How To Cross Country Ski With Alaskan Malamutes

Skijoring: Cross Country Skiing with Dogs

Skijoring is actually bikejoring only on skis! It is yet another great sport that you can participate in with one dog or several. Your dog does not have to be malamute or another arctic breed. Actually any dog breed will do as long as they are thrilled by pulling/working and they happen to love the snow!

In order to skijor properly with your dog though, as in all things, you need to know the basics before attempting this sport. You also need the proper equipment - for you and for Fido - and you need to have an idea of what you are getting into BEFORE you hit the trails.

The basic concept of skijoring is that the human part of this equation (the skier/that's you) has on cross country skis and uses poles while the canine part of this equation (the dog or dogs) has on a harness and a skijor line (also called sometimes a tugline or a towline) runs between you. Together, you perform a delicate ballet of cross country skiing while your dog or multiple dogs pull you on trails made specifically for dog teams and other users. If the dog loves to run and to pull, and equally loves the snow, you have the makings for a spectacular ride!

Public Domain photo
Public Domain photo


WHAT YOU NEED FOR SKIJORING


For The Human Part

  • Skis - almost any kind will work but most use cross country, skate or diagonal stride skis
  • As recommended by ASPA - metal edged skis can be dangerous to the dog so would avoid these at all costs
  • Boots fit to the skis and bindings - proper to the ski you are using

  • Gaiters or overboots/insulated boots for extremely cold weather
  • Poles appropriate to the size of the skier, conditions and type of skis
  • Skijor belt (see many sources for purchase) - most have leg straps that come up around your thighs and the belt connects to the skijor line by a quick release or caribiner
  • Skijor lines - most have a bungee section and a tugline (or towline). The bungee portion absorbs shock for both the dog and you and the tugline has a loop at one end of it and a snap at the other. It connects the bungee to the dog harness and may be split into a Y in the event that you were running 2 dogs side by side. There are also more variations for more than 2 dogs
  • Neckline - only if you are running 2 dogs side by side or more than 2 dogs. I call ours a chin strap - it keeps 2 dogs together so that they are running side by side or you can use the neck line to attach a single dog to the main line - these can be regular or bungee
  • Sleds - for the super serious - you can pull a sled either between dogs and skier or behind the skier
  • Appropriate clothing for conditions - preferably always waterproof - such as pants, coat, parka, hat, gloves, goggles. Also a small pack or fanny pack to carry essentials such as ID, cell phone, etc.

For The Canine Part

  • Standard sled dog racing harness. Sleddog.com is recommending a harness called the Guard Harness working best with skijoring. Check that out on their website
  • Booties if appropriate (severe icy conditions or long, rugged treks)
  • Dog coats, crotch bands or belly blankets again if extreme conditions
  • Food, treats, water depending on situation and duration of trip

Before You Hit The Trails - About The Sport

  • Specific trails are designated for dog use.  Always make sure that you investigate which trails are appropriate for dog use.  There are many reasons for this and it is imperative that skijoring be kept to those trails and not trails used for nordic skiing.  It is easy to find trails by investigating through your local forestry service, on the internet, guidebooks, or even through REI or other sporting stores.
  • Stay on the same side of the trail as your dogs - it is dangerous to everyone to take up both sides of a trail
  • The person with the most dogs has the right away!  Always yield it
  • Skijor in the direction of the travel as if you do not, you will be going against traffic and it can cause problems
  • Be alert for wild animals at all times, motorized vehicles, other mushers, skiers, etc
  • Your dogs must be under control at ALL TIMES
  • Do not ever turn your dogs loose no matter how well behaved you feel they are
  • When coming up behind another person on the trail yell something before you pass them.  Be patient with other people and be polite as they may not be totally sure of what you or your dogs intend
  • If there is poor light, wear reflective clothing or a headlamp
  • Take EXTRA precautions if your dog is a lunger or a snapper - it is not fair to other people or other dogs to not keep every dog under control
  • Keep plastic doggie bags with you at all times and leave the trails as you found them - pack it in and pack it out
  • Remember to pay any fees for using trails

Skijoring - Sport For Any Dog That Will Pull and Loves Snow

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Pictures by Audrey Kirchner
Pictures by Audrey Kirchner
Pictures by Audrey Kirchner

Mushing Commands

The actual words are not essential but this gives the flavor of what they should know. We train our malamutes on a scooter just walking behind it with them in full harness and on the tugline with a chin strap on. It is imperative that the dog or dogs know the commands and will obey the commands before you take them into a REAL situation as it can turn ugly without proper training. You can find this information in a bit different form on many sites including sleddog.com.

Remember - it is not important the exact verbiage you are using - it is the consistency of the commands and the fact that they know them without fail that makes any urban mushing activity a success!

  • Whoa or Stop - You would be snowplowing and your dog must stop until you give the command to go
  • Wait - Much like above although it serves as a reminder that you have not said go yet
  • Hike , Let's Go, Let's Go Girls, Giddyup , Okay - All of these mean it's time to move out
  • Gee - Turn to the right
  • Haw - Turn to the left
  • Keep On, On By, Straight Ahead, Leave It - All these mean that no matter what is happening about them as you pass or you see something coming towards you, they pay no attention to it and keep on running straight ahead. Leave It is also a great command for many things when you want them to avoid being distracted
  • Come - The basic - you want the dog to come back to you if he or she gets away
  • Good Dog , Good Girl , Good Boy - No brainer here - they thrive on being rewarded verbally for obeying any command so use it liberally and often
  • Easy - I use this for a multitude of things I want my malamutes to obey. It can encompass slowing down and easing up on a trail or a road because there is a bit of danger or something not quite right - or it can be used to get them to slow down while you are walking them down stairs to avoid being dragged - space it out and say it slowly to get their complete attention and when you decide it is okay to quit being easy, you simply say 'okay' or let's go

More Advanced Commands

  • Pick It Up , Get Up , Hike Up - Usually when an incline is involved or you want the dog to go faster, pick up the pace
  • Line Out - You want the line straight and tight out in front of you. Mushers use this to avoid tangles with the dogs in the line and it is easier to start with the dogs this way
  • Wait, Sit, Stay - Your basics but it means that they should not be pulling - works for starting so they do not prematurely take off or if you have fallen and are attempting to get back up
  • Come Haw, Come Gee - These are used to turn dogs around in a 180-degree fashion when there is no other way to turn them. If you want to use these commands, you should be on the other side of the trail when you issue them. Move to the left side of the trail for example and give the Come Gee command. Your body should be blocking the other way of turning

Any words will work - as long as you understand your intentions with the word or phrase, and THE DOG understands it - practice, practice practice!

When The Snow Has Melted

You can still train in the off season when there is no snow. Bikejoring is the closest thing to skijoring but things like rollerblading and scootering are other cross-training sports and uses the same equipment for the dog. The human counterpart may need more in terms of equipment and protection but the commands are basically the same and all the rules apply as for skijoring.

Some mushers also train their dogs with a 4-wheeler and that seems to be a good alternative for teaching some of the tougher commands.

As in all things, practice makes perfect and spend the time with your dog or dogs to assure that they are well behaved and that they know what to do when you issue a command. That can save you a lot of grief and any number of bad experiences. Reinforce those commands when you are doing everyday things with the dog or dogs. Use the commands exiting the house or the car, putting their food down. Issue the commands walking past people on the street or sidewalk.  Take them everywhere and anywhere and make sure that they are WELL socialized.

Never tolerate ANY amount of aggression from your dog toward people or other dogs. If you are having trouble with your dog's behavior, make sure you consult an obedience trainer and make sure you take steps to get that under control. As in raising children, training a dog is an ongoing work-in-progress kind of deal and without adults taking the time to teach them properly, they can only do what they discern to be best in a situation be it good or bad!  I am a firm believer that there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. It is our job as with children to teach them in the way that they should go.

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Comments 10 comments

Dubuquedogtrainer profile image

Dubuquedogtrainer 4 years ago from Dubuque, Iowa

Interesting - voted up! I appreciate the videos. This is something I have been thinking of doing with my two - I would just have to hang on for dear life because they are both very strong and athletic!


pooilum profile image

pooilum 4 years ago from Malaysia

This is real good. Never knew it can be done like that. Voted up. Please have a look at my hubpages.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Wavecritter - not sure what drew me to the mals but they are really special dogs...must be all that thinking they make me do in trying to train them! Thanks so much for enjoying a bit of my life...one of the very best parts.


Wavecritter profile image

Wavecritter 5 years ago from Cocoa Beach

Awesome video with your Malamutes ... I always say fun is the best thing to have .... you certainly grab fun =) Thanks for sharing Skijoring With Malamute, awesome! Lovely calendars on your lulu site as well: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/AudreyKirchner


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks for stopping by notcycloptak - you are pretty funny for a son! I see Denaya has been on the phone again to you complaining about her substandard status....you can come here any time though and give her the love she is missing! ha ha Thanks for the read!


notcycloptak 6 years ago

I really enjoyed the hub but the poofy haired dog...Griffy? He seems to get all the love. Go Neya


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Despereaux - you can't have too many hubs on skijoring - but then I guess I'm a wee bit prejudiced! No worries - you should still do one! No matter what we do, we all have our own individual style and my dogs are unique in their own ways just as yours will be too! I'll watch for your hubs on mals and huskies! You are right - they rule!


despereaux profile image

despereaux 6 years ago from Madison, WI

What a great hub! I was thinking about writing about skijoring, and of course the expert hubbers say to check out if someone has already written a good one. You certainly have. So many hubs are just obvious aggregations of stuff anyone could find on the Internet, with the author adding little. It is clear that you actually skijor with your dogs. What a well written and informative hub. I'll have to find a different way to impart something interesting about my Husky and Malamute experiences. Pictures and video were great too! Huskies and Malamutes rule!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks~! I should not be having such huge dogs at 'my age' and Bob is even older! What are we thinking? But we are so in love with this breed as they are so social and SO misunderstood. They are just wonderful dogs and little Griffin is proving to be the heart throb of the century for both of us. I'm still not sure if I can physically do the skijoring but am going to give it a whack - my scootering experience and my rollerblading with them was not too cool! But the snowshoeing definitely is a keeper and think at the very least that will be doable even for 2 old folks like us! Thanks so much for the kudos....keep in touch. Audrey


BEAUTYBABE profile image

BEAUTYBABE 6 years ago from QUEENSLAND AUSTRALIA.

Hi Audrey,

Well this is one I have never heard of before now. I know all about skijoring now. I have always thought these dogs were truly a magificant breed and you have proven that today, especially in this hub. I have learned so much more than I ever knew before, thank you for this information. I especially loved the videos, very informative as well. God Bless BB

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