Take the dog out for a ski, but do it right

Posted By: The Ski Channel on October 14, 2009 12:45 pm

You’re on a long ski trip. You bring Rover along because you can’t stand to put him in a kennel, or worse…leave him with your best buddy who again might forget to feed him for a few days (“He’s not a plant, Jeff!”). Once you’re at the cabin, you can’t bear to watch Rover’s face as you head off to have a fun-filled day on the mountain without him. You say, “what the heck, I can take Rover with me into the backcountry, he won’t wander off, it’s perfectly safe, right?” Wrong! Skiing with your dog can be extremely dangerous and hazardous to both you and your dog. Many dogs have been seriously cut by skis, hit by snowmobiles, or simply lost in the snow. But, there’s a right way to take Rover out for a ski. It involves patience, discipline, and stamina. Grayson Schaffer of the Outside Online blog has some great insights into how you can train your dog to be a great ski partner, while keeping the activity as safe as if you were just out for a walk. Here are some of his tips.


“Teaching Him To Wait
Start all new training drills in the home, where obedience is likely to be better than outside. Most dogs will master new skills better if they initially learn them without the distraction of unfamiliar places.

1. Have your dog sit. He should remain sitting until you either call him to you or ask him to heel. Practice by walking circles around your sitting dog. He should follow you with his eyes but not get up.

2. Now walk away from him. If he breaks and runs to you, correct him immediately and return him to his sitting position. Make him wait. Then call him to you and have him sit again. This is the way skiing should work: You move away from him and then call him to you. In some cases, you’ll want him to wait for you to stop, in others, like powder, you’ll get a head start on him and then let him follow.

3. Now take it to the field. Once you’re getting consistent results inside, build up your pup’s patience outside, where there are distracting smells. If he won’t do it while you’re in street clothes, he definitely won’t when you’re on skis.

4. If he’s consistent on land, then you’re ready for snow. Many local ski areas allow up-hill skinning and dogs on the slopes before the lifts open. Pick a mellow beginner slope, preferably groomed, where you can slide away from your dog backwards. Have him sit. Move only a few feet away, make him wait, then call him to you. Build up the distance slowly. You want him to succeed every single time. Once he’s solid on groomers, take him into the backcountry.

Teaching Him To Heel Behind a Skier
1. Before you can heel your dog beside you while you ski, you’ll need a good off-leash heel on land. You’ll know you’ve got a good heel when your dog is constantly making eye contact while heeling, looking for instruction. If he’s still sniffing the ground or occasionally wandering, keep working on correcting these behaviors. An energetic dog with a good off-leash heel will almost run in place to match your slower speed.

2. When you’re ready to move to snow, start snowplowing on the beginner slope. Your dog may have to heel behind you rather than beside you. On narrow tracks or in powder, when there’s only room for one of us, he naturally goes behind. If obedience breaks down and he lunges for your skis, go back to using a leash on snow. Move slowly. Have him go from heeling to sitting to build patience. If he breaks, stop and start over.

3. Be consistent. Once you’re taking your dog into the backcountry, he should be heeling all the way up the hill. You can’t let him run free and then expect him to know that you’ve changed the rules for the descent.”

So, if this is something you want to do, put in the time and effort to insure it’s done properly. No sense in risking your pup’s safety!