The Joy and Glory of Dog-Powered Sports 1

For eons, canines have been our companions. Between 18,000 to 30,000 years ago, wild canids became domesticated. Some scientists theorize that these creatures, precursors to the dogs we know and love today, domesticated humans (not the other way around)!

Either way, we have been a team ever since.

Over the centuries, dogs have helped us find food, warned us of danger, protected us, helped us explore unmapped territory and rescued lost travelers. Luckily for us, these abilities and instincts lie deep in their DNA.

Today our dogs remain close and devoted companions for search and rescue, police and military work, assisting the disabled and much more.

But it’s not all about work! Dogs love to play, run, chase—and doing it with us is one of their passions.

We have a myriad of choices for shared human/canine pastimes: hiking, jogging, Nordic skiing, Frisbee tossing, agility events and surfing, just to name a few. In addition, there is a whole other realm of activities known as “dog-power sports”.

“Dog power” is defined as the power of a dog in harness attached to a device with the dog assisting in the forward movement and momentum of said device (or person). But there’s much more to it. Behind all dog-powered sports is a love story between humans and their canine athletes. This ultimate manifestation of the human/­animal bond is within anyone’s reach.

So how does one get started in dog-power sports? There’s no need for a whole kennel of dogs like those used in distance dog mushing. One or two dogs, a close bond with dogs, minimal gear and a love of the outdoors is the equation.

In the Roaring Fork Valley, great trails and country roads abound, as do great dogs and dog lovers, so options are at hand year-round.

You and your dog will have more fun if you have previously participated in these sports before adding in the extra momentum a dog can give. You may run with your dog on a leash. To take it to the next step, just add a padded belt (similar to a rock climber’s Swiss seat) with a line attached to it. That line then clips to the dog’s harness. As the dog runs and pulls the runner, the sport of jogging becomes “canicross”!

With bikejoring, that same line is attached to a mountain bike; the dog runs out ahead and the cyclist pedals.

When the snow comes, it’s time for skijoring. The form of skijoring with dogs that we usually see today originated in Scandinavia. In this sport, the skier uses Nordic skis, wears a skijor belt and line, and is teamed up with one or two dogs. The skijorer assists their dog(s) by skate-skiing or cross-country skiing.

All of these sports are done from a recreational level all the way to World Championship competition. They offer exercise that stretches from mellow jaunts to all-out competitive sprint races all over the world.

One does not need a particular breed to enjoy these sports, although some breeds are more adept at running and pulling. The dogs competing in these sports average about 50 pounds, with some smaller, some larger.

Being in tune with a dog’s desire and ability is crucial. Start off slowly, going shorter distances and avoiding hot temperatures that can overheat a dog. Use common sense when it comes to the dog’s fitness level, as well as your own.

Dog-power clinics are a great way to be introduced to the sport. These clinics instruct beginners on equipment, on how to encourage dogs to run and pull, and on dog care; they also offer practice alongside experienced dog-power veterans. Clinics will be coming to the Roaring Fork Valley soon, so look for announcements at local pet stores, bike and ski shops and outdoor clothing stores. Or email inquiries to spunkyhounds@gmail.com.

To learn more about dog-power sports and the canine/human bond they form, go to DogPowerMovie.com and YouTube, where you can view stunning footage of World Champion Antony Le Moigne and his dog Phoenix 
doing the ultimate canicross in “No Limit Factory”.

The experiences that you and your dog can share though these sports will open up a whole new world for both of you!

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Author Rebecca Knight was introduced to dog-power sports in 1988 while living in Alaska. Since 2008, she and her dogs have competed in nearly 100 skijor races nationwide, including three World Championships in Alaska, Canada and Norway, winning and medaling in multiple races.