What Is Dog Skijoring? A Pulling Sport You ‘Mush’ Check Out!

Updated on

One of the best ways to bond with your pet and ensure that they’re getting enough exercise is to exercise along with them. Dog sports can be a great way to get that exercise and while keeping your dog healthy and happy. One dog sport that has been gaining traction and popularity is Skijoring.

What is Skijoring? Similar to sled mushing, Skijoring is a dog sport which involves a dog pulling a skier with a tow line. The skier is traditionally on cross country skis. They are attached to either a single or team of dogs. Skijoring can be done recreationally or competitively. The word skijoring comes from the Norwegian word skikjøring, meaning ‘ski pulling’ or ‘ski driving’.

Mixing fun with exercise is always the best way to stay fit–for both yourself and your dog. Skijoring takes more than just tying a rope around yourself and your dog, however. Read on to see how you can get started with Skijoring and what equipment you’ll be needing. 

Skijoring Background and History

Interestingly, the first recorded use of dogs pulling skiers along was thousands of years ago. It was noticed by a Persian historian at the time when he was traveling through the Altai Mountains. Several hundred years later, Skijoring would make its way into the Nordic countries, then France, and eventually cross the Atlantic to become popular in the United States. 

However, it’s likely that the indigenous people in Alaska used Skijoring before it became popular among the elite. Instead of a sport in ancient times, people used dogs to help get them to their locations faster on skis. This likely helped them with trade and other professions. 

Today, Skijoring is primarily a sport. Besides dog Skijoring, horse skijoring has become just as popular. While there have been bids to include Skijoring into the Winter Olympics, the organization has yet to accept it. Despite that, there are many competitions held both nationally and internationally for dog Skijoring. 

Recreationally, pet owners enjoy going Skijoring with their dogs. It’s an opportunity to keep their dogs fit in winter and to encourage their obedience training. 

Getting Started with Skijoring

For those who are interested in trying out Skijoring for themselves, you’ll need to know how to ski first. Cross country skis are used for Skijoring. If you’ve never been cross country skiing before, then you should work on your balance and stamina. Your dog’s fitness level is just as important. Younger dogs with a lot of energy are the best pick for dog sports that require a lot of strength and stamina. 

Your training should begin with walking. They should be made comfortable being led in a single line and around other people and dogs. Since Skijoring takes place in winter, your dog should also be acclimated to the weather. Long-haired dogs fair better in colder temperatures and can stay outside for longer durations. Spend a few minutes outside during the winter to get your dog used to the cold. Add a few extra minutes each time to prepare them properly. 

Because they’ll be running in the snow, which is harder than just on the grass, their stamina is going to need to be increased. You can do this by adding weight to their leash and having them drag it. Eventually, the weight should add up to your own weight, so they’re comfortable with pulling something at that weight. 

Basic Commands

Commands also need to be taught to your dog. The essential commands that you need to teach your dog are Stop, Go, Slow, Haw (or left), Gee (or right), Leave It. You may also choose to give them instructional commands that can inform them about objects around them. These commands are Car, People, Bike, Cat, Squirrel, and so on.

The Skijoring Equipment – What Gear Is Needed?

With your training in hand, now you need the proper equipment to start advanced training. Your first purchase is going to be skis and poles. You might want to choose skis that have metal edges because it can help you stop better than those with other edges. However, there is a risk that you might injure your dog with the edges. If that’s a concern, then you can choose a pair of skis with a non-metal edge. That being said, metal edges do provide a bit more control than other edges. 

Next, you need a Skijor belt. This is the belt that the tow line will attach to. It’s what keeps you attached to the dogs. Next is the tow line and the neck line if you’re using multiple dogs. 

In terms of gear, you should get booties for your dogs. They’ll keep their paws protected from the cold snow and ice. Also, you should carry a small backpack where you can carry additional gear like water and a first aid kit. Goggles and other winter gear are necessary to keep you warm and safe, too!

Dog Skijoring Gear Checklist

  • Cross Country Skis and Poles
  • Skijor Belt
  • Tow Line
  • Neck Line (for multiple dogs)
  • Protective Dog Booties
  • Small Backpack
  • First Aid Kit

Best Skijoring Dog Breeds

Because Skijoring takes place in the winter, long-haired dogs are typically the best for the sport. Medium-sized dog breeds are also popular. This is because they’re capable of providing a lot of strength and speed. Smaller dogs aren’t necessarily prohibited but they typically don’t provide the same kind of speed or strength that Skijoring requires to be competitive. 

Some of the dog breeds that you should consider for your Skijoring adventures are Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Alaskan Huskies, Seppala Siberian Sled Dog, and even Golden Retrievers.

That being said, it isn’t uncommon to see Dalmatians, German Shorthaired Pointers, Greyhounds, Border Collies, and even German Shepherds on the Skijoring trail. Essentially, if your dog loves to run, doesn’t mind the cold, and is good with training, then they’re an excellent candidate for Skijoring. 

Where Can You Do Skijoring?

Now that you’re all ready to go, where can you actually start Skijoring? Because it takes place in winter, you have to wait until the proper season first. Once the snow hits the ground, however, you can do recreational Skijoring practically anywhere. The best place to do Skijoring is on uncovered hiking trails. Your skis perform better on untouched snow and it provides a challenge for your dogs to work their way through. 

There are also places where Skijoring is quite popular. Triple Creek Ranch in Montana, for example, hosts a lot of Skijoring competitions throughout the season. It’s a good place to start training your dogs, too, since there are a lot of veterans around who can offer advice. The Resort at Paw’s Up in Montana is another excellent place to begin training. They actually offer lessons for 12 guests in a single period. 

Not all resorts and ski venues like Skijoring, however. It’s a good idea to check the regulations of any local ski resorts nearby to determine what their policies are. In addition, you should try to stay away from snowmobile trails and paths. It can be difficult to hear them coming up behind you. This could cause an accident. Snowmobilers don’t always take too kindly to waiting behind a team of dogs either. 

In terms of competitions, Montana has the bulk of competitions throughout the year. However, there are other states like Michigan and Wisconsin that have started hosting Skijoring competitions. If you want a taste of international flair, then you can head up North to Winnipeg, Canada. For long-distance international competitions, you can find plenty of action in the Nordic countries. 

Related Questions

What other winter dog sports are there?

Besides Skijoring, there are other winter sports that your dog can participate in. Sled mushing is perhaps one of the most popular sports. There is also sled bobbing which involves a different sort of sled. You can also take your dog on certain snowshoe competitions and races. 

How long can a dog Skijor for?

Skijoring races can last anywhere from three miles to ten miles. However, some competitions are even looking for longer distances. How long your dog is capable of pulling their skier depends on their breed and fitness level. Long-haired dogs are better in colder temperatures. Fit dogs can last longer on the trail.