With the warmer months upon (some) of us, I thought it would be a good idea to list our top tips for summer canicrossing, as I know many people feel they shouldn’t be running their dogs in harness in summer. There can always be the risk of your dog overheating in the warmth of June, July and August but the British summer never quite lives up to expectations, so you can often continue your training by heeding a few simple things.
– Always carry water – even if you don’t think your dog will need a drink, it is always safer to carry water if you are not sure of natural water sources on your route. You may be caught out with the warmth in woods and shaded areas where you might think it would be cooler and so it always better to be safe than sorry. Collapsible water bowls are available in most good pet shops and fold into pockets or can be attached to canicross belts. It is important to note that your dog should not be allowed to gulp large quantities of water, as this can cause bloat in dogs and if your dog is feeling the need to take on that much water then it is too hot to be running them!
– Always check both the temperature and humidity before you leave for your run – there are many free apps for smart phones now which give you both the expected temperature and humidity. Never under-estimate the effect humidity can have on your dog. As a general rule sled dogs don’t run in temperatures above 15 degrees centigrade but your dogs’ tolerance of this could be much lower if the humidity is high. If in doubt don’t run.
– Keep runs shorter and slower than you might normally train at – although you want to keep up your fitness, don’t use the summer months to start sprint training or increase your distances, as this is the time when your dog may need to be doing less, either to recover from the racing season or because of higher temperatures which can cause your dog to over exert himself/herself. Also be aware that a race situation will put more stress on a dog and make it more liable to overheat than a jog around your local park with some friends might.
– Familiarise yourself with the signs of heatstroke in dogs – a useful article on the symptoms and ways to help alleviate them can be found in this article (http://www.workingdogs.com/deboer_heatstroke.htm)
– Invest in a sprinkler/hoselock/cooler jacket for your dog – although not necessary if you closely monitor your dog and never run in temperatures that exceed your dogs’ comfort zone, a hand held plant sprayer filled with water or a hoselock system in the car, can help cool a dog down quickly without shocking the dogs’ system. Cool coats and jackets claim to do a similar thing but must remain wet to help in cooling your dog down and the usefulness of these jackets on double coated dogs has been debated.
– Check your dogs’ paws regularly for cracks and damage – as we don’t get an awful lot of snow in the UK, many dog owners find they have more problems with their dogs paws in the summer months than the winter. Keep an eye on your dogs’ pads for signs of wear and tear and if you experience problems look into paw wax or boots (which shouldn’t be used extensively in warm weather as dogs lose heat through their paws) to help prevent cracking.
– Keep your runs to unsociable hours – you might not like getting up at 5am to get your dog out for a canicross run but your dog will thank you. Not only will the temperatures be cooler at this time but you will also enjoy the additional wildlife you will probably see on these runs! Equally running at night after dusk will help avoid the higher temperatures although it does take a while to cool down after a warm day, so aim to be out just before it gets dark.
If you avoid the heat of the day, always carry water, always check the temperature and humidity before runs, keep them short, slow and monitor your dog at all times for signs of heat stroke, you should be fine to continue with some summer training. The main thing for you to remember is that every dog is an individual and so if your dog appears to be struggling, whatever the temperature or humidity might be, don’t push your dog and accept you may be running solo through the summer. It won’t take long for your dog to pick up where you left off and they often benefit from a break in training much in the same way we do.
My personal canicrossing ‘cut off’ rule is not very technical but I find it works for us – if I wouldn’t be comfortable going for a run in a long sleeved top with long sleeved running tights on, then it’s too hot for my dogs. If in doubt – don’t run!