Skijouring is a fabulous outdoor winter activity for you and your dog. You both benefit from great exercise, a lot of fresh air and spending time together.
Putting the harness on your dog is the first step. It slips over the head, one paw through the webbing, then the other and stretch it down across their back.
When you buy your skijouring equipment, you will need to know not only how large your dog is, but how long he is, too.
It’s not a bad idea for your dog to do nothing but wear the harness around for a day or two to become accustomed to it. As a next step, connect the lead to the harness and take him for a walk now and then.
Eventually it will be time to introduce him to “pulling”. Hook the harness lead onto a toboggan or sled. Stand at the end of the driveway and call your dog to come to you. Offer a tasty biscuit reward he can’t resist.
It may be a tad more difficult to do this with dogs trained not to tug on their leash. OK, now you WANT me to pull on the lead? They may be confused at first, but your dog will learn the difference: it’s OK to tug, but only when the harness is on. Be patient and positive.
Once they are pulling the sled, start adding a little weight to it. Our border collie, Franny, flatly refused to pull the sled the first time we put firewood on it. She would not budge. So we walked away and out of sight, calling her name.
It took more than just a few minutes, but it worked. We were down the hill and around a corner when she came flying along the trail at full blast, pieces of wood spilling out of the sled as it veered wildly around the turn.
She now understood what she was meant to do.
The skier puts a harness on as well, though your half of the equipment looks more like a bikini bottom than a collection of webbing straps. The lead connected to the dog’s harness is snapped on to yours and – voila! You and your cross-country skis have replaced the sled full of firewood.
Spend a few minutes figuring out the workings of the quick release buckle. It may seem a little over the top at first, when your dog is still hesitant, but it definitely comes in handy.
When some unforeseen excitement – such as a rabbit or a squirrel appearing on the trail – catches your dog’s attention and he dashes after it, with or without you and your skis, you’ll be more than just a little happy to quickly separate yourself from the action … and all the trees in the way.
OK, now grab your poles and call out your “Pull” command. If your dog just turns around and looks at you with the delirious “What are we doing now?” look, ask a friend to head down the trail and call your dog to follow. You can help by actively skiing quickly at first, slowly letting the dog take more of your weight.
Choose wider trails to start. If it’s later in the winter and the river is frozen, it’s a perfect place to practise. Try teaching your dog terms for “left” and “right”; I use “way to” and “go by”. You can also work on those commands during walks in the summer.
Be prepared for unexpected fun. One day while skijouring on the river, I stopped for a rest and was sitting on a log when a dog sled appeared in the distance.
Gilmour, my original skijouring partner and a superb runner, loved other dogs and was very excited when he noticed them approaching. I managed to hold him back until after they had passed, but he wanted nothing more than to follow that team.
Hooked up and back on the trail, I was barely able to maintain my balance when Gilmour took off at warp speed to catch up with those sled dogs. My skis were literally singing.
Now, how does that quick release buckle work again?