in her article called "More Than Mushing" in the December issure of "Dog World" magazine. If you like to ski, but don't have the time to drive to the ski resorts, find a large open field that is good for cross-country skiing, harness your 40 pound or larger dog(s) and let them tow you.

What kind of dogs can be used for skijoring? Any of the northern sled dogs take quickly to this sport, but Kaynor says that border collies, Labrador retrievers, Australian shepherds, setters and giant schnauzers have been used in competitive skijoring.

Skijoring is not for the faint of heart and it requires some advance preparation. Kaynor, who lives in Alaska, says that the necessary equipment includes skis for you as well as a skijoring belt, and a towline, plus a special non-restrictive harness for the dog.


The towline is about seven feet long, and has two sections, according to Kaynor. The section closest to the skier has a bungee to absorb the pulling force. This protects both you and the dog. The special harness for the dog is the same type used by sled dogs. It is totally adjustable for a custom fit.

Now that you have your energetic dog(s) and all the equipment, start immediately teaching the animal to pull. Kaynor suggests attaching something non-threatening like a small tire or weighted bag and then taking your dog for a walk on a leash. Some dogs catch on immediately, others will have to be encouraged by voice and possibly a treat. Once the dog starts pulling, praise so he knows that is what you want. Kaynor says that dogs learn quickly from each other, so if you know anyone with a trained pulling dog, ask if you can join them when they practice.

As the dog responds, drop back a foot or so. With further progress, move back some more until the dog is out in front of you. Some dogs will not run in front of their owners. This is a subordinate behavior: the dog considers you the leader and does not feel comfortable about running in the lead position. If this happens, get a friend to walk in front of the dog encouraging it and praising as you stay behind the dog. Be patient.

Once the dog knows what you want, condition yourself. Kaynor states that "skijoring requires good balance, an ability to turn and slow down, and a knack for knowing when and how to fall safely on skis." Teaching the dog to stop on command might help as well.

If your pet(s) don't know "stop," "right," and "left," you can teach them as you are training the dog to pull. Again, using a friend on the leash while you are behind the dog is best.

This will take longer than a week, but this is January and if I remember correctly, the Farmers Almanac predicts a cold, snowy winter. So all you ski-buffs enjoy.


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