We’ve recently taken on another rescue team member and it’s not been long but Delta (the new pup) is already proving to be a bit of a different challenge from the other dogs I’ve had. Delta is one of a litter of nine puppies brought over from an Irish rescue and is one of the lucky ones. I was told that often these unwanted farm litters just get drowned at birth because the farmers don’t want / can’t be bothered to neuter their dogs and so when the inevitable happens they just dispose of the consequences.
I think being one of nine, surrounded by her litter mates and then being brought over to the UK on a ferry on a trip that was over 24 hours, being split from her family and then joining our household with 3 established dogs already in place, was such a huge shock to her system she struggled a little bit to find her feet. Everything to her is scary until she is shown otherwise and other people, dogs, places could all be a potential threat to her, so she was understandably a bit overwhelmed.
How does this relate to our normal theme of ‘active dogs are happy dogs’ and our beloved dog sports I hear you ask…? Well my point in blogging about this is that my job, my aim and my sole focus for her right now is to make her feel safe. Unless she feels safe, she will be worried and may react accordingly when faced with new situations. Most dogs will either follow a fight or flight response to anything threatening, fight being anything from a growl, bark, to a full on attack and flight being a subtle movement away, putting distance between the dog and the perceived threat or a panicked exit which can result in a dog getting lost. None of these things are ideal and a dog in fight or flight mode is difficult to communicate with in terms of training.
Here is where I get to the point of my writing, if your dog can’t be easily communicated with, then you are going to experience problems if you are taking part in an activity where communication is essential (all activities you might want to take part in ‘with’ your dog). For example I want to walk Delta with other dogs but right now she can be so scared of the situation that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with her, so I decided on one of our first group walks I would carry her in a pack. This is not even remotely conventional and nothing I thought I would ever do but the result was that she was happy, she felt safe and it was a positive experience for her = my job done.
So relating this more specifically to dog sports, my older collie Judo was my ‘stooge’ dog for years, he loved running so much that I could loan him out to others to run with and he would enjoy the run with whoever looked after him on the trails. Unfortunately when bikejoring him one season there was a dog who seemed drawn to him and used to practice inappropriate trail behaviour whenever we met in a race situation. Three times this dog ended up with Judo’s head in his mouth, he never did any physical harm but the mental harm done was lasting.
Following the third episode, any time we biked, Judo would drop to the floor in front of the bike if he heard anyone behind him and displayed all the behaviours of a dog who just wanted to flee the situation, he no longer felt safe and I could no longer reassure him that he would be ok. I was pretty devastated about this and sought out ways to help ease his fears, training with dogs he knew and trying to build up confidence again but when we raced he obviously just didn’t want to be put in the situation. The result of this was ultimately that I gave up competitive bikejoring with him, I could no longer keep him ‘safe’ and so I didn’t want to put him through it. We could still canicross because I had much more control over the situation and could take him off the trail if someone came up behind us, he relaxed again and enjoyed his running once more, again = my job done.
Another example of this happened with my dog Yogi, who is one of the most confident dogs I know. However about 6 months into his canicross career he was accidentally ‘kicked’ out of the way by more competitive runners nudging past us during a race. This didn’t just happen once, it happened a few times and he began to drop back and even behind me if he heard someone coming up to overtake. I was so frustrated as again he just didn’t feel safe any more, I hadn’t been able to protect him before, so he didn’t trust that it wouldn’t happen again. Fortunately the work I’ve put in since has proved to him he can trust me and I often pull him right out of people’s way now so there is no chance of him being nudged again. Yogi is a pretty robust dog in terms of his confidence and now feels secure listening to me when I ask him to move over on the trail but it took a few months of training to get this back.
A dog who doesn’t feel safe will find it hard to respond to instruction, take direction and ultimately will not enjoy the activity you are participating in. Although I am not a qualified behaviourist, I have studied canine behaviour and in terms of a dogs needs being met, the ‘feeling safe’ aspect must be met before the need for physical activity for the dog to benefit from this. Very often we can help a dog to feel secure in situations and more relaxed through release of energy during activity but we must be mindful that we are not creating more stress and more anxiety in our dogs by asking them to participate in things which overload them and repeatedly create a fight or flight response.
In conclusion, whenever you are taking part in any activity with your dog, you need to make sure your dog is first and foremost comfortable with the situation and then you know you can communicate effectively and train your dog within that situation. We are firm believers at K9 Trail Time in positive reinforcement and have seen the effect that a negative experience can have on a dog in our sports. So remembering to keep your dog ‘safe’ in their interpretation of the environment they are in is an extremely important part of training and one which cannot be ignored to make your experiences fun at all times. After all that is what our time with our dogs is all about – having fun!
For this product feature we asked one of our K9 Trail Time Members to test and review the Ruffwear Front Range Dog Harness for us, as it’s a tough job doing all the testing ourselves! Here’s what Jayne Caudy had to say about the latest edition to our active dog harness range…
‘Merlin has been road testing the Ruffwear Front Range Dog Harness. Merlin had tried many harnesses, but due to his disability and his posture, we have struggled to find a suitable harness for Merlin and one he feels comfortable in. Well the search is over! This is the harness for Merlin and also is an amazing versatile harness for walking and exploring the outdoors.
If you’d like to know more about this harness or to purchase, please visit our website using the link below:
Continuing with our K9 Trail Time A-Z of canicross the ‘T’ for us is ‘time’. Many people feel they don’t have time for a new sport or think they might have to spend hours running with their dog every day to really feel the benefit but this isn’t the case. One of the reasons we got into the sport was because of the time it saved us in getting all of the team out, exercised and set up for the day when compared with how long it took if the dogs were just walked normally. We found that just 20 – 30 mins of canicrossing was more beneficial and tiring than up to an hour of regular walking and therefore we actually saved time every day, whilst keeping everyones’ mental and physical needs met. Although it can be fun to build up to longer runs and spending more time outside, on a day to day basis this relatively small amount of time sacrificed was enough to leave us all feeling happy. Time is also important in how you decide to spend it with your dogs, we feel there’s nothing better than enjoying nature being out running the trails with your best friends and for these reasons we have chosen time as our ‘T’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross.
Whilst not directly related to the dog sports world, saying goodbye to your beloved companion is something we will all have to face at one time or another and I personally wanted to write this blog as a tribute to my princess who I lost last month and who was the reason I started K9 Trail Time.
Tegan was my first dog who I was solely responsible for, I got her after I had finally moved out of home and I will never forget the first time I saw her face. Tegan came from a local rescue kennels and when I saw her she was trying to scale an 8 foot stable wall in her excitement to get out, I should have known then that getting her would change my life.
The early days were really hard and I struggled with her separation anxiety, which at times was soul destroying and I felt I was letting her down at every stage. I made so many mistakes and I distinctly remember trying to bike with her on a lead held in my hand which inevitably ended in disaster when she saw a cat and tried to run under my bike! We muddled on and she began to settle with me, taking part in long walks with my horse and managing her anxiety through exercise and training.
After nearly a year I had the confidence to introduce another dog to the house and it was then that I realised as much as I exercised them, there was something missing in our lives and I needed to find something for us to do together. We tried both flyball and agility but Tegan was reactive towards other dogs in that situation, so group sessions were not for us and we needed to find something else to focus both Tegan and Judo’s minds on.
We first discovered canicross through a friend who suggested to us that it was a great way for the dogs to exercise safely and in an environment where people understood and respected some dogs’ need for space. When Judo was old enough we started to train, running locally at first and then taking part in our first race in 2009. From that point on we were hooked! We were lucky to have some very experienced canicrossers who ran a local group and we began to join them on a weekly basis.
For the first time Tegan began to really settle in the house and after more than 2 years the destruction resulting from the separation anxiety began to diminish. That’s not to say she stopped this behaviour and right up until the weeks before I had to let her go, she was still ripping up beds and trying to escape out of cages if she felt that she should be with me rather than confined somewhere not taking part!
For nearly 10 years we had so many adventures with our canicross friends, we attempted the West Highland Way in Scotland, managing 60 miles in 3 days but having to pull out due to my injury after the 3rd day. It was during the training for this I came up with the basic plan for K9 Trail Time. We did successfully complete the Cotswold Way in 2016 with the 3 dogs I had at that point, each taking legs of the route so they were fresh each day for the next stage. Tegan was aged 9 and so I was especially proud of her completing the distances of up to 15 miles she managed.
Tegan was diagnosed at around 4 years old with arthritis in her fore limb carpal joints, most likely a result of genetics rather than anything else but we managed this for the whole of her life with exercise, the occasional dose of medication and by carefully monitoring her for signs of stiffness or pain which she virtually never displayed. We strongly support Canine Arthritis Management for giving great advice and help for people whose dogs have been diagnosed with arthritis, as it certainly doesn’t mean the end of an active life as Tegan proved.
In 2017 during a routine health check the vet mentioned a heart murmur and said not to worry about it, many dogs have a heart murmur and live their whole lives happily with no ill effects. However in 2018 I started to suspect the murmur was having an effect and there were subtle signs of her beginning to slow down. We booked a specialist appointment with a cardiologist and had it confirmed with an echocardiogram that she was indeed suffering with Mitral Valve Disease which is degenerative but can be delayed with medication.
From that point on I knew we were on borrowed time, studies indicate that given the correct medication dogs with MMVD can live for years but I had already seen changes in her that made me think we might not get many years. The advice I was given and what I stuck to, was to keep her going and not limit her exercise, if she wanted to run then she should run! Tegan would often need us to wait for her but we always did and she continued to run with us right up until the weekend before she left us. Tegan even raced a short course with CaniX for a night run in January 2019 at 12 years old, she loved every minute and more importantly she was still being allowed to take part, she hated being left out of anything.
I’m not going to forget that last week we had with her, it was busy as usual and we had an event down in Devon we attended. Tegan had been picky over her food but that wasn’t unusual for a dog who was nicknamed ‘princess’ for a reason. However she did seem more tired than normal and so she had a rest day after we got back. Those last two days were heartbreaking as she went downhill so quickly, she went to the vet as soon as I felt she wasn’t happy and she deteriorated there to the point where I knew she was beginning to suffer.
Tegan had developed an arterial fibrillation, which is a complication with the heart condition and her kidneys were failing but also during investigations the vets found a mass in her intestines and it was then I knew I was going to have to let her go. The decision itself when I looked at her wasn’t difficult as such, because I knew it was the kindest thing for her, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do after sharing nearly 12 years of my life with her.
Tegan was such a huge character and was always telling me what she thought, she woke me up every morning at home, she told me off if I hadn’t fed her by a certain time and nearly every group photo I asked her to pose for, she had to tell me to hurry up and let me know she was bored. Tegan was my inspiration for K9 Trail Time, to create a business providing kit and information for active dog owners so that they could enjoy the kind of life we had, to improve the kind of behaviours Tegan had displayed when she was bored and frustrated and giving dogs a channel for this.
Tegan’s legacy will live on in our hearts, in our home but also in K9 Trail Time, she is the main dog in the logo, the photo taken from one of our early years racing at an event in Scotland just before we attempted the West Highland Way. All we can do for our dogs is give them the best possible life with the time we have and know when to let them go when that time has come. It’s the worst pain ever but knowing you’ve had the best life you can together is some comfort.
‘Princess’ Tegan you were the dog that changed my life, until I find you again.
K9 Trail Time Team member Heather Jenner has recently come back from the Trophee des Montagnes race series in France and she has written a set of top tips for those thinking of making the trip for next year.
We thought we’d share her top tips as they are useful when considering any challenging race or race series and here in the UK we have our very own new set of canicross specific races that will challenge even the seasoned canicrosser in the Red Kite Event series.
More information can be found about them here: https://www.redkitetrailevents.co.uk/
My Five Top Tips for Trophee des Montagnes:
This is also very important for your trainer choice and keeping up with your dogs paw care. I train mainly on the South Downs where we are spoilt with sheep grazed wide grassy tracks. Unable to finance any Wales trips this year, I headed into our neighbouring counties and asked canicrossers to lead me around some new routes which included hard stoney terrain.
With four dogs here at K9 Trail Time we have plenty of experience of dog walking, as well as the canicross and bikejoring we train for. Over the years we have put together a kit list of our dog walking essentials along with our top tips for enjoying your walks.
Firstly we would always recommend using a harness if your dog is going to be on a lead at any point during your walk. This is not just because it gives you more control over your dog but also because any strain on your dogs’ sensitive neck area can cause muscular issues in the dog without you even realising and in extreme cases has been linked to eye problems in dogs where pressure has been exerted on the neck over prolonged periods of time. We have a huge range of harnesses in our Dog Walking section here:
Keeping your dog on a lead is sometimes a necessity, around roads, livestock and other dogs who might be nervous are just some of the examples when you will want your dog under more control and a harness is a great way to do this without causing your dog any harm, whilst still allowing them a bit of freedom to get their head down and sniff to their hearts’ content too.
The next thing we would suggest is a walking belt for you. Belts are designed to give you your hands free when walking and this comes in handy not only with multiple dogs but even for one dog if you have to stop and pick up dog poop or need to answer a phone call. We have a large range of belts on our website too and many of them have pockets and / or loops to hang useful items from such as poo bags or a water bowl for your dog. If you need any help choosing a belt or a harness then we are always happy to help find something that fits your requirements.
The addition of a bungee lead on its’ own can make a huge difference to your dog walks, having a bit of ‘bounce’ in the line means there is less strain on you and your dog if they suddenly pull after something and reduces your chances of injury. We love the Howling Dog Alaska Line for strong pulling dogs:
and the new Non-stop Touring Lines are also fantastic for dog walking:
Bungee lines do mean your dog can get a bit further away from you than with a regular lead, so do be mindful of that when approaching things which you may not want your dog to reach.
We also like to take a handful of treats out with us on every dog walk, we may not necessarily use any of them but the dogs know I have them and so if I need to recall them from something exciting, they are more willing to come back if they know I have something decent to offer them in return! Many dog treats are full of ingredients that act in the same way as sugar and additives do on kids, so we are very careful about what we use and only have high quality meat treats in our cupboards. We have just started to stock a range we have been using for a while, so if you’re looking for good quality dog treats we offer a selection here:
Taking some treats on a dog walk is also a great way to interact positively with your dog, reinforcing your recall and encouraging calm behaviour. It can be very easy to get lost in your own thoughts when out with your dog but dog walking should be fun and rewarding for you both, so practice basic training on walks and use the time to build on that bond you have rather than seeing it as a chore.
Dog walking is a big part of our weekly routine in addition to any dog sport training we do because walking allows your dog to use its’ nose which is highly sensitive and a huge part of the way your dog interprets the world around it. So we make sure the team get a chance to use their noses every day to explore new places. With dog walking being such a big part of our lives, we use the tools listed above to make our walks the best they can be and we hope by sharing these we can help make your dog walks great for you and your dog too.