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Blog /Winter Dog Sports
Breed and Genetics February 08, 2022

The Best Breeds for Winter Dog Sports

For some people, cold, snowy weather is an excuse for movie marathons and naps by the fire. For others, it's a chance to break out the snowboards and skis and hit the slopes. It's not so different for dogs.

Some breeds relish the opportunity to be a couch potato (we’re looking at you, Basset Hound), while others know cold, icy conditions are their time to shine. So if you’re a winter weather fan who’s looking for a pup that shares your enthusiasm, check out these winter sports—and the breeds that perform them best.

Sled dog racing

Thanks to famous events like the Iditarod, sled dog racing—also known as mushing—has a devoted (if relatively small) fan base. And rightly so. It’s impressive to watch dogs race on frozen terrain for hundreds of miles (though the sport offers shorter sprint events as well). But as you might imagine, not just any dog can pull off such a grueling feat. A successful sled dog needs a thick coat, a trainable personality, the ability to work well on a team, and an innate desire to run.

The Siberian Husky breed and the Alaskan Husky type are two common mushers. Out of necessity, both have been bred for power, speed, and endurance. People living in the Arctic relied on sleds to transport people and supplies, and they needed tough, self-sufficient dogs that could pull loads for long periods without expending a lot of energy.

Like the Siberian Husky, the Samoyed also pulled sleds for the people of Siberia. It takes just one look at their fluffy white coats to understand how they keep themselves warm in snowy conditions. But this breed has another secret weapon against the cold: their famous smile. The upturned corners of their mouth keep them from drooling, and thus keep icicles from forming near their mouths. (This also ensures that they always look happy in their photos after winning a mushing event).

Another traditional mushing breed—and a distant relative of the Siberian Husky and the Samoyed—is the Alaskan Malamute. Their muscular builds, thick, coarse coats, and bushy tails are ideal for long-distance sled races. 

Perhaps a lesser-known (but equally talented) sled dog is the Chinook. Fans of this breed appreciate their affectionate, outgoing personalities as much as their sled-pulling skills.

Four Siberian Husky dogs sled dog racing.

Kicksledding

A kicksled is a cross between a sled and a pair of skis and is best suited for icy streets or hard-packed snow. Dogs can be harnessed and tethered to one with a towline, much like a sled. However, kicksledding typically uses just one or two dogs, and people help their pups out by kicking as their dog pulls. For those with dreams of mushing, kicksledding can be a good stepping stone. For everyone else, it’s just a fun way to spend time exercising with your dog. 

In addition to the sled dog breeds listed above, other energetic breeds 40 lbs or bigger can enjoy this sport. Dalmatians spent their early days running alongside horse-drawn carriages, so they have the speed and endurance for kicksledding. Another breed to consider is the Akita. Known as "snow country dogs," these pups are burly, double-coated, and always ready to work hard. And then there’s the Shiba Inu. With a thick undercoat, muscular frame, and graceful gait, Shibas are perfect winter-ready companions for a day of kicksledding.

Skijoring

Skijoring is a Scandinavian sport that involves one or two dogs pulling a person on cross-country skis. Sled dog breeds are the obvious choice for this sport as well, but many medium or bigger, athletic dogs with legs long enough to run easily in snow (sorry, Corgis) are a good fit for this sport. But of course, they do need to be able to handle cold weather and enjoy running. 

German Shorthaired Pointers may have short coats, but their fur is thick and can keep them comfortable when exercising in the snow. They excel at dog sports such as field trials and agility, and skijoring is one more option for them to burn off extra energy. If you’re looking for a fast ride on your skis, think about a Greyhound. They are the speediest dog breed and, despite their slim frame, can handle cold weather in shorter doses (and perhaps while sporting a fashionable coat). And with their high energy, trainability, and athletic abilities, Sporting breeds such as the Golden Retriever, Brittany, and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever are all great choices to pull you across the snowy trails..

Labrador Retriever doing canicross at a park.

Canicross

You don’t have to live near snowy conditions to experience the fun of winter racing with your pup. Canicross turns cross-country running into a team sport for you and your dog. Often used as an off-season training sport for sled dogs, canicross involves a harness for your dog, a waist belt for you, and a bungee leash to attach between you both. The great thing about this sport is that, while it can be done in the snow, it’s well-suited for any weather—and thus a good option for many dogs that like to be a jogging buddy. 

Border Collies almost always have energy to burn and are excellent running companions, so they are a good choice for canicross. Another natural fit for this sport is the Vizsla. They need a lot of daily exercise and will welcome the opportunity to hitch up and head out for a long run on a trail or bike path. And, when it comes to sporty dogs that can do it all, the Labrador Retriever always makes the list. They are always up for adventure and have the strength and athletic ability to make canicross a regular part of their exercise routine.

Find the right pup for you

Whether you’re looking for an active dog to enjoy winter activities with or a low-key snuggler to keep you warm until spring, our dog breed library has all the info you need to find your perfect pup.

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