Skijoring keeps dogs happy
LEADVILLE – If your dog has an annoying habit of tugging at its leash every time you’re out for a walk, don’t just toss the tether. Trade it in for some skijoring gear.Skijoring combines the High Country human’s hankering for skiing with a canine’s compulsion to pull. The result is a heart-pumping outdoor sport that keeps dog and owner fit and happy.”I’m a snow person and I’m an absolute dog person,” said Stephanie Dwyer of Leadville, who took up skijoring last winter. “I finally found something I can do with my dogs that makes us both really happy. The dogs just love it.”
Dwyer had been a Nordic skier for several years when a friend of hers suggested she strap on her skinny skis behind a pooch. Dwyer, who worked for the Leadville Lake County Animal Shelter at the time, grabbed a harness, a rope and her ski gear and headed to the trail with Lexi, a pitbull/husky pound puppy.”Lexi had been in the shelter for a few months. She was strong and full of energy, and we went extremely fast, but she didn’t know any commands,” Dwyer said. “To stop, I would just snowplow and put myself down. She would turn around like, ‘Why are you so heavy now?'”I had some bruises, but it was really fun. And Lexi had a great time using all that energy she had built up from living in a kennel,” she added.Bruises notwithstanding, Dwyer was hooked. She got her own equipment and adopted a retired sled dog, Dash, which was already familiar with sledding/skijoring commands: whoa (stop), gee (right), haw (left), hike (go), easy (slow down) and on by (pass that slowpoke in front of us).
A year later, she helped coordinate her town’s second annual skijoring event, the Leadville K9 Skijor Classic, a day of racing and skijoring instruction for novices, crafty veterans and everyone in between. There were even a few sled dogs on hand for Nordic skiing enthusiasts who don’t have their own trained dogs for the races, which took place Sunday.Those interested in giving the sport a shot need not end up black-and-blue as Dwyer did. She suggested initiating training on dry land with the requisite gear – a climbing belt for the owner, an X-back racing harness for the dog and a skijoring rope to stay together. The gear is available at some pet supply stores and online at http://www.sleddogcentral.com and http://www.coldspotfeeds.com.”Use the commands when you turn right or left around a corner. Be really on top of that. It depends on the individual dog, but if you’re repetitive and consistent, any dog can learn,” Dwyer said.
An untrained dog can also learn commands by hitching up on snow alongside an experienced dog, and the two can run as a pair in front of a skier. Before long, the dog will be geeing and hawing up the trail like a regular sled dog.”It’s excellent exercise. The dog’s not actually pulling you – you’re skate-skiing behind the dog. You’re working together, which is what’s really cool about it,” Dwyer said.Vail, Colorado