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When it's time to include your dog, short-haired breeds like Pointers will probably need coats. On the opposite end of the spectrum, once it gets above freezing, you'll need to watch that thick-coated northern breeds aren't getting too warm. But, in general, exercising in the cold can be safer than in the warm weather, when dogs overheat easily because they can cool themselves only by panting.
"Winter is perfect for a dog-powered sport. The air is really keeping the dogs cool every time they breathe in and it blows across their tongue," Thompson says. "They can run longer and pull harder."
You do want to make sure your dogdrinks enough, because dehydration increases the risk of hypothermia, and keep an eye on their feet.
"Some dogs get cold feet, and some don't," Morrissey says. "If you notice them picking up their paws, they're either cold or nervous." To keep ice balls from forming, trim fur from their feet, and use musher's wax. If trail conditions are rough and icy, your dog should wear booties.
And the sport obviously calls for specialized equipment, such as a harness specifically designed for skijoring that doesn't put pressure on your dog's neck.
With any new exercise for your dog, you want to check with your veterinarian first to make sure he is healthy and capable of taking on the sport, and start slow. "Temper your enthusiasm, make the first outing short, and stop before [you and your dog] get tired. Err on the conservative side," Thompson says.
But basic training shouldn't be difficult. Certainly the pulling part comes naturally to many dogs. "How many times have you seen a dog walking down the street pulling the arm off the owner?" Thompson asks. (And maybe you've even been that owner.)
Some dogs do need to be coaxed or focused — or assured that it's OK to pull in this circumstance — because like in any other training, different dogs need different approaches. Julie Draguns, who skijors with her Golden Retriever, Sage, and her mixed breed, Winnie, says their initial experiences were quite distinct.
Sage was young and distractible, more interested in head-buttingDraguns'skis and poles. "Then [Sage] found something interesting in atree well and jumped into it and left me face down in the snow," Draguns recalls. "It was hard to get her focused and get her going, but she did get it by the end of that session, and she had a great time."
Winnie was the opposite. "As soon as I put the harness and skis on, she was ready to run," Draguns says. "She took off and ran till she couldn't run any more. She was so excited to get to run as fast as she wanted to."
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