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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – R is for Rest

Now you could be forgiven for thinking that the ‘R’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross would be for ‘run’ and although running is an important part of canicross, for this blog I wanted to focus on ‘rest’. Resting both yourself and your dog regularly is vital to allow your muscles to recover from activity and although you might have a dog with seemingly boundless energy, constantly running your dog in harness will cause fatigue in the same way daily exercise has a tiring effect on your own body. Without rest both of you are more prone to injury and illness and also your canicross runs could become monotonous for your dog, unless you are constantly changing the routes you take. Your dog might always be keen to go out with you, but you need to be the one to enforce a ‘down day’ from time to time and enjoy some other less physical activity to keep him or her occupied. The other thing to be gained from regular rest days is that your dog will learn to be calm without being run every day and that can be invaluable if for any reason you have to have a short break from training. So although canicross is all about running with your four legged friend, we think it’s well worth factoring in a few rest days in your programme and for that reason we have chosen rest as our ‘R’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross.

Resting is often as important as running for your dog

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – P is for Pulling

Canicross is essentially a sport where your dog is meant to pull you whilst you run behind attached via a waistbelt, bungee line and harness, so how could we do an A-Z of Canicross without mentioning pulling?! The amount of pull you will get from your dog depends on the size, strength but most importantly, the inclination of your dog to actually pull into a harness and take some of your weight whilst you run together. Never underestimate how hard a small dog can pull if they are determined and likewise, you could have the largest, strongest dog breed available but if your dog is not focused on pulling as a job, then it is unlikely you will benefit from that size and strength. I get asked all the time if you can teach a dog to pull and the answer is yes but there is a condition to that, because although you can encourage and train your dog to pull, they have to enjoy it and want to, otherwise they will just keep you company rather than help you out canicrossing. So because pulling is such a large part of canicross it is our ‘P’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross.

 

Pulling into the harness is the dogs' job in canicross

Pulling into the harness is the dogs’ job in canicross – Photo courtesy of Hound and About Photography

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!

 

Canicross – An Introduction

The sport of canicross is rapidly growing in the UK as more people discover it and the benefits it can bring for both human and canine alike.

Canicross in it’s simplest form is running cross country (on trails and paths, rather than roads) with your dog and many people have been doing this with their dogs without even realising there is a name for it, or that it is a sport which has it’s own competitions.

Canicross is a growing sport with lots of people now realising the benefits

Canicross is a growing sport with lots of people now realising the benefits

Why canicross? I’ve divided this into the 3 sections I feel are most important

Behaviour – Many rescued and high energy dogs have benefitted from participating in outdoor pursuits with their owners such as running (canicross) biking (bikejor) and scootering in addition to the more established outdoor dog activities. The effect of activity is to allow your dog an outlet for energy which might otherwise be used for destructive and unwanted behaviours around the home & garden. Canicross is a great way to exercise a dog who can’t otherwise be let off lead due to (among other things) a high hunting instinct, which is why you will see many different breeds participating from terriers to malamutes.

Health – Recent studies estimate that as many as one third of dogs nationwide are overweight and this figure is set to rise to over half of all dogs by 2022. Obesity is linked with diabetes, orthopaedic disease, heart disease, respiratory distress, high blood pressure, skin diseases & cancer (much the same as in people) so you might even be prolonging your own life as well as your dogs’ with consistent exercise!

Fun – Taking part in dog sports usually means you and your dog get to socialise with likeminded people but even if it’s just you and your dog, you will be strengthening your bond with your dog which is very rewarding and great fun too.

The social side of canicross is reason alone for many people to try the sport

The social side of canicross is reason alone for many people to try the sport

What do I need to canicross? The basic kit for canicrossing properly is a comfortable, well fitting harness for your dog, a bungee line to absorb the shock from any pull for both you and your dog and a waist belt so you are hands free when running. These 3 main elements form the basis for a pleasant experience when running with your dog. Without the harness you risk pulling on your dog’s neck, without the bungee you can find yourself jerked after something interesting on your route and without the waist belt your may find your neck, shoulders and back ache from holding a lead.

What harness? There is now a huge variety of choice for all sizes and shapes of dogs, with new products being brought out regularly. Which harness is best suited for your dog depends on a number of factors but at K9 Trail Time we offer a free consultation to help get you started in the right direction, or to help you choose I have written another article here: http://www.k9trailtime.com/information/team-thomas-harnesses

A good fitting harness should be top of the list for canicross equipment

A good fitting harness should be top of the list for canicross equipment

What line? As long as there is bungee for shock absorption then most lines will be fine. Some are made from webbing and some from stronger polypro braid but which you choose is personal preference. The standard canicross lines are approximately 2 metres when stretched but many people run with shorter or longer lines based on their own requirements. Some races have rules on line length, so do ask if you’re thinking of competing in canicross competitions and we can inform you of the rules.

Zero DC Lines

Zero DC Lines

What waistbelt? The style of waist belt which you choose is down to what you would like from it and what you find most comfortable. I’ve written about choosing a belt here: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/belt-braces-how-to-choose-a-canicross-belt/ but the basic things you need to ask yourself are: Do I want something padded or lightweight? Do I want leg straps? Do I want pockets? Once you know the answer to these then it makes choosing a belt much easier. The purpose of the belt is for your comfort and to ensure canicrossing with your dog does not damage your back, shoulders, neck or arms.

A good canicross belt and bungee will make your experience much more comfortable

A good canicross belt and bungee will make your experience much more comfortable

How do I get started? The best way to get started is to find a group of people locally who are already canicrossing, as there are many social groups now encouraging new people to join them. A group will most likely have spare kit they could loan you to kit to try out and will be able to offer advice about training your dog with voice commands for directions etc.

Finding a local group to join is probably the best way to get started - Photo courtesy of Karen Burd

Finding a local group to join is probably the best way to get started – Photo courtesy of Karen Burd

Lastly, but most importantly, your dog needs to be fit and fully developed before you begin canicrossing. Most races will not allow a dog under 1 year old to compete and it is recommended you start your dog off very gently at around the year old stage and not before. You also have to ensure you will be putting your dog’s health first and to avoid any problems, stick to running in cool temperatures (never in the heat of the day in summer) and carrying water with you in case your dog needs it.

If you would like any more information on canicross or the equipment you need to begin please do contact me at K9 Trail Time and I will be happy to help you. There is also a lot of information on my website http://www.k9trailtime.com and on my wordpress blog:

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com