5 steps to an enhanced care regime for the performance sport dog

Here at K9 Trail Time we believe that responsible dog owners will seek to give their animals the best possible care to keep them fit, healthy and happy. This includes daily and varied exercise, training, a good diet and an adequate level of veterinary care.

Over the last few years though, as dog sport has become more competitive, leading canine athletes have been receiving enhanced treatment to keep them performing at their very best. Our friend Jenny Lee of Joggy Doggy Limited decided to investigate how an enhanced care regime of five simple steps might secure you a competitive advantage come racing season and here is what she discovered:

  1. Hydrotherapy – this low impact, non-weight bearing therapy is an excellent and safe way for performance dogs to improve muscle strength and stamina. As Jak Dyson of Snowy’s Canine Therapy Centre, Smarden explains:

‘A 5 minute swim is equivalent to a 5 mile run for a dog with water based exercising using 30% more oxygen than land based exercising. The pressure on the dog’s chest under the water means that every breath requires more effort especially when inhaling which strengthen the whole respiratory system. The resistance of the limbs as they move through the water also builds muscle and increases range of movement. In addition the heart gets to work hard keeping all the muscles supplied with nutrients that they need’.

There are further advantages to hydrotherapy as the warm water used can increase circulation, decrease stress, increase metabolic function and enhance blood flow. Ellie Camacho used a hydrotherapy pool and a water treadmill to help rehabilitate her rescue dog Gruff and build muscle and fitness for scootering. Here he is in action at Splash Paws Hydrotherapy:

 

Gruff at Splash Paws Hydrotherapy

  1. Physical therapy – this could be in the form of the more traditional Canine Massage, Canine Physiotherapy and Canine Chiropractic Therapy or the newer therapies of Canine Myotherapy and Canine Bowen Therapy

Maddy Bowen from The School of Canine Bowen Therapy has this to say about Bowen Therapy:

‘The potential of Canine Bowen therapy is seemingly endless but then we are looking at the dog in an holistic way. That simply means we treat the whole dog, not just the area presenting with an issue, but we also look at other factors that could be playing a part in a dog’s health – this could include diet, exercise, training, where the dog sleeps, does it get enough sleep etc…. As we work on the soft tissue, muscle, tendon, ligament and most importantly fascia, we can affect many systems in the body – circulatory, lymphatic, neurological, endocrine, limbic, this helps to explain how far reaching Bowen can be!’

If you want to know more about Canine Bowen Therapy then please visit Maddy’s website: http://www.madaboutbowen.com

Maddy uses Bowen Therapy to treat dogs in an holistic way

Cath Nicoll from Dogs Body Canine Massage has many sporting dogs on her books and has seen her clients’ dogs benefit from Canine Massage therapy. Cath also sponsors athlete Ben Robinsons’ dog with regular massages, she says this about her work:

‘For muscle and joint problems, this strong manipulative type of massage brings great results and relief while helping to resolve many sub-clinical, everyday mobility issues you may see with your dog. This unique type of massage for dogs relies on extensive knowledge of canine anatomy & physiology, the movement of tissue over tissue, connective tissue release and the remobilisation of muscle to help break down scar tissue and promote better range of motion in the dogs joints. If your dog is injured, you can expect to see an improvement within 1-3 sessions.
Maintenance massages are recommended for any dog to spot any issues before they become a problem. A young, fit, active dog can benefit from massage 2-3 times a year.’

For more information on Canine Massage and to find your local therapist visit: www.k9-massage.co.uk

Cath uses massage to ensure her sport clients are in tip top muscular condition

  1. Core Stability Training – good canine core stability is important in sport performance dogs as it can help posture, balance and shape whilst also supporting the back. It is important though to check that the dog is injury free with good posture and correct loading as wobble boards and other core strength equipment could overload already weakened muscles if there is an underlying problem. Elaine Sherwin is a top level canicross athlete and uses core stability exercises combined with checks from a chiropractor to ensure correct alignment. Here is Elaine’s dog Uma demonstrating her wobble board skills:

Elaine’s dog Uma is a pro on the wobble board!

 

  1. Free Running Training – dogs naturally love to run and running free and unrestricted gives them the chance to really stretch out and gallop. Once they exceed a certain level of exertion they produce endorphins, in higher quantities than humans, rendering them relaxed and happy. The level of stimulation achieved rewards the dog for their effort and encourages them to love their speed work. Vickie Pullin of Arctic Quest trains her sled dogs using a Quad Bike either in front or behind, encouraging them to do short burst of speed intervals to really optimise their fitness levels.

Free running is great for building up dogs’ strength and speed

Vickie helps to train people with their own dogs as part of her job and one to one sessions can be booked with her through the contact form on her website: http://www.arcticquest.co.uk/contact.html

  1. Specialised Diets for Sport Performance Dogs – what to feed your dog has been a contentious subject in recent years. It is encouraging though that increasingly owners are realising that the ingredient list printed on the packet is more important than the branding and images. It is quite sobering still to read the list of ingredients for some of the most expensive and well regarded brands! While dogs have different dietary requirements to their human partners their need for a high quality food is the same. We would not expect top level human athletes to consume a diet of low quality processed food and still have the endurance, stamina and energy to compete under duress in top level competition so don’t expect that of your racing dog!

For many the chosen diet for their sports dogs is a raw food diet, high in protein and dietary fat but with less emphasis on grains and other carbohydrates. In addition to the core diet many top level competitors also feed their dogs joint supplements to support the skeletal system and connective tissue from the additional load placed upon them from regular racing. This is increasingly important in older dogs who are likely to suffer more ‘wear and tear’.

New to the market in the UK are the FASTDOG performance dog products which are designed specifically to support the canine athlete recover from exertion and we are seeing many dogs benefit from the increased interest and knowledge surrounding supplementation of the sport dogs’ diet. For more information on the FASTDOG products see the below link:

http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/fastdog-performance-dog-products.html

Getting the right diet and supplementation for your sport dog can also play a role in performance

While there is no ‘magic formula’ to success in dog sport most would agree that for our dogs that give 100%, they deserve the best level of care that we can give within our own time and financial constraints. It might be worth trying out a few of the steps above just to see what happens!

Thanks to Jenny for looking at how all the above can keep your sport dog in tip top condition.

Jenny Lee is lead coach at Joggy Doggy Limited (www.joggydoggy.co.uk), a canine exercise and personal training business with branches across the UK. For more information on care of your sports performance dog please contact her at joggydoggy.co.uk@gmail.com

K9 Trail Time is also involved in setting up a centre for information, advice, training, therapy and equipment for sports dogs. One thing not covered in the 5 points above is how important getting the right equipment for yourself and your dog can be for your performance. If you’re not comfortable in your kit, then how can you perform to the best of your ability?

We will be holding various dog sport and therapy workshops, open evenings for kit consultations and canine first responder courses at this special venue beginning this month, so please do check out The Mutt Hut Central on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mutthutcentral/ or visit our website for details: http://www.mutthutcentral.co.uk/

Voice Commands – Who, What, Why, When & How?

Voice commands are a big part of training in the dog sports and it’s important you get them right for you to get the best from your dog, so we thought we would do a quick blog on the Who, What, Why, When & How of voice commands in canicross, bikejor and dog scootering.

Who? – This one is fairly obvious, you are giving the command to your dog and your dog is the one listening and hopefully understanding and responding accordingly. It is worth mentioning that because these commands are for you and your ‘team’, you can use whatever specific words you want, which leads us on to…

What? – The words you choose for your commands can be anything you like, as long as you’ve trained it and your dog understands, no-one else has to. Many people simply use right, left, go on and other short words, some use noises and more obscure terms to indicate directions to their dogs but pick what you can be consistent with and stick to it.

Good voice commands are essential, particularly when you are on a bike or scooter – Photo courtesy of Take 2 Event Photos

Why? – Again relatively obvious but you might be surprised at how many people feel they don’t really need strong voice commands trained, especially when canicrossing, as you can generally reach out and pull your dog away from any situation. However it’s really important that your dog is listening to you and not just hauling you along enjoying doing their own thing with you as a passenger. It helps tire a dog out faster if they are concentrating on what directions you are giving them and it also builds a much stronger bond of trust if you can call to your dog and they want to do what you’re asking of them. As soon as you involve wheels into the equation, with a bike, scooter or rig, then this becomes crucial and we would never recommend trying any of the wheeled dog sports without having a good degree of control over your dogs’ actions through your voice commands first.

When? – Perhaps the most important of the questions on this list. Our answer to this would be to give voice commands ONLY when you need to. All too often you see people repeating over and over again a verbal direction to their dog, the most frequent of these being ‘go, go, go’ or similar. Your dog will switch off if you are continually issuing the same command, your voice will become like ‘white noise’ in the background of what you are doing and you may lose your dogs’ concentration on you as a result. It is much better to keep quiet while your dog is moving forward and save yourself for when you need to turn or stop or do something other than just run forward in a straight line.

You don’t need to be shouting voice commands at your dog during the whole run, if they’re moving forward in the direction you want then you just need to smile and enjoy! – Photo courtesy of Basil Thornton Photography

How? – Again a really important one because the tone and volume you use for your dog can have a huge affect on how motivated your dog is to work for you. If you are shouting at your dog and not using encouragement, then it follows that your dog may not feel so happy about following your directions. If you watch some of the best dog sports people with their dogs, they are generally always minimalist with voice commands, they never raise their voices unless there is danger (dogs have much better hearing than we do!) and they use a tone of voice which is calm, controlled and encouraging for the dogs.

 

Dog sports are always team work, so make sure you’re not too hard on your ‘team’, using encouragement rather than criticism is always more motivational! – Photo courtesy of Houdscape

Always make your training fun for your dog and remember voice commands can be taught from a very young age out on walks, so take the time to get your dog really responsive to your voice and we’re sure you’ll see the benefits when you’re out and about with them. Happy trails!

Bikejor for beginners – A reading list

The coming of the new year has seen many more people looking to take up the sports of running and biking and more importantly for us here at K9 Trail Time, people wanting to run and bike with their dog. Last year I wrote a blog containing the main blogs I have written to help you get started in canicross, so I thought it was about time I did the same for bikejoring.

Bikejoring is rapidly gaining popularity in the UK - Photo courtesy of Mel Parry

Bikejoring is rapidly gaining popularity in the UK – Photo courtesy of Mel Parry

I wrote a bit about getting started in bikejor here:
Getting along to an event is a great way to learn about the equipment and training - Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

Getting started with the help of friends is a great idea – Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

The next two links are an introduction to the equipment and how to train
getting-it-wrong-on-the-bike

Training is important to avoid accident! Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

The following blog focuses on which bikejor attachment might be the one for you
Rower-land Bike Attachment

Getting the right equipment is important

The below blog contains a few tips for those beginning with their dog in bikejor
With the proper equipment and training you can enter bikejor races all over the country - Photo courtesy of Chillpics

With the proper equipment and training you can enter bikejor races all over the country – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

And lastly if you want to bikejor race with your dog, the racing blog I wrote might be of interest.
We have now competed in two European Championships in both Canicross and Bikejor

We have written about how to get started racing

There is some duplication in these blogs but they give you the very basics you need to know about equipment and training and briefly explain the sport of bikejoring for the beginner. If you have any specific queries then please do contact me emilyt@k9trailtime.com and I’d be happy to help you get started with your dog in one of the sports we love.

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – M is for Morning

Canicross is obviously an outdoor sport and during the winter months it can be difficult to get a chance to go out in the daylight when trying to fit in a run around work. With such short days it takes quite a lot of willpower to find the time to get out for a run with your dog but the mornings are a great time to choose. If you time it right you can be getting home (depending on your schedule) just as the sun is rising and you can feel a real sense of achievement of having already been out and enjoyed the fresh air before the day has begun. Other benefits of running in the morning are that you can both run on an empty stomach which is better because you avoid the risks associated with bloat in dogs who are fed too close before exercise and some experts say we burn more fat running on an empty stomach (although this hasn’t been conclusively proven). You also tend to encounter more wildlife and that can make your run much more interesting, giving your four legged friend things to smell and chase after and can mean great interval training for you! We even find in the warmer months mornings are the best time to get out, because the only time cool enough to canicross is first thing, just before the day starts to get too hot. Finally your dog will be calm and relaxed after your run (we hope!) so you can then get on with your day knowing your dog has had one of it’s basic needs met and can rest until next time. We love our morning canicross runs here at K9 Trail Time, so for that reason we have chosen Morning as our M in the A-Z of Canicross.

The K9 Trail Time Team enjoying an early morning frosty run

The K9 Trail Time Team enjoying an early morning frosty run

 

Canicross – how to go from ‘Zero to Hero’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canicross for beginners – A reading list

We’ve been writing and publishing blogs for a number of years now, covering loads of topics but it is often hard to find the ones that are most suitable for what might help you in beginning your canicross journey.

It's sometimes hard to know where to start when beginning to train for canicross

It’s sometimes hard to know where to start when beginning to train for canicross

So we have put together a list of the top ten blogs from our database to help get you started:

Number 1: To give you a brief introduction

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/canicross-an-introduction/

Number 2: An idea of where to start

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/getting-started-canicross/

Number 3: How to choose a harness

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/how-to-choose-a-harness-for-your-dog/

Number 4: How to tell if your harness fits

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/does-my-harness-fit/

Number 5: How to choose a belt

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/belt-braces-how-to-choose-a-canicross-belt/

Number 6: How to choose a line

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/line-length-the-long-and-short-of-it/

Number 7: When to start running your dog

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/when-to-start-running-with-your-dog/

Number 8: What to think about before racing

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/canicross-bikejor-scooter-racing-a-few-things-to-get-you-started/

Number 9: How to start a canicross group for those social runs

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/canicross-groups-how-to-get-started/

Number 10: your 10 Commandments (just for fun!)

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/k9-trail-time-10-commandments-of-canicross/

We have so much information available on our blog for you to browse through, this just scratches the surface but hopefully covers the very basics you might want to research before you get canicrossing with your dog.

Happy trails!

 

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – G is for Groups

I am always being asked how to get started in canicross and how to teach your dog to run out front of you when canicrossing and my answer always involves recommending people find themselves a group to go along to. The local canicross groups that have been set up in areas all over the UK and abroad are by far the best introduction to the sport of canicross you can get. Some of the bigger and more established groups now have kit bags with spare harnesses, waist belts and lines so you can try before you buy too. You and your dog will be welcomed along to a group run and treated as a friend from day one and if your dog is a little nervous or needs space then you can be assured that the canicross group will be understanding of this and be able to help you get your dog comfortable with a group run. By joining in with social runs most dogs will automatically learn to pull out in front too, as dogs seem to pick up canicross very quickly when they are in a group situation. I myself have run with dozens of different groups all over the UK and it’s great to be able to join up with others if you’re on holiday with your dog because you get to see parts of the country you might not otherwise know about. So because of how important the groups are for training, socialisation and for fun in canicross, I have chosen groups as my word associated with ‘G’ in the A-Z of Canicross.

Groups are so important for training and socialisation in canicross

Groups are so important for training and socialisation in canicross