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  • Want to Slide, but hate to leave Fido at home?
    Try Skijoring!

    By Anne Greenwood

    Photo courtesy Debbie McMasterSkijoring (SKI-juring) is a Norwegian word meaning "ski-driving". In the sport of Skijoring a cross-country skier utilizes a dog as a draft animal.

    Skijoring began hundreds of years ago as a means of transportation without a sled for quick travel. Today, it is a growing sport. There are both recreational and racing Skijoring clubs offering Skijoring races worldwide. The races are generally broken into men, women, and Jr. races, with one or two dog teams competing in 5K, 10K, or 15K sprints. Speeds of 20 mph are common.

    Skijoring is not "being towed"; it is instead an act of balance and analysis. The dog/skier relationship is similar to a horse/jockey relationship in that the skier tries to free the dog, allowing it to either reach its maximum speed for racing or to maintain a slower speed for long distances.

    Dogs have the natural gifts of enthusiasm, loyalty, and a high strength to weight ratio. They also pull instinctively. Each breed displays different qualities with separate advantages. A large dog with wide paws and a thick coat may cover many miles slowly, whereas a sleek, fast dog can easily outrun a larger dog but may lack endurance. The northern breeds such as Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Samoyeds have been bred to run and live in the snow. They have large, tough feet, which can withstand long runs on rough, icy trails.

    Non-northern breeds such as Retrievers, Labradors, and Shepherds may be fine choices as well, but only if some fore-care is given. The long hair between some breeds paw pads can lead to "snowballing", a painful condition that can cause long-term paw injury. The common fore-care is to trim the hair between the pads back. Snowballing on the ears can lead to frostbite if not attended to. An average of 40 pounds is considered a good rule of thumb. A smaller dog may not have the strength required to pull a skier. Other than a general size requirement, the other required canine quality is a charming personality. One that is eager and willing to work with a human skier. A dog that gets along with other dogs and is not overly distracted by scents. Being attached to a dog that is not under your command is not only frightening, but also potentially dangerous.

    Photo courtesy Debbie McMasterTo get started in Skijoring, there are a few necessary equipment pieces:

    1.) A medium sized dog with a good attitude.

    2.) The skier needs cross-country skis and boots (poles are optional), either classic or skate type of ski will do. The skier also needs a comfortable waist belt 3" in diameter, or a climbing harness.

    3.) The dog needs a properly fitted harness, and a tether-line (tug-line) with a bungee section (to absorb shock). The tug line should be 7' to 12' long with a quick release snap for emergencies.

    The actual training and skills required to Skijor are always a work in progress. Balance and confidence are the basic skills. A good rapport with the dog is also fundamental. The commands for dog/skier communication are the same as for dogsledding:

    "Line-out" -get ready to go
    "Let's go" -head down the trail
    "Gee" -right turn
    "Haw" -left turn
    "On by" -go straight, pass a team or pass a distraction
    "Trail" -alerting another team you'll be passing
    "Whoa" -stop

    For information on technique and training, the book, "Skijor With Your Dog" by Carol Kaynor and Mari Hoe-Raitt, is an invaluable resource. In the North Lake Tahoe area, the Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Center in Tahoe City, offers lessons and races for beginners through advanced Skijorers. They can be contacted at or by calling 530-583-5475. For more information on Skijoring look online at:

    Take Fido out to play, today!

    Note: Skijoring, even with a skilled dog, is not for young children. The recommendation is for kids over twelve to work with a skilled dog. Prior ski experience is also needed.

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