24 December 2012

Let's get down to feet

Let's get down to feet

The purpose of this post is to help you learn to take care of your dog's feet.

If you don't take care of your dogs feet, the pads will crack and split. Causing your dog pain. If your dog enjoys skijoring, it is very likely they will work through any pain, and just keep going. It is the job of the skijorer to check and maintain the dog's feet.

Before we leave the house, and after every run, I check their feet, to make sure there are no cracks in the pads.

Start in the Fall

Starting in the fall, we build up the dogs foot pads, by long walks, on a variety of surfaces. I say walks, cause a dog can easily blow a pad on a run, on the wrong surface.

Assuming you have built up your dogs feet starting in the fall, ensure you are feeding zinc in your dog's diet, you can this by adding  fish oils or peanut butter to your dogs diet to help toughen up the pads.


Musher's Secret

The Oxford Dogs use Musher's Secret. It softens the pads, prevents cracking, and also stops ice balls from building up around the toes. It is a wax product, and if the dog eats some, it's not going to do them any harm. Depending on how long you are out for, and the snow conditions, you might have to reapply the wax. We wax up right before we hit the trail, in the truck.

If the dogs have small cracks in their pads, they are off running until the cracks heal, and we treat the pads with Musher's Secret once a day until the pads are in good shape again.


Hair Care

When you are running your dog in the winter, ensure there is no hair growth between the pads. Keep the hair short with a pair of scissors, or clippers. If your dog is not happy with you touching his feet, or you are worried about doing the trimming, take them into a groomer. It's worth it, rather than cutting the webbing or slicing their foot by accident.

If there hair between the toes is allowed to grow too long, ice balls will form between the toes, spreading them apart. Which will not only distract your dog from pulling, but will make mushing unpleasant.

The Dangers of Pavement

Running a hard running dog, or a fresh dog on hard surfaces like pavement, sidewalks, roads, even sand after a rain will lead to wearing od the dogs pads faster than running on softer surfaces, like dirt pack trails, or a good base of snow.   

If you choose to run your dog on such surfaces, you are running the risk of wearing right through their pads.  Look for shiny spots on the pads, or spots that look like drops of moisture.   This means you have blown through all the layers of skin, and are down to about one layer left.   Stop now!   If you have been running your dog on pavemenet, you may also see small red, or black holes in the pad.  These are holes from where the pad has been worn or ripped off by the hard surface.   

Don't run your dog on pavement. 

Take care of your dog's feet, and you will both have a great season!

28 November 2012

Help! My Dog Stops to Smell the Roses!

Smelling the Roses

Flying down the trail, snow is shooting off your skis, the wind is in your hair, the dogs are pulling like a well oiled machine.... until they spot, or more accurately sniff, a pee tree.

One, or both dogs come to a screeching halt, you start to slow down, frustrated, as your dogs lean in towards the yellow snow and get a nice big whiff of it.

Why do dogs smell pee? Because that is what dogs do. The smell of pee to them, is much like you spending time on Facebook. They find out what's going on with their friends and who has been around lately, and how they are feeling.

Facebook and pee sniffing will both get in the way of your skijoring.

The problem with stopping and “smelling the roses”, is that you want the dogs to be moving forward. When they have stopped to smell, that behaviour becomes self rewarding. They decide to stop, they get to smell, they are rewarded.

The way around this?    Be on top of your dog.

A dog will learn a behaviour, whether you want them to or not. As soon as the dog turns his head to smell a pee tree, put a stop to it. Take your dog out for a training run, or walk. Learn to anticipate where they will be stopping to smell and sniff, and be ready to react.

Avoid taking breaks where the dog is likely to be rewarded for smelling the roses as well. If you and your dog need a break, stop, pull in the gangline, and make it just that. A break. Not a time to “stop and smell the roses”.

While we have said before, that skijoring should be fun for your dog, there are times when you must deliver a stern “No”. Follow up with praise as soon as your dog is doing the correct behaviour. Running should be more fun that sniffing pee!

27 November 2012


Hills, will kill ya!

One thing we always train our dogs to do well, are hills. Living out here in the flat part of Canada, hills are a  bit hard to find. But we look for any elevation during our runs and use them.   Everything is training.

Here is a race that we were in, To the Loppet!  .  Many people in the race struggled with the hills.  Stopping to herringbone up, and their dogs would look over their shoulders as if to ask "What's going on bud?  KEEP UP!"  But not our dogs...
Our dogs eat hills for breakfast. 

It's simple enough, and this was a tip taught to me by a mushing mentor.  During your training walks or regular runs, anytime you see a hill, take full advantage of it.  


Teach your dogs that hills are fun, and they should run at them. When you run at them, and get to the top, offer lots of praise, and then keep moving.  You don't want to teach them to run up a hill, and stop.  Once your dogs are pulling when they see a hill, offer a command for the behaviour as well. We use "HILL".  Which means, to the Oxford Dogs," RUN!  There's a party up there!"

You will be thanking me later when you are coming back after a long run, winded, and parked your truck on a hill.  When the dogs see the hill, and get their second wind, your tired butt will be dragged right up after them.

Is my dog too old to skijor? Is my dog too young?

A Question of Age

On one end of the spectrum, we see people come out with young dogs, usually about 8 months of age, and want to get into the sport.  On the other end, people notice their old  friends are starting to slow down and start to question when is the right time to retire the dog.

This post will address both topics.

The Young Dog

Young dogs are full of energy, and can be hard for some owners to handle.  People look for an outlet for their dogs, and are drawn to skijoring.

If you want a life-long skijoring partner, the emphasis should not be on tiring your young dog out, but rather on FUN!  Keep sessions short, and the weight light.  Do not overload or overwork a young dog. Their bodies and minds are still growing. 

Keeping sessions short and fun also leaves the dog wanting more.  It should always be your idea when it is time to stop, not the dog's.  So stop your pup before they grow bored, and you will have a dog who is always eager to get out and pull! 

Everything you do is training.  You can train your dog that pulling is fun, by keeping it that way.

You are responsible for your dog.  Make the right call, and your young dog will pull happily for many years to come.

Yeah, but your dog is eating your house, and driving you nuts?   Still want your hyper puppy a little more tired?  Mental work can be a great way to tire out a young dog.   While your dog is young, and you are waiting for longer runs, work on walks around the block with the focus on training the commands you will need later on.
Follow our training progress with our youngster here

The Old Dog

We recently lost Old School, at the age of 15.  She was a happy and fit dog, who joined us on our adventures right up to the day she died.  

When she was about 8, she lost her interest in pulling, and we mostly retired her.   She was happy to come out and run along behind us as we skijored or biked.  We kept the pace slow, and watched for any sign of lameness.    Keeping her active and fit throughout her whole life, even when she had started to slow down, helped lessen the effects of ageing.  

No one knows your dog better than you.   Some dogs want to please you so much that they will pull, even when they shouldn't be.  It's up to you to make the call, and slow it down for your old friend.

Old dogs can still pull, you will need to work harder, pair them with a tired out younger dog, give them a raised bed, and treat them as the dear old friends they are.  Just as you started off slow with your young dog, start to slow it down for your old dog.  Runs will be shorter, and slower.   Old dogs want to have fun too!