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Skijoring: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

by John R. Harris of NASSPA edited by John Faughnan.

See also the Skijoring Introductory Page.


  1. How young can you start training a dog (Alaskan Malamute) for skijoring?
  2. What do you recommend for booties and foot care?
  3. Should I teach my dog to heel before I teach him to pull?
  4. How were you able to train your dogs to stay on track and out in front?


How young can you start training a dog (Alaskan Malamute) for skijoring?

To safely train a Malamute for skijoring I would wait until he is at least 5 months old, but there is alot of training you can do prior to that depending on the age of your pup right now. Here is what I would suggest.

  1. At 2-3 months put your puppy in his first harness. It is okay if you buy it a little big right now to save money because you simply want him to get the feel of the harness. Let him wear it for dinner or playing around with you but NEVER let him wear it alone. A puppy can destroy a harnes in minutes and it could kill or injury your dog to swallow it. Also at this age is a great time to teach obedience -like sit, stay, heel, those types of things. Teach obedience without the harness -- that way he learns later harness pull, collar heel. Do not be to worried about form, you're not training a show dog, but he should be able to sit, even if a little crooked, or heel close to you.
  2. At five months I would put him in the harness, correct size now, and let him pull something really light like a small log or small tire. It is really importantant that you make these lessons fun and not work. KEEP THE LESSONS SHORT - MAX 15 MIN. I would do this until about 6 months, gradually increasing the weight up to about a full size car tire. It is also a good time to teach gee/haw since you can also put a leash on his neck to help guide him, but if you keep it fun he'll learn really quick. At 6 months, if you are a good skier it is time to put on the skies -- but remember the first lesson must be short and fun. Have lots of patience. He may be afraid of the skis at first because they make weird noises behind him; choose soft snow if possible. Let him sniff the skis and get used to them. Even if he'll pull you right away I would still keep the lesson to 15-20 min. Gradually you can increase the speed and distance.

Be advised if you plan to race that most clubs will not let you race a dog that is not a least 12months old. Also, if you are planning on having him use a pulk, wait til at least 12 months for his bones to develop before he pulls the pulk. After all a year is quick and if you train him right and fun you will have a motivated puller all your life.

P.S. I would highly recomeend the bok SKIJOR WITH YOUR DOG by Mari Hoe-Raitto and Carol Kaynor. They are easy to find here in Alaska I can get you one if you cannoy find it but a great book.

Should I teach my dog to heel before I teach him to pull?

I would teach my dog to heel first then pull; it is much easier. However, having said that, I never taught my dog to heel and she is a great skijorer - but cannot walk on a leash to save her life. I don't care --I want her to pull, pull, pull. I have not tried it but there are some people who say you can teach both at the same time. On heel days make sure you take your dog out on a lead with its collar. On skijoring days go to a different place and teach her to pull in her harness never with her collar. It should work in theory but I've never tried it.

What size harness should I get for a growing dog and where should I buy it?

A little bad news on the harness. If your dog is planning on growing another 40%, you will probably have to buy two, maybe three, harness's before he is done growing. Don't cheat on size or it will only make running more uncomfortable to him. I would highly recommend buying your harness from Raeās Harness shop here in Anchorage. The number is 907-563-3411. They will ask you certain measurements for your dog so have him and a tape measure handy. Ask for Jenny if she is working; tell her John Harris from NASSPA told you to call and she will take good care of you. I race against her all the time and she is first rate with animals.

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What do you recommend for booties and foot care?

Booties can help a lot for sore paws, especially when training out of snow season. Again I would call Raeās Harness shop. If you run a lot I would buy them in bulk they are cheaper in bags of fifty. However here is a draw back; booties make your dog hotter so you need to watch his temp more closely. If his feet are still a problem they do make a canvas bootie for rescue dogs but they are costly.

With cloth booties on gravel surfaces, watch for holes in the booties and change them if he puts holes in them; the gravel can really cause problems inside the boots. During winter cloth booties will keep snow balls from getting in his toes and they'll last longer.

In addition to booties keep the nails trimmed all the time and keep him off gravel and paved roads as much as possible. Get your dog used to letting you look at his feet; look often, especially between his toes, his pads, and his toe nails. Study them and remember what they look like healthy and it will help you know the difference when they are hurt. In the winter I actually keep a log of my dog Shep/Husky mix feet. It helps me to watch for recurring injuries. Also I would ask Rae's for a foot salve they keep on hand, it really heals feet fast. Let Raeās explain how to size the booties, they do a much better job explaining than I do.

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How were you able to train your dogs to stay on track and out in front?

Once your dog is accustomed to the harness and pulling small weights (see above), you can work on getting him to stay in front.

Attach yourself to the line and encourage him to pull you. He may do it, or he may come back to you. If he comes back, don't try to place him out front --just take off running. Many times a dog will now go to the front. If this fails, try getting as friend to run in front of you and call to him as he pulls you along. If all this fails, or if you want the quicker method, show up to one of our clinics on skijoring (in Alaska). I cannot tell you the number of times I've seen a dog learn the sport by watching and chasing other dogs on the course. Above all, be patient and always separate obedience training from skijoring. Later you should teach him other skijor commands like gee and haw, but that's another question.

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Author: John G. Faughnan.  The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. Pages are updated on an irregular schedule; suggestions/fixes are welcome but they may take weeks to months to be incorporated. I reserve copyright except where noted, if you want to repost or quote a page just ask. Anyone may freely link to anything on this site and print any page; no permission is needed for linking,  printing, or distributing printed copies.