The snow is dusting and glittering in the sun, the steel blue sky and the beautiful winter landscape beckon to the fresh air. Hardly a four-legged friend who does not love to romp around outside at this time of the year! You as a dog owner may know only too well that the best friend of man likes to rage in the snow. If you have an obedient, sporty dog, who can walk at heel, you can make it a joint fitness outing in the snow: with cross-country skiing, probably the most beautiful outdoor endurance sport for two- and four-legged friends.
Cross-country skiing with your dog is a perfect workout in the fresh winter air while bonding with your favorite furry friend. Here are some helpful tips for a smooth start out in the trails.
6 conditions for taking your dog cross-country skiing
In open terrain when going backcountry skiing, it has always been a matter of course that skiers also took their dogs across the country. But on groomed trails, for most of the locations dogs were not allowed. A dog destroys the track, he contaminates it, or he even endangers other skiers were some of the most common concerns. But in these days more and more Nordic centers are becoming dog-friendly and allow skiers to enjoy the trails with their furry friends – provided the dog doesn’t poach and doesn’t bother other cross-country skiers by running into the lane.
There are some factors to consider before taking your dog out for cross-country skiing, especially if it’s on groomed trails. Given the white, not every dog is a model boy and his temperament is often hard to break. If you want to make your sports outing with our dogs as stress-free as possible, consider the following tips:
- Check with the Nordic center before starting off if dogs are expressly allowed on their trails and what the respective rules are (e.g., the dog needs to be leashed all times)
- Your dog needs to be well trained, meaning he runs reliably to the side slightly in front of you. This way he does not harass other skiers, and he doesn’t get hit by your poles which could result in serious nose or eye injuries. Therefore, obedience training is mandatory to be able to control your dog’s actions.
- Common dog etiquette also applies to a winter trail. If nature calls, do always clean it up. Not only that leaving pet’s poo behind in the snow is not really pleasant to look at, but it can create a potential mess to other skiers as it sticks to skis.
- Selects hours when the trails are not too busy with other skiers, usually early mornings and later afternoon hours.
- Dogs that stretch their circles far into the snow-covered winter forest are better kept on a leash on certain sections of the route. In winter, the game often stays in valleys near the feeding sites resting. The game has little chance to escape. The animals drive down their metabolism in winter and then have to drive it up for flight. This is extremely stressful for them.
- Some Nordic centers call their trails dog-friendly but if you want to be on the safe side, check the trail map beforehand and make sure that the track is not too long so that your four-legged friend can handle it.
How to get started skiing with your dog?
Before you hit the trails with your dog, get his health checked by your veterinarian. Running next to a cross-country skier can mean that your dog engages in a high-impact, cardio-intensive exercise. Unless your dog has been cleared for intensive workouts, he can be at high risk for injury.
Same as you your dog should undergo cross-country skiing related training before the skiing season starts. Keep in mind that your dog runs while you glide across the snow on cross-country skis. It makes sense, then, to increase the condition of both yourself and your dog already during the warmer seasons of the year. One of the best exercises for you and your dog is rollerblading or inline skating. Start slow if it is a new exercise for your dog. Rollerblading or skating with your dog should only be done on a bit cooler days. Make sure to stop often and ensure your dog keeps hydrated.
Nordic walking is also suitable because your dog gets used to the unfamiliar poles. Other suitable exercises for keeping your dog close and in your control while you are moving faster are running or cycling.
But even with well-trained dogs, there are still some points to note. Cross-country skiing is also an endurance sport for your dog. Even a dog that is bursting with stamina can not constantly sprint. Most dogs want to change their gaits constantly and choose between standing, walking, trotting and running.
You should also consider the respective breed. Hunting dogs are sometimes less suitable for cross-country skiing. They walk or gallop, but they do not enjoy the continuous speed of trotting. Bear in mind that your dog’s gait needs to adapt to your skiing pace. Herding dogs usually are better suited for cross-country skiing. However, herding dogs sometimes love to herd people. Therefore, you may want to leash your dog while skiing until you are confident you’ve got his herding behavior under control.
Your dog’s age is important as well. The fitness level between an elderly dog and a younger dog vary greatly. If your dog is already older, he still may be able to do some running on short distances, but most likely won’t have the stamina to go on a cross-country skiing trail which stretches over several kilometers. Skiing with a young dog also requires some special consideration: Depending on the breed, the dog’s growth plates may not be fully closed until he is two years old. Engaging in high-impact exercise before he’s fully developed can result in injuries.
Just like you, your dog needs to warm up before starting an endurance exercise. Otherwise, your dog risks putting too much strain on his muscles. Start slow on your skis with a few minutes in classical style before you switch to the faster skating style. Do not take your dog out immediately after a large meal, no matter how healthy he is.
Things to consider when skiing with your dog for the first time
As weather and the snow conditions are uncertain factors, there are some extra precautions you need to take before starting off for your first-day cross-country skiing with your pup.
Snow and ice can be brutal on our dog’s feet. Especially the paw pads are at risk for drying, cracking, and frostbite. One option to avoid this is to apply an even thin layer of balm or petroleum jelly just before starting off. Another way to protect your dog’s paws is dog boots. You need to look for the right ones suitable for snow conditions. Make sure that dog’s nails are trimmed and that the boots fit well. The boot should be snug fit so that it doesn’t slip off but not too tight that it constricts the paw or cut off the blood circulation. Stop often to check if the boots are still fitting perfectly and don’t leave the feet sore.
At first, your dog won’t like wearing boots; so make sure to acclimate him by putting them on his feet for short periods while you are at home.
Also, keep your dog’s hair around the paws, legs and underbelly trimmed. If the hair is too long ice and snow starts to ball up in the fur as well as around and between the paw pads which can result in pain and injuries.
Depending on the breed, each dog reacts differently to cold temperatures and a natural fur coat does not mean that a dog can not get uncomfortably cold in extreme weather or suffer from hypothermia. If your dog is shivering or trembling or holding up one paw, then the other, he may be too cold. Therefore, you may consider purchasing a coat for your dog if he is prone to cold. Like with dog boots, the right fit matters, so make sure that the coat is the correct one for your dog’s size and breed.
Your first day on the trail with your dog should then be approached calmly and relaxed. Give the dog time to get used to your skis and the unusual movements. A light leash, lots of treats and patience help to let the dog run on the right side – otherwise he would be exposed to “oncoming traffic” and get in the way of other cross-country skiers.
If cross-country skiing with a dog works out well, you may want to expand your tours. Remember to always bring plenty of water, and make sure that the dog eats little or no snow because he could easily get sick.
In any case, be sure to slowly and patiently get the dog used to all these “novelties” before you leave. And pack good treats for the animal’s high energy requirements – not just carbohydrates, but preferably something fatty that instantly provides energy. Then nothing stands in the way of an extended cross-country ski tour with your four-legged friend.
Recap of how to plan a day skiing with your dog
- Your four-legged friend should be able to walk reliably at heel
- Do not let the dog off the leash, especially if there is game in the area.
- Train first and start with short, less frequented trails to work up to longer distances slowly.
- Make sure your dog runs on the right side not to hamper oncoming skiers
- Protect the paws from snow, ice, and salt by either applying a layer of balm or by putting on well-fitted dog boots
- If your dog is prone to cold, layer up with an insulated dog coat
- Bring plenty of water and make sure that the dog does not eat snow.
- Always bring a plastic bag to be able to take care of your dog’s business while out on the trail