The Best Running Dog?

As I often see the question asked ‘what type of dog is the best for canicrossing?’ I thought I’d write a short blog on it. Firstly I’d like to point out this is not a scientific or fact based blog, simply my own thoughts and views on what type of dog makes a good canicross dog.

For a bit of background, I started in the sports of canicross, bikejor and dog scootering with my dogs not because I liked the sports and particularly wanted to take them up as a hobby, quite the opposite is in fact true. I didn’t even like running and hadn’t been on a bike since I was a child, but I have grown to love the sports because of the bond it has helped me create with my dogs.

The first time I came across canicross, I found a race through Cani-X which was in my area, a friend had mentioned it and so I looked it up and started a bit of training at home with my dogs to make sure I could cover the distance. Not once did it ever cross my mind that there might be a type of dog more suited for canicross. I was perfectly comfortable with the fact my dogs just loved running. For me, I was finding a great new way to keep my two rescue collie crosses exercised.

When I started out - I wasn't aware of which breeds would be better for canicross

When I started out – I wasn’t aware of which breeds would be better for canicross – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

I attended my first race and from that point on was hooked. What struck me as being one of the best things about the sport of canicross, was the variety of breeds involved and how inclusive it was. I genuinely had no expectations when I turned up but realised very quickly this was something anyone could do if their dog wanted to run with them. I also observed that the winners of the classes didn’t just have big dogs and I remember in particular one competitor who ran with both a small dog and large dog in the two dog canicross, the little dog working just as hard as the big one and keeping pace.

Now I have been involved in racing for a number of years and I have seen and taken part in, some of the biggest competitions in Europe, I am wiser about the types of dog which excel at canicross, bikejor and scootering. Traditionally it has always been the job of the sled dog breeds, so the huskies, malamutes and many other types of ‘pulling’ working dogs to be used, but now there is a trend to use hound types for what is known as ‘dry-land’ racing and more specifically  what I do, which is known as the ‘mono-sports’ (canicross, bikejor and dog scootering) because you can participate with one dog alone.

Sled dogs have traditionally been using for the pulling dog sports and still make great competitors - Photo courtesy of Karen Richardson

Sled dogs have traditionally been using for the pulling dog sports and still make great competitors – Photo courtesy of Karen Richardson

Many of the top European canicross competitors use hound crosses (usually with some type of pointer and some element of sled dog) and these dogs have developed their own pedigree based on their athleticism and ability to cover the ground with much larger strides than the traditional sled dogs. Their popularity is largely down to the fact these dogs excel at covering the sprint distances in the much warmer temperatures we experience in Europe for most of the year. These dogs are undoubtedly ‘built for purpose’ and are incredible to watch.

The Hound type dogs are undoubtedly very well designed for the mono sports of canicross, bikejor and scootering - Photo courtesy of Houndscape

The Hound type dogs are undoubtedly very well designed for the mono sports of canicross, bikejor and scootering – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

So if you are serious about the sports and competing at a European and International level you may feel you need a dog of this type to be able to compete in a level playing field. My personal opinion is however, that any breed of dog with good basic genetic conformation and no obvious limiting breed traits (ie, the short nosed breeds who may struggle getting enough air in their lungs for the sports) with a passion for running, can achieve just as much if the person training and running with them also has the athleticism and ability to allow the dog to run to its full potential.

What you have to remember is that unless you are going to keep dogs for the sole purpose of canicross, bikejor or scooter racing, they also have to fit into your lifestyle and be a dog you can live with day to day, in addition to the fun you will have taking part in the sports. Unfortunately there are far too many dogs in rescue in the UK and a worrying amount of them are now sled dog breeds because people think they look gorgeous (which they do) but don’t understand the characteristics of the breed and can’t cater for them around every day life. It is much more sensible to choose a dog for your lifestyle and then train together to enjoy the sports, than to take on something you may not necessarily be able to cope with because you think they will make a better running companion.

In my opinion any dog that loves to run can be successful in the dog sports as long as the owner can keep up and not hinder them! Photo courtesy of Houndscape

In my opinion any dog that loves to run can be successful in the dog sports as long as the owner can keep up and not hinder them! Photo courtesy of Houndscape

In summary, with canicross, bikejor and dog scootering in the UK and Europe being open to all breeds of dog, my opinion on what makes the best running dog is that your dog makes the best running dog! The best dog teams I have seen competing are those based on a strong bond that has been built by the handler with their dog over time and I have seen seemingly very small dogs, running their hearts out because they have the drive and motivation to work for their owner.

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K9 Trail Time 10 Commandments of Canicross

1 – Always put your dog first – This could mean dropping from a race because it’s too warm, carrying water and a first aid kit on longer runs or even just giving your dog a rest day if you’ve been doing a lot recently. The main thing to remember is your dogs’ welfare comes first above everything!

2 – Get a properly fitting harness – If you are expecting your dog to run with you on a regular basis then you must invest in a decent dog running harness. There are many different styles and brands now, not all of which will be suitable for your dog. Do some research and make sure you get one that fits correctly for your dogs’ shape and running style. It is very important your dog feels comfortable and the harness does not restrict movement. More information on choosing a harness can be found here: http://www.k9trailtime.com/information/team-thomas-harnesses

A good fitting harness is a must for canicross!

A good fitting harness is a must for canicross!

3 – Get yourself a waist belt – To prevent back strains, it is always advisable to get a proper waist belt and choose one which suits your needs. There are again many different styles but it is personal preference with a belt, as to what you feel will work best. For more information on choosing a belt see this article:  https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/belt-braces-how-to-choose-a-canicross-belt/

4 – Connect yourself with a bungee line – A line with bungee in it will help to absorb the shock of your dog tugging to chase any wildlife you may come across. There are different lengths available to suit different situations and environments but for some more guidance see this past blog: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/line-length-the-long-and-short-of-it/

A good canicross belt and bungee will make your experience much more comfortable

A good canicross belt and bungee will make your experience much more comfortable

5 – Keep training positive – Whether you are new to the sport or have been canicrossing for years, ensure your training always leaves your dog wanting more. If you are going out and doing too much at a time or on surfaces or in areas unsuitable for your dog, you will quickly find your dog isn’t so keen to keep in front and it is important your dog always enjoys the experience of canicrossing.

6 – Feed well before and after runs – As a rule of thumb I always feed 2-3 hours before a run and leave at least an hour after a run before I feed the dogs again. The reason for this is to avoid the life-threatening condition of bloat. Studies have suggested that exercise too close to meal times can be contributing factor, so it is always better to be on the safe side and plan meal around your runs. A tasty snack however is allowed!

7 – Make sure there is fresh water available – It could be that you carry this yourself or ensure that your run route has plenty of natural water stops. However you choose to provide it, you must be sure it will be available. I tend to carry about 250ml of water per dog per 5 mile run when it’s cool and more if it’s warmer but observe how much your dog needs and tailor this for yourself.

Allowing your dog access to water is a must for canicross runs

Allowing your dog access to water is a must for canicross runs

8 – Keep a first aid kit handy – You can carry the basics in a pocket, for example a bandage and some sterile wash pods or wipes. The injury your dog is most likely to pick up is a scratch or cut to the pads, so it is always useful to carry a couple of dog boots just in case. K9 Trail Time stocks PAWZ boots which are a lightweight and extremely tough option for covering a cut pad. For more information please see the website: http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/pawz-dog-boots.html

Pawz dog boots are a useful addition to a first aid kit

Pawz dog boots are a useful addition to a first aid kit

9 – Check the weather – It’s not canicross if it’s not muddy and raining but sometimes the weather can change quite dramatically in the UK in a short space of time and can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly in the summer months. You also need to be aware of the humidity level as this is just as dangerous for dogs as high temperatures and has a direct effect on your dogs’ ability to cool itself down. Using an app on your phone is the simplest way to keep a track of what the weather is doing and can also help you avoid the worst of the British showers if you want to, but personally I love running in the rain!

10 – Have fun! – The second most important thing on this list as far as I’m concerned, after putting your dog first. Whatever you are doing and wherever you canicross, on your own, in a social group run or racing, it should be fun for both you and your dog and should continue to be fun. The whole idea of canicross is to get out with your dog to do something enjoyable for you both, which is also beneficial to your health. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong. Happy Trails!

Having fun with your dog is the objective of canicross!

Having fun with your dog is the objective of canicross!