Dog Mushing

Have a dog that is built for cold and loves the snow? Dog mushing can be a great way challenge him or her. Mushing basically involves a dog pulling something over the snow. It could be a sled or cart on runners,  toboggan or person on skis.  Dog sledding and skijoring are a couple of ways to have fun mushing your dog in the snow.

Northern breeds like the snow and cold: Alaskan Huskies, Siberian Huskies, Akitas, Malamutes, Samoyeds, Chinooks, St. Bernards. BUT any dog that loves to pull and take the weather are great candidates for these activities.

Hunting dogs like Pointers, Retrievers and Labradors are popular in these sports. So are muscular dogs that are popular for pulling like Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, and some Mastiff breeds. But many work breeds are high energy and may enjoying a workout in the snow.

Remember you don’t have to compete, you can just do it for fun!

Many dogs actually love these outdoor sports. They get to run full out, they experiences outdoor scents and maybe some  wildlife, they may be working with or meeting other dogs, and of course they get to spend time with you. The word mushing actually comes from the the French “marchez” which means walk which is how French explorers in North America commanded sled dogs. You might be surprised how much your dog may enjoy mushing.

Dog SleddingDog Sledding and Pulka

Just as the name implies, a dog or dogs pulling a sled over the snow. Dog sledding  involves a race over a specific distance. Short races range from 4 to 25 miles, but the extreme races like the Iditarod can be 1000 miles races (yes, one-thousand). A team of dogs (the number varies depending on the race) pull a sled (no wheels, but runners that glide over snow) with a human driver who stands on the runners of the sled. The races are timed and the team with the best time wins.

Just as the name implies, a dog or dogs pulling a sled over the snow. Dog sledding  involves a race over a specific distance. Short races range from 4 to 25 miles, but the extreme races like the Iditarod can be 1000 miles races (yes, one-thousand). A team of dogs (the number varies depending on the race) pull a sled (no wheels, but runners that glide over snow) with a human driver who stands on the runners of the sled. The races are timed and the team with the best time wins.

PulkaSome mushing sports don’t necessarily use a team of dogs. Pulka, popular in Norway, involves pulling a tobaggan (a sled with no runners) called a pulk and typically uses one dog. The human is behind the pulk on skis or walking and the the pulka is used to carry things or small children.

Humans have used dogs to pull sleds at least as far back as 2000 B.C. It originated in Siberia or North America, but in North America, many American Indian cultures used dogs to pull loads. French, British, Norwegian and many other explorers have used dogs and sleds to carry loads, and as a sport this is practiced all over the world, but primarily in North America, northern Europe and the Alps.

What Do You Need
  • Harness that fits your dog and is built for sledding (there are dog harnesses for all sorts of sports and pulling).
  • Tug lines (just a rope is OK for training)
  • Gang-lines
  • Necklines
  • Booties  for snow
  • Scooter – for warm weather
  • sled for snow
Dog Sled HarnessHow to Get Started

The younger your start the better, even as a puppy, so he or she can get used to the harness, but older dogs can learn too.

Training indoors and in warm weather is typical. You let the dog get used to the feel of the harness and walk them with the harness attached to a  long rope, letting them pull. As the dog gets stronger you attach very light weight to the harness and slowly build up over time.  You also have to teach dogs to work together by harnessing them together.

Skijoring

SkijoringIf you have or ever wanted to cross-country ski, skijoring may be for you. Skijoring (pronounced skee-jore-ing) means “ski-driving” in Norwegian. In this activity, a person on cross-country skis is pulled by a dog (or dogs, or horse or vehicle like a snowmobile) over the snow on flat terrain. If done competitively, skijor races are held in cold areas and are typically 5 to 20 km in length (although the extreme ones can be for hundreds of miles).

What You Need:
  • Skijoring belt or rock climbing harness for the person.
  • Dog sled harness for the dog.
  • Skijoring line.
  • Cross country skis that are hot waxed (not grip waxed) so as not to slow down the dog.
How to Get Started

Much like dog sledding, you first let the dog get used to the feel of the harness. You want to walk the dog with  the harness attached to a  long rope attached to you letting them pull. Your initial training should be done with you on foot, whether in the snow or in warm weather. As the dog gets stronger you attach very light weight to the harness and slowly build up over time.

Along the way, you have to be teaching your dog commands not just to go and stop, but right and left.

When ready for the snow, once you find an easy cross-country trail, have a friend go with you. This person will ski in front and call to the dog to encourage him or her to chase them while pulling you.

Because this sport often involves only one dog pulling, if you compete, you have to teach your dog to stay focused and not be distracted by or unfriendly with other dogs.

If you have a breed that likes some fun in the snow and you aren’t afraid of the cold, check out some form of dog mushing for something new.