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Home > Dogs > Skijoring With Dogs 101: The Coolest Winter Sport for Humans and Their Dogs

Skijoring With Dogs 101: The Coolest Winter Sport for Humans and Their Dogs

dog skijoring with owner

Skijoring is a dog-powered sport heavily influenced by dog mushing. However, instead of requiring a sled and a pack of dogs, skijoring involves one or more dogs pulling a skier on cross-country skis. Think of skijoring as a leveled-up way to take your dog out for a walk, but instead, the tables are turned, and your dog will essentially be taking you out for a walk.

While some winter sports are best left to the Arctic dog breeds, skijoring is great because nearly any dog can participate. But because it is a sport, you still need to do some degree of training with your pup before heading out on the trails to try your hand at it.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this great recreational winter activity.

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How Does It Work?

The sport’s name, skijoring, comes from the Norwegian word skikjøring, which literally translates to “ski driving.” If we take away all the technicalities of the sport and look at what it is at its most basic, skijoring is simply pairing cross-country skiing with a towing agent. You don’t necessarily have to skijor with dogs; it can be done with horses, reindeer, or even motorized vehicles.

When skijoring, both the human and the dog wear harnesses that get connected with a tow line. The dog runs through the snow, pulling the human behind them. This sport can be done with just one dog or up to four.

Skijoring has been influenced by dog sledding, but there are no whips or reins involved at all, instead relying heavily on the enthusiasm of the pup. The human will supply some power with their skis and poles just as a normal cross-country skier would.

As with dog sledding, the dog is directed through voice commands that tell it when to stop, start, slow, and turn.

skijoring dog racing
Image By: travelarium.ph, Shutterstock

What Kind of Equipment Is Necessary for Skijoring?

Skijoring isn’t a sport you can do without the right equipment and gear.

Your dog will need a skijoring harness system and protection against the cold and snow. A high-quality skijoring kit should include a harness, a belt that goes around your hip, and a shock-absorbing towline that will attach your hip belt to your dog’s harness. Please note that a skijoring harness is not a classic collar or harness that you’d use for walking your dog. Instead, it’s a specialized piece of equipment designed specifically for the sport.

Your dog should be wearing booties at the bare minimum to protect it from snow and ice chunks. You might also wish to invest in a wax paw ointment to prevent any cracking or dryness from exposure to the elements. Depending on your dog’s breed and coat thickness, you might also want it to wear a warm jacket.

You will need a set of classic skis and poles, along with high-quality and warm winter boots that work with your ski bindings. In addition, you’ll want to wear proper clothing for winter adventuring, including base and mid layers, a wind-blocking outer layer, warm socks, a hat, and gloves.

Where Did Skijoring Originate?

The people of Scandinavia used skijoring as a way to travel during the harsh and snow-covered winter months. The original animal used for this sport was reindeer. The Scandinavian people would be towed behind reindeer on wooden skis, giving them a useful and practical mode of transportation.

In 1924, equine skijoring was a sport played during the International Winter Sports Week, a multi-sport event that was held from 1907 to 1929 in France. This event set the stage for the sports’ inclusion during the second Olympic Winter Games held in Switzerland in 1928.

The equine version of skijoring made its way to the United States after American tourists fell in love with the sport after being exposed to it in places where it was widely offered as a recreation activity.

This sport is still very popular, with over 30 skijoring races throughout the U.S. and Canada set for this winter. In addition, Reindeer skijoring races still occur today in some areas of Scandinavia.

skijoring man skiing runs with husky in harness
Image By: Zakirov Aleksey, Shutterstock

divider-paw Advantages of Skijoring

Skijoring is a great recreational winter sport for many reasons.

It’s a great hybrid activity perfect for dogs and humans that love the winter months. It can break up the monotony of those cold winter days, providing both owner and dog with a fantastic bonding experience and great exercise.

Dogs of all breeds and sizes can participate in the sport, provided they have enthusiasm. Even small breeds can go skijoring if they like it. The owner will need to provide extra pull power themselves to compensate for their dog’s lack of power.

Disadvantages of Skijoring 

The biggest disadvantage of skijoring is the specialized equipment necessary for participation. You can’t use a standard collar and leash, so you’ll need to spend some money on the proper gear, which can be expensive. This may be a roadblock for some people interested in skijoring as it’s something that needs planning and training before it can be attempted.

Another disadvantage of the sport is that your dog needs to have a certain amount of training to participate. As we’ve mentioned before, skijoring is not a sport you can decide to try one morning and expect to be out on the trails that same day. Your dog will need to learn commands off-skis before you can successfully enjoy the sport.

siberian husky dog pulls skier in a winter dog sport competition
Image By: travelarium.ph, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can any dog go skijoring?

Unfortunately, not every dog is cut out for the sport, but this isn’t a sport reserved only for dog mushing breeds like Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies. Dogs of all sizes and breeds can successfully go skijoring with their owners, even small breeds like Dachshunds. Enthusiasm for the sport seems to matter much more than the breed or size of the dog. Of course, you won’t feel as much pull power if you have a smaller breed, so you should expect to provide more of the pulling power yourself.

The key is ensuring your dog is interested in participating and healthy enough to do so. Your dog should be over a year old, healthy, and regularly active.

skijoring dog racing in winter on skis
Image By: Evgenii Panov, Shutterstock

How can I introduce my dog to skijoring?

Before you strap your dog into the gear necessary for skijoring, check with your vet first. They should do a physical exam to see if your pup is ready to begin a pulling sport like this. As mentioned above, most vets won’t recommend dogs under the age of one to participate as they are still growing.

When you get the green light from your vet, feel free to strap your dog into its gear and start training. We recommend practicing the cues you’ll use while skijoring in a large open area. You can even begin training before there’s snow on the ground.

Will I be able to participate in this sport?

Almost everyone can enjoy skijoring as it’s a very gentle sport that’s easy on the body. If you do happen to fall, the snow provides a nice soft landing place.

We recommend getting comfortable on skis before you start skijoring with your pup. Go cross-country skiing until you’re comfortable maneuvering and stopping on your skis.

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Conclusion

Skijoring is a fun, hybrid winter sport that provides a fantastic opportunity to exercise in those chilly months of the year. While most dogs can participate, this activity is best left to dogs in good physical condition with enthusiasm for learning. The same rules apply to the humans interested in the sport; they need to be in good health as this is an endurance activity that can be highly demanding on the body. We recommend having a physical done for both you and your dog before you fully commit to the sport and spend all the money on buying the proper gear.

If you’re given the green light to try skijoring, start training yourself and your pup in the off-season so that by the time the snow starts flying, you’ll both be ready to hit the trails.


Featured Image Credit: travelarium.ph, Shutterstock

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