Try skijoring with your dog this winter
In the summer, our dogs can run, hike, play ball, swim, kayak. We can take them to outside training classes and join them in dog sports. The outside activities we can enjoy with our dogs are numerous. But, it's mid-January now. The outside temperatures are down and wind chill factors are up. It's cold, icy and snowing. It's time for winter dog sports. One of these winter dog sports is skijoring.
According to the AKC, vetstreet.com and doggiesport.com, skijoring is derived from the Norwegian word for "ski driving." It's cross-country skiing with a dog. This sport involves one to two dogs, a pair of skis and a pulling harness. It's also described as a mushing activity, consisting of one or two dogs towing someone while he's skiing behind them.
Learning this sport is a step by step process for you and your dog. Like any other dog sport, skijoring takes patience and training. Obedience training is a must in order to be safe. Your dog should respond consistently to fundamental obedience commands in order to go on the trails. Also, you and your dog must take the time to learn the mushing commands and practice the skills involved in skijoring. If your dog loves to run in the snow and you love cross-country skiing, this may be your sport.
Doggiesport.com recommends five steps to follow if you are interested in skijoring with your dog.
The first step is to talk with your veterinarian before starting skijoring or any other dog sport. Make sure the sport is safe and appropriate for your dog. To get into skijoring, "dogs must be fully grown, medium-sized and fit," according to Sacha Parent, author of doggiesport.com.
It's essential for dogs participating in this sport to be able to withstand cold temperatures while running in the snow for long periods of time. Since the dog's job on the trail is to run and pull, strength, stamina and energy are important traits for a dog to have in skijoring.
Dogs who are natural pullers and runners are generally well-suited for skijoring and include the athletic mixed breeds: Alaskan and Siberian Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds, German Shorthaired Pointers, Border Collies, Greyhounds and Golden and Labrador retrievers.
The second step to enjoying skijoring is for you to know how to cross-country ski. You must be good at cross-country skiing alone before you start skijoring with your dog. Lessons for you may be a good idea.
The third step to follow for successful participation in skijoring with your dog, according to doggiesport.com, is to have the right gear for the sport. This includes ski essentials including skis, poles, boots and outdoor clothing for you. Paw protection, wax or dog boots and poop bags for your dog. Other equipment includes an appropriate dog harness, towline and hip belt. Food and water are also items to take along.
According to Sacha Parent, "everything should be based on your dog's needs and conditions ... the equipment he will wear while skijoring must be comfortable and convenient for him to pull you on trails."
The fourth step for successful skijoring is for you and your dog to master skijoring voice cues -- this is in addition to mastering obedience training. These voice cues may include: "Hike, Go or Mush, (start running); Stop, (complete stop); Easy (slow down; Gee or Right (turn right); Haw or Left (turn left); and Leave It or On By (ignore distractions)." These cues are how you maintain control over your dog while he is pulling you.
Step 5, according to doggiesport.com, is for you and your dog to head out and enjoy skijoring on the trails.
Sacha Parent notes, "Skijoring is not an easy sport to get into" and recommends starting slowly and improve gradually. "It's your responsibility to respect you and your dog's limits and conditions. You have to let him build up stamina and improve your skills together. Then, you can gradually step up the difficulty, intensity or length of your skijoring adventures."
Your dog needs to be comfortable with his equipment and the trails need to be pet-friendly. Skijoring is an intense workout for you and your dog, so bring enough drinking water and take frequent breaks. You also need to make sure the weather conditions are safe, considering the temperature and snow.
It's also extremely important to remember skijoring is a team sport. You have to be active on your skis, helping your dog to move forward.
"Letting him tow you without putting any effort is not safe. It will put too much strain on his back and increase the risks of injury," notes Sacha Parent.
There are all sorts of winter activities we can do with our dogs. A winter walk in the snow with our dogs is great exercise. Bundle up and go out. It's a great way to enjoy being with your dog.
This column is for informational purposes only.
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