Skijoring with your dog and Louisa Morrissey at Devil’s Thumb on Sunday
Grand County, CO Colorado
Louisa Morrissey of Silverthorne will be at Devil’s Thumb on Sunday Jan. 8 to teach skiers and their dogs the finer points of skijoring on all trail types.
Skijoring is dogs pulling ahead and is related to sled dogs,” she said. “But the dogs aren’t just pulling; the skier must be active as well.”
Morrissey has taught all disciplines of cross country skiing for 20 years. She got into skijoring when she had a German shorthair pointer who needed a lot of exercise. Skijoring was her way to get her dog exercised in winter and to calm it down.
She is now teaching clinics at Devil’s Thumb and around the state. She is a certified professional dog trainer and gives dog training classes in manners, basic obedience and “Recall” (getting your dog to come to you when called).
She trains with Victoria Stillwell, an internationally known dog trainer and host of “Its Me or the Dog,” a television series on Animal Planet. Stillwell observed Morrissey’s training methods and accepted her into the international team of dog trainers.
Morrissey’s dog training philosophy is about positive reinforcement. No choking. No shocking.
Morrissey has four border collies and skis with them instead of taking them hiking or running.
“Skijoring gives dogs a job and exercise.”
She says this sport is a great way to get younger dogs calmer.
“Dog parks are like an unmanaged playground. Dogs come home from a dog park more unmanageable,” she said. “In skijoring there is interaction and bonding between the owner and dog. When my dogs come from skijoring, they are tired.”
Another important aspect of skijoring is the energy you give as a skier that goes into the whole team. Morrissey compares the sport to canoeing: Everyone in the boat needs to paddle.
“Dogs are pulling and you are skiing. It’s fun.”
Both the skier and the dog get a workout on the trail. It’s also a fun way to spend time with your dogs, she said.
“It helps with agility and basic obedience,” she said. “My dogs are my family.”
Skijoring can include any kind of cross country skiing – backcountry, telemark, classic, and skate ski. The only additional equipment needed other than skis is a belt and harness.
Morrissey said the belt is worn around the lower part of the back and waist but shouldn’t ride high; your lower back is more stable. The belt is like a bunge line that can release stress and allow for more smoothness while skiing. It has a quick release so the dogs don’t get tangled.
Dogs wear a harness that is the full length of their body. This type of harness allows them to use all their running muscles efficiently and accommodates the running motion.
Skiers need to be aware of the type of ski used during skijoring.
“If your skis have metal edges, they could cut the dogs so it’s important to be a good skier so you can stop and change direction, and not run into your dogs,” Morrissey warned.
She also cautioned that dogs can get spooked and lose confidence to be out in front pulling so it is important to be a good skier. Wildlife encounters on the trail can be especially hazardous.
“Since dogs are on a leash, when you encounter wildlife you can teach your dog to go on by the moose or deer. You need to be able to get your dog’s attention, turn around and leave slowly,” she said. “It’s very important to respect wildlife. We are guests in their place, and they can hurt your dogs.”
Old forest roads or a four-wheel drive road on touring skis are good places to learn with your dogs.
“When you get to a groomed place such as Devil’s Thumb and you know how to skate ski, and you have a fast dog, you’ll be going fast,” Morrissey said.
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