Adventure is out there, and our dogs make it better.
Did you know there’s an activity that combines the thrill of high-speed snow skiing with the joy of walking your canine companion? (No, we promise it’s not too good to be true.) This sport is called skijoring, and it’s growing in popularity throughout the United States!
Here’s your ultimate guide to skijoring with dogs: What is it, who might enjoy it, and how do you and your best friend get started?
At its simplest, skijoring is a winter sport where a skier is pulled by a horse, dog, or even a motor vehicle. It combines the velocity of downhill skiing with the more approachable terrain of its cross-country counterpart.
Skijoring has roots in dog sledding traditions, though no one is sure exactly how it all began. Here’s a high-level timeline of some important moments:
You can find pet-owner teams enjoying modern dog skijoring in any environment that gets enough snow.
Many hobbyists have embraced skijoring for a few reasons:
Recreational skijoring typically uses a classic skiing technique (similar to walking) that might vary from team to team. There are no hard-and-fast rules to casually enjoy the sport!
Dog skijoring competitions, on the other hand, are more structured environments where teams race around a track. Here’s what they look like in the United States:
While skijoring originated as a means of quickly covering long distances between mining sites or hunting traps, it’s now mostly about having fun with our canine companions.
Anyone who has ever loved a dog can tell you how magical it is to spend time with these amazing animals – and cooperative activities allow us to feel even more connected.
While dog-owner teams of all shapes and sizes can come to enjoy this adventurous sport, some find it more natural than others.
Skijoring isn’t like running a marathon or entering a powerlifting competition (phew!) but it does require skiers to be in reasonably good shape. While the amount of exertion depends in part on how successfully your dog can pull you, balance and general strength are important regardless of your companion’s size.
On top of the core and leg muscles required for successful skijoring, you’ll also need to have ample time to work with your dog!
In general, dogs above 35 pounds have the greatest success pulling their owners on skis – but smaller canines can skijor as long as their humans are willing to provide more additional power.
While dogs in the working and sporting groups tend to enjoy running and pulling more than others (northern breeds and pointers are often particularly adept) each dog is an individual. It’s less about what breed your dog is and more about whether they’d really enjoy the activity. Even your toy poodle can give the sport a go if you’re both excited about it!
If you have a puppy, you should wait until their bones and joints are fully grown before encouraging them to do any intense exercise. This can mitigate the risk of hip dysplasia and other injuries down the line!
“Full grown” can vary a bit from breed to breed (your veterinarian will be able to help you make the right decision). In general, it’s safe to give your dog more rigorous exercise around 1.5-2 years of age.
To skijor successfully, your dog needs to be agile enough to run through snow and strong enough to pull some of your weight while they do it. Here’s how to see if they’re up to the task:
Skijoring might sound a little overwhelming at first – but if you’re willing to put yourself out there, you and your dog can be charging through the snow (or maybe even racing around a track) in no time!
Overview of the gear required to skijor, especially highlighting the importance of a harness meant specifically for pulling
Most flat terrain is a good option for skijoring, provided there’s enough snow cover – but many cross-country skiing spots (both official tracks and nature loops) either don’t allow dogs entirely or restrict them to certain times. Chances are you’ll have the best luck with multi-use, dog-friendly trails or fields!
Can’t find any public parks well-suited to your new hobby? You might be able to find a Sniffspot that’s perfect for skijoring practice. Some of our hosts provide private areas that are plenty big enough to give it a go.
A little respect goes a long way. Here’s how you and your dog can practice proper skijoring etiquette:
It’s particularly important to be polite in shared public spaces. When we give our canine companions a good name, more environments stay dog friendly!
New things can be a little uncomfortable – especially to our dogs. We can’t explain to them what skijoring is all about verbally, so it’s only fair we take things slow to make sure they’re ready to hit the snow with us!
If your dog is already comfortable wearing a harness, they might adjust to a skijoring setup more quickly – but it’s still important not to push them too far. Here’s what to do:
Many dogs have never been around skis or poles. Here are some tips to see how they feel:
Skijoring is a blast – but it can also be dangerous. The sport’s high-speed nature demands clear communication between you and your dog!
Your best friend should know how to:
Even if they don’t specialize in skijoring, a good force free trainer will be able to help you teach your dog some key sport skills. A private lesson program might be the perfect fit – each session will be tailored to your individual dog and goals!If you don’t have access to an in-person trainer in your area, you might consider ways to get involved virtually by following hashtags like #skijoring on Instagram or finding a pet professional who offers video lessons.
Today, most dog owners start skijoring simply because it’s something new to do with their companions. If your goal is nothing but fun, that’s fantastic!
You might be interested in actually entering a skijoring competition, though, and that’s really cool too. They’re the cousins of sled dog races: high-speed cooperation between human and dog with more of your own power added in.
The best thing you can do before committing is spend some time at competitive skijoring events (without your dog at first). This will help you see if you and your pup would enjoy the environment – and give you the opportunity to chat with people invested in the sport!
What matters most is enjoying the time we get to spend with our pets.
It’s okay to adjust our goals over time. Maybe your dog will be a complete natural – and you’ll realize competing would be a blast! Or maybe you’ll scrap your skijoring race dreams because they feel like too much pressure. (After all, while competing together can be a great joy, it’s good to remember our pets have no concept of track awards or prize pots.)
If you don’t have access to frozen terrain but love the idea of skijoring, don’t worry – you can still experience the thrill!
Consider similar sports like canicross (your dog pulls you while you run) or bikejoring (they pull you on your bike). These are great fun on their own and make perfect skijoring practice in the off season. If you ever do find yourself in the ideal winter environment, you and your best friend will be ready to go!
Similar equipment and health needs apply to canicross and bikejoring. You won’t need skis, but you’ll still need a harness that’s safe for your dog to pull into – and if you opt for the bike route, you’ll want to make sure your setup is secure.
As always, it’s important both you and your dog are feeling physically and mentally ready to tackle a new adventure.
If skijoring has piqued your interest (and pricked your dog’s ears) there’s no reason to hold back. With the right knowledge, attitude, and just a few pieces of equipment, anyone can give it a go!
Remember these top tips for a successful skijoring experience with your furry best friend:
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