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!
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 SnowClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
You Can Buy Books And Equipment Here On Amazon
More Supplies and Sources
There's Never A Wish Better Than This - Training First With Snow Shoeing
Great Video On Skijoring Experience
Great Video On Skijoring For All Breeds
Skijoring With Malamute
Says It All - Five For Fighting - 100 years
Great Sources of Information for Skijoring
- Skijoring - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- All About Skijoring
- Skijoring Introductory Page - Cross Country Skiing with Your Dog
Skijoring is cross-country skiing with one or more dogs. This page introduces the activity and links to some local and distant resources.
Sources For Equipment And Information
- Skijoring.com, skijoring with your dog, how to skijor, skijoring equipment, where to skijor
- Sled Dog Central - Skijoring Information
- "Skijor Now, your source for skijoring, canicross and bikejoring equipment and information"
- Black Ice Dog Sledding Equipment
- NE Outfitters
- Skijoring Equipment
Nooksack Racing Supply - Dog Sled equipment and dog sports equipment for Novices and Professionals
- More Skijoring Equipment
- Skijoring Equipment and more
Make dog exercise equipment for skijoring, bikejoring, rollerjoring, dog scootering, canicross and more
The Guard Harness
- Guard Harness for Skijoring Product Review
Welcome to Sled Dog Central, your online sled dog information and advertising source. The focus of this site is to provide uptodate information on all disciplines of sled dog sports including news, musher interviews, race schedules and results and fe
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