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Skijoring: A Winter Sport for Kerries


© 2007 Kery Blue Terrier Foundation

No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from Kery Blue Terrier Foundation.

Text by Morgan Benowitz-Fredericks. Photo by Mike Shultz & MBF

Copyright 2007 Kery Blue Terrier Foundation

Mike Shultz takes Misha (KBT) and Zoe (mutt) skijoring in Ester, Alaska.
We have a split tug line that allows us to clip into both dogs (top left, bottom left).
Note that the lack of booties in these photos is an exception – both dogs usually wear them!

What is Skijoring

Skijoring is dog-enhanced skiing. It’s an offshoot of mushing, but instead of pulling a sled the dog directly pulls a skier, that it’s attached to via a line. Both skier and dog wear harnesses to distribute the weight of pulling and being pulled, and the line between them is stretchy to prevent sudden jerks on either end. It’s not a passive sport for humans – the idea is not to be dragged by your dog, but to ski and get a boost from your dog! It’s also a safe way to go skiing together - an alternative to the “struggle with leash or leave dog off-leash” dilemma. It can be done with classic or skate skis, fast or leisurely, with one dog or two. It’s a great way for you and your dog(s) to exercise, practice training and develop your teamwork. Skijoring is gaining popularity, and many areas have clubs and races.

Misha models his X-back harness.
Note that the neck, chest, and armpit straps are padded.

Can Kerry Blue Terriers skijor?

Yes! Kerries are good pullers. I have heard of at least a few people who trained their KBTs to skijor. We are casually training Misha, our 4 year old male. He was a little reluctant to lead, and a little wary of skis, but each time we take him out he improves. Once he understood that his job was to stay out front and pull, he began taking his duties seriously. He doesn’t always run hard, but maintains a steady trot and provides a pleasant boost. We also do informal “canicross”, in which all the harnesses and gear used in skijoring are used to go running. “Bikejoring” is another option! It takes some patience to teach a dog with good leash manners to pull, but one of the tricks is to get them to understand the difference between being on leash and in harness. At the end of this article are several website and books that provide details about training dogs to pull.

What do I need to start?

You will need a dog, the equipment listed in the next section, some dog-friendly ski trails, a good book or article with training tips, a lot of cheerful patience and a good sense of humor! It can be frustrating when you start, and expect to spend time untangling yourself and your dog, being dragged off the trail, skiing with your confused dog lagging behind you, and falling over. It helps to have someone ahead to coax!

I do not have enough experience to offer training advice, but if you are interested, please check out the links at the end of this article!


For the HUMAN

  • Skis WITHOUT metal edges: Metal edges are dangerous – they can easily slice your dog’s paws and legs. Classic skis and skate skis do not have metal edges.
  • Ski boots & poles
  • A padded belt or harness : If you have a climbing harness, you can try using that, but the harnesses made for skijoring are usually better padded and more comfortable
  • A quick-release (sometimes called “panic snap”) : This is a special buckle that allows you to quickly detach yourself from a dog that’s about to drag you into trouble
  • Elasticized line, tug line & clip: Used to attach your harness to your dog’s harness. The elastic line (sometimes called a “shock cord”) is important to prevent you and your dog from jerking each other around if either of you suddenly stops, starts or changes direction
    There is usually a stiffer, short line with a clip that attaches the shock line to the dog’s harness. It’s called a “tug line” – if you are using multiple dogs each dog will have its own tug line attached to the single shock line.

For the DOG

  • Booties : Even simple fleece will do – the goal is to protect your dog’s feet from scrapes and ice/snow accumulation
  • A carefully-fitted harness. Choose an X-back harness, advertised for mushing or skijoring. They come in nylon and sometimes have fleece padding. It’s important to get exactly the right size so that the pressure is properly distributed when the dog is pulling. FidoGear has an excellent harness section, including a detailed, downloadable sizing guide.

Some online retailers sell starter kits:

Skijoring Books

Skijor With Your Dog, by Mari Hoe-Raitto and Carol Kaynor

Skijoring Links (This PDF gives a great introduction to skijoring)

Canicross (running with harnessed dogs)

Bikejoring (biking with harnessed dogs)

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