Skijoring combines dog power and cross-country skiing. It's a cooperative sport that employs the athletic ability of both dog and skier. Assuming you own cross-country ski equipment and an energetic dog, you can simply add the necessary skijoring equipment and you're ready to begin a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. Skijoring is filled with all the romance of dog sledding with the simplicity of walking your dog. You can compete in pro-class races, have fun in the "recreation" class, join your skijoring friends in "fun-runs", or head out on your own to explore woodland trails.
Should My Dog Skijor?
- Does your dog like to run?
- Are they leash pullers? (not required, but it helps)
- Any size dog can skijor, but 35lbs and larger will be more successful pulling you.
- Harness: A pulling harness is very important. Using a neck collar can injure your dog!
- Tether: A line from the harness to your waist should include a bungee. Running can use a 6' line, skiing needs 9' to account for the speed and ski tips.
- Waist Belt: A proper skijoring belt is nice, but you can start with a simple fanny pack or rock climbing harness. Just ensure the belt is wide enough to cover several of your vertebrae on your back.
- Standard skate ski equipment is used for racing, but touring skis work just fine for recreational skijoring. Never skijor with metal edge skis.
- Start in a simple and controlled situation to set your dog up for success.
- Train with others. Having another dog to chase or starting out in a two dog team can help many reluctant dogs learn to pull.
- Help your dog know when it’s OK to pull and when they should heel. Pulling is OK only when in harness. Don’t walk your dog in their harness. Don’t let your dog know it’s OK to pull on leash.
- Vary the lessons. Dogs are easily bored.
- Failure is ALWAYS the Skijorers fault, ALWAYS. Never blame the dog. Just step back and try a different approach.
- Don't over communicate. When you do speak you want your dog to listen. It's better to make one strong correction than 25 weak ones.
- Dogs need training, too. Ease your dog into longer runs.
- Start training off-season, on days that are fairly cool. It’s much easier to control your dog on foot than on skis. Be careful not to over heat your dog.
- Always give your dog water immediately following your workout. Feed only after completely cooled down.
- Keep "lessons" short so that you end on a good note.
- Have fun! That's all your dog really wants.
If you've watched and old western on TV you probably know some of these commands already. Resist the temptation to make up your own commands as these words/sounds are the product of generations of people working with animals. Your dog has it's best chance of learning using these commands, and will respond better when other skiers are using the same commands.
Hike or Let's Go: Start running
Harness your dog and attach a bungee to the harness. Have a partner about 100 feet away with treats. Give a countdown, "5-4-3-2 -1- Hike" and have your dog run to the partner with the treat. Turn around and do it again. Progress to eliminate the treats and partner. Four or five times per day for a week or so and your dog will be anxious to blast off when you say "Hike"
Whoa: Stop (Pronounced "WŌ”)
Use a skijoring towline attached to the harness to help quickly slow to a stop (use a skijoring belt if it helps.) This is a very important command. When you say "WHOA" your dog must stop. By the way, many have found the word “whoa” naturally comes out of the mouth while falling. How convenient!
Gee: Turn Right
Haw: Turn Left
Start with obvious turns like trails that only turn one way. Give the command just as you approach the turn (gee & haw mean turn now, not turn after some distance. Be sure to use it that way.) Reinforce the commands while walking your dog.
Easy: Slow down
Rather than stopping your dog as with whoa, slow your dog, but don’t stop. This command could be handy as you approach a sharp turn or steep downhill.
On-By: Run by another team
Probably the toughest command to teach, because as we all know, dogs love to check out other dogs. This will be used while passing other teams to avoid tangles and skirmishes. Also handy when an unexpected deer or rabbit springs across your path. Have a friend with a dog walk in the opposite direction you are traveling on the trail. When you meet them, give the "ON BY" command to your dog. If your dog goes on by, say "ON BY, GOOD DOG." If your dog stops, immediately give a stern "ROVER, NO" and then encourage your dog to move forward with "HIKE" OR LET’S GO". If she moves forward, say ", GOOD DOG." If your dog does not move forward, pull the dog crisply by the collar in the right direction. As soon as your dog returns to pulling in front of you, give an "ON BY, GOOD DOG" command.
Line Out: Stand still
Approach as you would for “Stay”. You may find as you harness your dog and set them in font of you, they may want to come back to visit or worse yet, would like to take off! Start with dog in harness with towline secured to tree or fence. Walk your dog out until the towline becomes slightly tight. Give the “LINE OUT” command. Walk behind your dog a short distance and for a short time. Praise your dog for staying put, correct of your dog moves out of position. Increase the time and distance. After your dog masters this, combine with the Hike command for hassle-free starts.
- During the warm summer months focus on having fun.
- Dogs need to ease into training just as much as you do. Don't overdo it.
- Watch out for over heating, especially with Northern breeds. Hydrate!
- Practice commands all season.
- Off season 'joring Activities
- Canicross: Running with your dog is a no brainer. A shorter 6' bungie line/leash works well. A more simple waist belt is common. Still use a harness!
- Bikejoring: Not for the fait of heart or poorly trained dog. Research this before starting to ensure safety for you and your dog.
- Scootering: A scooter has two wheels and allows you to stand or kick while maintaining a low center of gravity.
- A good rule of thumb is to avoid two "hard days" in a row. Many dogs will over-train themselves if allowed.
- Vary your trails and routine a bit. Dogs can become bored.
- Remember, dogs don't understand "training". They love to run and play, structure your training accordingly.
OK, so you've been getting the hang of this Skijoring thing for a while now and the racing idea pops into your head. But you think, "I can't do that, I don't have a clue what to do in a race". Don't worry, be happy. Make sure you are familiar with the local official rules. In addition, we've listed some pointers that should help you get through your first race with a smile on your face (although we can't guarantee your rear will be dry!)
Before the Race
- Spectate a race first, without your dog. Observe what's going on, talk to people. Skijoring races are usually held early in the day, well before noon, so go early enough so you can talk to skijorers that are not immediately trying to get ready for a race. Most people are more than willing to talk about this sport and why not, we love it! In fact, you more than likely will have a hard time getting people to shut up. Skijorers are typically the ones in the "mushers lot" with minivans & cars as opposed to the pickups with dog boxes. However, you can also look for some of the larger teams that do race in the skijoring races as well, and are more than willing to talk to you when thy are free to do so.
- Most races are run by XC Skiing groups or Sled Dog Racing group. One group wears lycra and drives Subaru's, the other wears Carharts and drives pickup trucks. Both groups are friendly.
- You may be tempted to bring your dog to these races. It's OK if you wish to fit your dog with a harness that are often sold (more so on Saturday), but otherwise leave your pooch at home, or in the car after the fitting is done. It's just too risky to have non-participating dogs around.
- Make sure you have the necessary equipment: Proper harness for the dog(s), a belt at least 3 inches wide for yourself, neckline between 2 dogs, a towline (about 10 feet long) with bungie & quick release (required), skis (no metal edges) skate or classic
- Know if your dog will pass or be passed without nipping at the other team (a dog fight on skis, or anytime, is not good!) Work on these things before you race.
- Learn your dogs digestive pattern so you can feed the dog at the right time, and he/she can do their duty before the race. Stopping for mother nature is not conducive to good times, nor helpful for following skiers.
Prepare and pack water and special treats for your dogs. They will have expended a lot of energy and the need to restore that energy. Plan to feed after about a half an hour after the race or after the dogs have cooled down (some dogs may vomit if fed too soon.) You may also want to spike the water with something to make the water tastier (tuna water) or if you're feeding regular food, soak the food before hand, so they get the water they need.
- Know your Trail Etiquette
- Call "Trail" to warn the person ahead that you're passing.
- If you are passed, typically you must wait for a time or some distance before repassing. Check your local rules for details (snow plow if you must) to keep from repassing too soon.
- Be very careful while passing teams. Be mindful that your ski pole tips do not hit skijorers or dogs.
- Maintain at least a 20 foot distance behind a team as long as you do not intend to pass the team. Passing rules do not apply to the last 1/2 mile commonly referred to as "no-man's land. However, common sense and safety always prevail.
- Do not enter a dog in a race if your dog is a fear-biter or an aggressive dog. At no time must the safety of dogs or people be at risk.
- Disciplining your dog is not allowed at a race, or any time you are out with your dogs in public. You are an "ambassador" for the skijoring community so be aware of what you say or do and what or how you correct your dog and how it will be perceived.
Day before the Race
Go to the Musher's meeting. Learn about any rule changes that apply to the race (if you can't make the meeting, get to the race extra early on race day to get the information.) The Official time will be announced (set your watch to this time. The start time is based on the official time.) The condition of the trail and it's layout will be discussed.
- Give your dogs two rest days before a race.
- Pick up the race sheet (look for what seems to be the headquarters for the race, otherwise ask). It gives the race order and what your chute number, chute time and start time is.. You need to know what you chute number and time is, so you can be staged properly. The race officials worry more about your start time. Each team will start at their assigned time. Typically, one team will start every minute.
- Be sure you know what the official race time is, so you will be at your designated chute on time (don't assume this time will your watch, that may be finely attuned to the Atomic clock match what you think the correct time is!)
- Wear your race bib (must be visible, not under your coat.)
- Know who is to be in front and behind you, so you know where your place is (sometimes people are over anxious and get in the chute early and that person may actually be scheduled to be behind you.) Race official will help get you properly situated.
- Get people to help you bring your team up to the chute. You should know your dogs and know how they handle crowds, know how they handle other dogs and strangers (men-vs-women-vs-kids.) Time your arrival at the chute in accordance to your dogs anxiety level and how they handle it. If you have a timid dog don't grab a large lumberjack as a handler.
- Offer to handle for someone else. Often, some one helping you may need help later. Or better yet, help someone early and maybe they can help you later! ask if they need help which dog they want you to handle Help and/or the offer to help is always appreciated. Drivers will tell you exactly what to do and how to hold the dog (the big teams have experienced dogs that have been there many times and basically know where the starting line is and its a job just to keep them in position and from starting the race too soon.)
- Your dogs will get marked with paint on the 1st day by someone at the chute, it may be on the leg, body or face (it will come off eventually.) They may do it quickly, this is again where a fear biter could be a problem.
Use equipment that has worked during training.
- Use dogs that have run together as a team in training or that you know will run together.
After the Race
- Proper handling of your dog after a race can help your dog recover faster from the race. This can make a big difference in your dog's performance the second day.
- Water the dogs (often spiking the water with something may encourage more drinking (tuna water for example.) Make sure your dog likes spiking solution and the solution agrees with your dog before the race.)
- Feed after about a half an hour after the race or after the dogs have cooled down (some dogs may vomit if fed too soon.)
- Beware of "brown klister". Dog doo can really slow you down if you get it on the bottom of your ski, and it 's not likely to come off by itself!
- Most important race tip of all: HAVE FUN.