Dogs are unquestionably a key component to canicrossing and I’m often asked which is the best dog for taking part in canicross. My answer is always the same, ‘any dog that wants to run’! When I first started canicrossing I expected there to be lots of the dog breeds I’d traditionally associated with running, such as huskies, participating in the sport. It just so happened my dog was a husky collie cross so I was fairly sure we’d fit in. I found however, that the variety of dog breeds taking part was much, much wider than I would have imagined and people were running very quick times with some very little or unexpected dog breeds. So I quickly realised that it’s not necessarily the breed that determines the dogs’ ability in canicross, (although natural athleticism obviously helps) but whether or not the dog has the right mental attitude towards the activity. Generally speaking it’s the dogs’ work ethic that determines whether or not they are going to excel in the dog sports and any dog who considers their canicross session a job to be taken seriously will put 100% effort in for you. Many people are now favouring hound type dogs for canicross because they are physically built well for covering the ground quickly and are also from working backgrounds, so seem to really thrive on running in harness. I still maintain though that any breed of dog within reason can enjoy the sport of canicross and that any dog who is fit to run may enjoy the partnership created when you run with your dog in harness. So my letter ‘D’ in the A-Z of canicross, is for ‘dogs’, of any shape or size.
Commands are key to be able to successfully canicross and more specifically, voice commands. The main commands are ‘left, right, go and steady’ but people include all sorts of commands in their canicross repertoire. I personally use the mushing commands of ‘gee’ for right and ‘haw’ for left and there other agility commands for directions which I’ve heard people use too. What commands you use doesn’t really matter as long as you are consistent (there’s another ‘C’ word for you!) and your dog understands them. I also use ‘straight on’ and ‘on by’ which are useful forward commands to ignore distractions you may encounter, but I’ve never quite mastered the ‘whoa’ or ‘steady’, so must keep practising! In all seriousness if your dog has been taught very clear voice commands and is responsive to them, it can make a huge difference to your canicross experience, so my advice would always be to start to train the commands first, before you even attach yourself to your dog. Walking and using the lead to guide your dog is a great way to initiate voice command training and once you’ve mastered them, you know you’re as prepared as you can be to get out there and canicross. This being a vital part of your canicross training is the reason for me choosing ‘commands’ as my word for the letter ‘C’ in the A-Z of Canicross.
Behaviour is one of the main reasons I started to look into canicross with my dog (originally I only had one!) because she is a husky cross collie, rescued as a stray and she suffered with separation anxiety when I first had her. I had tried many other methods of training with some success but just wanted her to be calm and happy, which seemed nearly impossible to begin with. A friend had suggested I try canicross and it was something I had never thought of because I didn’t consider myself a runner and wasn’t aware you could buy the hands free kit. Once I got started with the canicross I found that she was much calmer after her runs and much more relaxed about being left after her routine morning run. The other benefit I noticed, once we started to meet up with others, was that when we were canicrossing she wasn’t being reactive with other dogs. Initially, she will still try to eyeball other dogs when we first meet them but when we are running, she will run shoulder to shoulder with other dogs quite happily because she is focused on her job. What canicross allowed me to do was socialise her in a safe and controlled environment and has meant that not only is she a calmer dog at home, but she is also a calmer dog out and about. Canicrossing isn’t yet widely recognised as a sport but many dog owners are beginning to discover it and along with it, the benefits that canicross can have for your dogs’ behaviour. I’m not a qualified behaviourist but I’ve seen the effect of canicross on many, many dogs now and when it comes to behaviour, it seems to provide a secure outlet for a dogs’ energy which you don’t find with many other ‘doggy’ activities. So that is why I have chosen ‘behaviour’ as my canicross word associated with ‘B’🙂
The very first instalment of our A-Z of canicross, according to us here at K9 Trail Time. Of course there are plenty of letters which could have many words associated with them and some that will be hard to find something relevant for, however this series of mini-blogs aims to take you through some of the more fundamental elements of canicross as we see it.
A is for Activity, being active with your dog is the primary objective of canicross for us. Too many people are relying on quick walks around the block to cater for their dogs’ exercise needs and often misjudge how much activity a dog needs to keep it happy and well-adjusted to fit in with the modern lifestyles we have. Often the dogs we share our homes with are working breeds that would have had a job they were bred to do and now we just expect them to behave like pets. This doesn’t suit all dogs and many need something to do to allow them an outlet for the energy which they would have used traditionally in their job. By keeping your dog active, whether that be canicrossing (which is my personal favourite for giving a dog a job to do) bikejor, dog scootering, agility, flyball or regular walks (of a decent quality to allow your dog to get tired), you will find your dog much more likely to be happy at home when you do need to go out and leave them. Canicross is by far the best way I’ve found to give my dogs the activity they need, in safe circumstances (on lead, building muscle in a controlled way) and the result of this activity is always tired and happy dogs. That’s why K9 Trail Time’s slogan is ‘Active Dogs Are Happy Dogs’ and why I’ve chosen to kick start the A-Z of Canicross with ‘activity’!
Recently I’ve heard a number of people say that they’re not interested in taking part in races with their dog. Reasons for this seem to be related to people feeling they will be too slow, not knowing how their dogs will react to a race situation or just not feeling that they want to travel for a race which might be less distance than they run at home. All of these things I can understand but I would like to use this blog to encourage people to come along to a race and have a go.
I personally never thought in a million years I would enjoy racing. I’ve never considered myself a runner and I hadn’t been on a bike since I was about 8 years old, so if you’d told me before I started all this that I’d be competing in European Championship canicross and bikejor events, I would have laughed in your face.
It was a friend of mine who mentioned the canicross racing to me and suggested that I should give it a go, in her words she described it as ‘wonderful madness’ and I liked the sound of that, so signed myself up. Of course I didn’t go to a race without having done some training first. I’d been running with my dogs for a few months before I entered my first race and I was pretty nervous about what to expect, not having been in a running race since I was in school.
The whole process was very laid back and put me at ease right from the start, with plenty of information about rules on the website when I entered and the race organisers holding a briefing for runners to explain how the race would be run. Nothing could have prepared me for the start line however! The sound of close to 100 dogs all excited and all raring to go is quite something to behold.
At this point I’d like to reassure anyone who is thinking about racing, the dogs are generally all kept a good distance apart, with runners understanding that in situations like this the dogs’ excitement can lead to unwanted behaviours such as lunging, therefore the focus of the runners is always on the dogs.
The race itself (once you are off the start line) is generally very quiet and all you hear is the sounds of the dogs panting and runners or bikers puffing hard in their efforts. The odd directional command for the dog or warning to another competitor is all you should hear when you’re out on the trail unless you choose to start up a conversation with another runner (which has been known to happen in my case!).
One of my concerns was how my reactive dog would handle a situation in which lots of other dogs would be passing shoulder to shoulder, and knowing that I’m not a very quick runner, I knew there would be plenty of people overtaking me. What I found was that as long as I kept her under control at the start and just asked people to give me space when overtaking, that she has learned to accept other dogs passing very closely and in fact is focused on her ‘job’ and will run happily alongside dogs she would not tolerate standing with under normal circumstances.
I have now competed in well over 100 races and can honestly say I don’t take part for the prizes or the thrill of the race. I enter races to see new parts of the country, to run on trails I would otherwise never know to explore and also to meet up with the many like-minded friends I have made over the years. For me however, the main reason I race is the fun the dogs have when they are out doing the activities they love. It makes me so happy to see them excited and and also how relaxed they are and how well they sleep after a weekend away socialising and racing with friends.
So if you are considering taking part in a canicross or bikejor race, my advice would be to go for it, if you don’t like it, you haven’t lost anything except the cost of a race weekend and if you do like it, you may just open up a whole new world of fun and friendship for both you and your dog.
Happy trails and hope to see you at an event soon!
As the title of this blog suggests, here at K9 Trail Time we love the X-Back style of dog sports harness. Right from day one I have used an X-Back on one or other of my dogs, and of course we have switched around brands and styles of harness over the years, to test out new ones and see what works best, but I keep coming back to the X-Back style.
What is an X-Back harness? – X-Backs are a particular style of dog sport harness which are thought to have originated in North America well over 100 years ago. The harness itself gets it’s name from the sections of webbing which cross over the back in a ‘x’ shape. The harnesses are designed to reach to the base of the dogs’ tail and have traditionally been used for teams of huskies pulling sleds on snow.
Why would you use an X-Back harness? – I recommend these harnesses for dogs who are confident pullers and who have a fairly ‘steady’ gait when running. By this I mean the dog runs evenly and is consistent when pulling in a harness, this could be either at a ‘trot’ or a faster ‘bounding’ action.
Why would you not use an X-Back harness? – If your dog doesn’t pull out front or tends to ‘zig zag’ when running, then I would say this probably isn’t the harness for your dog. Sometimes if your dog arches its back a lot too, then it might be that a harness with no straps crossing over the back might work better. It has also been noted that if the angle of your line comes too steeply from the point of attachment at the back of the harness, then the X-Back cannot work as it was designed to and this is why the X-Backs are not made for much smaller dogs.
Why we love X-Backs – The X-Back harness has been around for so long and has worked so well that it has become the iconic symbol of sled dog sports (canicross, bikejor and dog scootering have all developed from sledding). It’s simple design means it is lightweight, has no points of weakness (buckles or clips), isn’t complicated to put on and is generally one of the hardest wearing harnesses you can buy.
A few of the X-Backs we stock:
The Dragrattan X-Back:
The Dragrattan Collared X-back (for dogs with a more narrow neck and shoulders):
The Non-stop Nansen Nome:
If you need any help with sizing or fitting an X-back harness do drop an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to help.
After completing the Cotswold Way (officially 102.5 miles but we made it about 106) over 5 days with the dogs, canicrossing the trails successfully, I thought I would do a last blog to sum up what we learned from the experience, in case anyone else is considering a long distance trail with their dogs.
The first thing I would say is that I don’t think I would have wanted to do this without a support team. There were moments when I knew that if I had needed someone to collect one of the dogs, a van was never very far away and that was reassuring with some of the terrain we were covering.
The fact it was much warmer than I had anticipated it being, had meant I was concerned about canicrossing in the heat. I am always very cautious about running dogs in higher temperatures and especially higher humidity. In the past I have shared this article:
which I feel is a great reference for anyone who is unsure of what to look for in overheating in dogs. We kept a close eye on the dogs at every stage and had no problems at all over the 5 days.
The next thing I think we got spot on was the kit – for the dogs, we were sponsored for this challenge by Arctic Wolf who provided us with these fantastic Multi-Sport Harnesses for the dogs:
The harnesses are a great mix between a short and long style harness and worked really well over the 100 odd miles, providing a comfortable and practical option for the dogs to run in when they were pulling and when we needed them to walk with us.
The lines we used were these:
which were amazing, lightweight but tough, I even got mine caught on barbed wire as Donnie made his way through a gate. The sharp barb actually went right through the webbing but it didn’t fray and the strength wasn’t compromised.
The belts were the other important part of our kit and we were lucky enough to have been given these Ergo belts:
These belts are well padded, sit low on the hips and have a sliding clip on the front of the belt to attach your line to. The Ergo belts are also very adjustable so fit a wide range of sizes.
With regard to kit for ourselves we were sponsored by Arctic Wolf to have technical t-shirts made up by Jess at
and these lightweight tops saw us through the 5 days. Trainers, back packs, socks, leggings and shorts were all selected by ourselves, months in advance to trial and test them in plenty of time to make sure we suffered no rubs or other problems with our clothing.
A big consideration for the challenge was nutrition and again for the dogs we were sponsored by Meat Love (also known as Fleischeslust), who provided the dogs with their specially developed MEAT and TReat Power sausages, which contain essential electrolytes and amino acids for faster regeneration during exercise. We had these sausages on hand during the runs as a quick pick me up treat and also for refuelling the dogs in the evenings after we have finished the days activities. For more information see the link below:
Other than the addition of the Duck Power sausages, the dogs diet remained as normal and we fed them either a few hours before or after the exercise they were doing to minimise any risk of bloat. I have always given the dogs joint supplements due to the amount of exercise we do, so this was just continued to support them as usual.
For our diet, it was a little bit trickier to get the balance right and because we were covering all the miles (not just stages like the dogs) we needed to make sure we got everything right with nutrition too. We both took a number of supplements to promote general health in the lead up to the challenge and because my other business is based in the health and wellness industry, we used the products from the range I trust.
Our last sponsor was Big Bobble Hats and unfortunately due to the heat we didn’t need our bobble hats, however I’m sure we will be needing them again very soon!
Other things to quickly mention were:
– The dogs pads – we covered most of the mileage on grassy trails but there were a few roads and stony tracks, so checking the dogs pads was part of the daily routine.
– How much water we were drinking – it was warm, so keeping hydrated was hard, especially for us, as the dogs had many natural water points to refresh themselves in.
– The time of day we ran – to avoid the bulk of dog walkers and general public (especially at the weekend) we started our runs at 6.30 am most mornings which worked very well and meant we were finished by lunchtime.
– We had first aid kits on us at all times – thankfully we didn’t need to use any of it but it was there in our back packs just in case.
– We had fully charged phones on us and had enabled tracking on them – you can download apps to allow people to track your location and our support crew knew where we were the majority of the time.
I hope these blogs have been useful and fun for you to read, I’ve certainly enjoyed writing them and re-living the memories of each day and the experience as a whole.
Once again thanks to all our sponsors and those who supported us, to date we have raised over £1,000 for charity and with pledges of more money, we hope to have raised a bit more when the final donations come in!