Canicross – how to go from ‘Zero to Hero’

If you are thinking of starting canicross but have no idea where to begin in terms of training your dog, both in terms of fitness and actually how to start safely, look no further. We have teamed up with the UK’s top two canicross class providers, Cani-Fit and Joggy Doggy Ltd, to give you an introduction into training yourself and your dog to go from zero to hero.

The first thing I would say is this is not just about getting from doing nothing to running a 5km, if it were that simple you could just use the fantastic ‘Couch to 5km’ programme and there are many who have started in this way very successfully. However, if you truly want to embrace canicross, it’s much more about the bond you are building with your dog as a team, rather than just having your dog join you on a run. What you are looking for is to create a relationship with your dog based on the training tips we will give you, so that you and your dog are working together and sharing a much calmer and controlled experience when you hit the trails.

Canicross is much more fun when done on the back of proper training sessions - Photo courtesy of Hound and About Photography

Canicross is much more fun when done on the back of proper training sessions so that you are in control – Photo courtesy of Hound and About Photography

To begin with you need to focus on your groundwork. It takes a dog very little time to learn that certain words mean certain things. I’m sure most of you have taught your dogs, sit, lie down and stay, as these are the basics of any dog training for anyone. With canicross, the basics you should be training are ‘go on’ ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘straight on’, ‘steady’, ideally a ‘back’ or ‘behind’ and a ‘line out’ command too.

The directions and start and stop commands don’t really need explaining in detail, it’s obvious why you need them and you can start teaching them at any age on walks. I would spend no more than 10 minutes in a focused session, perhaps within a walk, where your dog is on a harness and lead and you reinforce these voice commands, rewarding your dog for quickly responding.

The ‘back’ or ‘behind’ command comes into play when you are going down a steep hill and do not want your dog pulling you down some tricky terrain. The command is also useful if you spot a potential situation on a run (an off lead dog you don’t want yours to interact with or perhaps along a busy section of pathway where people might not appreciate being run at with the dog in front).

The ‘line out’ command comes from racing and trains your dog to reach the end of it’s bungee line and then to stand and wait for your ‘go’ command. This has uses beyond racing however, because it is generally easier to teach your dog to be polite and well mannered while waiting to run. You might need the ‘line out’ command when in a group waiting for others to catch up or if you are waiting to cross a section of road. The key is to train frequently in short bursts so your dog doesn’t get bored and understands what you are asking of him or her with each specific command.

Teaching your dog to be calm when working in harness is a big part of training - Photo courtesy of Hound and About Photography

Teaching your dog to be calm when working in harness is a big part of training – Photo courtesy of Hound and About Photography

When we spoke to Jenny Lee of Joggy Doggy Ltd this is what she had to say about canicross training:

‘Canicross is great fun for your dog, as natural athletes they love to run. Even better though is sharing one of their favourite activities with their owners! Canicross enhances the bond between dog and owner as they learn to work as a team. Dogs also produce endorphins as they run and the enhanced effort level required by canicross leaves them happy, confident and calm, making it a brilliant release for high energy or stressed out canines. At Joggy Doggy we have three clear objectives that we seek to reach with our furry clients:

  1. Keep it fun – most dogs have huge enthusiasm for running but can put themselves at risk of overexertion. At Joggy Doggy we teach our clients to be mindful of the following:
  • Build up your doggy miles gradually so that your dog has time to adjust on a muscular and cardio vascular level.
  • When running your dog use a mix of terrain to protect sensitive paws and reduce jarring on the joints
  • If safe and appropriate then allow your dog time to run unattached in between short burst of canicross training time
  • Use reward based training in short and regular sessions
  1. Keep it safe and controlled – Canicross requires good communication between dog and owner. Before starting the sport make sure that your dog is engaged and can cope with basis commands such as those learnt in puppy classes. This foundation will then allow them to grasp commands used in canicross. In our sessions we focus on areas including:
  • Teaching your dog directional commands
  • Teaching your dog speed commands eg how to steady up when running down a steep hill and speed up on the home straight
  • The appropriate way to pass other dogs whether they are walking along or racing past you
  • Steering away from and ignoring distractions such as wildlife, toddlers in pushchairs, dustbins or food wrappers!
  1. Keep it positive – building a partnership with an animal that sees the world so differently to us is not always an easy task. Establishing a strong canicross team with your dog takes humour, patience and hard work as well as time. It is so worth it though. At Joggy Doggy we use reward based methods to tackle various challenges and work them through with our (long suffering!) owners including:
  • Motivating dogs to pull when they are quite happy trotting along at heel
  • Teaching dogs that they should pull into the harness with their chest and shoulders and not run backwards playing tug with the line
  • Teaching dogs to run straight and not weave from side to side in their excitement to get going at their speed and not yours
  • Encouraging dogs to adjust their speed to suit their owners and not take off dragging their owners along behind
  • Encouraging dogs to focus on their running partner and not on everything else but!
  • Channelling enthusiasm into running and not barking, circling and jumping up
  • Giving dogs confidence to run past and alongside other dogs in race and group run situations’

Jenny Lee is the owner of Joggy Doggy Limited and heads up a team offering Canicross Fitness Classes and Canicross Personal Training Sessions to runners and their dogs through local parks, woods and footpath trails. Joggy Doggy Ltd has branches in Kent, Hampshire, Cumbria, Oxfordshire, Edinburgh and Flintshire and was the first Canicross Group to be Run England affiliated. In between Canicross races Jenny can be contacted at http://www.joggydoggy.co.uk and on 07584 438973

Jenny and Gilby in France last year - Photo courtesy of Emmanuelle Cottin

Jenny and Gilby in France last year – Photo courtesy of Emmanuelle Cottin

We also spoke with Lindsay Johnson of Cani-Fit and asked her what top training tips she covers in her classes and what she thinks is most important for training your dog to canicross:

‘At Cani-Fit we like to pass on our enthusiasm and passion for canicross and fitness,  training dogs and owners and exploring trails, to as many dog owners as we can. Cani-Fit offer various levels of structured classes to get dog and owner fit together, while specifically learning how to safely enjoy the sport of canicross.

We work on a lot of interval type training, this can not only boost fitness levels quicker, but it allows for lots of breaks and pauses for the dogs, ensuring they go into each interval feeling fresh and full of energy and giving 100% effort to their job in harness.

Canicross is fantastic team sport which will strengthen bond between dog and owner, it can also be extremely sociable for canines and humans alike . Working in a group can teach dogs how to safely exercise around other dogs, whilst humans give each other some company and moral support .

From Cani-Hiking (walking only) to mixed levels of canicross ability, Cani-Fit can provide training to suit you and your 4 legged training partner. There is nothing more satisfying than coming home from a dark , cold winter night knowing you and your dog have explored and worked hard on the trails together. Doing so in a structured, organised class setting can make life a little easier and more fun. All you need is your head torch, trail shoes and your dog!

Lindsay and Izzy, Scottish National Champions - Photo courtesy of Sled Dog Photo

Lindsay and Izzy, Scottish National Champions – Photo courtesy of Sled Dog Photo

Lindsay Johnson is the owner of Cani-Fit and runs Canicross Classes with her experienced run leaders in many popular Scottish park and forest locations for the benefit of the dogs and their owners. Lindsay and her team have won many National and European titles in the dog sports they teach, allowing them to pass on their experience to those attending the Cani-Fit Classes. Lindsay can be reached on 07709 394667 or info@cani-fit.com, class information can be found on http://www.cani-fit.com

So as you can see, we all agree that canicross training should first and foremost be fun, keeping sessions short and exciting, focused on building the bond with your dog, so it’s not just about running with your dog but working as a team.

If you would like any more information on Joggy Doggy or Cani-Fit classes please do use the contact details we have given and we hope you have found this blog taking you from ‘zero to hero’ in useful. Happy trails!

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2 comments on “Canicross – how to go from ‘Zero to Hero’

  1. Karen Holland says:

    Hello

    My name is Karen Holland and my dog is called Stella a 3yr old staffy/collie cross. We’ve been running together off lead for two years now. She’s very good with roads and the stop/go command. We run anything between 5k – 22k.

    So I’ve been thinking for joining Canicross. So I tried her running on a harness and waist lead. It was a waste of time because she’s trained not to pull on a lead. It was very confusing for her.

    I think we need some lessons. I’m not sure I want to start from the couch situation. But if need be then that’s what will have to happen.

    We live in Worcester.

    I would be very grateful if you could please give us some information.

    Best wishes

    Karen

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