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Just when I think that every form of draft/harness activity with domestic canines has finally been invented, along comes one more. This time it is nordic walking with dogs. The name is casual sounding and so is the sport. One person who is taking this up with her Newfs has started called the activity cani-nordic walking but the term does not seem to have caught on, at least not yet.

There are similarities between this activity and Urban Mushing that I wrote about in a column last year. Urban mushing consists of sports like ski-joring, bike-joring, scootering and cani-cross. Most closely resembled would be cani-cross which is ski-joring without the skis; the dog pulls you from a waist band while you walk or run behind. Ski poles are optional.

Of course there are differences. First in the mushing sports the dog usually runs but in this one both handler and dog always walk. Another unique feature is that the dog, while usually harnessed, does not pull when doing this sport correctly. Finally, unlike ski-joring and cani-cross, the poles are not optional and are actually an integral part of the activity; in effect the human reverts back to being a quadruped.

Nordic walking evolved a few decades ago in Europe from the off season practicing for nordic skiing. To keep in shape the cross country skiers would go hiking with their ski poles. It quickly became apparent that this activity had major health benefits for the participants all on its own and soon became an all season sport. Among other things nordic walking is a range of motion exercise as well as a shoulder muscle strengthening exercise.

Defining this sport as casual is actually an understatement. There are no competitions and hence no governing bodies. Like most subjects, if you go to the internet you will get a range of opinions, some good and some not so. Cani-nordic walking has been described as merely “walking with ski poles, dog leashed to belt”. Some advocates don’t even go with the “leashed to belt” part and suggest that you can just hold the leash in one of your hands even though you are intently using two poles.

Some of the definitive information comes from the outfitters. While participants can make do with ski poles or trekking poles, there are specially designed poles for this sport. The poles should be adjustable for the terrain and stride. The hand straps are often specially designed for this activity. A major feature of the nordic walking poles is the interchangable tips. For example on pavement or sidewalks, a rubber tip would be needed rather than a spike foot used on grass or other soft surfaces.

Even though the dog is not suppose to be pulling, a harness setup like those used for the urban mushing sports is the safe way to go. This involves a wide padded waist band, a shock absorber (bunjee) plus a quick release in the line to the dog along with a harness for the dog. The first three items protect the human should the dog suddenly dart after a squirrel or some other distraction. Wearing a harness rather than attaching the line to the dog’s collar is intended to protect the dog from a whiplash type of injury should he suddenly dart out. However some participants suggest a head halter (such as a Halti) instead of a conventional collar but this raises a further controversy as some people think that head collars are even more likely to cause a whiplash injury.

Benefits for the dog include being included when their human is engaged in serious outdoor exercise. Also it allows canines who are too young to safely haul to get early harness training without risk of orthopaedic damage. Further it enables seniors and other mature dogs with health problems that prohibit pulling sports to still engage in a harness activity. Finally the increased stride of the human coupled with the lack of side distractions that involve serious sniffing will give your canine some serious exercise of his own that does not involve running or hauling.

Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979.  In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada.  When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.

Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.

Newf News

September/October 2011