Skijoring may be just the thing for you if you have an active dog and want to keep him moving in the cold winter months. It's the perfect way for both of you to get out and enjoy the fresh air and to get the exercise you need to stay healthy and fit. In fact, it's becoming so popular that there are clubs that center around the sport and even competitions for the more serious participants.
So what exactly is skijoring? Simply put, it is a sport that combines cross-country skiing and dog sledding. The dog (or group of dogs, if you like) wear a harness similar to the one used to attach dog to sled, except in this case the dog's harness connects via a rope or tow line to a similar harness worn by the human. The two then work in tandem to move across the snow.
The name translates to ski driving in Norwegian, and that tells you pretty much all you need to know about it. You and your canine friend are quite literally driving across the snow, much like you would in traditional dog sledding, just without the sled. Because the human in this partnership powers himself with poles and skis, it is an activity that can even be enjoyed by smaller dogs since they don't really have to pull all the weight.
While it is more common to see the Northern breeds such as Huskies and Malamutes participating in skijoring, almost any dog that enjoys running and can tolerate pulling can enjoy it too. Larger breeds like American Bulldogs, Mastiffs and Staffordshire Terriers excel at it, as do breeds that are natural runners such as the Greyhound, Labrador Retriever and German Shepherd.
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Because losing focus on the course can be dangerous, breeds like the Australian Shepherd that are both high energy and very good at remaining focused do particularly well with it. In fact, their innate ability to stay on task while expending a lot of energy makes them ideal candidates for both recreational and competitive skijoring.
There is very little training required to pick up the sport and little equipment necessary outside of the harnesses and skis. If your dog has a shorter coat, you might also want to get him a cover of some sort to insulate him against the winter cold. But really that, the desire to run, and the ability to pull is all you need. Once you have your equipment you'll want to start your dog out slowly to get him used to the idea of wearing a harness and pulling and gradually work your way up to longer runs.
To increase the enjoyment, you can check your local area for skijoring clubs, where you can interact with other participants and even participate in competitions if you are so inclined. And bear in mind that you don't have to wait for winter in order to get the feel of skijoring. You can start training in the warmer months by taking your dog with you while you run, bike, or skate.
Competitions are held in many locations around the world, the longest being the Kalevala in Kalevala, Karelia, Russia. In the U.S. and Canada, skijoring competitions are generally held in conjunction with dog sled races, as part of a full slate of activities and events. Not surprisingly, the sport is particularly popular in Scandinavia, where it is closely associated with the older sport of Pulka.
There are several sanctioning organizations, both nationally and worldwide. In the U.S. the primary organization is the International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA), while the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) sanctions World Cup races in many locations throughout the world. At the IFSS World Cup, skijoring races are usually divided into men's and women's events, and one and two-dog categories.
If you've got a high-energy dog that needs to work out regularly, then why not consider the fun, fast paced sport of skijoring? It can be a great way for you and your dog to bond while you both get a workout. Check your local area for skijoring clubs and stores that sell the proper harnesses so that you and your four-legged friend can get out on the trail and start having fun!