How using a waist harness with bungee leash, tempting treats and, if necessary, strong verbal commands are essentials for training your dog for ski touring and trail running...
If you've followed the Style Altitude blog and the insta @agelessadventuring you'll know that our dogs are a part of everything we do, whether travelling all together in the van to Spain, ski touring, running, hiking, even stand up paddleboarding.
Our Jack Russells are legends in their mountain lifetimes having ski toured with us for over 10 years, known as the Rando Chiens and @allrightjacks. Read about their ski tour exploits here. We never really trained them, they just naturally followed our tracks, enjoying being out in the snow, just like we do. Their brave hearts, though, are now stronger than their little legs and at the ages of 13 and 10 years, they're semi-retired, only coming out for daily walks or easy hikes rather than running or ski touring.
It was through circumstance rather than design that we acquired Ullr, named after the Norse ski god, from a friend here in Serre Che when her lovely Border Collie, Lucky got, er, lucky one day while in season and had puppies last year. No one was sure who the father was but, one year later, we met Snook here in Serre Che, a local Husky cross, who is beyond doubt Ullr's dad.
At three months, Ullr was the same size as the Jacks, see below, but he soon grew @Ullrsnowdog.
So with Border Collie and Husky DNA, he has the perfect pedigree, albeit not a Cruft's one, for our mountain life. In fact, he is akin to a Tamaskan, a German Shepherd and sled dog cross, who are bred to look like Grey Wolves. With boundless energy and super agile, Ullr did, though, need to learn the ropes, staying with us rather than hooning around doing his own thing, especially when ski touring out in the backcountry.
We started him on gentle ski tours, last winter, discovering that his Husky heritage has given him a natural desire to pull so we use a bungee leash and a waist harness. Going up together, I would take Ullr, keeping him behind Gav's skis as he broke trail.
Or should I say, Ullr took me, with his innate pulling power. He's now known as Ullr the Puller, a great paw-assisted asset going uphill if you're wearing a waist harness. Ditto for running, this summer, when he bagged his first Col du Galibier with us, via the 6.5km L'Ancienne Route.
Running with dogs on bungee leashes started with mushers training their lead sled dogs when there was no snow. Since then the sport has developed both recreationally and competitively. There is an ever-growing global CaniCross trail-running community creating events for runners and dogs using bungee harnesses, with all abilities of humans and most breeds of dogs welcome to participate. Read more in The Run Diary.
Coming down off the leash in the snow, it didn't take Ullr long to learn to avoid the skis, his athleticism meaning he can leap clear if necessary and, whereas the Jacks always kept to our tracks in powder, the deep snow is not an issue for Ullr, as you can see from below.
But running downhill with him means putting your life in his paws. Gav drew the short straw descending from Galibier attached to Ullr, who led at a precipitous pace over the rough terrain. I think Gav got a PB on Strava, though!
As he is only young, we're still wary of letting Ullr off the leash in the summer when the siren call of the marmots can call him far afield. He has a GPS tracker so we can see where he is via a phone app but, of course, this only works when there's a good mobile signal, not always the case in the mountains.
Therefore, recall training has been essential. As Ullr is high on the canine intelligence spectrum and quick to learn, a treat is a good incentive to return to us. In fact, he was off the lead and coming back even as a puppy. We, also, sometimes hid behind bushes or trees when he went too far ahead on a walk, which freaked him out, thinking we'd gone a different way until he spotted one of the Jacks. He now constantly looks over his shoulder to check that we're not playing that game again.
That is, until he's majorly distracted.
This is when he doesn't give a flying fig for a tiny treat. Sometimes a dog whistle will get through to him but, if in real doubt and fear of losing him, then it's time for a strong vocal command, aka shouting. He is so sensitive, hating being told off that he'll stop instantly. The video, below, is an exaggerated example from when Gav was ski touring with a straying Ullr and had to revert to drastic verbal tactics.
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