The Sport of Canine Hoopers – An Introduction

We’re always interested in sports new to us and so we recently asked fellow dog sports enthusiast Hayley Laches to explain a little bit more about the dog sport known as ‘Canine Hoopers’.

Here’s what she and her friends put together for us…

Photo Credit to Zooming Pixels


‘Canine Hoopers is a fairly new dog-sport that has been gaining popularity throughout the UK. The dogs pass through hoops, tunnels and around barrels on a low-impact, smooth flowing course. The tunnels are 80cm diameter – much larger than agility tunnels. The larger tunnels, and the lack of twists and sharp turns on Hoopers courses, means the sport is all breeds inclusive; from tiny Chihuahuas and Daschunds to larger breeds like St Bernards, Great Danes and Newfoundlands. Another element of hoopers is the TanGo mat Tango mats are 900mm wide and 1800mm long. Mats must be made from a non-slip rubber material. It has marker poles can be free standing or can stick into the ground which are placed near each corner or the mat, the dog has to run across the mat making contact with at least one paw.

It is inclusive for people as well, those with limited mobility, mobility scooters and power chairs discover distance handling so they can send their dog round the course instead of trying to run with their canine friend. 

Dogs and their owners can accumulate points earned at Canine Hoopers UK (CHUK) competitions to progress through the five Hoopers levels; from Starters to Masters. Speed is not crucial to moving through the levels – slower dogs have equal opportunity to gain qualification points.

History

Canine Hoopers UK was formed in 2017. Clubs, societies and individuals are able to host Canine Hoopers UK shows, competitions and training by Accredited Instructors. Canine Hoopers UK strives to protect the long-term well-being of the dog by maintaining flowing courses of low impact obstacles and aims to be an inclusive dog sport making sure that this sport is accessible to all dogs and handlers. Canine Hoopers UK endeavours to promote only force free modern training techniques through the training and assessment and of their OCN Accredited Canine Hoopers UK Instructor Training scheme.

Instructors

All Accredited Canine Hoopers UK Instructors have been thoroughly assessed and only awarded accreditation when they prove their understanding, knowledge and teaching aptitude, meaning you are secure in the knowledge that your learning journey will be both fun, and safe, and that the instruction you receive will be to the highest standard. We are committed to making sure that all Canine Hoopers UK Accredited Trainers are consistently teaching to a high standard, they use only modern force free training techniques and are promoting everything this wonderful sport has to offer.

For those wishing to showcase their abilities, there are Canine Hoopers UK shows held all year round throughout the UK. Focusing on the partnership between dog and handler, CHUK competition courses will be smooth and flowing and can include optional handling challenges too for extra points! Unlike many other dog sports, progression is based on consistency rather than individual class wins.

Whether you want to compete or not, in training classes you can work through your Good Hoopers Awards. These awards are suitable for everyone and are great fun as well as providing a record of achievement of your hoopers skills!

Carol Bentley an advanced accredited instructor from the Dorset area quotes “The results of this modern training method speak for themselves! I’ve seen the difference Hoopers has made; ‘velcro dogs’ gain confidence and become unstuck, dogs lacking focus gain drive and dogs that couldn’t, or didn’t, previously partake in any other activity suddenly have a whole new passion and lease of life! You can see how much the dogs – and their owners – enjoy the sport. “

Faye Nemeth is an advanced accredited instructor near Carlisle Cumbria; “Phase Purple regularly hold shows involving canine hoopers and the numbers are increasing at each show. ‘hoopers is not just about running through hoops and sending around a barrel, if trained correctly it’s a whole different skill set to teach your dog. Some dogs that have had a go have been a little confused when they first had a go due to the fact that they had not trained the hoop as a different piece of equipment but when the foundations have been correctly trained the dogs definitely know the difference between doing a hoopers course and doing agility. My grade 7 dog, Jess, will regularly compete in agility and hoopers at the same show and she knows the difference between going over jumps and through hoops, there was one show where we did our agility class and ran straight over to do our hoopers class and Jess managed to win both of classes.”

Award scheme

Throughout Lockdown, Canine Hoopers UK have been running an online awards scheme. Specifically created and written to both provide instructors with some income during a difficult time, and to provide owners and dogs with a focus. Originally designed with 4 different levels (foundation, bronze, silver and gold), later a fifth Platinum level was released. Each level has daily training videos to watch to teach your dog new skills. At the end of each course, your skills are combined for the assessment. The Online GHA’s are designed to be done in gardens and even using make shift equipment from around your home (see the full list of suggestions on the website), my favourite suggestion being; a pair of wellies and a bit of hose pipe!

Hoopers really is accessible for all, it’s a non-expensive, fun and enjoyable hobby for dogs and handlers of all ages. Want to get stuck in and have a go?

To find out more information on hoopers, or to your nearest trainer or club go to https://www.caninehoopersuk.co.uk

How to get started training

Let’s get stuck in shall we and teach our dogs what a hoop is! I would advise using your dogs meals whilst training to prevent weight gain!

  1. Firstly, set up your hoop (or hoop shaped equipment) on a non-slip surface or in your garden on grass. Avoid concrete and patios as this won’t be good for your dogs pads once they gain speed.
  2. Stand with your back to the hoop, be so close to the hoop that your heels are touching the end of the hoop, have 5 pieces of food in each hand.
  3. Have your dog in front of you and just get their attention and let them know you have their food and that you are about to have some fun – note you don’t want to overly excite your dogs here.
  4. Once your dog wants what you have got in your hands, rotate 180 degrees so that you are now facing the hoop. Your dog should come a step or two around your body to see where your hands (and therefore the food) went!
  5. As soon as your dog takes a step or two around your body, give a marker word word (this could be YES or GOOD etc). Immediately bowl a piece of food out on the opposite side of the hoop to your dog. Your dog should see the food and travel through the hoop to go and eat it.
    NOTE – aim to bowl the piece of food at least 4 times the length of your dog away from the hoop. (no less than 2 metres from the hoop regardless of dog size.
  6. Once your dog has eaten the treat, they should turn around to see if you have got any more food. Because of how far away from you your dog is, your dog should naturally take a step or two back in your direction to get closer to the food again. MARK the first step forwards (YES or GOOD etc) and now deliver the next piece of food on the far side of the hoop, again aiming for no less than 2metres but ideally 4 dogs lengths from the hoop again. Your dog should pass through the hoop to get to the food.
  7. Repeat this action of marking your dog for taking a step forwards and delivering the food to the far side of the hoop until all ten pieces of food are gone.
    Give your dog a break, a cuddle/sniff time etc.
  8. With short breaks between the sets of 10 treats, you can do a couple of sets a minute or two apart. Be sensible with this and adapt it to your own dogs fitness level.
  9. Want to progress? If you think your dog now understands what you are asking, take 1 step back from the end of the hoop. Continue to mark your dog for travelling towards the hoop and deliver the reward on the far side ahead of your dog.
    If your dog has built value in the hoop, there will be no limit to the amount of steps back from the side of the hoop that you can take.

Important things to remember:

  • Make sure not to wave the treat around to lure the dog to come towards the hoop – simply capture your dogs actions of moving forwards and they will quickly learn what to do without needing to rely on handlers arms actions.
  • Keep your marker word short, ideally 1 syllable. Every time you give your marker word, you are signalling two things to your dog. The first being that you are indicating what the dog has done is correct. The second tells your dog that the reward is now going to be delivered. This means that your dog will learn to only go looking for the treats when they hear their magic marker word.
  • Stand still – this can be especially hard for humans, especially sporty ones!’

Final note from K9 Trail Time

We think this is a great introduction to Canine Hoopers and we’d like to thank Hayley and her team for sending over details of what the sport is and how to get started for our followers – if you’re thinking of something new this year, do get in touch with Hayley for more information.

Training provided by Hayley Laches of Taming Canines. Hayley is an advanced accredited instructor who offers both in-person training and online training through Dog Sports Direct to your home.

For more information please visit:
www.tamingcanines.co.uk

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!

How to stay injury free whilst canicrossing – by Louise Humphrey

Are you a runner who got a dog or a dog owner who started Canicross?

Whichever you are, Canicross is a very different sport and however you have come into the sport, you need to not only think about your dogs’ fitness but yours too.

Runners who become dog owners – Top Tips

1. You need to slowly introduce your dog to Canicross, as you would if you were just starting out yourself

2. Be aware of your dogs needs when running, like water, terrain

3. Canicross is a different running technique from solo running

4. Canicross can increase your risk of injury, cross- training is VERY important

Dog owners who start Canicross – Top Tips

1. Start slow and build up for both of you, this way will help reduce your risk of injury

2. Make sure YOU have the right kit, most important being trail shoes

3. As a runner you need to ensure you cross train to reduce your risk of getting injuries

4. Start off with the C25K course

Whatever your reason for taking up Canicross, it’s really important that you look after yourself as well as you dog. If Canicross is the main way you exercise your dog, then the last thing you need is to get injured and not being able to get out and go for a run. Believe me I have been there with injuries and I should know better the importance of cross training.

Canicross running

Canicross running is a little different from regular running

As a Canicrosser your running technique is different from running solo. Due to the nature of Canicross and the fact that as well as you pushing yourself forward with your own running technique, your dog will also be pulling you. This means you are more than likely to overstride. Overstriding is when your foot lands in front of your hip (a normal runner’s foot tends to land underneath your hip), the foot is in contact with the ground longer, the muscles are having to work harder and this is when the injuries are likely to occur.

So, it is really important that we keep ourselves injury free to keep running with our dogs.

Crossing training is SO important and ensuring it is functional training as well, so it mimics what we do when we run but focuses on our strength, flexibility and balance.

Don’t be put off if you weren’t a runner beforehand. Hopefully you are starting to realise how addictive and great Canicross is.

Pilates for Runners

Pilates for Runners is a great way to focus on your balance, strength and flexibility and learning about your technique more will help you reduce your risks of injury when Canicrossing.

If you have done Pilates before, you know that it focuses on your core strength and this is a great start for runners as this will help you improve your balance. Pilates for runners will also help to increase the strength in your legs and your flexibility, ensuring that you run with the best possible technique you can when canicrossing.

Throughout the course we do both standing and mat Pilates practice. The standing practice focuses on dynamic running movements whilst also focusing on strengthening and improving balance.

Mat Pilates practice goes back to basics to ensure the core is strong but also working on the areas we use in running – glutes, hamstrings and core muscles, making sure we are engaging and using these muscles.

Pilates done regularly will change your running and with some great mantras to keep you going when you are out canicrossing, you know you are doing the best to keep yourself injury free.

All the exercises we do on the course can be used before or after runs to get you warmed up and cooled down, then longer sessions can be used on rest days. It doesn’t need to take up hours, just small sessions on a regular bases will build your strength & flexibility.

So, if Canicrossing is the way you let your dog unleash its energy in a safe way, then working on your cross training will help you get out there more often and enjoy the trials around you. If you want to find out more about Pilates for Runners Course then you can here.

About Louise

Louise Humphrey is the founder of Paws4running and Studio 44 Pilates. She started Paws4running after her Black Labrador Pickle failed Gundog school with a high prey drive. Wanting to make sure Pickle could unleash her energy they started to Canicross together, leading her to qualify as a Canicross instructor.

Louise is a certified DogFit Canicross instructor offering Canicross taster sessions, C25K and social runs in her local area of Market Harborough, Leicestershire https://www.instagram.com/paws_4running/

Canicross has been proven to help, reactive, rescue and anxious dogs’ bond with their owners and running in groups helps them socialise too.

Louise has been teaching Pilates for over 20 years and has an online 10-minute Pilates membership to help you bring Pilates into your life daily www.studio44pilates.com

With Louise’s Pilates experience she is able to also combine Pilates for Runners together with the Canicross ensuring that her human clients are as fit and healthy as their dogs and stay as injury free as possible.

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

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

Five Top Tips for Trophee des Montagnes: Heather Jenner

K9 Trail Time Team member Heather Jenner has recently come back from the Trophee des Montagnes race series in France and she has written a set of top tips for those thinking of making the trip for next year.

We thought we’d share her top tips as they are useful when considering any challenging race or race series and here in the UK we have our very own new set of canicross specific races that will challenge even the seasoned canicrosser in the Red Kite Event series.

More information can be found about them here: https://www.redkitetrailevents.co.uk/

 

My Five Top Tips for Trophee des Montagnes:

Top tip no 1. ~ Perfect your commands
Most Canicross events in the U.K don’t require a ‘behind’ or ‘with me’ command. This command will save your nerves when the trails get particularly steep. The race organisers allow runners a ‘free dog section’ on some of the stages, here you can unclip and keep your dog at a heel or close by for when you hurtle your way down the more tricky technical sections. If this isn’t an option then a ‘behind’ or ‘with me’ command is required to keep you and your dog safe but still continuing your race pace without mishap. Like all new commands I start training at a walk on the flat, then progress walking down hill, then a jog and so on. Trails which are narrow with high hedgerow either side are best so your dog can’t push past.
Photo – Banjo & I from 2018 descending Etape 4 Allemont
The other command I add into our training is the ‘march’, think of this as an ultra runners hike, where the ascents are extreme and you still need to be moving forward. You want your dog to be driving forward in a purposeful walk/trot which will help your momentum when all you want to do is stop.
Photo – Banjo & I marching up Etape 5 Villard Reculas
Top tip no 2. ~ Acclimatise to warm weather running ☀️
Around Easter when British Summer Time starts warming our days and most U.K. canicrossers hang up their harnesses until September our summer training started. With short speed sessions; 1km reps close to water sources, hill march training on longer hikes and evening woodland free running we were able to prepare ourselves for the warmer temps we’d face in the French Alps. Checking the humidity forecast ruled our training sessions, a few weeks before we travelled it was really hot. I kept the dogs activities to swimming only and went out solo on consecutive days, plus adding in some undulating trail races to test my own fitness & evening canicross events (humidity permitting) which always helps with motivation.
Photo – Milly & I at Gibbet Hill 10km
Top tip no. 3 ~ Budget & planning 📆
As soon as you get your entry confirmed (usually the middle of February) start planning your journey, accommodation preferences, vet visits for vaccines, passports, plus other general admin needed for entry such as racing insurance and medical forms, the Trophee Des Montagnes Live Facebook page & website has all the necessary information.
Getting made redundant in my job played havoc on my finances I gave up numerous races I’d usually schedule into my training. I needed to reduce costs as much as possible to justify getting myself & my dogs to France, I decided to live basic and stay in my van in the runners camps which came with the entry. Using the dog shower camping higher than Snowdon was rather liberating and the views from my van were simply stunning, roughing it wasn’t that bad after all.
Photo – View from my camp spot at Auris
plus I relished the opportunity to make friends with the international community, this was all part of the adventure of the TDM.
 🇬🇧🇫🇷🇧🇪🇸🇪🇩🇪🇮🇹🇺🇸🇨🇭🇭🇺
Top tip no. 4 ~ Mix up your Terrain 👣
Research what the trails will be like on race day and mimic them in your trail schedule, I use this preparation with any major event.

This is also very important for your trainer choice and keeping up with your dogs paw care. I train mainly on the South Downs where we are spoilt with sheep grazed wide grassy tracks. Unable to finance any Wales trips this year, I headed into our neighbouring counties and asked canicrossers to lead me around some new routes which included hard stoney terrain.

Photo – Training with Canicross Sussex near Cissbury Ring
Top tip no. 5 ~ Enjoy it 😊
Enjoy your running, your training, your time away. Enjoy being part of an international Canicross event. Enjoy the escape, the adventure and most importantly the bond you’ll develop with your dogs throughout and the feeling of achievement when you’ve completed one of the worlds most famous Canicross events; The Trophee Des Montagnes. Most importantly don’t forget your flag 😉 Photo – Milly & I finishing Etape 10 2019

K9 Trail Time Interview with an expert – Vickie Pullin, National Champion

We have been covering lots of professions surrounding the dogs sports in our interviews but what about someone who has actually made a profession out of the dog sports themselves? We spoke to Vickie Pullin who runs a business taking people out with her sled dogs to show them how to run dogs safely and teaches people with their own dogs how to get the best out of them.

Vickie spends a lot of time with her dogs in her job, as well as training them for races

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 run husky tours for the public from my base in Gloucestershire and race my own sprint sled dogs nationally and internationally, with the aim of improving my times and positions in the IFSS (International Federation of Sleddog Sports) World rankings year on year.
I have been running my business, Arctic Quest, for 9 years now and racing seriously with my dogs for 5 years.

Recent results

Winter 2018/19 Results:

British champion in both

  1. Bikejor Women’s Elite Class Open &
  2. 4 Dog Open Class

Runner up in the Open 2 Dog Scooter Class

Gold and Bronze medals in the ICF World Champs plus 4th in the Open Scooter Class

Gold and 2 x Bronze medal in IFSS Euro champs plus 4th in the Open Bikejor Class

WSA World Champs: 4th

IFSS World Champs snow: 12th and 12th Mass start

WSA World Champs snow: 21st (and a comment from the vet: my dogs look in great condition – better than any medal 😉)

In the 2017 / 2018 I was British champion in 3 classes and had 5 top 10 results in the IFSS World Championships, picking up a silver in WSA World championships

https://youtu.be/FFk2PyN1goI

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

5am starts – letting the house dogs out and turning on the coffee machine and lap top… work with breakfast then dogs out and cleaning kennels.
Dog all then loaded up for work in the van and trailer … and down the road we head.
The mornings are spent doing Husky Rides at Croft Farm, we have a blast running dogs, educating people about sprint racing and sharing my life with the public. we meet some amazing people and enjoy food and drink around the campfire.
After the public leave, I train the race dogs, sometimes muscle, interval, speed, or overtaking and this can include coaching with other athletes

Vickie coaches others to race with their dogs in the mono sports of bikejoring and scootering

Back home to let the dogs out have a play and then chill in the kennels – now time to train me… so 1-2 hours either gym, running, biking etc
Then back to play and feed dogs and kennels
Evening is spent either having dogs out in the field, extra training for me, hydro treadmill for the race team or swimming for me and dogs
So normal day consists of DOGS!!!!!
Occasionally there will be a meeting here and there with important people like sponsors, partners, book keeper! We also go into schools, and do some filming and TV work with team so no day is ever the same… then in the winter around a normal day, we have the races…. then it all changes!
We travel around the world racing sprint sled dogs and its the best thing ever!!!!!

Share with us your proudest moment so far

Proudest moment for me is actually owning 29 fit healthy dogs – I try and take a moment everyday to appreciate that.
Everyday is a proud moment!

Vickie has raced both huskies and hounds in Europe on snow

 

We have had some big races and great wins on the last couple of years and thats the icing on the cake to an already amazing team if dogs!

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

  1. Love your dogs
  2. Have fun always
  3. Enjoy the moment

What are your plans for the future?

Love dogs, race dogs, work with dogs, – repeat! (the same as now!)

Vickie believes the key to success is a great relationship with her dogs

How can our followers get in touch with you?

Facebook: Vickie Pullin (feel free to add and follow us)

Websites:
www.arcticquest.co.uk