K9 Trail Time Interview with an expert – Catherine Nicoll, Clinical Canine Massage Therapist

Our next professional to feature in the ‘Interview with an expert series’ is Catherine Nicoll, a Clinical Canine Massage Therapist, who we have been going to see to keep the dogs in tip top condition since she set up in 2012.

Canine massage has been something the K9 Trail Time dogs have had incorporated into our training programme for 6 years now

Tell our followers a little bit about what you do, how you got into it, how long you have been doing it and your experience / or qualifications?

I am a Clinical Canine Massage Therapist so I specialise in treating soft tissue, muscular issues such as lameness/limping and dogs with Orthopaedic conditions like hip dysplasia and Arthritis. I also treat dogs post operation like Cruciate Ligament or Luxating Patella. I do 4 disciplines of massage to include Swedish, Sports Massage which is used for injury identification, isolating muscles by working from origin to insertion and I focus on trigger point release and scar tissue remodelling. I also do deep tissue massage which mobilises the deeper muscles, spreading fibres to make the muscles more supple and flexible. Finally, I do Myofascial Release. Muscles need to be able to slide and glide and myofascial release releases muscles from each other and from the periosteum of the bone. I treat elderly dogs who are slowing down and getting stiff as well as sporting dogs who have either injured themselves with sprains or strains or for maintenance to keep their muscles in good working order. I completed the Diploma in Canine Massage Therapy in January 2012 and set up my business, Dogs Body Canine Massage Therapy, immediately after.

Catherine treats many dogs besides sports dogs, as all dogs can benefit from massage

The reason I got into massage is that I am a qualified human sports massage therapist and, having regular massage myself, knew how beneficial it was. My dog, Paddy, kept going lame when he was 15 months old and after x-rays and further investigation I was told by the vet that they couldn’t find any issues and so I would need to just keep him on lead walks. I looked into having him massaged and when I took him to Natalie Lenton from The Canine Massage Therapy Centre, she found the problem with his lameness immediately. He had a strain (tear to his muscle) in his superficial pectoral muscle which was making him lame. I was so impressed and relieved to know what the problem was that I decided to sign up for the course. The course took me 18 months to complete and I left my job of 20 years working in a bank to set up my own business.

What does a day in the life of you consist of?

My day varies. I am lucky that my Clinic is at my home so in between treatments I can be with my own dogs. I have treated up to 8 dogs in one day but ideally prefer to treat 4-5 dogs a day. As well as doing Clinical Canine Massage Therapy, I am also a Tutor on The Clinical Canine Massage Practitioner Programme run by The Canine Massage Therapy Centre and so my days are sometimes taken up with tutor work in preparation for the students. Being self-employed means that I can choose to take an impromptu day off when I like which I love! I also run 1-day workshops for members of the public to enable them to learn some Swedish massage techniques to do on their own dog at home. (Details on my website).

Dogs tend to relax into the massage and benefits begin to be seen after a session or two

Share with us your proudest moment so far

Every day that I am helping dogs makes me proud. I guess if I had to choose one, however, it would be changing one elderly dog’s life completely. His owner was thinking about having him put to sleep as he could hardly walk and was miserable but decided to try massage as a last resort. After 2 sessions he was happier, more mobile and enjoying his walks. He went on to live for another 3 years.

What are your top 3 tips connected with what you do for our followers and their active dogs?

  1. If you have laminated/wood flooring put non-slip runners down! Dogs are digit grade animals which means they walk on their toes. They cannot grip hard floors and so end up slipping around which puts a lot of strain on their muscles and inevitably end up getting injured.
  2. Get your dog check out by a Canine Massage Guild member. We are trained to identify muscular issues so by bringing them for a massage 2-3 times a year it enables us Therapists to spot any issues before they become a problem. We work “best practice” and so, if your dog is injured you should see an improvement in 1-3 sessions. In the unlikely event that you don’t, we would cease further treatment and refer your dog back to the vet for further investigation.
  3. Dogs get injured the same as humans do, think about what you are doing with your dog. Don’t keep using ball launchers to exercise your dog. Warm them up on lead for 10 minutes before letting them off to run. Feed them a good diet and don’t let them get fat! Give them a day off from exercise. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical. Don’t feel guilty if you are unable to take your dog for a walk one day, it’s not going to do them any harm and the rest will give their body time to recover.

Catherine will be continuing to help owners and their dogs but also by training other therapists, bring the benefit of massage to many more dog owners

What are your plans for the future?

I am passionate about what I do and so I just want to keep on helping dogs with mobility issues and make a difference to their lives. I will keep on learning more about canine anatomy and physiology as I find it fascinating. I want to continue to educate dog owners on the benefits of Clinical Canine Massage Therapy as there are still people out there who have never heard of it, although that has improved in the years since I trained!

 

How can our followers get in touch with you?

You can visit my website www.dogsbodycaninemassage.co.uk you can email me at mail@dogsbodycaninemassage.co.uk or ring me on 07967 099603. I am based in Hartpury, Gloucestershire. I have a Facebook page too so please go in and “like” my page – https://www.facebook.com/DogsBodyCMT/  

If I am not local to you, then visit The Canine Massage Guild website and find your local therapist there. http://www.k9-massageguild.co.uk

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K9 Trail Time Interview with an expert – Claire Martin, Dog Behaviourist

Here at K9 Trail Time we believe in so much more than just going out for a run or being active with your dog. We like to look at the whole picture when it comes to our dogs and what we do. We retail active dog products but think our customers would like a broader picture of active dog health and well-being, so we’ve come up with our ‘Interview with an expert’ series where we will be asking different experts, that we feel are relevant to having an active and happy dog, questions which will give you an insight into how they help active dogs to keep fit both mentally and physically.

Our first expert is Claire Martin who is (amongst other things) a qualified dog behaviourist.

Claire is our expert because she knows how the ‘active dog’ mind works

Tell our followers a little bit about what you do, how you got into it, how long you have been doing it and your experience / or qualifications?

I have been training dogs ever since I adopted my first “own” dog – a rescue greyhound called Poppy. As a teacher, at that time, I was well versed in educational methods and good dog training is positive and kind as good education should be.

I got into studying behaviour and training dogs when I took on a foster dog that had significant behavioural problems, I needed to understand why she was afraid and how that had happened to her and so I took the brave move and made a career change that I had always wanted to and studied with COAPE to become a CAPBT Behaviourist and Trainer. I also became a full member of the IMDT and a FFTT (force free trick trainer). I now realise how the past experiences that the foster dog had been through had affected her and that it had literally changed the way her brain worked. Sadly there is a lot of poor information about how dogs should be trained, much promulgated by unscientific celebrity dog trainers that have access to peoples homes through the media.

Claire believes in force free training, as do we at K9 Trail Time

Over the last 5 years that I have been working as a behaviourist and trainer, things have already started to change and positive, reward based methods are pushing the out of date and inaccurate pack theory and dominance methods of the past. I started canicrossing 10 years ago and scooter racing 4 years ago. I, with a group of friends, set up Canicross Midlands and our team now run a 14 race series as well as other stand alone races and events and we have 5 regional groups that bring in and support new people entering into the sport. I also run my own Chrysalis Canicross Series which is a very unique “league” format.

 

What does a day in the life of you consist of?

Each day varies significantly, one thing is constant though – I always spend time training and enjoying the company of my dogs. They travel with me almost everywhere I go. Some days I might have 6 agility classes, other days trick training classes, life skills classes and then there are the 1-2-1 behavioural consultations to help people with dogs who struggle to cope with some aspect of life. Often I work late into the evenings, often teaching classes at 9pm! The advantage is that I have mornings free and that’s when I do admin and train my dogs. Weekends are either taken up with my own competing – winter for canicross and scooter, summer for agility but I also run weekend workshops at my training venue too. Its certainly not a 9-5 job! My van is my mobile office, mobile home and a mobile kennel! My dogs sleep in bed with me and often share my meals – truly my family in every way. Some of my dogs are the right temperament to stooge for fearful dogs and that skill is very special indeed. Currently I have 8 dogs who share my life.

Claire works on building a bond with dog and owner, through understanding of behaviour

Share with us your proudest moment so far

I have a client with a very scared dog. He’s a powerful breed and he is afraid of people. He is a rescue dog and he could be very dangerous if he wasn’t so well cared for and supported. The day I became one of his safe people was a very powerful one – it took time, love and trust for him to learn I wasn’t a threat and now he will greet me with his paws on my shoulders and a happy wag. He’s well on the way through his journey to lifetime happiness – he is a lucky lad – few owners would be so dedicated to him and his owner cries with me often, happy tears – as he makes progress. Saving dogs that have had tough starts is incredibly rewarding because often by the time I get to meet them they are already a family member and dearly loved – even if they are hard to like at times.

What are your top 3 tips connected with what you do for our followers and their active dogs?

1 – Remember that your sport dog has absolutely no idea if they have won or lost, come first or last, its our job to make them believe that they have won – they don’t value ribbons, bits of tin and glass, they know how you feel about them – they understand love and pride in their achievement – so make sure your dog always feels like they are a winner.

Although it can be fun to win things, your dog has no idea what ‘winning’ means, they should win every time

2 – Never punish a dog for your failings, indeed – never punish a dog. They didn’t do that thing that infuriated you because they were mad at you, they don’t know that you had a bad day at work, they just know how you feel and they think that if you are angry that you are angry at them. We have them each in our lives for maybe a decade, sometimes more – make every day with us happy and special. Let their happiness to greet us at the end of a tiring day put to rest any other frustrations and who cares if a cushion exploded!

3 – Play with your dog – play tug, teach them tricks, teach them games other than the sport you want to compete in. If you want to canicross seriously then take them to scent work classes for fun. Teach them formal obedience and who cares if your breed doesn’t “do” obedience – if you want to and its fun for you both then who cares? If you have multiple dogs spend at least 1 hour a week with each dog on their own doing something special that the two of you enjoy.

Claire with one of her own dogs (she has 8!)

What are your plans for the future?

Chrysalis K9 is growing fast. I’m not alone now with Vay Coltrose working alongside me. We want an indoor training venue for classes over the winter and we want to spread the word of positive training in harness sports far and wide – which we are already doing through our Canicross Midlands Summer Camp. For me personally, I am hoping to get my own dog Axis confident in competition on the scooter as he is certainly physically capable and I hope that Sirius and I will achieve our goals in agility. I’ll keep on rescuing dogs though currently single figures of dogs is my limit!

 

Claire can be contacted through her business Chrysalis K9

How can our followers get in touch with you?

PM messages via facebook on my work page are probably the easiest way to contact me https://www.facebook.com/ChrysalisK9/ . I try to keep work stuff on my work page and my personal page for personal stuff – but of course there is overlap. I have email as well – Claire@chrysalis-k9.co.uk

Thanks so much to Claire for answering our questions, we hope you’ve found her answers of interest – Happy trails!

Tri Dog – The first UK Triathlon with Dogs

In 2017 the Tri Dog events committee (made up of recreational, national and international athletes) organised the very first triathlon with dogs in the UK. As individuals we all wanted to be involved in running events and do something for the dog sports community, but there are so many organisations doing such a good job of the standard canicross and bikejor events, we wanted to do something a bit different.
The aim of Tri Dog was to arrange a 3 stage event where participants swim with their dogs, then exit the water and transition onto the bike to complete an off road bike course, then transition to the trail running section to finish the triathlon. To explain a little bit more about how this works with dogs we’ve divided the triathlon into the three disciplines.
Swimming:
Swimming with dogs hasn’t got a specific name and isn’t yet a recognised sport, there are however a number of groups beginning to hold Canine SUP and swimming sessions across the UK. For our Tri Dog events we request that your dog is attached to you via a lead of some description for safety. The idea is to try and get your dog to either swim alongside you in the open water or if you’ve got a really strong swimmer, they can even pull you if they are wearing a comfortable harness.

Swimming with your dog – Photo courtesy of John Boulton

Bikejor:
Biking with dogs is known as bikejoring and although originates from the sled dog sports where people used bikes to keep their dogs fit in the spring and autumn when there was no snow for sledding, is now a sport in it’s own right. Riders usually have a mountain bike with an attachment which helps to keep the bungee line from falling in the wheel if the dog stops suddenly and the dog is in harness, attached to the bike via a bungee lead around the headstock of the bike. Bikejor is much faster than canicross and the top dog and rider combinations are reaching speeds of in excess of 30 mph on some of the trails.

You can bike or scooter with your dogs for the wheeled stage but most chose to bike – Photo courtesy of John Boulton

Canicross:
Running with dogs is now more commonly known as canicross and is defined as cross country running with your dog attached to you. To take part in canicross races, your dog must have a correctly fitting harness and be attached via a bungee lead to a waistbelt worn by the person. Canicross is the fastest growing sport of the 3 in the UK and there have been specific races for people to take part in with their dogs for over 10 years now.

Canicross is a rapidly growing sport in the UK – Photo courtesy of Take 2 Event Photos

The Tri Dog series of training and events got underway at the beginning of October 2016 with our first training weekend, we then went on to hold a duathlon in January 2017 to practice the transitions and ensure we could run the event safely with numerous dogs in one area. The training and duathlon went without a hitch, so it was full steam at the end of April for our first dog triathlon!
We chose to host the event at Box End Park near Milton Keynes because we’ve attended events there before and the site was perfect for everything we needed, with two separate transition areas, one at each end of the park. We wanted plenty of space for everyone so no one felt pressured to transition quicker than they wanted to, the aim was to keep everything very calm for the dogs and we think we achieved this.

We kept our transition area calm for the dogs at both the duathlon and triathlon – Photo courtesy of Take 2 Event Photos

The other big consideration we had was what time of year we held the event as the water temperature needed to be warm enough for the human and dog combinations to complete the 70 metre swim comfortably but also cool enough for the dogs for the bikejor and canicross sections. We had many a discussion about this and decided the end of April and end of September were probably our best bets and that certainly seemed to be the case for our first triathlon.
We had in excess of 60 entries over the weekend, made up of individuals completing the triathlon or a duathlon which we also ran after the main triathlon. We also allowed people to put together teams so they could relay the 3 stages if they wanted to, so everybody who wanted to come and have a go at the event could enter something they felt comfortable with completing.
The best part of the weekend for us as organisers was to see the real look of achievement as people crossed the finish lines with their dogs and received their competitors medal. The triathlon was a real test of people’s bond with their dog as it takes quite a lot of trust and training to be able to swim, bike and run with your dog. Not to mention the fact that although the distances were kept short (70 metres for the swim, 2.5 km for the bike and 2.5 km for the run) you needed to have a decent level of fitness to be able to race in all 3 disciplines, one after the other. At every stage we saw participants working with their dogs and it was evident who had done the most training from the dogs’ trust in their owner to guide them through the event from start to finish, competing in a race they would never have experienced before.

Competitors had a real sense of achievement after completing the event – Photo courtesy of John Boulton

We are pleased to say the September event also had a great response and we managed to increase our numbers slightly and had some great feedback from both events. We are looking forward to hosting the next Tri Dog triathlon at the beginning of May at Box End Park again. We have learnt valuable lessons about timings, numbers and general administration of the event, so we are confident we can improve on the 2017 events and give people an even better experience of triathlon with dogs at the next one.
To find out more about the events please visit our Facebook page www.facebook.com/TriDogUK/, where will be beginning to post updates and information about the next event soon or visit our website: http://www.tri-dog.com/
We look forward to seeing more people entering and completing their first triathlon with their dog with us in 2018!

The Puppy Diary – Training for the future (9 – 12 months)

So we’ve now reached the stage where our first race is not too far away, we’ve thought about a ‘proper’ harness and also been doing a little bit more in terms of actual canicross training for Yogi, the K9 Trail Time pup. It is still important to remember that dogs will continue growing right up to and even beyond 12 months old and essentially even at a year old, they are still youngsters who need to be trained gently, with consideration for their joints and their impressionable minds.

At 9 months old, it’s still important to keep things low key in training as your dog will still be growing and learning about life

Yogi was comfortable with his shorter harness from a very young age but looking at his movement and his shape, it was fairly obvious that he would be better suited to running in a longer style. Yogi is a natural puller and also when free running really ‘bounds’, he has a very long stride length and so whilst a short harness doesn’t restrict his running in any way, a longer harness will be better for him long term to capture the ‘pull’ of his movement. With this in mind at around 10 months we started to try on the longer harnesses to try and gauge what might suit him best, he was an unwilling model and didn’t seem to like the longer harnesses over his back, so we persevered and just had a few fitting sessions for him to get used to the longer style, just whilst sitting around.

Yogi tried on longer harnesses at around 10 months but we didn’t settle on one until just after he was 11 months old.

We are lucky in that we have the harnesses to try but if you can borrow some kit for your dog and just get them used to having different styles and lengths on your dog, this is a great way to see what looks good and get them walking around in a proper running harness. Many dogs won’t need a longer harness but because Yogi is hound shaped and an athletic build, there was never any doubt in my mind he would be in a longer harness eventually. We didn’t actually start running him in one until he was about 11 months old.

Yogi out on a training run in his longer harness, the Non-stop Freemotion.

So with the harness selection covered we were also doing lots of other little bits of training to get Yogi used to life running in harness. We have not covered any great distances in this time and it is important to build up any distance slowly to encourage your dog to want to do more. If you exhaust your pup by taking them straight out to do 3 miles in harness, you might find they make a negative association with the process. It is far better to stick to short runs and leave them wanting to do more so they are excited when the harness comes out. You also need to ensure they do not overwork, like humans, dogs will feel aches and tiredness in muscles and joints, so be very mindful of this when training.

The other thing we have done to make training fun is to vary what we do every day. Yogi has done runs in woods, through fields, through water, up hills, through ankle deep mud and it’s all good experience for him to learn nothing is scary and that we might encounter any type of surface during a run or race too.

 

Yogi has been training through,  mud, water, snow, fields, woodland and on as many different surfaces as we can find, grass, track and even very short sections on tarmac to ensure he will not be phased by anything we might come across

 

So with all this in place Yogi shouldn’t be intimidated by anything he might find on the course at a race but what about other dogs? We’ve done a lot of socialisation with Yogi to make sure he’s friendly and interacts well with other dogs but we’ve also had times where he’s had to ignore other dogs and focus on the job in hand. Being honest he’s very interested in saying ‘hello’ to other dogs when he’s been out but I’ve actively discouraged this while he’s working in harness because this isn’t acceptable behaviour during a race and it’s not something I want to be dealing with when I eventually put him on the bike! We’ve met up and run with friends a few times who have dogs that Yogi only sees from time to time and he has been encouraged to ignore them whilst running but he’s been allowed to play with them when he’s not in a ‘working’ situation and this seems to be working well.

Yogi has been learning that he has a ‘job’ to do in harness and to focus on running, not other dogs when we’re out training

When training a young dog it is always helpful to have other experienced dogs around from them to learn from and this is what we have found works best. That’s not so helpful if this is your only dog but with so many canicross groups around now to meet up with, it shouldn’t be a problem to find friends with dogs who are very focused that you can meet up with to join for a social run. I have found that Yogi is now confident running on his own while my other dogs are off lead and I also recently took him on a night run with some other dogs he didn’t know and he behaved very well, passing without trying to interfere with another dog and taking the lead when he needed to, so he has learnt to run out front and not to chase.

Yogi did very well on a recent night run but the focus required also tired him out!

When training a dog at this age it’s also important to consider that this type of focus will be tiring and whenever I’ve asked Yogi to really think about what he’s doing, he has been tired afterwards, so do give your young dog plenty of rest time too. You’ve hopefully got a long and happy running career with your pup so there’s no need to rush things or cram loads of training in right now, they can carry on learning ‘on the job’ as long as the basics are in place and you have a happy and confident dog who enjoys their running.

To summarise we recommend:

Take training very steady and wait until your dog is both physically and mentally developed before you ask them to run in harness with you.

Make sure you have done the basics, socialisation and voice commands are two key things that are crucial to have your pup happy and focused.

Don’t ever push your dog beyond their capability or get cross with them if they’re not doing something you want, go back to basics and start again if you find you have issues.

Meet up with others and let your dog learn from experienced canicrossers and their dogs, sharing knowledge, experience and tips can make a big difference to how you get started.

We hope that this (very brief) guide has been of interest and we look forward to seeing how Yogi (and all the other pups we know who are coming into the dog sports) get on in the coming year as they become old enough and experienced enough to take part in races.

Happy trails everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The importance of getting a properly fitted harness for your dog

With the dog sports of canicross (running with your dog) and bikejor (biking with your dog) becoming so popular it is inevitable that new people will come into the sport and want information on how to get the best experience for them and their dog. From our point of view the most important piece of kit you need for both canicross and bikejor is the harness for your dog. If you are going to expect your dog to pull any weight when running, then it is your responsibility to make sure that your dog is in the most suitable harness which allows your dog the best range of movement to suit their shape and running style.

Your dog should be comfortable and have free range of movement while running and pulling – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

 

We’ve recently seen a number of people out running with their dogs on a collar and lead, which for us is just not an acceptable way to exercise your dog, unless it is running to heel and not pulling at all. The pressure put on the neck (a very sensitive area) with your dog pulling is something that should always be avoided and we even walk with a harness for the same reason. If you are going to run with your dog, it is highly likely your dog will be faster than you and therefore pulling at some point even if off to the side, so ensuring their comfort and safety should be a top priority.

The next problem we’ve seen more regularly is well-meaning people who have been badly advised or have been mis-sold a harness and although the dog is wearing a harness, it is just not suitable for the purpose of running. For example there are no-pull harnesses which have been used because they have a fleece lining on the webbing and so it is assumed to be comfortable but anything which tightens when pulled into will not be comfortable for a dog and will not encourage freedom of movement. The other common unsuitable type of harness is one which has a strap across the front of the shoulders, these are often sold as ‘sport’ harnesses by the manufacturers so people are being misled into thinking these are suitable for the pulling sports – they are not. The reason being that this front strap restricts shoulder movement and will prevent a full, free range of motion when the dog is running.

Harnesses such as this with one strap across the front of the shoulders are just not suitable for running dogs in, although may be sold as such

Sometimes even when the correct style of harness has been chosen unfortunately the sizing is wrong and most commonly, too big. As a general rule a dog sport harness should fit snugly, many people feel that the neck is too tight, when in actual fact the neck of the harness should make it snug to put on and pull off over the head of the dog. You only need to be able to fit a few fingers in the neck of a proper fitting harness and there should be no gaping along the body when the harness is pulled into. If the harness is just sitting on the dog with no tension through it then it may bunch up or slide about, this is normal, these harnesses are designed for dogs to pull into. If you have a dog who doesn’t pull, there are harnesses which don’t do this and we can point you in the right direction for these particular harness styles.

The Non-stop Half Harness, one of the selection we have which suits pullers and non-pullers

It is actually quite rare for a harness to be too small, it isn’t easy to get a dog into a harness which is too small and unless your dog is young and has been growing, or put on a bit of weight, then it’s usually very easy to tell if the harness is too small straight away. If you think your harness is putting pressure on your dog’s neck (you might hear a coughing noise) this is not necessarily down to it being too small, in most cases the style of harness doesn’t suit your dog and in some cases the harness might actually be too big but is pulling back because of this and causing an issue.

Most owners will recognise a properly fitting harness as soon as they see it on their dog but without having anything to compare it to or someone to confirm the harness fits, it can be difficult to know for sure. We get asked all the time to check harness fit and we’re honest, if you don’t need a new or different harness we won’t try and persuade you to buy one and if your dog is running happily in a harness then 9 times out of 10, it is suitable. But if your dog isn’t in the correct style and size of harness to suit them then it’s a bit like wearing ill fitting shoes, they will pinch, restrict, rub or even stop your dog wanting to run. If you own more than one dog you might even find that each dog you own is suited to a different style of harness.

Choosing the right harness for your dogs might mean each dog is in a different style of harness, not every dog suits every harness, they are individuals

There’s loads of information on our blog about choosing a harness and we’re always happy to help anyone who wants to find the perfect harness for their dog, just drop us an e-mail to info@k9trailtime.com and we’d love to help. It really is the most important part of your dog sport kit, so it’s worth spending the time to get it right! Happy trails 🙂

 

The Puppy Diary – Continuing to train (6-9 months)

So now that your puppy has grown up a bit and looks a little bit less like a puppy and more like a proper dog, it can be tempting to up the game in terms of training at this point. It is at this age that I feel people get a bit too excited about getting their dog trained up and it’s really important to remember your dog is still a puppy no matter how grown up they now look.

Your dog might look grown up but is still a puppy on the inside (Photo courtesy of Becky Harding)

This is where the debate kicks in. In many sled dog kennels the youngsters will begin going out in harness in teams (and this is the crucial thing) from about 6 months to learn the ropes. Whilst that might be all well and good for a big kennel where larger teams of dogs are run together and the pull is distributed between the team, it is not the same as one dog pulling your weight on it’s own. It is also worth pointing out that many of these dogs are not expected to have long running careers and although many do, there is a big difference between a racing kennel dogs’ experience and your pet dog.

It has been proven that a dogs’ growth plates do not fully close until they are a lot older and in the case of some of the bigger dog breeds, 2 years is normal for full skeletal maturity and full maturity isn’t reached until the dog is about 3 years old. With this in mind, wouldn’t you rather wait a few months and ensure you will not be harming your dog? I’m not a fan of putting a specific date on when you should start doing proper harness training, as every dog is an individual and should be assessed on their own development, not against other breeds or even other individual dogs of the same breed.

Dogs can take up to 3 years to reach full maturity, so why not let them stay puppies for as long as possible? (Photo courtesy of Becky Harding)

For example you might get one GSP (German Shorthaired Pointer) who when fully grown can weigh in excess of 35 kgs and will have to have developed the bone and muscle structure to support that weight before doing any pulling in harness. Then another GSP who barely weighs in at 20 kgs and will be physically fully grown a lot quicker than the bigger, heavier dog. Even this doesn’t take into account the dogs’ own ‘head space’ and this is something I feel is equally as important as their physical development.

To explain this further, some dogs (like some people!) mature a lot slower mentally than others and need more time to process information to be able to follow commands confidently. If you’ve got a pup who is easily distracted or nervous in new surroundings, it is worth building the dogs confidence in both you, and new situations, before you expect them to work for you, particularly in a racing environment. Unfortunately there are some dogs who don’t get the time they need to learn about working in harness and when put in a race situation can become very nervous or even aggressive if they are not confident, so it is really, really, important you go at your dogs’ individual pace when considering increasing the training you’re doing with your dog.

Every dog is an individual when it comes to development both physically and mentally (Photo courtesy of Becky Harding)

My own pup at the time of writing is 7 months old and we’ve been doing a lot of training but it might not be the type of training you would necessarily expect when talking about training a dog for harness sports. We go to new places almost daily and don’t stick to the same walking routes, so that he encounters new things all the time. I use the voice commands consistently on all our walks and I am really keen to get a good ‘wait’ command instilled in his brain (because he’s already way bigger and stronger than I had anticipated!) so we stop regularly to reinforce this. In addition to this, I had started to allow him to free run while I incorporated a jog into some of our walks. Recently his prey drive has kicked in however, so this has limited how much free running he can do.

Yogi has done a little bit of free running now

In terms of being in a harness, he has had a walking harness from day 1 and now he is starting to pull into the harness (as he sees the others doing) I have not discouraged this. I have tried some of the longer harnesses on him at home just to see what he thinks of having something longer down his back, as I believe he will need a longer harness eventually. At the moment he doesn’t like having something over his back, so we’ll need to do some more work on that to make sure he’s happy with straps and something pulling over the length of him.

Yogi has not been discouraged from pulling into the harness on walks

We’ve also been to a few races and when I’ve had a chance I’ve had him out and about meeting as many dogs as we can, getting him used to being around lots of people, dogs, and of course the noise associated with the start of a race! I don’t think the importance of getting them used to this can be overstated, as the last thing you want is your dog to feel stressed when running in harness around other dogs and so if they are already comfortable and happy around lots of dogs, this can only be a good thing. I also make sure he’s not allowed to play with every dog we see, as this can be a problem too. You don’t want your dog to be pestering others when out running, so ensuring you can still get your dog to focus on you is very important.

Yogi has been enjoying watching from the sidelines at events

Other than increasing the time and distances of our walks and incorporating the odd jog, we haven’t done much else different in terms of exercise, Yogi has been growing a fair bit and he’s going to be quite tall, so I want to limit how much he does to ensure he doesn’t suffer later on in life. Above all he’s just enjoying still being a puppy and I think it’s crucial to allow your dog the time to be a puppy as long as they need and not push them into something too soon which could put them off further down the line.

So for now, I’m happy he’s learning what he needs to and he’s loving his life as sidekick and van traveller. Training in harness will only increase when I’m certain he’s developed enough both physically and mentally and I’ll post another blog update when we start with the really fun stuff!

Making the transition from canicross to bikejor

Many people who come into the dog sports begin with canicross because it is the easiest way to exercise your dog and also the simplest way to train your dog to pull in a harness. However, if you’ve ever attended a race which has the bikejor classes too, then you’ll have seen how much fun the competitors have at the faster speeds you can achieve with the wheels. It doesn’t appeal to everyone but once you’ve trained your dog to pull you, it can be very tempting to have a go at either bikejor or dog scootering to get that extra speed for a more exciting run.

Bikejoring is great fun and you can really get up your speed on a bike to go at your dogs’ pace – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

If you are thinking of giving bikejor a go then there are a few things you should know which will help you get the best from your experience.

The first thing you need to make sure of is that you have trained strong voice commands. When canicrossing it is easy to correct your dogs’ direction and quickly grab your bungee line to prevent any mishaps. However when you are on a bike there is no option to do this, so your dog must respond to your voice signals for directions and control otherwise you could end up causing an accident if your dog isn’t listening to you.

It doesn’t always go right at the best of times, so make sure you’ve trained your voice commands as best you can! – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

You also need to make sure the equipment you are using is suitable, don’t be tempted to ‘botch’ it with home made bikejor arms and lines. There are plenty of clubs now who may have equipment they can loan you to have a go with your dog and there are a small number of businesses offering training for the dog sports now. If you choose to borrow club equipment remember they are not liable for anything you do and might not be able to offer the ‘training’ you require but using the correct equipment will at least give you an idea if you’d like to do more bikejoring, so you can get your own kit to use later on.

Getting the right equipment for bikejoring will give your dog the best starting experience

We would suggest that it is quite important that you train solo on the bike first before attaching your dog. You might already be a skilled mountain biker and in this case you will be giving your dog the best chance of doing well at bikejoring by being in control of the bike and yourself first. However if you’re getting on a bike for the first time in a number of years (which was the situation we were in) then it is worth hitting the trails without your dog to gain some bike skills that you can utilise when you do attach your dog. Without having a basic skill level on a mountain bike you could be putting yourself and your dog at risk of harm, so just get used to being on a bike again and then you can help your dog get the best possible start to bikejoring.

Bike training without your dog can only be on benefit to you and your dog when you do try bikejoring, so try this first if you haven’t been on a bike for a while

It can be very helpful to find someone knowledgable to help you get started, we mentioned above there are a few businesses offering training now and some clubs also offer training weekends and camps which can be a great way to introduce your dog to something new. We recommend that you never try bikejoring first on your own, always take someone along with you who knows you and your dog just in case something unforeseen happens. Bikejoring can be great fun but always make sure someone knows where you are as accidents can happen in the most unexpected circumstances!

Make sure you are not on your own when you first start bikejoring or that someone at least knows where you are – Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

It is also worth educating yourself on the rules regarding insurance and rights of way when bikejoring. Many Forestry Commission sites require permits to be obtained for anything where a dog is attached to a ‘wheeled vehicle’ and the public liability insurance required to obtain a permit is £5 million. This might seem excessive but in a blame culture it is worth checking what you are covered for with your dog, as hitting into a person or another dog with your bike could be costly. Riding on roads is not permitted at all with a dog attached and it’s not good for a dogs’ joints anyway to be moving at speed on hard surfaces. With canicross a few road sections won’t do any harm but long stretches on tarmac at the higher speeds you can achieve on a bike can damage your dogs’ pads and joints.

Your dog might have been canicrossing for years and covered many miles with you on foot but always start bikejoring with short sections, to allow your dog to get used to the increase in speed. Too many people seem to think that because they can run 10 miles canicrossing they can go straight out and ride 5 miles with their dog on the bike. Being able to run at full pelt attached to a bike is a very different experience for your dog, so make sure you are not challenging your dog to begin with and keep it fun for them, leaving them wanting to do more.

Bikejoring should always be fun for you and your dog, so keep it short and simple to begin with – Photo courtesy of Matt Eames

If you want to know more about making the transition from canicross to bikejor we have a few recommendations for businesses, clubs and individuals who could potentially help so get in touch if you’d like to know more but we hope you’ve found this blog helpful as a guide on how to make the experience the best it can be for both you and your dog. Happy trails!