Skijorring

Learning Dog Joring + Ruffwear Omnijore System

Dog Joring is a great way to get the entire family outside and moving. We have been testing out the Ruffwear Omnijore System for the past few months in all types of weather – see review below!

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Why Dog Joring

We lost our legendary adventure-pup, Scotty, a year ago, at the ripe old age of 16.  It was pretty devastating to lose him, and the house was too “quiet” without him. We decided to adopt a new shelter dog a few months later, to help mend our broken hearts. 

We rescued a young stray Australian shepherd/blue heeler mix, who we named Ripley.  She is a cow dog, so we knew we needed to keep her RUNNING and busy!  She’s bonkers for a tennis ball or frisbee, but she really thrives when getting some miles in. 

Ripley and her new family.

After I sprained my ankle this summer, it was suddenly very difficult to get her enough exercise without our daily stroller-runs and walks. 

Out of necessity, I started taking her on bike rides.  When I did, I realized she loves to RUN.  In fact, she could run faster than me on my mountain bike, especially if I was pulling the bike trailer with my 2-year old inside. 

She also had the unfortunate habit of chasing cars, so I needed to keep her on-leash during our bike rides.  She soon started pulling at her walking harness on the bike and began towing me along. After that, I started researching bikejoring and skijoring with a dog.

“Joring” sounds like a big, scary word, but really, it’s just dog-aided running, skiing, or bike riding.  Basically, it’s like a sled team of one, with you pedaling or skiing along behind. 

Ginny, TMM Team

If you have an active dog, joring is a REALLY great way to get your dog some exercise, and help get you and the kids outside!  And surprise! It’s not nearly as hard to learn as you’d think.

While I am by NO MEANS a master dog trainer or skijoring expert, in my stumbling along and learning on the fly, I’ve learned a few things to share with anyone who is starting out.

1. Get the Right Dog Joring Gear

Just like with people: gear matters! Get an actual pulling harness.  Your dogs should NOT be pulling with a regular walking harness, which actually discourages pulling. 

A pulling harness is safe and comfortable for the dog, and should include a shock-absorbing towline to prevent you and the dog both from jerking each other around.  When I decided to pursue this joring experiment, I turned to the fine folks at Ruffwear for help. 

I’ve been a Ruffwear fan for ages, because they make the highest quality gear for adventure-oriented dogs.  They were kind enough to set me up with their Omnijore system to test out.  It was designed specifically for joring, and makes an absolute world of difference.  Keep Reading for my full review…

2.  Use Dog Joring Commands

There are a lot of fancy sled-dog commands out there.  “Hike” means Go, “Gee” means Right, “Haw” means Left, “Easy” means Slow, “Whoa” means Stop, “On By” means Don’t Stop.  It took me about 10 minutes to realize I couldn’t keep “Gee” and “Haw” straight in my head.

I used normal words: “Left,” “Right,” “Slow,” and “Leave it.”  Your dog won’t care what words you use, as long as you are consistent with your commands. 

I started teaching Ripley directional commands on our daily walks.  When I turned left, I would say “Left,” and then be reward her after each turn with a “Good Girl!” and a head scratch.  We still work on this for reinforcement, but she generally got it after a couple weeks. 


3. Line Out

After we started joring by happy accident,  I learned that every single sled dog site says this is the #1 most important command your dog needs to learn… and it’s one of the biggest things I wish I had known before we started joring! 

“Line Out” simply means your dog should walk to the end of the leash, but not start pulling yet.  This keeps the towline from getting tangled up.  There’s lots of videos out there, like this one, to teach you how to train this command.

In real life, a hyper dog who is excited about a bike ride + actual bike with rider + being outside = a recipe for chaos.  It’s super frustrating to have to unwind the long lead from around my legs or the bike tires. 

4. Start Small

I started riding my bike with Ripley on a stretch of road in my neighborhood that was under construction.  It was only a half-mile loop and there was reliably no traffic there.  At first I held her lead in my hand so I could let go quickly, until I learned how she would react.  I added in the bike trailer only after I had been out with Ripley a few times, to gain confidence. 

5.  Don’t Get Frustrated when Dog Joring

Stay focused and try to anticipate your dog’s distractions.  Is there another dog on the trail, or in a neighbor’s yard?  Be ready to deal with your dog running off course and slow the pace! 

With bikejoring or skijoring, you’re pretty much guaranteed to fall down at some point.  It’s OK!  Ripley almost yanked me straight off my bike a full-speed one time, because a dog barked at her through a fence.  Now I know to go slow through that area as we are working on her reaction.

6. Watch Your Dog’s Feet

In general, try to avoid pavement when bikejoring with your dog.  Why?  It’s hard on their feet.  The miles add up quickly when you have extra dog-power, and just like asphalt is hard on your bare feet, it’s hard on your dog’s feet too. 

Try to find an area of trails, or grass if you are bikejoring.  If you just have paved trails or streets, make your trips short or try some dog boots.  Stop frequently and make sure your dog’s pads aren’t wearing down too fast or getting blisters. 

If you find yourself on pavement a lot, only go bikejoring once or twice a week, as opposed to daily runs, to help your dogs feet and joints. 

Primarily skijoring? Remember that ice can build up on your dog’s pads. If you are struggling with this, trim the fur between their pads, try musher’s wax, or try dog booties.

Finally…

…remember that practice makes perfect! Just like taking your kids outside, the more you and your dog practice, the better you with both do!  Don’t be afraid to give bikejoring or skijoring a shot.  Your dog will probably love it, and your kids will love it too!


The Ruffwear Omnijore System:

The system comes with 3 components: the Dog harness, towline, and the human hip belt.

Dog Harness

The dog harness has a super-adjustable fit (3 different sizes to choose from, and 4 adjustment points on the harness), so it fits my slender, athletic pup like a dream. 

Dogs do have to be comfortable pulling it over their head, as there isn’t a side buckle.  A treat can make a great bribe the first couple times you put it on!  Ripley was hesitant the first time we put it on, but now she jumps in circles when she sees me pick it up!

The chest piece is wide and padded, but still allows full range of motion in the front shoulders for all-out running. It also has a loop for attaching a light, which is incredibly handy and I use quite a bit, since it gets dark so early here in Montana.

Human Hip Belt

The human end of the harness is similar to my running hydration belt, and is wide and comfortable.  It has a leg harness option, which I haven’t used yet, but is quite adjustable.  I imagine this would provide extra stability if you have narrower hips. 

The hip belt allows the dog’s towline to swing 180-degrees, which is nice if you have a dog who isn’t always good at staying directly in front of you (which is most dogs who are learning joring). 

By far the best feature is the super-handy quick release strap, which prevents your dog from dragging you along, should you fall down.  It also comes with a water bottle pocket and water bottle, as well as two small zipper pouches for your keys. 

Towline

The towline that connects the two is called “Wavelength” webbing and is like a long bungee cord.  It absorbs shock and makes the initial pull of the dog much less jarring!  It really makes all the difference in the world to have a good towline.  I was worried it wouldn’t be long enough with my bike or with my nordic skis, but it seems to be just about perfect and I’ve not had any trouble with it.  It has held up well over several months of use. 

Bottom Line:

What I’m not so crazy about:

I’m mixed on the water bottle pouch, because it’s so handy, but also gets in the way of my daypack, the way it sticks out.  I guess you aren’t supposed to skijor with a backpack on, but as a mom, it’s impossible to go without!

The final word:

I really love the Ruffwear Omnijore system.  It’s very intuitive and easy to use, which is nice as a beginner.  The harness has such a great, custom fit for any dog,  and with the towline, works great for any form of joring. 

I don’t use the hip belt when I’m bikejoring, but I have used it a bunch as we are transitioning to snow season.  The design ensures you are stable on your skis, even though your dog is pulling you forward, which is pretty important for a newbie to the sport! 

Buy the Ruffwear Omnijore System

The system is available both at REI and at Amazon.

© 2019, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.

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