Scentwork – A different way to ‘work’ your dog

We’ve been investigating lots of different dog activities during the last year of lockdowns and limited travelling, for things to do with our dogs a bit closer to home. We recently spoke to Sara Seymour of Compass Canine and asked her about her experiences with scentwork and why she finds it so beneficial for her happy, active dog, Ripley.

Sara is the owner of Compass Canine, based in Totnes, South Devon with her primary business being hydrotherapy and canine fitness.  She also offers scentwork training, as well as running scentwork events.  Sara’s dog training background was mainly in agility, but these days her training with Ripley, other than scentwork, focuses on Rally obedience.  This is mostly online, due to the limited number of ‘real life’ competitions currently available. They also enjoy training tricks and a variety of concepts such as mimicry.  Sara is training to become a Certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer (CPCFT) and her training philosophy is best described as ‘Do No Harm’, focusing on positive reinforcement-based training that is adapted to each learner.  She aims to apply this to both people and dogs.

Here’s what Sara had to say…

“My current running buddy is Ripley, a six-year-old working cocker spaniel.  We started C25K together back in October 2019, and have run two or three times a week ever since.  I have to be honest, since the first lockdown started in March 2020 he free runs more often than not.  This suits us better, as I don’t run fast enough for him!  He still runs in harness on some routes.  Well, trots – quite famously he never broke out of a trot through the whole C25K program!  Anyway, the main point is that he is a very fit, high energy dog.

So it often comes as a surprise to people that I don’t walk him every day.  Even on the days we do walk, it can just be a quick 20-30 minute bimble.  Most people would then expect that he is running circuits around the house, or destroying anything that he can get his mouth on.  But that’s not the case.  I run my own hydrotherapy centre, and he spends most of his days in the office with me popping my head in between appointments.  Many clients have spotted him through the window, sound asleep with his legs in the air.  Want to know the secret?  Then read on…

Ripley relaxing!

Walking, or running, with your dogs for ever increasing distances is one way to try and tire them out.  However, the chances are you will end up with a very fit adrenaline junkie.  The more you do, the worse it’s going to get.  And let’s not even get started on standing and chucking a ball for them repeatedly.  Seriously, just don’t start it.  The way to tire your dog out, so that they can settle themselves during down time, is by training them.  I may not walk him every day, but we do train every day, even if it’s just for five or ten minutes.  Getting to the specifics, the very best way to tire your dog out is by getting them to use their nose. 

A large part of a dog’s brain is dedicated to processing the information that they take in through their nose.  Much more than in the human brain; our main senses being sight and sound.  Dogs navigate the world with their noses, which is why they often cope surprisingly well when they lose their sight or go deaf (and we often don’t realise for a while).  Given that they are using so much of their brain for sniffing, it’s an activity that will tire them more effectively.  Letting Ripley spend his 30-minute walk sniffing every blade of grass will satiate him far more than the dog that chases a ball for 30 minutes – they’re barely using their brain at all.

There are many ways to get your dog using their nose more, from scattering some of their meal around the garden to training for competitive scentwork.  I use everything in this spectrum.  I got involved in scentwork in 2017, as my springer Vinnie had been retired from agility relatively young and still needed a job.  I trained as a trainer for Scentwork UK, and started teaching classes.  I’ve since trained as a Trial Manager and Judge, and also run Nosework Games events.  I’m a lifelong learner, so there has been plenty of further education in there as well. 

With Scentwork UK, the initial scent that we teach our dogs is cloves.  They are trained to search for this scent in a number of different set ups, and once they find the scent they have to perform a behaviour that tells the handler that they’ve found it – this is known as an indication.  Scentwork classes are available all over the country, as well as online.  I have also recently written and published a book, Scentwork: Step by Step, which is aimed at complete beginners.

Ripley enjoying a scentwork session

However, the most simple way that you can get your dog sniffing is by getting them to search out their meals (admittedly much easier if you feed kibble rather than raw).  Either place a few bits of food in various places around a room or sprinkle some kibble in the grass.  Try to avoid pointing out every bit, stand back and let them get on with it.  You can even do this out on walks to encourage them to get their nose down.  Probably an important point to note here is that I put a lot of these behaviours on cue – quite rightly we don’t want our dogs with their nose down all the time whilst we’re running, but by actually allowing them time to do this elsewhere you may find that they have less need to do so at other times.

Scentwork can be as simple as getting your dog to sniff out their food in your back garden

Find out more

You can find out more about Scentwork UK or Nosework Games on their websites or Facebook pages.  I have a page dedicated to scentwork, Compass Canine Scentwork, as well as some information on my website www.compasscanine.co.uk/scentwork The book is available through Amazon, wherever you are in the world, either on Kindle or in paperback – mybook.to/ScentworkStepbyStep  If you have any questions, then please do get in touch.”

We think scentwork is going to be great fun for the K9 Trail Time team to try and we’re currently working through Sara’s book and looking forward to getting started ourselves. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into scentwork and it gives you some ideas for keeping your dogs happy on rest days.

Happy Trails!

Running with a reactive dog

March is Pet Anxiety Month so it felt like a good time to write this blog on running with a reactive dog. Many of the people who get into the dog sports of canicross, bikejor and dog scootering, do so because they have a high energy dog, possibly bred to do a job which isn’t accessible to them in their current home. Some of these dogs are rescues and some have just developed anxiety leading to the dog being reactive in certain situations. I know plenty of people who have a found a safe haven in canicross because it allows you to exercise your dog, whilst keeping them close to you and under control to prevent incidents with other dog walkers.

Canicross can be a great way to exercise your reactive dog, allowing them to socialise safely with other dogs

People who have never owned a reactive dog will probably not understand the daily struggles of planning a stress free route for your dog or the impact that their ‘friendly’ off lead dog interfering can have on your dog and your day. So whilst it is extremely annoying, we do all have to consider that not everyone will understand your dogs’ reaction and often their first response is to accuse you of having an aggressive dog – not fun or fair on anyone!

I want to point out that I’m not a qualified behaviourist, I talk about this from my own experiences having owned three reactive dogs now, all of whom were reactive in slightly different ways and for different reasons and all of whom I have canicrossed with and canicross raced with.

In my experience dogs become reactive for a reason and whatever that reason is, it is usually based on a fear of something. If you can find out what ‘triggers’ their reactivity (so basically work out what is frightening them) then you are halfway there to helping ease, or resolve, the problem.

My own dogs

The first example I have is with my first canicross dog Tegan, Tegan was a husky collie cross, loads of energy and a mix of two renowned working breeds, both endurance breeds with a really strong work ethic. This is important because Tegan NEVER gave up on something if it upset her, if she had a ‘run in’ with another dog, she would remember that and it was very difficult to persuade her not to react in any future meetings with that dog, I think her persistence in this was part of her genetic make up, not just as a result of an individual disagreement.

Tegan was always shouting at me or someone else to let her opinions be known!

Tegan would react badly to most dogs she saw whilst on the lead and holding her in situations where we met other dogs ‘head on’ was always difficult. Canicrossing however, was a different story and I couldn’t understand at first why she was fine running shoulder to shoulder with a strange dog, yet would create merry hell in the car park after a run if the dog came any where near her. I began to learn about what situations ‘triggered’ her reactivity and so I would avoid them if at all possible.

Avoidance of the trigger has now become my key tool in dealing with reactivity and you might be thinking ‘well that’s not really an answer that solves the problem’ but for me and my dogs, it is. Tegan would react because she felt threatened in a situation, not because she was a nasty, aggressive dog but because she genuinely felt that for whatever reason, she was unsafe in meeting some other dogs in head on situations and so she would react first.

My springer collie cross Donnie is similar, he will happily canicross alongside a dog he has never met before but if you ask him to ‘meet’ a dog in a walking or running situation, he turns into a spitting, snarling and quite frankly scary looking dog. I often find myself apologising for him if we meet someone out on walks or runs and generally leave the encounter embarrassed, which is why more often than not, I just try to avoid meeting people altogether.

Donnie will happily run alongside dogs he doesn’t live with but won’t tolerate them approaching him

Where it’s not possible to avoid coming face to face with other dogs, I have to do my best to ensure every situation is managed and doesn’t lead to something which could reinforce the behaviour, so staying calm, moving him as far out of the way as possible and reassuring him, are generally the methods I employ for helping to keep him below his ‘threshold’ for reacting.

Canicross has been a lifeline for us in that I know I have him under control when he is attached to me, I can pull him in closer to me quickly and he is generally a much happier dog than if he were constantly in a situation where he was reacting to everything. The other thing about Donnie is that he has Addisons Disease which is influenced by stress and so keeping him as stress free as possible is quite literally keeping him healthier!

My final example dog is Delta who is much quieter and more subtle with her reactivity but she is still nervous and whereas Tegan and Donnie’s reactions were your typical ‘fight’ response to a potential threat, Delta’s is flight, so she runs! This is where canicross comes into the picture again for being a great way for her to see the countryside with me but without her being in a situation where she feels the need to flee. Delta knows she can just drop by my side and I can keep other dogs / people away and so her confidence has grown since we have been canicross training, as she learns that nothing bad happens when she’s with me and I wrote another blog on this here: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2020/01/27/keeping-your-dog-safe/ about making sure she felt safe.

Delta is happy to run with me and I feel she is safer attached to me, so there is no ‘flight’ risk if we meet other dogs – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

So what happens when you go to a canicross race?

Canicross racing is something I have written a fair bit about but not necessarily in the context of the reactive dog. I often see people ask if they can take their reactive dog to a canicross race and the short is answer is ‘yes’. The longer answer however is, ‘yes, but think very carefully about whether you should’.

I am always actively encouraging people to get to canicross races, the organisers are people generally experienced with dogs and will be friendly and understanding towards you, even if you dog is reactive. Most true dog people understand that not all dogs will behave in the same way and will help you feel welcome and try and accommodate any worries you might have about taking part in a canicross race.

However, and this is quite a big however, if you feel your dog won’t cope very well with the situation being surrounded by other high energy and excited dogs, or having to pass other dogs and this might cause your dog more stress than enjoyment, or worse put your dog in a situation where you feel they have the potential to harm another dog, you or even themselves, then perhaps a race situation isn’t for you.

I have to hold my dogs by their harnesses on the start line to make sure they do not cross the path of other runners and their dogs

You do need to be able to control your dog in a race situation so that you are not responsible for causing anxiety in someone else’s dog. I’ve been on the receiving end of this and have had my dogs lunged at and ultimately put off racing by other competitors’ lack of care when handling their dog in a race. I personally wouldn’t want my dog to be the cause of this for someone else and so I would always recommend building your reactive dog up slowly to racing. If you positively train them around other dogs, taking time to reinforce the fun elements of running with other dogs and work hard to do all you can to make the experience exciting rather than anxiety inducing, then you can enjoy racing with your reactive dog too.

Canicross is much more fun if you know everyone has control over their dog – Photo Courtesy of CBR Photography

My final thoughts

So to conclude, running with your reactive dog can be a really good way to get your dog used to being around other dogs without putting them under too much pressure to interact, or allow them to reinforce any negative behaviours around other dogs and people. Whether your dog is confrontational when anxious or looks to escape the situation, you have much more control if your dog is attached to you and can give you the peace of mind you need to be able to enjoy going out with your dog, without the fear of a negative situation with other trail users.

Happy trails!

Snack time for your dog – HundEnergy. Bars

We discovered the HundEnergy. Bars last year when we were kindly donated some for all our Tri Dog competitors and the K9 Trail Time team got to sample them. We spoke to Sarah at HundEnergy. and asked her to share a bit about the Bars so our active dog owners can see for themselves why they might want these handy little snack bars for their dogs.

HundEnergy. is a brand for active dogs and their owners and our flagship product is the HundEnergy. Bar. This nutritional snack uses only ingredients that are beneficial to a dog after an extended period of exercise and is completely plant-based.

What’s inside HundEnergy. Bars?

At first you may think having a snack that’s plant-based goes against the more traditional food you currently feed your dog, however a dog thrives of a high protein diet made up of both meat and plant based matter.

When to use?

Humans need additional nutrients during or after exercising to replenish those that are lost, and to also aid with recovery. The same rule can be applied to your dog. Each dog has its specific daily exercise requirements depending on age and breed, however we can assume all dogs require extra nutrients after a long period of exercise. That is where the HundEnergy. Bar steps in.

HundEnergy. Bars contain natural ingredients that either aid in recovery and build, such as raw peanuts or give quick release energy such as gluten free oats.

This makes them the ideal snack for your dog when taking part in activities such as Canicross or any other type of Canisport.

Each Bar is individually wrapped meaning they can be kept in a handy place such as a kit bag, or backpack ready to give to your dog when they need it the most. As the ingredients are all completely natural, one bar for one serving will be suitable for any type of dog, they can even serve as a nutritious snack in-between meals.

If you’d like to find out more information or to buy HundEnergy. Bars you can find them here: https://www.k9trailtime.com/other-activities/walking/hundenergy-bar.html

K9 Trail Time Myth Buster Number 2 – You can’t canicross a dog in a short harness

You can’t canicross your dog in a short harness – Ever heard this one? I’ve seen this comment on a number of groups recently and the irony of this is that 11 years ago when I started canicrossing, everyone was told they could ONLY canicross in a short harness!

At that point there weren’t so many options for a longer style harness and X-Backs were the main design for a long pulling harness, so the theory was at that time, that you shouldn’t canicross in an X-Back because the harness was designed for a low pull point (this much is true) and that when used for canicrossing, the X-Back would lift off the dogs back and cause issues for the dog (never seen this happen). This prompted us to write a blog about why we love the X-Back harness because certain companies and individuals were trying to profit from this false information and we wanted to explain why the X-Back was still a fantastic harness for running dogs in, no matter what the sport…

We love X-Backs (even if Donnie’s face doesn’t say so in this picture!)

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2016/06/21/why-we-love-x-back-harnesses/

So instead of an X-Back, people were suggesting that a ‘H- Back’ Harness (essentially a short harness) was the only option for canicrossers to use safely. We actually started out with shorter style harnesses for this reason and quickly realised that there were pros and cons for both styles of dog sport harnesses and that different dogs suited different things.

The Howling Dog Alaska Distance Harness an example of a ‘H Back’ style

Another typical ‘H Back’ style harness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At K9 Trail Time we prefer to use common sense and a knowledge of a dogs anatomy to determine whether a particular style of harness will cause a dog any restrictions to movement, rather than hearsay and the marketing of companies who have a vested interest in persuading you one way or the other about a suitable running harness they manufacture.

There are certainly some short harnesses we would not recommend for canicross and there are many ‘walking’ harnesses which claim to be suitable for canicross but are not in our opinion. Remember what you are looking for in a harness is for it to be non-restrictive and allow your dog to move as freely as possible, so a harness which comes across or covers the shoulders in any significant way, will not be suitable.

Harnesses which restrict shoulder movement are not suitable for canicross

However, we have used a number of different, highly suitable, short harnesses and recommend only harness which we have personally used for the dog sports. It is also worth mentioning at this point that we took all our harnesses to a group of qualified and experienced Canine Massage Guild members and in terms of potential for muscular problems from a badly fitting harness, they preferred the shorter styles of harness on the whole.

The Non-stop Line Harness, one of the selection we have which have been throughly tried and tested by our team!

We do always recommend the shorter harnesses for dogs who are more leisurely pullers and dogs who drop back because sometimes dogs who pull very hard out in front all the time can make a rasping noise in a short harness. This is due to the fact that the pull on a short harness is directed along the top of the harness, which pulls the harness back, sometimes up and if the harness isn’t sitting low enough on the dog, this can mean into the throat. All this depends on your dog and the way the harness fits and I can run 3 of my 4 dogs in a short harness with no problems, however the 4th dog will always make this rasping noise, even when walking!

Even my biggest, most athletic dog can run well in his short harness

So we hope that blog has helped dispel another myth we have seen floating around in groups and reassure those of you who do run your dogs in short harnesses, that you’re not going to do them any harm running them in a shorter style harness.

Happy trails!

K9 Trail Time Myth Buster Number 1 – You have to be super fit to canicross

At K9 Trail Time we often hear the words ‘I’m not fit enough to run with my dog’ and we’d like to dispel that myth and turn it into ‘you will get fit ‘if’ you run with your dog’!

We all have to start somewhere and although you might see plenty of athletic looking people taking part in the sport of canicross, particularly racing, please don’t think that everyone starts off like this. Often it takes a lot of patience, willpower and determination to get fit running with your dog but once you get involved you realise how good it can be for both of you.

In fact many people start off exercising with their dog and go on to enjoy other sports as a result!

A few case studies:

Duncan Wells as he started canicross in the UK

Duncan Wells canicrossing in the French Alps – much fitter after a few years of running with his dogs!

Natti Shaw as she just started canicross, Natti now takes part in OCR races and many other fitness activities but she started with canicross

 

Sarah was also inspired to get fit with her dogs and now runs couch to 5km canicross club runs with her local canicross group

So where do I start?

Couch to 5km

A really good place to start is a simple Couch to 5km programme and we have posted a blog with a couple of options for this here: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/k9-trail-time-basic-couch-to-5km-plan-for-canicross/

There are also apps which can get you motivated such as the NHS one here: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/get-running-with-couch-to-5k/

You can also download podcasts to listen to but we personally prefer to canicross without ear phones in as you can hear what’s going on around you.

Canicrossing can be enjoyed just you and your dog, not necessarily with groups or music to spur you on, your dog will do that!

Canicross Groups

You can start a Couch to 5km programme on your own, or get a group of you together to start this, by organising a group you’re more likely to succeed as you hold each other accountable for your progress. Groups can encourage and inspire and we highly recommend trying to find people in your local area to meet up with to get started. You might find that you already have a local group with experienced canicrossers  who can also join in to help with advice on running with your dog and getting the right equipment so you are both comfortable. Often there will be someone who will lead these runs for beginners and this is the perfect place to start.

Having a group to run with can be extremely motivating for both you and your dog

Canicross classes

There are a number of individual trainers, clubs or organisations offering canicross classes now and most of these will focus on getting you started safely with your dog. Our advice with these classes is to investigate your instructor to find out how much canicross experience they have themselves. Some classes are run by personal trainers and some are run by dog trainers, some are run by people who have been canicrossing for years with their own dogs and this is most valuable. In our opinion you need to have some experience of both running AND dogs to be able to teach canicross, as it is a lot more than just going for a run with your dog and your trainer should be able to train both you and your dog in your classes.

Make sure your canicross instructor has had years of training for the specific sport, not just running or dog training

Whatever way you get into it, running with your dog can be a great experience and most people certainly start off in the sport of canicross without having had a running background. If you are one of these people, do not be put off!!! Join the thousands of other people who have begun their canicross journey being unfit and unsure but develop with their dog to increase the fitness and health of both of you, who knows where your journey together might take you!

We hope that has helped dispel the myth that you have to be super fit to run with your dog, you can start anywhere but if you stick with it you will both definitely benefit – Happy trails!

 

K9 Trail Time – Basic ‘Couch to 5km’ Plan for Canicross

There are many ideas and thoughts about getting your dog ready to run your first 5k with you. Not only do you need to build up your ability and strength, but so does your furry friend. Once you have built up the basic fitness with your pooch, the opportunities are endless for you both. Whether you want to be participating in your local parkrun, trekking across forest trails or you fancy joining a club and racing, the first rule to go by is that you should both make sure you are healthy and able to participate in this sort of activity. Your dog should be fully developed before starting canicross and it is always worth getting your dog checked over by the vet to make sure that all general health is good before you head off out on the trails.

Jayne before taking up canicross, walking with her huskies

Jayne after taking up canicross which she followed a Couch to 5km plan for

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, you will probably want to invest in a harness for your dog, a belt for yourself and a bungee line to connect you. Most new canicross runners will find that running with their dog in a harness and wearing a waist belt makes the whole experience more relaxing for both participants. If you are local to a canicross club, it is worth popping along to try some kit, or you can contact us at K9 Trail Time for more advice.

Having suitable kit from the start will allow you to enjoy your experience

We have a VBook here which can help determine what harness might be best for your dog: https://bit.ly/howtochooseaharnessvbook

We also have a belt blog here: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/its-all-about-canicross-belts-how-to-choose-and-wear-them/

And a bit on lines here: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/line-length-the-long-and-short-of-it/

There are many different programmes you can search for online and it is important to make sure that you are following one which is suitable for you and your dog. The following programmes have been created using information specifically for dogs who are building up to 5k with their humans.

The first plan is designed for those who have not done much exercise, or for a younger novice dog who you want to build up to running. If your dog is under one year of age please see our puppy training blog for more information on how to start a young dog running.

To go from a non-runner to a canicross runner should be a slow and steady process

The second plan is designed for those whose dogs (and humans) are already out and about walking at least three times a week for around 30-40 minutes at a time.

The programmes are designed for a 12 week commitment, with the flexibility of repeating steps if you need to.

PLAN 1 – THE COMPLETE BEGINNER

Each activity should be completed three times a week (preferably with a rest day in between so you can monitor for injury and allow suitable recovery)

Week Warm Up Steady Jog Walk Repeat Cool Down
1 – 3 times a week do the following (For all weeks do the below) 

 

Brisk walk 1 minute

Jog 1 minute

Brisk walk 1 minute

Jog 1 minute

Brisk walk 1 minute

90 seconds 3 minute 8 times Light stretching and rehydration.

Remember that this should be done gradually. Stretching should not cause discomfort for either party.

 

2 1 minute 2 minutes 9 times
3 2 minutes 2 minutes 9 times
4 3 minutes 2 minutes 6 times
5 4 minutes 2 minutes 6 times
6 5 minutes 1 minute 6 times
7 6 minutes 1 minute 5 times
8 7 minutes 1 minute 4 times
9 8 minutes 1 minute 4 times
10 9 minutes 1 minutes 3 times
11 9 minutes 30 seconds 3 times
12 Steady jog for 30 minutes, either 15 minutes with a 45 second break x2 or straight through if you are both comfortable.

 

PLAN 2 – FOR THOSE WHO ARE MORE ACTIVE AND WALK FOR AROUND 30-40 MINUTES THREE TIMES A WEEK.

This plan is based on distance, it requires a little more communication with your dog and can be measured using a GPS watch, or familiar landmarks. As with the previous plan, this would be more suited to trails and you should avoid running your dog on tarmac and concrete.

Week Warm Up Run / Jog Walk Repeat Cool Down
1 – 3 times a week do the following (For all weeks do the below)  

 

 

Brisk walk 1 minute

Jog 1 minute

Brisk walk 1 minute

Jog 1 minute

Brisk walk 1 minute

½ kilometre 3 minute 4 times  Light stretching and rehydration.

Remember that this should be done gradually. Stretching should not cause discomfort for either party.

2 ½ kilometre 2 minutes 6 times
3 ¾ kilometre 2 minutes 4 times
4 ¾ kilometre 2 minutes 6 times
5 1 kilometre 2 minutes 3 times
6 1 kilometre 1 minute 30 seconds 3 times
7 1 kilometre 2 minute 4 times
8 1 kilometre 1 minute 30 seconds 4 times
9 1 kilometre 2 minute 5 times
10 1 kilometre 1 minutes 30 seconds 5 times
11 1 kilometre 1 minute 5 times
12 Run 5 k – this can be broken into 2 sections with a short walk or slower jog.

 

Remember that these programmes are a way of building up your ability and stamina as a team. In every cool down it is important to keep moving and allow your body (and that of your dog) to cool down slowly. In this period you should stretch and monitor for any signs of discomfort. For your four legged friend you may need to help them to stretch a little too, ask your vet or physio the best way to do this if you are unsure, as they can show you simple ways to do this. It is also recommended that you check between your dog’s pads and if they have long hair, check for tangles, brambles and twigs. This cool down period is also a great way to monitor your dog for injury and cuts as well as any unwanted visitors from your trail run. It helps to build a stronger bond with your dog and make the whole process rewarding.

Once you become a canicrosser, you’ll wonder why it took you so long!

Once you have cooled down, the final stages include; a kit check to make sure there is no damage and everything is clean and dry. This is then followed by your photos and updates so you can share your successes with your friends!

We wish you the best of luck getting started and if you need any help do contact us at info@k9trailtime.com

K9 Trail Time – A little bit of our history

We were going to get involved with #MarchMeetTheMaker but we’ve missed the boat on that one seeing as it’s now nearly the middle of the month! 😆 So we thought we’d just do a bit of our history for those who don’t know our background.
K9 Trail Time was started in 2012 a few years after I (Emily) started canicross racing with my two dogs Tegan and Judo, who also feature in the logo. The picture for the logo was actually taken at a Scottish race, the weekend before we attempted our first long distance canicross challenge in 2011, the West Highland Way. At the time I didn’t know that I was going to set up K9 Trail Time and I certainly had no idea it would end up being my full time job.

The K9 Trail Time logo photo, featuring Tegan and Judo, the ‘original’ two

The business was set up initially as a hobby, because I couldn’t find all the lovely dog sports equipment I could see was available to purchase from any retailer in the UK and it made sense once I was attending more races to have a bit of kit to take with me to sell to my friends too. I quickly realised there were plenty of people like me who wanted to try different styles of harness on their dogs and also wanted a good selection of colours of kit, so they could match harnesses, lines and belts!

The aim of K9 Trail Time was to bring the best brands together in one place

I spoke with many of the existing working dog equipment retailers who were all very supportive of my idea and to this day I still have many friends who also run small businesses catering for the dog sports enthusiasts and I like to think we all bring something different to our businesses.
Our slogan from day one has always been ‘active dogs are happy dogs’ and that’s because the reason we got into canicross and subsequently dog scootering and bikejor, is the fact all our dogs have always been rescues and have generally been high energy, working breeds, needing a safe outlet for this and a ‘job’ to do.
I’ve mentioned in a few previous blogs about Tegan being the catalyst for us getting into dog sports because she suffered separation anxiety and the only thing that seemed to helped her chill out for the day, was to have been for a run and then she could settle and seemed less stressed. Unfortunately we lost Tegan in 2019 but her role in K9 Trail Time will never be forgotten.

Tegan was the main reason dog sports came into our lives

We have always tried to encourage people to get active with their dogs and one of the main aims of K9 Trail Time has been to provide information for interested people so that they can get involved in something which is a safe outlet for dogs to release any excess energy. Over the last 8 years we have worked with many different charities including Battersea Dogs Home, Dogs Trust, Many Tears and 8 Below Husky Rescue to help them and their staff, educate potential adopters about ways in which they can fulfil a high energy dogs’ needs, particularly if they can’t be let off the lead.
We attended Crufts a couple of years in a row in the early days, mainly to promote the benefits of the sports, as Crufts is an extremely busy event and getting the word out there about canicross is easier with such a large audience.
Before K9 Trail Time was set up, we had taken part in a race around Crufts which CaniX UK used to organise, the event was always a favourite to watch and generated a lot of interest in what we do, so we knew it was a good way to spread the word.

The Crufts race was exciting and inspiring

Now we are working on having representatives in different areas who are experienced in the sports but who have also completed training on harness fitting, as this is one of the key things we have been focusing on, getting the right equipment for you and your dog to enjoy the sports in the most comfortable way possible. To this end I (Emily) have been studying canine physiology and anatomy and have also expanded my knowledge into hydrotherapy, so that I have a better understanding of how dogs move and the impact of the harness sports on the dogs’ body.

Canine hydrotherapy has just added to our passion for all things ‘active dog’

K9 Trail Time now provides harness fitting workshops and talks at various different events and we have a base near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire where we hope to provide even more information and advice for people, not just on the equipment side of the dog sports but also training, nutrition, recovery and general health and well being for any active dog. We are working towards being able to help advance research in the area of canine performance too, so watch this space!

Keeping your dog ‘safe’

We’ve recently taken on another rescue team member and it’s not been long but Delta (the new pup) is already proving to be a bit of a different challenge from the other dogs I’ve had. Delta is one of a litter of nine puppies brought over from an Irish rescue and is one of the lucky ones. I was told that often these unwanted farm litters just get drowned at birth because the farmers don’t want / can’t be bothered to neuter their dogs and so when the inevitable happens they just dispose of the consequences.

Delta, the new pup is a different type of challenge for us

I think being one of nine, surrounded by her litter mates and then being brought over to the UK on a ferry on a trip that was over 24 hours, being split from her family and then joining our household with 3 established dogs already in place, was such a huge shock to her system she struggled a little bit to find her feet. Everything to her is scary until she is shown otherwise and other people, dogs, places could all be a potential threat to her, so she was understandably a bit overwhelmed.

Everything has been a little overwhelming for a nervous pup to begin with

How does this relate to our normal theme of ‘active dogs are happy dogs’ and our beloved dog sports I hear you ask…? Well my point in blogging about this is that my job, my aim and my sole focus for her right now is to make her feel safe. Unless she feels safe, she will be worried and may react accordingly when faced with new situations. Most dogs will either follow a fight or flight response to anything threatening, fight being anything from a growl, bark, to a full on attack and flight being a subtle movement away, putting distance between the dog and the perceived threat or a panicked exit which can result in a dog getting lost. None of these things are ideal and a dog in fight or flight mode is difficult to communicate with in terms of training.

Here is where I get to the point of my writing, if your dog can’t be easily communicated with, then you are going to experience problems if you are taking part in an activity where communication is essential (all activities you might want to take part in ‘with’ your dog). For example I want to walk Delta with other dogs but right now she can be so scared of the situation that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with her, so I decided on one of our first group walks I would carry her in a pack. This is not even remotely conventional and nothing I thought I would ever do but the result was that she was happy, she felt safe and it was a positive experience for her = my job done.

Carrying Delta in a bag is unconventional but allowed her to feel safe on a group walk at first

So relating this more specifically to dog sports, my older collie Judo was my ‘stooge’ dog for years, he loved running so much that I could loan him out to others to run with and he would enjoy the run with whoever looked after him on the trails. Unfortunately when bikejoring him one season there was a dog who seemed drawn to him and used to practice inappropriate trail behaviour whenever we met in a race situation. Three times this dog ended up with Judo’s head in his mouth, he never did any physical harm but the mental harm done was lasting.

Following the third episode, any time we biked, Judo would drop to the floor in front of the bike if he heard anyone behind him and displayed all the behaviours of a dog who just wanted to flee the situation, he no longer felt safe and I could no longer reassure him that he would be ok. I was pretty devastated about this and sought out ways to help ease his fears, training with dogs he knew and trying to build up confidence again but when we raced he obviously just didn’t want to be put in the situation. The result of this was ultimately that I gave up competitive bikejoring with him, I could no longer keep him ‘safe’ and so I didn’t want to put him through it. We could still canicross because I had much more control over the situation and could take him off the trail if someone came up behind us, he relaxed again and enjoyed his running once more, again = my job done.

Judo used to love biking but in the end we had to stick to canicross to make sure he was happy – Photo from 2016 courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

Another example of this happened with my dog Yogi, who is one of the most confident dogs I know. However about 6 months into his canicross career he was accidentally ‘kicked’ out of the way by more competitive runners nudging past us during a race. This didn’t just happen once, it happened a few times and he began to drop back and even behind me if he heard someone coming up to overtake. I was so frustrated as again he just didn’t feel safe any more, I hadn’t been able to protect him before, so he didn’t trust that it wouldn’t happen again. Fortunately the work I’ve put in since has proved to him he can trust me and I often pull him right out of people’s way now so there is no chance of him being nudged again. Yogi is a pretty robust dog in terms of his confidence and now feels secure listening to me when I ask him to move over on the trail but it took a few months of training to get this back.

Thankfully Yogi has been confident enough to get over his earlier experiences of racing and being knocked out of the way

A dog who doesn’t feel safe will find it hard to respond to instruction, take direction and ultimately will not enjoy the activity you are participating in. Although I am not a qualified behaviourist, I have studied canine behaviour and in terms of a dogs needs being met, the ‘feeling safe’ aspect must be met before the need for physical activity for the dog to benefit from this. Very often we can help a dog to feel secure in situations and more relaxed through release of energy during activity but we must be mindful that we are not creating more stress and more anxiety in our dogs by asking them to participate in things which overload them and repeatedly create a fight or flight response.

In conclusion, whenever you are taking part in any activity with your dog, you need to make sure your dog is first and foremost comfortable with the situation and then you know you can communicate effectively and train your dog within that situation. We are firm believers at K9 Trail Time in positive reinforcement and have seen the effect that a negative experience can have on a dog in our sports. So remembering to keep your dog ‘safe’ in their interpretation of the environment they are in is an extremely important part of training and one which cannot be ignored to make your experiences fun at all times. After all that is what our time with our dogs is all about – having fun!

Always ensure your dog has fun, first and foremost in any activity your are participating in – Photo courtesy of Horses of Courses Photography

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – T is for Time

Continuing with our K9 Trail Time A-Z of canicross the ‘T’ for us is ‘time’. Many people feel they don’t have time for a new sport or think they might have to spend hours running with their dog every day to really feel the benefit but this isn’t the case. One of the reasons we got into the sport was because of the time it saved us in getting all of the team out, exercised and set up for the day when compared with how long it took if the dogs were just walked normally. We found that just 20 – 30 mins of canicrossing was more beneficial and tiring than up to an hour of regular walking and therefore we actually saved time every day, whilst keeping everyones’ mental and physical needs met. Although it can be fun to build up to longer runs and spending more time outside, on a day to day basis this relatively small amount of time sacrificed was enough to leave us all feeling happy. Time is also important in how you decide to spend it with your dogs, we feel there’s nothing better than enjoying nature being out running the trails with your best friends and for these reasons we have chosen time as our ‘T’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross.

Time spent outdoors with your dog canicrossing is never time wasted as far as we’re concerned – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

Tegan’s story – saying goodbye

Whilst not directly related to the dog sports world, saying goodbye to your beloved companion is something we will all have to face at one time or another and I personally wanted to write this blog as a tribute to my princess who I lost last month and who was the reason I started K9 Trail Time.

Tegan was my first dog who I was solely responsible for, I got her after I had finally moved out of home and I will never forget the first time I saw her face. Tegan came from a local rescue kennels and when I saw her she was trying to scale an 8 foot stable wall in her excitement to get out, I should have known then that getting her would change my life.

Tegan the very first time I saw her in kennels

The early days were really hard and I struggled with her separation anxiety, which at times was soul destroying and I felt I was letting her down at every stage. I made so many mistakes and I distinctly remember trying to bike with her on a lead held in my hand which inevitably ended in disaster when she saw a cat and tried to run under my bike! We muddled on and she began to settle with me, taking part in long walks with my horse and managing her anxiety through exercise and training.

Tegan the first night I had her

After nearly a year I had the confidence to introduce another dog to the house and it was then that I realised as much as I exercised them, there was something missing in our lives and I needed to find something for us to do together. We tried both flyball and agility but Tegan was reactive towards other dogs in that situation, so group sessions were not for us and we needed to find something else to focus both Tegan and Judo’s minds on.

Tegan and Judo in the early days

We first discovered canicross through a friend who suggested to us that it was a great way for the dogs to exercise safely and in an environment where people understood and respected some dogs’ need for space. When Judo was old enough we started to train, running locally at first and then taking part in our first race in 2009. From that point on we were hooked! We were lucky to have some very experienced canicrossers who ran a local group and we began to join them on a weekly basis.

Our very first race with CaniX at Stanton Country Park, Swindon on Sun 18th Oct 09.

For the first time Tegan began to really settle in the house and after more than 2 years the destruction resulting from the separation anxiety began to diminish. That’s not to say she stopped this behaviour and right up until the weeks before I had to let her go, she was still ripping up beds and trying to escape out of cages if she felt that she should be with me rather than confined somewhere not taking part!

Tegan even ripped off and got out of a boarded up cat flap twice!

For nearly 10 years we had so many adventures with our canicross friends, we attempted the West Highland Way in Scotland, managing 60 miles in 3 days but having to pull out due to my injury after the 3rd day. It was during the training for this I came up with the basic plan for K9 Trail Time. We did successfully complete the Cotswold Way in 2016 with the 3 dogs I had at that point, each taking legs of the route so they were fresh each day for the next stage. Tegan was aged 9 and so I was especially proud of her completing the distances of up to 15 miles she managed.

One of our biggest achievements was completing the Cotswold Way, Tegan did the last stage with me

Tegan was diagnosed at around 4 years old with arthritis in her fore limb carpal joints, most likely a result of genetics rather than anything else but we managed this for the whole of her life with exercise, the occasional dose of medication and by carefully monitoring her for signs of stiffness or pain which she virtually never displayed. We strongly support Canine Arthritis Management for giving great advice and help for people whose dogs have been diagnosed with arthritis, as it certainly doesn’t mean the end of an active life as Tegan proved.

Tegan had an extremely active life, she took part in canicross, bikejor, scootering and even had a go on a rig

In 2017 during a routine health check the vet mentioned a heart murmur and said not to worry about it, many dogs have a heart murmur and live their whole lives happily with no ill effects. However in 2018 I started to suspect the murmur was having an effect and there were subtle signs of her beginning to slow down. We booked a specialist appointment with a cardiologist and had it confirmed with an echocardiogram that she was indeed suffering with Mitral Valve Disease which is degenerative but can be delayed with medication.

Tegan began to slow down a little in the last couple of years but she was always the first one up for an adventure

From that point on I knew we were on borrowed time, studies indicate that given the correct medication dogs with MMVD can live for years but I had already seen changes in her that made me think we might not get many years. The advice I was given and what I stuck to, was to keep her going and not limit her exercise, if she wanted to run then she should run! Tegan would often need us to wait for her but we always did and she continued to run with us right up until the weekend before she left us. Tegan even raced a short course with CaniX for a night run in January 2019 at 12 years old, she loved every minute and more importantly she was still being allowed to take part, she hated being left out of anything.

Tegan after her night race with me in January, she was always so happy to be out with me

I’m not going to forget that last week we had with her, it was busy as usual and we had an event down in Devon we attended. Tegan had been picky over her food but that wasn’t unusual for a dog who was nicknamed ‘princess’ for a reason. However she did seem more tired than normal and so she had a rest day after we got back. Those last two days were heartbreaking as she went downhill so quickly, she went to the vet as soon as I felt she wasn’t happy and she deteriorated there to the point where I knew she was beginning to suffer.

I knew my time with Tegan was limited but she was such a character right until the end

Tegan had developed an arterial fibrillation, which is a complication with the heart condition and her kidneys were failing but also during investigations the vets found a mass in her intestines and it was then I knew I was going to have to let her go. The decision itself when I looked at her wasn’t difficult as such, because I knew it was the kindest thing for her, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do after sharing nearly 12 years of my life with her.

Saying goodbye to Tegan is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do

Tegan was such a huge character and was always telling me what she thought, she woke me up every morning at home, she told me off if I hadn’t fed her by a certain time and nearly every group photo I asked her to pose for, she had to tell me to hurry up and let me know she was bored. Tegan was my inspiration for K9 Trail Time, to create a business providing kit and information for active dog owners so that they could enjoy the kind of life we had, to improve the kind of behaviours Tegan had displayed when she was bored and frustrated and giving dogs a channel for this.

Tegan was always shouting at me or someone else to let her opinions be known!

Tegan’s legacy will live on in our hearts, in our home but also in K9 Trail Time, she is the main dog in the logo, the photo taken from one of our early years racing at an event in Scotland just before we attempted the West Highland Way. All we can do for our dogs is give them the best possible life with the time we have and know when to let them go when that time has come. It’s the worst pain ever but knowing you’ve had the best life you can together is some comfort.

Tegan will live on through K9 Trail Time, the company set up was inspired by her

‘Princess’ Tegan you were the dog that changed my life, until I find you again.

Run free princess