Why we race (when we know we’re not going to win)

When we first got into canicross we’d never done any dog sports competitively (unless you count a failed attempt at a flyball show!) so it was quite daunting going along to a ‘race’ particularly as I’d not taken part in a running race since I was at school. But it was explained to me that I didn’t need to be fast to enter and it was all about having fun with your dogs. That first race with CaniX got me hooked and from that point on, I knew this was something I wanted to do regularly. However I never have been and never will be, a fast runner, so why did I want to keep entering races I knew I wasn’t going to win?

Our very first CaniX race at Stanton Country Park – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

The answer lies in the whole experience of racing, not just the races themselves. To take part in a race there is an element of training, you need to have spent time before the race, building up your distances, making sure your dogs are happy to run alongside other dogs, other people and also working out what equipment will suit you best. This training also builds a strong bond with you and your dogs, you have good days and bad days, all of this can only be achieved through teamwork and working with your dogs to make improvements.

I joined plenty of social canicross runs, driving over an hour each way in some cases to go and run with people I’d never met before. I was welcomed with open arms (and cake in most cases) and began to develop friendships on the back of my training for the races. I could never have imagined myself regularly entering races previously but there was something special about the events that made me want to do more. I just enjoyed taking my dogs to new places and meeting new people who didn’t see my dogs’ slightly unruly behaviour as a problem, they accepted it and helped me channel that behaviour into something positive.

Social canicross runs are a great way to train your dog to get used to being alongside others and part of building up your dogs’ confidence to race

The more races I went to, the more people I met who had similar interests to me and I quickly made some really good friends who I still see regularly nearly 8 years later. Now I still use races as a way of meeting people but also to get my dogs to new parts of the country I haven’t seen before and to socialise them in a way that doesn’t stress them out, with people who understand what it’s like to own dogs who might not be perfectly behaved.

I also started to get a feel for who in my category was a similar standard to me and that gave us something to train for. If I was only 20 seconds behind someone in one race I would try and improve my times at home so I could beat that person by 20 seconds the next time we raced. I also learnt a lot from other people at races and still do, everyone has a slightly different approach to racing and training and so by talking to people about their dogs and their routines, I have picked up great information to use to make changes to my own habits.

Spending time with other people who are doing the sport allows you to pick up training tips, learn from them and vice versa

Of course we have had some successes too, when you work hard and give yourself goals then anything is possible and together with my dogs we have been placed in many National races and Championships in the 8 years we’ve been racing but the majority of the time we don’t race to win and more often than not we are not being placed these days. Someone said to me last year that the dogs believe they have won every single race if you tell them they have and it really struck a chord with me. So now I tell my dogs every time we cross a finish ‘well done, you’ve won’ and it sounds daft but they don’t know or don’t care if we’ve won but my excitement and praise lets them know they’ve done well and that’s what counts.

So it is everything about racing that we love, not just the race itself. The time you spend, training you do and bonding with your dog all creates an experience which I personally wouldn’t want to live without now. We’ve done local races, national races and European level races and can honestly say all of them have given us so much enjoyment no matter where we have placed. If you’re thinking about racing but don’t feel confident, my advice would be just to give it a go because so much of the fun is in the preparation and social side of it, whether or not you actually do well in the race is down to your perspective on it. My dogs ‘win’ every time and the happy look on their faces is all that matters to us. Happy trails!

Whether or not we win, we enjoy the whole experience of racing and the dogs ‘win’ every time!

 

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K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – S is for Sport

We’re still working our way through the A-Z of Canicross and so now we’re at ‘S’ we can’t ignore the fact that canicross is a recognised sport, with it’s own races and even different championship series taking place all over the UK, Europe and the world. Canicross was also recently added to the Kennel Club listed activities, although we would suggest going to one of the more experienced clubs and organisations who have actually been involved in the sport for over 10 years if you’re looking for up to date information and advice. One such organisation is CaniX http://www.canix.co.uk who set up the first race series specifically for canicross in the UK and are still holding events all over the country today. Another of the largest clubs who organise races and who offer training, advice, and kit to try, is the Canicross Midlands group http://www.canicrossmidlands.co.uk/. Although canicross is now known as a sport, CaniX and Canicross Midlands have always encouraged people to run with their own pets and to just enjoy the bond you can create with your dog through running together. As the sport has developed many people are beginning to take the racing side of canicross more seriously and have invested in purpose bred dogs (mainly originating in Europe) to compete in higher level races such as those organised by the BSSF (British Sleddog Sport Federation) and the IFSS (International Federation for Sleddog Sports). However, whilst these dogs are beautiful athletes, there is no need for you to change from your pet dog to enjoy canicrossing with your four legged friend and we would suggest that the most fun you can have is in seeing your dog simply enjoying activity with you, keeping you both fit and healthy. Our slogan is after all, active dogs are happy dogs, and so for ‘S’ in our A-Z of Canicross we have chosen to highlight the fact that canicross is a sport that anyone with a dog can enjoy!

Although canicross is a sport with it’s own races, it is also something that can be enjoyed by anyone with their pet dog – Photo courtesy of Dylan Trollope

Racing Etiquette – Canicross, Bikejor and Dog Scooter Racing

The races for canicross, bikejor and dog scootering are getting so popular now and we are attending so many races on a monthly basis, that I gave up writing race reports a long time ago! From Cornwall to Scotland and everything in between, there are so many club and individual races you can attend with your dog, that the choice is increasing year on year for participants to take part.

Not only have you got dog sport specific races but we are also being welcomed and supported in many trail races designed for off road runners. Clearly this is limited to canicross but it has opened up a number of seriously good trail races to the dog sport world and we are making up a large part of the entry in some events.

Many trail races are now allowing canicross entries which is great news for all dog runners!

Many trail races are now allowing canicross entries which is great news for all dog runners!

What I wanted to write about in this blog is how I think we can improve how these races flow by following some simple rules and racing etiquette to make sure everyone gets the best from their race. The tips below are things I have picked up from a number of years of racing experience and knowing what I have to watch for in my dogs and be vigilant of in others.

So to enjoy my racing I try to follow these simple rules:

1 – If you are overtaking always let the person in front know you are coming – By calling ahead in plenty of time to let the person know you are approaching them, you are giving that person time to move out of your way, which is in your interests and theirs. One of the accepted terms to call is ‘trail right’ or ‘trail left’ depending on which side you intend to overtake on but the most important thing is to give as much warning and be as clear as you can so the person in front can react.

You might catch up with people in races and as you do make sure you call out to let other competitors know you are approaching

You might catch up with people in races and as you do, make sure you call out to let other competitors know you are approaching

2 – Do not sit on the heels of the team in front – This is something that can be very frustrating for both teams, as it can distract the team in front and the way to win races isn’t by allowing your dog to take a ‘tow’ off someone in front all the time. You may also upset non-dog runners in canicross friendly races if you allow your dog to be ‘breathing down the neck’ of the runner in front, so just make sure you leave an acceptable gap until or unless, you are ready to overtake.

Leaving space between competitors is especially important on bikes or scooters - Photo courtesy of Sharon Reid

Leaving space between competitors is especially important on bikes or scooters – Photo courtesy of Sharon Reid

3 – If you are being overtaken, move over – Once the person behind you has caught you, move aside on the trail and allow them to overtake cleanly. Ideally you will have taught your dog an ‘over’ command so that your dog will move on the side of the trail you have directed. Even if you are on a bike or scooter, you should attempt to move your dog over. I have seen many people simply move themselves or their bike or scooter over and the dog is still across the trail; this leaves the line blocking the path of the person behind, preventing them from getting past, which is frustrating for everyone and risks your dog getting in a tangle with theirs.

Moving over on the trail will allow people to overtake you without tangles - Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

Moving over on the trail will allow people to overtake you without tangles – Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

4 – Do not allow your dog to lunge at other dogs (or people) during the race – Even if your dog is only being friendly, you are in a race situation and other competitors will not want your dog interfering with theirs (or them) even if it not being aggressive. The best thing to do if you know your dog is prone to this, is move right out of the way if possible. If it not possible then you must pull your dog in and even pull over to prevent this. If you are being overtaken then it will benefit you to allow the person a clear passage past you and then you can follow on. If you are overtaking and know your dog is prone to lunging you should be working hard during training on a strong ‘on by’, ‘leave’, or ‘straight on’ command, whichever is the most effective for your dog. In this particular situation it is often better to try and get past as quickly as possible and provided the person you’re overtaking is co-operative, it will be better not to slow down and allow your dog time to consider lunging as an option.

Training your dog to be able to pass without problems is a huge part of dog sport racing

Training your dog to be able to pass without problems is a huge part of dog sport racing – Photo courtesy of Tracy Evans

5 – Be mindful of how your voice commands might affect other dogs (or people) on the course – Just be aware as you are coming up behind or being overtaken by another team that suddenly shouting at your dog might spook other dogs (or people) around you. It can be quite intimidating for a nervous dog to be overtaken by someone loudly encouraging their own dog and for this reason it is worth trying to keep commands to a minimum on the course (keeping in mind that it is better to have your dog under your control than not) but again training is the key to this.

In situations where you are surrounded by other competitors, be aware that your voice commands might have an impact on others - Photo courtesy of Sled Dog Photo

In situations where you are surrounded by other competitors, be aware that your voice commands might have an impact on others – Photo courtesy of Sled Dog Photo

If you can master all of the above then you should have a safe and pleasant racing experience. It is always worth doing as much training with other people before and in between races to ensure you and your dog are as relaxed as possible when racing, as adrenalin can run high in both of you. At the end of the day these dog sports events are put on for us to have fun with our dogs and so the main thing is to enjoy your run, whilst being courteous to those around you. Happy Trails!