Skijoring 101

The History Of  SheSHURing

SKI·JOR·ING (SK JÔR NG, -JR-) N. [MODIF. OF NORW SKIKJØRING, FR. SKI + KJØRING DRIVING]: A WINTER SPORT IN WHICH A PERSON WEARING SKIS IS DRAWN OVER SNOW BY ONE OR MORE DOGS, but if you want to pronounce it as the ancient Norwegians once did it’s, “sheSHURing.” Several hundred years ago the Norwegians traversed the harsh winter landscape on wooden ski’s towed behind reindeer and how “ski-driving” took on its namesake. Although, John B. Allen’s research for his book, The Culture and Sport of Skiing: From Antiquity to World War II, uncovered this quote in Chinese literature from the Yuan and Ming dynasties between 1271 – 1644, of an observation of skijoring in the Himalayas. “Tens of dogs pull a person on a pair of wooden boards…galloping on the snow and ice faster than a horse.” Well documented in Scandinavia for centuries behind reindeer, research suggests that the humans in Siberia wouldn’t have survived 12,000 years ago if they didn’t have dog sledding as a means of transportation. Since primordial time canine has had a utilitarian purpose in man’s life as a hunter, protector, guide, companion, and more, and although they could have survived without us we wouldn’t have in the arctic regions of this country without dog sledding.

Historians confirm Scandinavian gold miners, trappers, and polar explorers returning from the North American rivers of gold took the idea of dog mushing to their motherlands. This Nordic-style of mushing, with a team of one to four dogs, pulls a small sled called a pulk (or pulka), with the driver skiing behind. Few in the lower 48 participated in dog sledding or even thought of it as a sport until the Gold Rush.  The Walt Disney movie Iron Will was derived from the first written accounts of sled dog racing between Winnipeg and St Paul beginning in the 1850’s.

For skijoring to be added to a future Winter Olympics, supporters will need to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the sport has international appeal, attracts world-class athletes, adds value to the games and presents well on television. Supporters failed to convince the IOC to add skijoring to the Sochi games, but advocates are setting their sights on the 2018 Winter Olympics, to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS), the global governing body across 40 countries, of all sled dog sports, is currently drafting an application to submit to the IOC on behalf of skijoring. We’ll learn more about the 2018 Olympics introducing skijoring as a sport if its popularity keeps growing in areas like New England, New York, California, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Where Midwest Skijor’s club with over 2,000 members continues to grow, however, in the United Kingdom and Europe have the largest of audiences with professional athletes and their canines as popular as football players are in the United States.

Skijoring Styles For All Abilities

In the United States we have learned from the Norwegians five styles of skijoring:

Recreational Skijoring

May get out once or twice a week for some fitness with the families k9 companion. Perhaps participate in a nearby club fun run, and ultimately looking for a way to stay fit with Fido.

Skijor Sprint Racing

Nordic, skin-suit wearing skate skier’s with top sprinter’s averaging 20 mph for 5 miles. Harnessed to as many as three dogs, the energy at the starting gate is electrifying, with these dogs being specially bred, patiently trained, and their well being impeccably cared for by their human companion.

Skijor Distance Racing

Requires the skier be knowledgeable in winter survival, the dog’s reactions to the elements and their nutritional needs when considering the weather, trail conditions, and wilderness terrain. Typically racing 20 or more miles, the natural synergy between canine and human is the essence of the primordial nature.

Backwoods Skijoring

Since Gracie’s accidental introduction to skijoring in the Superior National Forest over a decade ago, this is how my dogs and I spend most our time. Opting for the fresh tracks of winter wilderness solitude we break our trail on slightly different Nordic equipment. The backcountry ski I ride is 125mm wide, with a light telemark binding and boot, and telescoping poles. Your winter camping and your survival skills should be second only to your knowledge of your dog’s nutritional needs and effects of long term exposure to freezing temperatures.


For extended stays backcountry skijoring it is best to carry your winter camping and survival gear in a pulk -essentially a sled, and would recommend looking into pulks that can double as such. You can drive the sled between you and the dog, like most Scandinavians, or the skier can tow it from behind. The IFSDS pulka worldwide championships were the inception of skijoring began.

Even so, the primordial kinship between human and canine has softened over the last 30,000 years. Still, that bond can be felt on any winters night gliding along in sync with your dog’s power out in front towing you through a rolling meadow of snow covered trees. Along a trails edge as the alpine glow dims to a starlit sky. In the last century “Urban mushing, or dryland mushing,” warm weather alternatives, that make K9 adventuring all 50 states in North America. Whether metro, rural, or wilderness you and your canine companion can be “joring” across the country on business, at play, or experience the same old places in new and exciting ways.

The Difference Between Dog Sledding & Skijoring

The dog’s wear the same type of harness. A musher drives her team by standing on the runners of a dogsled. While a skijor drives with a skijorer’s belt connected by a quick release to a towline clipped to the dog(‘s) typically no more than three dogs are used by skijorer’s, while sledders may run up to 20 dogs. That alone also demonstrates the significant cost differences in the two dog-powered sports. The bond between musher and his dog’s undeniably the most dedicated and committed of the dog powered sports. Still, a skijorer is a working member of the team with their classic kick-n-glide or skate skiing. The push-off of Nordic polling, and if we want to get a cardio workout. Make it easier on the dogs and harder on yourself by trying to keep the dog’s pace. You have to at least know the basic’s of ski stability, balance, and control, while being able to avoid trail dips, twists, and obstacles deeming the need for full focus on the paw prints ahead, before clipping into a towline. The same diligence isn’t necessary for a dog sledder. Voice commands are the same, although a skijorer must also teach his dogs the basic command of, “whoa” at least, or be real good at falling. Then getting back to your feet quick enough not to get dragged, and best be stellar with taking a dive for your eventually going to fall no matter what! For unlike a musher’s brake we have no other stopping options except for taking a tree to face and groin. Either or hurts, and has happened a few times over the last decade of skijoring the Northwoods, and urban mushing Rails To Trails.

It’s apparent the ability to carry more gear into the backcountry with a dog sled and travel faster, longer. However, we’ll be discussing using a pulka for extended winter camping trips later in the ebook. Musher’s who can ski, do skijor to work with problem dog’s, or training a leader dog.

The Cabin Fever Bulge

Unfortunately, weight loss is tough for anyone: two legged or four, in the last year over 68% of adult Americans are diagnosed as overweight or obese. Our children are stretching the waistline on the pants of the American melting pot too because of our mindless eating habits, and lack of exercise. With 62% of American households having at least one pet it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 55% of family canines are either above average body weight or obese. So skijoring the pounds away during those cold winter months, that you and the pooch may have been practicing couch yoga, licking peanut butter from the same spoon, should be a no brainier. For the effort on both your parts will shed calories like my German Shepherds do hair. During the winter months of Doggietrek Fitness sessions, the clients would all mention how they’d have to sneak around the house getting ready before getting the harnesses out for her to German short-hairs or they start flying around the house until she would put them in the car.

They Take No Crap On the Groomers

U.S. community parks, resort golf courses, and state and national forest Nordic groomed trails have, fine-able laws about dogs not being allowed. So double check to make sure the dogs are welcomed. I prefer frozen lakes, multi-use ORV / snowmobile trails, forest service roads, and Rails-to-Trails, and Appendix A List of resorts offering skijoring specific trails and events worldwide.

From Toto To Rin-Tin-Tin

There are 340 recognized breeds of dogs and quite possibly just as many different ways trainers have for training our canine companions. The philosophies, ethics, and professionalism of training approaches are endless across decades, and won’t be participating in the debate on the right or wrong ways of obedience training. A Tibetan Spaniel doesn’t have the stride nor does a Manchester Terrier weigh enough but a 35 – 45-pound high energy dog will start a doggie jig when they see the harness come out of the closet. Ideally, a dog weighing 65 pounds is preferred by professional racers that want to average more than 20 mph while you’ll be perfectly content topping out at ten mph. Typically the sporting and herding breeds or an “American” mix of them will perceive skijoring as a call to duty. Some of the dryland mushing alternatives, like canicross, I’ve seen a Jack Russell with a human in tow, but my German Shepherds weigh no less than 50#’s before I hook them up. The northern breeds your use to seeing like huskies, and malamutes instinctively pull, but I’ve found any dog you leash for the trail pulls. We’ve been able to get many dogs homes simply by taking them out for a quick five-mile ski, run, or bike before a new family comes to visit a high energy dog.

Backcountry Nordic-style rescue teams are all that are allowed in Norwegian Parks during emergencies because of inaccessibility and non-motorized laws. There are volunteer skijoring clubs as well in Norway that take the disabled out in pulks to experience nature and feel the camaraderie between human and dog.

The Yin-Yang of Pulling

If dogs did pull chinamen around during the Ming Dynasty then it is safe to say in the last 12,000 years the primordial kinship has towed-the-line -all the phun intended – with the first aboriginal humans to make their way to North America. Genetic traits of a particular breed may stick out, but ultimately you’ll see wolf behaviorisms in all dogs. That toy poodle nesting on grandma’s lap. Circling and digging its cute little painted toe nails into grannies lap blanket, a wolf behaviorism. We can learn most everything we need from the wolf, and the primordial dogs of early civilization. Human conditioning is what has lead to the 340 American Kennel Club recognized dog breeds, but the American Mix the best out of all the breeds. For we’re all misfits looking for a purpose. This life force inherited through wolf DNA manifest from puppy playing, into survival skills. The instincts and characteristics of these skills developed from a wolf pack hunting mentality can be harnessed -again phun intended, but for real, if we understand a dog’s instinctual need to chase, and run in a woodland pack. Take advantage of this in training, and we will soon feel like a member of the pack, any skijorer will confess.
Let’s take a quick look at the average wolf hunt. In a healthy environment they chase their prey through the woodlands and break off to focus their individual attacks, still a part of the whole unit their focus, their main objective, is to be the first to strike the prey. A member of the whole pack it only matters who leads to the Alpha’s and subordinates. Otherwise all wolves follow prey trails of least resistance along river banks, shorelines, ridgelines and switch backed slopes. You get to take on this primordial role as a pack member in skijoring, as in all dryland mushing disciplines.

Some dogs just don’t pull and goes against what many have been taught in obedience training. While most dogs intiatly want to be out in front of their handler, and can be trained to differentiate between the skijoring harness and collar. Like any “natural,” or over night success. They are few, or ten years in the making. The art of a true pulling dog lies in its handler’s ability to proactively train with a step by step approach. DO NOT put your dog in a harness and expect her to pull you on skis first time out. Both for the safety, and the positive experience it must be. Make sure to also limit the amount of time to less than 15 minutes for each pulling session. Ideally, you should have started teaching your canine to pull as a progression through each of the joring K9 silent sports starting with canicross, and choose to move onto skijoring, bikejoring, or the rollerjoring from there. However, just like the stepping stone core concepts of PSIA there is a standard of practices which if adhered to will make learning and/or teaching skijoring enjoyable to dogs and humans alike. Pulling is a core concept in all the joring sports, but think of how weird a feeling it is to have someone pulling on the back of your pants. It’s even more intimidating to your K9 companion to have this happen for the first time in a harness. Add skis, and unknown commands, and can see that your attitude, patience, and compassion will make or break your dogs skijoring abilities.

I’ll discuss fitting the canine for a harness in the chapter on skijoring specific equipment. Although, before putting the dog in the harness make sure you take off their obedience collar so you can more successfully teach the difference between each. Attach a leash to the harnesses lead loop, and commence walking. If she is cool walking in front of you taughten the line a bit while praising her for doing so. Do this for a few days, a couple times a day, for no more than 15 minutes, and you’ll both progress more rapidly, and enjoyably. That harness will become pure joy and bliss for your canine companion, and a sort of dance begins around this house when the gear gets pulled out.


If the K9 is sketched out at first by the harness, or has no desire to pull. Remember the lineage from wolf, to sled and hunting dogs, over the last several hundred centuries. It is in them, and only our fault if we don’t get the response we desire from the dogs should be our own mentality. Still some dogs have had the pull beat out of them. Too timid, or defiant they don’t want any part of wearing the harness let alone pulling. There are a few exercises we can try to see if he will warm-up to the idea of pulling. Some of the most timid dogs have become the best skijoring dogs. It just takes a bit more compassion and patiences.

Walk beside this dog until it calms. Then tie something to the lead, like a broom, free weight, small tire, etc. and hook it to the lead loop of the harness. Continuing to walk beside the dog until her confidence begins to have her pulling out in front. Make sure to be in the right environments, and only the two of you when teaching your canine companion how to skijor. Ideally one-on-one instruction with a skijorer, and suggest taking a look at our web resources and book list for additional training outlets, clubs, etc. Out on a trail, away from too many obstructions. Like moving cars and trucks. You’ll learn to like the squirrels, deer, and other critters that can provoke a chase crossing the trail. These type of distractions can actually stimulate a chase and can use them to our advantage. WARNING – The only way you want to first discover this realization is while canicrossing. Skis, roller blades, bikes, or any other moving apparatus you may let your K9 pull you shouldn’t be used until you’ve mastered the commands trail running.

Pulling Primers

  1. Connect a small heavy object to a standard canicross lead, and walk out in front of the canine. Enticing them with treats to follow you.
  2. With a slip-lead have another family member or person the dog is familiar run alongside as you provide resistance while running behind.
  3. Get with a dog hiking group like DoggieTrek Fitness in your community to socialize your dog and allow it to pull to stay with the pack of other dogs. Praising them for doing so in the harness.
  4. Private instruction with a musher or experienced skijor, and have them hook your dog into their team of dogs.

There are many breeds of dogs that will never be puller’s because of an inherent disposition that lacks the drive and confidence you’ll find necessary for each of the K9 silent sports. If that happens to be your K9 companion, keep your heart open to adopting and there is always recruiting a neighbor or friends dog that exemplifies the skijoring traits.

Your Alpha Training Voice

If the canine has had some collared obedience training her progression in learning these new commands will have a faster progression than a yearling with no training. However, the younger canine will have the drive and excitement to pull more ingrained than the conditioned and trained older dogs. The consistency in the use of the commands and the conditioned response you want your canine to achieve have parameters you need to consider too when making the command. These acoustic signals your dog recognizes are not made of syllables. Rather pitches, tones, and even shrieks can offer a conditioned reaction. Watch some of the suggested YouTube videos provided as resources, and listen to how the mushers tones have high and low inflection in the command. They speak faster to move faster. While when they want to come to a stop, initiate a turn-about, or slow down, their tone is drawn-out in a lower, calming tone. Learning and using the commands are two different experiences for you. While one of the same for the dog. So it must be a positive and rewarding learning experience for you both during every training session. For you there is the experience of learning the commands. Knowing when to use them, and then the actual use of them on the trail with your canine companion.


As mentioned earlier, it usually takes ten years for any over tonight success to get their day of stardom. Learning the skijoring commands won’t take that long, although a few seasons at any of the K9 silent sports individually can be expected. Remember consistency and repetition. Since the commands are the same across all the “dry land mushing” K9 silent sport disciplines the quickier the both of you learn how to use the commands and your K9’s response to them the more Zen like each of your outings will become. In fact it is in learning your canines response to your commands you’ll feel the Zen. Starting with canicrossing and exploring from there those pursuits you already enjoy untethered to your dog. Will enhance those outings and the K9 Adventuring Lifestyle the two of you are beginning to share.



Dogs Reaction

Hike or Let’s Go Start
Whoa (pronounced “Wo” with a long “o”) Stop
Easy Slow down
Haw Turn left
Gee (pronounced “Jee”) Turn right
Gee Over Move right
Haw Over Move left
On By Pass without slowing
Line Out Tighten towline
Come Around Turn 180 degrees


Let’s Go!

Perhaps you don’t realize it now, but think of how often you use this command to go on a walk. Get in the car. All positive associations already recognized by your companion. Although it has more uses to consider than just getting the dog(s) to start moving forward. Ever had or heard a coach yelling, “Let’s Go! Let’s Go! Let’s Go!”? It has the same motivating factor in our dogs. So to use it before and aft in passing will also motivate the dogs to create more distance between you and the dogs you’ve passed. The Zen is in the balance of the energy before the command is given, and how it is released by both of you. You want to be as much a part of the jerk in the lead as the dog(s) ignite, and again why I recommend starting with canicross before moving onto skijoring or any of the other K9 silent sports. This lead is an umbilical cord of energy between you and your K9 adventurer, and no slack in the line when they hear Let’s Go! Go back to the Yin-Yang of Pulling if your K9 isn’t taking to this command and continue with those exercises until she is ready to pull with you calling commands from behind. Another method is to have a person hold the dog from the harness loop while you run down the trail then call her name at different intervals.



To bring the dog(s) to a stop. Trail obstructions, tangled lines, congested areas, or any other  dangerous situations the ability to bring the dogs to a stop is imperative. You should start to use it to come to a stop while pulling back slightly with a softly spoken drawn out Whoa. You can do this while collared and leashed by extending the leash with one arm tightening the lead. Then your hand following up the lead to about the tail with a drawn out whoa will simulate the harness effect. If you can’t come to a controlled stop using the snow plow technique spoke of earlier. Learn it first via canicrossing out on the trail. Ideally if you can use the same trials for each of the joring sports both you and your dog will acclimate to the path of least resistance and enjoy a more fluid Zen like outing. A proficient Nordic or Alpine skier will use edge controlled hockey stop combined with the snow plow techniques in ways that allow them to control more than one dog. If you are a beginner and have more than one dog you’d like to train it is suggested you teach each separately. Then bring them together when each knows the commands.

Let’s go and whoa, along with your canine companions desire to pull are all ya’ need to start training your dog to get out on the trail skijoring right away. It is easy to incorporate these two commands into your daily life, but the following commands will be new to you both and the same across all the joring sports.


On By

That same red squirrel that got your K9 to pull in a harness for the first time. This command is meant for it and the other trail distractions a dog’s instinctual nature will either want to chase, pee on, or socialize with. A sprinting dog focused on prey may take off in pursuit and this is where On By can make, or break you, literally. You want her to understand the chase is over when the prey darts off trail, or into a tree, and you call out On By! You want him to pass distractions without breaking stride, or worse stopping all together to sniff a butt. On trail intersections  the command On By let’s the K9 know neither, “Gee,” nor “Haw”, but “Straight Ahead,” which is what you’ll hear used in replace of On By to differentiate such situations by some mushers and skijorers.  And when your K9 is already familiar with the obedience command “Leave It,” use it instead.

An unheeded On By has many repercussions, and can destroy your dog’s confidence in pulling you by running over him even once. You are responsible for making sure he doesn’t make that quick turn into the woods, and only your fault if the dog stops to hump a leg in full stride. So don’t attempt teaching this command on skis, and suggest starting with canicross before moving onto any of the K9 joring silent sports. In Skijor with Your Dog, authors Mari Høe-Raitto, and Carol Kaynor summarize renowned animal trainer Vicki Hearne’s philosophy on the consistency of the use of all obedience commands like this, “ there cannot be true communication between dog and human if they can’t agree on the meaning of the words used between them. We’ll say this again later, but it bears repeating here: Not enforcing a command is the equivalent of changing its meaning.”

Gee – Haw  

Right to left these are the two commands you’ll have momentary lapses of DUH when needing to execute a direction. Your K9’s energy in motion creates emotions in you at these pivotal trail times you need to know that Gee is right, and Haw is left, or you’ll become frustrated with your own lack in communicating . The canines tendency will be to follow the most used trail pathway, and your responsibility to communicate otherwise. Therefore learning the difference between them for you both should begin as a dryland training exercise that can be used as commands for everyday collar walks too. So acclimating to the difference between right and left for your dog will be easier than for you to learn the new meanings of Gee, and Haw. You and your K9 companion should already have a favorite trail, or at least one you visit on a regular basis, and here the best place to teach the commands. As you approach a turn make the appropriate command and when the dog is executing the  turn reward her with praise. A sure way to succeed is to use a trail with 90 degree Gee, or Haw turns, and then reverse the direction to learn the difference. Move on to multi-directional options from there to condition both you and the dog to the differences. You can also guide the tether connected to the harness in either direction as reassurance to you both. The K9 adventuring lifestyle, as your becoming familiar with, isn’t just about the K9 silent sports you participate, but also in how you feel and communicate information too. The social engineering of wolf behaviorisms. The posturing of ears, tail, and mane, but  when the two of you have found that zen like way of communicating. You’ll notice the dog alerting you to a forthcoming crossroads in the trail by outstretching her head and the perking of her ears.


The sit-stay of obedience training is used in place of this command by some handler’s, musher’s, and dog trainer’s alike. If your dog is already familiar with these commands you can use them instead to begin training. Still the purpose of the Line-Out command is for your dog to lean into her harness, so to keep the line taught. You want the canine to learn that this is a preparation for Let’s Go! Here is the sit-stay similarity your K9 should be adhering, while leaning into her harness to keep a taut line as you prepare your own equipment.  The dog will begin to recognize your leverage as a reason to Line-Out and assist in your own preparation. Ultimately the command is to keep either of you and/or equipment from getting tangled in the lines. Dryland canicross is the best way to teach your K9 Line-Out. If you’re training your canine on your own then the simplest way to condition the dog to this command is to secure the line to a tree or another object that is free from other obstructions the line can get entangled. If she is familiar with sit-stay, and with her harness attached to the line. Lead her out until it goes taut and continue to walk 4-6 steps out in front of her while saying Line-out in a short loud snap of your voice. You should be able to walk around the dog, and what she is secured, without her moving from the line-out posture. If the line goes slack, or the dog comes-around. Immediately lead the dog back the initial line out direction on the trail. Once the line is taut repeat the Line-Out command. Be patient this is a tough command for the dog to contain its energy as it is conditioned. Lunging, barking, entangling anything possible, will cause you to stress, and imperative you make this a rewarding experience for you  both.



Unfamiliar, or rough trail conditions, and descents make this command imperative for safety concerns. With the ability to have your dog(s) reduce your speed in conjunction with your snow plow, or pole dragging tension will signal to them to do the same. A simple are reminder to some dogs to slow down before they boink, and your responsibility to know their performance capabilities. Which will grow with your K9 Adventuring Lifestyle, and all dogs respond differently to environmental conditions, stimuli, and their own unique traits you adept into all K9 joring silent sport. This will become as second nature as your own limitations, and mad skills when tethered to your K9 superstar. Think of Easy as the middle ground between the break-back Let’s Go! And Whoa. You can set a pace you’re capable of enduring and navigating in particular terrain and environmental conditions that maximize the synergy, and ultimately your responsibility in observing, managing, and caring for your K9’s. So Easy-does it for the journey is in the creation of those synergistic moments of K9 Adventuring.


Another command learned by foot and paw on dryland first is Come-Around. Meant to bring the dog(s) a 180 degrees around a fixed, object or because you’ve taken a spill. If you were to consider the commands uptill now the 101 of skijoring commands then Come-Around is the 102. There is some controversy among handlers to the use of this command, and has been experienced to teach a number of dogs to head home, or just flat out stop running. Again this is determined by how you facilitate training your K9, and her success, your success. Even so stupid is as stupid does, and your dog(s) mimic your behaviors in their actions. However, Come-Around can be incorporated into the daily obedience routine, or a DoggieTrek Fitness session during step-intervals, or any other exercise you have to ‘come about’. If you have a trail you regularly use, can utilize a neighborhood turnaround this will decrease the potential issues, and help your dog excel by first commanding her with Easy as you approach the turn-out. Then a quick Come-Around, Come-Around, will become as easy to execute as Gee and Haw which should eventually be used if necessary as the Come-Around-Gee, or Come-Around-Haw. Which will make trail intersections missed by the human navigator easier to navigate back on course. If you do take a digger, of loose gear this command makes picking-up after a yard sale incredibly useful. Now that you’ve picked yourself up, dug the snow out of ears and goggle. It’s time for the dog(s) to Come-Around to the original trail direction, and a few command combinations will make this flow like Chi: Come-Around-Line-Out can actually assist in getting you back to your feet, and a Come-Around-Let’s-Go! Should have you ready for blast-off in a skier’s downhill tuck. If your dog is still having a hard time adhering to the Come-Around command then have another human companion or yourself with another attached to the tether behind your K9 as you round a tree, or any other fixed object. Don’t get too far ahead of the dog for if it sees you come around before you make the command it may try to intercept you. Causing a collision that could cause the K9 to stop pulling all together. Dryland, Dryland, Dryland! Please! For the safety of your dog and you. First visit your physician and and veterinarian to make sure the two of you are fit enough for a DoggieTrek Fitness session before going onto any of the other k9 silent sports of joring for if you can’t DoggieTrek you shouldn’t be joring. Starting with Canicross to learn the commands that are facilitated for all seasonal K9 adventuring will make the learning experience more rewarding for you both.