25 February 2014

Happy, Healthy Dogs and Harness Selection

Though skijoring, kicksledding, scootering or any dog powered activity, you and your dog develop a close, trusting relationship because of the amount of time you spend together.  You are striving hard to work as a team, and through exercise releasing endorphins.    The love of the trail only serves to strengthen your bond.  

The goal of is a happy, healthy, highly motivated team.

Throughout this blog are many tips and ideas exploring how to keep your dog happy, healthy and motivated.  Today we will focus on the wide amount of choices you have for harnesses. 

As you can see in the collage above, there are many, many, many kinds of harnesses out there on the market!  I haven't even been able to scratch the surface of all the options out there.  So this is only a small selection of course.   Every musher has their own preference, but it really comes down to the dogs.   

How does your dog perform when wearing a harness?  We want the best for our dogs, and we want them to be happy, harness selection has a large part to play in that.     

This article is going to get into proper harness fit, design and how the harness you choose affects the health of your dog.

Harness Fit

Seems like a good place to start!  The basics of any harness, is that they should be fitting around the dog's shoulders, and not riding up to the neck.  The "neck hole" should fit over the shoulder blades at the top, and the breast bone at the bottom.   A harness that is too big will slip down over the shoulders, and get in the way of the dogs legs.   A harness that is too small will ride up around the dog's throat.  A harness that does not fit properly can distract your dog, rub their coat bald or even cause injury!

A typical X-back harness is meant to fit a typical northern breed dog.  Wider across the chest, and narrower down to the hips.  Many mushers use X-back or H-back harnesses, but pay attention to the types of dogs they are running.

If you are running a hound dog, look at some of the options meant for hound deep chested hound and hound crosses which are popular in the sprinting races of dog mushing.

For those of us running family pets, and mutts, the sizing can be a bit more tricky.  There is no real standard across the industry for what a Large or a Small is, and it varies from outfitter to outfitter.   Read their instructions for sizing carefully, and ask about a return policy just in case!

While it is true that not all harnesses are created equal, there simply is not one harness that is hands down the best harness out there.  If someone insists that the harness they have is the best one out there, it may be the case, for their particular team, or their own dog.  It does not mean that will translate to you our own experience!

Here is an excellent video on how to fit a harness.


Two questions to keep in mind when shopping for a harness.  What was this harness intended for?   Is that what you will be doing?

There are so many options out there for harness designs, that there is no reason not to run your dog in a harness for the intended activity.   Most important when thinking of harness design, is to look at the attachment point.  Where you hook up the gangline.

Them compare the height of your dog, with the height of how the dog will be attached.  In any harness design your dog should be pulling forward from their shoulders, by pushing against the harness.  That's the basic idea.

For example, the attachment point for a skier who is of average height, with an average height dog, means that the gangline goes up off the dog to the skiers waist, as in the picture above.     This means that when the dog leans forward and pulls, the dog is using her shoulders to pull.  There is no pressure put down on the dog's hips, because the line goes up. .

In this shot, the line is going up off the dog, and the dog is leaning in to pull a skijorer.

The same is true in biking and scootering, the dog leans forward on their shoulders, with an angle up to the attachment point on the scooter or bike.

So skijoring, scootering and sledding, you can likely get away with the same style of harness.  If you have a tall dog, or a low attachment point on your scooter, you will need to look at the angle.   

If you are using a dog sled or a kicksled, the attachment point will be lower on the dog.  In some cases, shoter people with tall dogs skijoring will also fit into this category.

A lower attachment point needs to be taken into account and the use of a harness which will take the pressure off of the dog's hips.  Adding a longer gangline will also help reduce the pressure pushing down on a dog's back end.  A dog pulling forward, while at the same time having a downward force pushing down on their back end is going to cause discomfort and possibly injury.  

In this picture, you can see the attachment point is below the dog's hips, so she uses a harness designed to take the pressure off of the hips  

Many people know not to make a dog Sit, but applying pressure downwards on their back end or hips.  That's common knowledge.  But oftentimes we are still guilty of applying too much pressure to dog's hips through pulling sports.   It makes me wince when I see a picture of a dog pulling a kicksled with gangline pushing down on the dog's hips.  Either add a longer gangline, or get another harness.  It's a simple thing to avoid putting too much downward pressure on your dog's read end. 

Healthy dogs and harness fit

To pull properly and safely, your dog needs to be outfitted in the harness which fits them the best.  Look for a harness that fits properly, and don't outfit your dog if he is too fat. Have your dog drop some weight before asking him to pull.   Then you know your dog is healthy, and ready to pull and be fit properly. 

Now we have already gone over the importance of a good fitting harness, but now I am going to suggest you have not one, but two well fitting harnesses for each dog on your team.  

Why is that?  Well, roatating through different styles of well fitting harennes will relive the pressure points off the dog's body.   We rotate our dogs through different styles of harnesses throughout the season.

Our dogs spend the majority of their time working in front of the scooter and skijoring.  We use the sled for training, and in the shoulder seasons.   When we load up gear, we pack the right harness for the dog, and the activity.  If we have been working hard at skijoring for a few months, we make sure that within that time we rotate them through their harnesses, so we prevent pressure point injuries.

Some dogs take to a new harness, no problem at all.  Other's need a bit more time to become used to it until they perform at their best.    We are always careful to ensure that our dogs race in the harness in which they perform the best in.   

How many harnesses do you have for each dog?   

17 February 2014

Snow Motion: Film Frenzy


The Film Frenzy!

The following films are part of the annual Snow Motion Film Frenzy.    Members of Snow Motion Winter Sports Dog Club race, shoot and edit their films for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to the Winnipeg Humane Society Boutique.


All films must have contained footage of the Snow Motion Classic Race held at Birds Hill Park. Participants race in kicksledding or skijoring with one or two dog teams.   Snow Motion offers races classes from Novice and Kids to Pro.   

We had two winners this year!   We have a two way tie! Shawna and Ashley are this years winners of the Film Frenzy!  Thank-you to everyone who submitted a film and to all the fans who voted!


 Click on the picture to see Andrè's entry! 




Click on the above picture to see Shawna's entry!


Click on the above picture to see Patricia's entry!



Click on the picture above to see Ashley's entry!


Click on the picture above to see Jäger's Bollywood movie!


 The film makers would love to see your comments and thoughts on their movies!  


Burger's Big News III

Burger and Belle raced in the Snow Motion Classic race, at Bird's Hill provincial park.   This was Burger's very first race!   Belle has been racing in Pro class for 3 years, but she didn't mind dropping down to help out her brother!     I am so proud of the team!

Here is Burger's race footage

As you can see, the trail was pretty deep with a recent snow fall.  It meant that some teams were not able to finish the course.  Due to the cold temps, I had some trouble with my camera, but I was able to get some really good shots still.  Overall, it was another awesome event hosted by Snow Motion!
To see the race results click here.  Good job out there teams!

4 February 2014

Burger's Big News II

Burger at the Snow Motion Mock Race

Burger gains some experience as a race dog, at the Mock Race held by Snow Motion.   He did so good! We are very proud of him! 

We kept it nice and slow, and gave him some breaks.  He is still at the point, where stopping before he loses focus keeps him running well.  Burger got passed by a good fast team, and then ended up passing them again about 1k later, near the finish line.  Just the kind of finish you want to have!  Good dog!

Good job team! 

Avoiding Injury in the Pulling Dog

All athletes are prone to injuries and pulling dogs are sadly, no exception. As I write this, I sit here with a slipped disc myself, and a dog who is recovering from a sprained knee.    This article is a good place to start with thinking about preventing injuries in your dog.    Injuries can sneak up over a longer period of time, or happen fairly suddenly.

If you are new to dog powered sports, start out with a good book.   Click here to read our book reviews.  Newbies should also talk to their vet and get the all clear before they harness their dog up.

If you are not new to dog powered sports, take a look, this is just to get you started thinking, as there are many factors which will help keep your dog safe and healthy.

I want to get a conversation going, and this is a start.  Have a good relationship with your vet, and always check with them if you think something is wrong.

Practise Safe Runs

This should be obvious, but run your dog where it is safe!  Skip the "urban mushing" temptation.  Go for the trails that are safe and appropriate for your activity.   Streets are for cars.  Sidewalks are for pedestrians.  When you are engaged in a dog pulling activity you are neither.  So go find a trail.

In addition, avoid asking your dog to go fast in deep snow, or on uneven trails.  Be aware of "punch through" snow, or snow conditions in which your dog will break through the top crusty layer of snow, into the softer snow.  A dog hitting this kind of snow condition can pull a muscle.  Ouch.  Not worth it.

Save your top speeds for nice groomed trails!

Do not run a fat dog!

Pulling sports are physically demanding on a dog. Your dog should be in shape before you start the season.  A dog running around with extra weight is putting more strain on his muscles, joints and heart.  Do your dog a favour, and start in the fall with the weight loss.  Get out with your training walks and build your endurance slowly, in both you and your dog. 

Eating a little more in the winter is appropriate for you and your dog, you will both be burning more calories as you exercise more and try and keep warm outside.    But your dog should never get fat, or over weight.   Keep your dog trim and slim.  

If you are unsure about his weight, talk to your vet.  Find your dog's ideal weight, and keep him there! 

Get better at ________

Pretty simple, no matter what activity you and your dog are participating in, you and your dog should both be participating!    If your dog is doing more than 50% of the work, you aren't a team member, you are upper management.
Identify goals for yourself which will make you a more valued team member for your dog.  Learn to ski, get in better shape for hill climbing, stop drinking beer the night before a run.  
A few small changes, and you will both have more fun out there!


Periods of rest are important for any of us.  Rest periods are when the body repairs itself and gets ready for the next activity.   Too much training without enough rest will result in injuries.  Allow your dog to have periods of rest in between his pulling outings.  This will also keep him happy and wanting more!  Everyone has a different answer, to how much rest and exercise pulling dogs need.   

Find what works for you and your dog, and stick to it.


Keep an eye on those feet!  Small cracks or fissures in the paw pads can quickly become major problems!   Condition your dog's feet, and use a paw wax or cream to keep them in good shape.

Skijora answered a question for people wondering about wax vs. booties, here. It really comes down to personal preference and what sort of snow conditions you will be running your dog in.

For deeper cracks or when you see blood, contact your vet ASAP.  

Warm up, Cool Down

Don't hit the trail at full speed right off the bat!  Allow your dog, and yourself to warm up slowly as you hit the trail.    Warm the muscles, then work yourself up to your top speeds.   In the Winter, we drive our dogs to the trails with coats on, to keep their muscles warm.   We remove the coat as we are getting ready to run.  

If you are about to race, then be organised so you have enough time to warm up your dog.  Walk your dog and trot your dog for a few minutes before a race.  It will help your own muscles warm up as well!  After the race, be sure to allow your dog to cool down properly with a short walk as well, before you put them back in the car. 

Go with your gut

If your dog seems off, eating different, laying around more, less likely to play, irritable, if anything has changed at all, GO TO YOUR VET.   Have your dog's joints and muscles examined for possible injury.   The sign may be so slight, but you know your dog best, and you are their advocate.   


Dear readers, what tips do you have for avoiding injury with your dogs?

2 February 2014

Snow Motion: Mock Race

The following images were taken at the Snow Motion Mock Race.  The Mock race is for teams to come out, get some race experience, and see their times before the Snow Motion Classic.  Some teams ran 5k, which will qualify them for Pro or Sport classes for skijoring or kicksledding.  Other teams ran 3k, which will qualify them for the novice or the recreational classes.  It was pretty cold out, but as you can see, everyone had an awesome time!