Winter can be long, and on days when the snow is falling, it can be hard to find something new and fun to do outside with your pet.
I have been cross-country skiing for the past 4 years and just got a new dog this fall. He is an overly energetic pup who loves running and was going stir crazy on our slow paced winter walks.
I love getting out into the mountains all year round and hate the thought of leaving my dog home on days when I go ski training or photographing.
So, I started to learn about Skijoring, which is cross-country skiing with your dog. With such beautiful mountain parks close by, and many dog-friendly parks inside the city, snow days are now go days for Skye and I.
Step 1: Learn to cross-country ski
I recommend taking a course with the University of Calgary Outdoor Center. They have some amazing programs for all levels. I may be a little biased because that is who I learned through, but any way you choose to learn is fine as long as you make sure you have the skills to control YOU, so you are confident and can be a safe anchor for your pet. For more Skiing tips, here is a great Calgary blog about getting started with cross- country skiing: Cross Country Ski Technique http://crosscountryskitechnique.com/category/getting-started-cross-country-skiing/
Step 2: Buy proper gear for your dog
This is very important because a proper fitting harness will make it more enjoyable for your dog, eliminate sores, and give your pup free range of motion. The type of harness you need is for recreational skijoring. Do not use a regular walking harness or your dog’s car harness; these are not designed for this type of activity. Many specialty dog stores or outdoor sport stores sell Skijoring starter kits, which will work perfectly. I recommend you take your dog to try on a few and see what the store recommends. I have a harness through the Cana Dog website (http://www.canadog.ca/), but Canmore and Lake Louise have a few stores where you can get your gear, such as Adventure Dog Outfitters (http://www.snowyowltours.com/adventure-dog-outfitters/ ). A Skijoring
harness is great for all kinds of sports activities like cycling and running with your dog, so it is a good investment.
You will also need:
A strong leash that is roughly 8 feet, or a bungee leash.
Some simple soft cloth booties for those colder days and to keep the ice out of
A hands free waste belt for you to attach to the dog.
See in the Gallery - a Photo of my gear, Skye saw me taking it out for this post and decided he needed to be involved in the photo:
*Weather* Skye does not need a hat but your dog might need a coat. Dress your dog appropriately for the conditions and their breed. Stay home if it is below -15 degrees Celsius, at those temperatures Skijoring is not much fun for either of you.
Step 3: Start training your dog
Your dog should be over 1 year old, in good health and active. They could be born to run or just enjoy plodding along, either way is fine, as long as your dog is in good enough shape to go at least 2 kilometers with you at a moderate pace or matching your pace.
Teach your dog to keep up with you and pull out in front. Get them used to the harness by taking them for short walks then runs, where you practice going, stopping, andmaking turns. It is not necessary for your dog to pull, but they should be out front of you so they do not obstruct your polls. The polls have a sharp tips, be careful. If your dog tends to run beside instead of in front, try to encourage them to run up, because no one needs to go to the vet for a poll to the pawL
Try to make sure they don’t zig zag across in front of you, or stop suddenly, be diligent about correction, because that can equal a complete “yard sale” and possible injuries. Quick response to commands is key for your safety and theirs. When you first start out on skis keep the speeds slow and find level ground. Make your commands short and consistent. Do not over use a command, you will want to be quiet most of the time and only use a command when you need to. Skye has a fascination with birds and, bunnies, so we are working on his “ leave it” command to try to avoid being pulled at high speed into the tress. He is just over 1 year old, so his puppy brain sometimes wins over the rational brain. Once he snaps back to reality and sees me on the ground looking annoyed, he quickly comes to apologize.
If you are not sure what commands to use, it is best to teach your dog the true sled dog commands:
Hike: Get moving ("Mush" and "All Right" are sometimes also used).
Kissing sound: Speed up, faster.
Gee: Turn to the right.
Haw: Turn to the left.
Easy: Slow down.
On By: Pass another team or other distraction.
Use lots of praise and encouragement. Try not to get to upset and never punish them unless seriously warranted, this should be a fun activity for both of you. It can take months of training with your pet, so be patient. It wont always be perfect, but as long as you are safe, know the limits of your dogs abilities, and keep a smile on your face you are going to have a great day no matter how far you get. You can also sign up for Skijoring lessons, which I highly recommend. Once your dog knows the basics there are all kinds of skijoring variations that you can try out, such as: grassjoring, bikejoring, canicross...
Your first day out practicing may look something like this video posted by MrDg79 “Skijoring – A How- To tutorial” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfSFZsIV_9c, pure disaster, but you will get a ton of laughs!
You can also do this sport with horses and even a very adventurous cat. Check out this skijoring feline named Jasper from Norway https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7c6wgg1NNGM He has his own adventure blog too.
Step 4: Get out there - Find a dog friendly place to go
Not all parks and ski trails are pet friendly. So, check before you go. Typically, un- groomed multi-use areas that allow dogs are good places. There are also a few groomed trail areas that do allow dogs. P.S most parks are free! So, after you initial gear investment the cost of this sport is quite low.
Snow permitting you can ski with your dog in Calgary at Confederation Park. This is especially lovely during the holidays when they have the light display and Christmas music on. Another good place to go would be Nose Hill Park because it is very spacious. For a list of locations that are dog friendly in southern Alberta and British Columbia check out this page from the blog, Ski Here http://skierbob.ca/dog-friendly-ski-trails/
Be respectful of other trail users
I know that sometimes my dog Skye is having so much fun that he can’t contain himself and he just wants to share it with everyone around him. However, not all people and dogs think the same way, so be mindful.
Don’t wreck the classic ski tracks
Keep to the right when passing
Skiers coming downhill have the right of way.
Do not let your dog run at other skiers or cross
Be courteous and slow down to avoid collisions
Keep your pets on leash and under control
Pick up that poop! Could you imagine skiing over
it, or worse, falling in it?
*Do not forget to bring fresh water for you and your pet when you head out.
Step 5: HAVE FUN
Remember that recreational skijoring is for enjoyment, take breaks, look at the views, have a picnic, sniff some trees. Skye and I like to enjoy the many opportunities to photograph amazing winter landscapes. My one photography tip for this article is; to use a tough case for your camera gear to keep it safe, or do not bring your best equipment in case you bail on it ;)
Leave us a comment if you have any questions or add some of your own tips for future Skijors.
Happy Skijoring adventures everyone!
Check out our YouTube Video (Here) to see how all 5 steps come together!