The races for canicross, bikejor and dog scootering are getting so popular now and we are attending so many races on a monthly basis, that I gave up writing race reports a long time ago! From Cornwall to Scotland and everything in between, there are so many club and individual races you can attend with your dog, that the choice is increasing year on year for participants to take part.
Not only have you got dog sport specific races but we are also being welcomed and supported in many trail races designed for off road runners. Clearly this is limited to canicross but it has opened up a number of seriously good trail races to the dog sport world and we are making up a large part of the entry in some events.
What I wanted to write about in this blog is how I think we can improve how these races flow by following some simple rules and racing etiquette to make sure everyone gets the best from their race. The tips below are things I have picked up from a number of years of racing experience and knowing what I have to watch for in my dogs and be vigilant of in others.
So to enjoy my racing I try to follow these simple rules:
1 – If you are overtaking always let the person in front know you are coming – By calling ahead in plenty of time to let the person know you are approaching them, you are giving that person time to move out of your way, which is in your interests and theirs. One of the accepted terms to call is ‘trail right’ or ‘trail left’ depending on which side you intend to overtake on but the most important thing is to give as much warning and be as clear as you can so the person in front can react.
2 – Do not sit on the heels of the team in front – This is something that can be very frustrating for both teams, as it can distract the team in front and the way to win races isn’t by allowing your dog to take a ‘tow’ off someone in front all the time. You may also upset non-dog runners in canicross friendly races if you allow your dog to be ‘breathing down the neck’ of the runner in front, so just make sure you leave an acceptable gap until or unless, you are ready to overtake.
3 – If you are being overtaken, move over – Once the person behind you has caught you, move aside on the trail and allow them to overtake cleanly. Ideally you will have taught your dog an ‘over’ command so that your dog will move on the side of the trail you have directed. Even if you are on a bike or scooter, you should attempt to move your dog over. I have seen many people simply move themselves or their bike or scooter over and the dog is still across the trail; this leaves the line blocking the path of the person behind, preventing them from getting past, which is frustrating for everyone and risks your dog getting in a tangle with theirs.
4 – Do not allow your dog to lunge at other dogs (or people) during the race – Even if your dog is only being friendly, you are in a race situation and other competitors will not want your dog interfering with theirs (or them) even if it not being aggressive. The best thing to do if you know your dog is prone to this, is move right out of the way if possible. If it not possible then you must pull your dog in and even pull over to prevent this. If you are being overtaken then it will benefit you to allow the person a clear passage past you and then you can follow on. If you are overtaking and know your dog is prone to lunging you should be working hard during training on a strong ‘on by’, ‘leave’, or ‘straight on’ command, whichever is the most effective for your dog. In this particular situation it is often better to try and get past as quickly as possible and provided the person you’re overtaking is co-operative, it will be better not to slow down and allow your dog time to consider lunging as an option.
5 – Be mindful of how your voice commands might affect other dogs (or people) on the course – Just be aware as you are coming up behind or being overtaken by another team that suddenly shouting at your dog might spook other dogs (or people) around you. It can be quite intimidating for a nervous dog to be overtaken by someone loudly encouraging their own dog and for this reason it is worth trying to keep commands to a minimum on the course (keeping in mind that it is better to have your dog under your control than not) but again training is the key to this.
If you can master all of the above then you should have a safe and pleasant racing experience. It is always worth doing as much training with other people before and in between races to ensure you and your dog are as relaxed as possible when racing, as adrenalin can run high in both of you. At the end of the day these dog sports events are put on for us to have fun with our dogs and so the main thing is to enjoy your run, whilst being courteous to those around you. Happy Trails!