One of the most common things that people say to me about why they haven’t gone to a canicross race is that they don’t feel they are quick enough to enter, so I wanted to make the ‘Q’ in our A-Z of Canicross represent the word quick and explain why you don’t have to be! Canicross is growing so quickly in the UK because it provides an outlet for many dogs and their owners to engage in an outdoor activity which is good for both. Canicross racing for most people is just a way to challenge themselves to get better and give themselves a goal to aim for. I have been competing now for eight years and have never been quick but I have enjoyed running at many different venues and met so many like minded people by attending the events. If you are very competitive and want to improve, racing is a great way to improve your times but being a fast runner is not a pre-requisite for entering and I would always encourage anyone to have a go regardless of your speed. Of course you don’t have to race at all, there are now so many fantastic canicross groups who arrange regular fun runs that you can enjoy the social aspect of canicross with your dog without ever making it to a race. The canicross groups will always cater for every level too and even the slowest of runners will not get left behind. It is for that reason I’ve chosen the word ‘quick’ for my Q in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross, as in, you don’t have be quick to enjoy this fantastic sport with your dog.
Recently I’ve heard a number of people say that they’re not interested in taking part in races with their dog. Reasons for this seem to be related to people feeling they will be too slow, not knowing how their dogs will react to a race situation or just not feeling that they want to travel for a race which might be less distance than they run at home. All of these things I can understand but I would like to use this blog to encourage people to come along to a race and have a go.
I personally never thought in a million years I would enjoy racing. I’ve never considered myself a runner and I hadn’t been on a bike since I was about 8 years old, so if you’d told me before I started all this that I’d be competing in European Championship canicross and bikejor events, I would have laughed in your face.
It was a friend of mine who mentioned the canicross racing to me and suggested that I should give it a go, in her words she described it as ‘wonderful madness’ and I liked the sound of that, so signed myself up. Of course I didn’t go to a race without having done some training first. I’d been running with my dogs for a few months before I entered my first race and I was pretty nervous about what to expect, not having been in a running race since I was in school.
The whole process was very laid back and put me at ease right from the start, with plenty of information about rules on the website when I entered and the race organisers holding a briefing for runners to explain how the race would be run. Nothing could have prepared me for the start line however! The sound of close to 100 dogs all excited and all raring to go is quite something to behold.
At this point I’d like to reassure anyone who is thinking about racing, the dogs are generally all kept a good distance apart, with runners understanding that in situations like this the dogs’ excitement can lead to unwanted behaviours such as lunging, therefore the focus of the runners is always on the dogs.
The race itself (once you are off the start line) is generally very quiet and all you hear is the sounds of the dogs panting and runners or bikers puffing hard in their efforts. The odd directional command for the dog or warning to another competitor is all you should hear when you’re out on the trail unless you choose to start up a conversation with another runner (which has been known to happen in my case!).
One of my concerns was how my reactive dog would handle a situation in which lots of other dogs would be passing shoulder to shoulder, and knowing that I’m not a very quick runner, I knew there would be plenty of people overtaking me. What I found was that as long as I kept her under control at the start and just asked people to give me space when overtaking, that she has learned to accept other dogs passing very closely and in fact is focused on her ‘job’ and will run happily alongside dogs she would not tolerate standing with under normal circumstances.
I have now competed in well over 100 races and can honestly say I don’t take part for the prizes or the thrill of the race. I enter races to see new parts of the country, to run on trails I would otherwise never know to explore and also to meet up with the many like-minded friends I have made over the years. For me however, the main reason I race is the fun the dogs have when they are out doing the activities they love. It makes me so happy to see them excited and and also how relaxed they are and how well they sleep after a weekend away socialising and racing with friends.
So if you are considering taking part in a canicross or bikejor race, my advice would be to go for it, if you don’t like it, you haven’t lost anything except the cost of a race weekend and if you do like it, you may just open up a whole new world of fun and friendship for both you and your dog.
Happy trails and hope to see you at an event soon!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
For the next instalment of my race reviews, I decided to combine November and December because I ended up only going to one event in December.
The first event of November was the Mad Dog Jog, Forest of Dean, 2nd November – A very friendly and welcoming event run by members of the Forest of Dean canicross group. This was a canicross race with a difference, as the course was a challenging, twisty, turning route through part of the Forest of Dean with many ditches, tree roots and hills to keep us occupied. I had decided to run this with just one dog, as I had prior warning of the nature of the course! We had a great run and I laughed my way round the course and across the finish line, where I was handed my finishers medal but none other then Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards. We also enjoyed the special goody bags which contained a vast array of goodies for both me and Judo to enjoy.
The following weekend we made our way up to the Canicross Midlands / Adams Agility Race Series 1, Eland Lodge Derbyshire, 8th & 9th November – this was another brand new venue for a race series which promises to provide a challenge for many competitors throughout the 4 race weekends being held here. The course includes 3 water crossings, two man-made horse jumps (the route winds it’s way around a large equestrian cross country course) and one natural river crossing. Although, the race is set in just a few fields, it provided a mix of hills, straights, grass and mud that made it tough enough for even seasoned racers whilst managing to be suitable for the novice entrants who have their own classes in this series. I competed in both the bikejor and two dog canicross classes, with Donnie running so well in the bikejor, we even managed to come away with a second place trophy.
We were back up the country again for the Box End Collie Wobbler in Bedfordshire on the 15th November – Held at the Box End Park, this was the second race we had been to at the venue and yet again we thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. The course, which flows around the central lakes and then off up into an area of small hills and single track, all on grassy trails, was just as fun the second time round. We participated in both the bikejor and canicross classes, getting some unusual prizes for taking part, which included a bottle of wine, some electrolyte tablets and a technical t-shirt.
The next day we were racing just up the road at the Stowe Park Pace Setter on the 16th November – This was a new venue for a canicross event and the timings dictated by the National Trust meant that only one class entry was possible per competitor, so we chose bikejor. The course was all on hard packed paths and incorporated one of the estate roads too, so although it was an easy trail, the terrain wasn’t ideal for a dog sport race. We had a good run and enjoyed seeing the different parts of the park (Donnie even got to take a mid-race drink from an ornamental fountain!). In spite of the fog it was easy to appreciate the beauty of the setting. Prizes were given over a wide range of classes but only for first place, so I’m not even sure where we finished but it seems that all who took part agreed that Stowe Park was a unique and charming venue.
Our final event for November was another local one for us, the Deans Doubles, Wyedean Mushing Event, Forest of Dean, 22nd & 23rd November – This was a team competition where the results were based on the combination of times from two team members from two runs (one each day). On the Saturday we completed a short course of approximately 1.6 miles and a longer course of 4 miles on the Sunday. We really enjoy the events based in the Forest of Dean run by the Wyedean Mushing team and this was no exception. The weather wasn’t kind too us with loads of rain and as a result, loads of mud, but it did nothing to dampen our spirits. This was also the first chance I had to record a video on my new Garmin Virb Elite sports camera, the footage can be found here:
After two really good runs for both myself and my team mate, we came home with a second place, only beaten by the team who had the fastest time over the whole weekend, so a great achievement!
On to our only December event the Wyedean East Mushing / UCSC Event, Thetford Forest, 27th & 28th December – We made our way across the country to this one on Boxing Day and set up for the weekend in the beautiful Thetford Forest. All three dogs were entered in their own classes, two in the bikejor and one in the canicross, so we were all kept busy at this event. The course consisted of long, wide, grassy trails with only the merest hint of a hill, which suited us just fine! We had good runs both days, in spite of the non-stop rain on the Saturday, but nothing quick enough to get any of us into one of the top spots as both the bikejor and canicross were male and female combined.
To sum up, we had a manically busy November and needed a bit of a rest to recover in December but the events we attended just seem to get bigger and better, with more entries and even more open classes now. I think 2015 is going to be the best year for racing in the UK yet, with so many new clubs organising races and the established clubs gaining entries from the rapidly growing disciplines of canicross and bikejor.
This year I decided I wasn’t going to write a blog review for each race, as we have been attending too many races to keep up with it all, but I also didn’t want to let the events go unmentioned. My solution is to write a Race Review for each month, just to touch on the races and training we attend. This is the first installment and I appreciate it is a bit late but we have been very busy as you will see..
To kick things off we attended the Checkendon Training Weekend, Nr Reading, 6th & 7th September – A fantastic venue with a very technical course and this is a firm favourite of ours. Unfortunately (or not, whatever you opinion of it is) it was roasting hot pretty much all weekend and although we did some training, it was limited to short runs. I have to say though, the atmosphere at the Checkendon events is always very relaxed and social, so in fact this was a great start to our season.
Then we wound our way up the West coast, stopping off for a holiday in the Lake District before finding ourselves at the Cani-Sports Scotland Coalsnaughton Races, 13th & 14th September – We are always welcomed warmly at these races and this event was exceptional! I cannot stress enough how friendly this event was and the venue owner spent the whole weekend looking after the competitiors every need. We were served hot bacon rolls and tea after racing and provided with a BBQ on the Saturday night all cooked for us, all that was asked of us was a small contribution towards the food which was donated to charity. Anyway, back to the race itself… I unfortunately hadn’t felt very well on the Saturday and so withdrew from racing but managed to get out on the Sunday to check out the long course.
Again it was ridiculously warm and we struggled with the humidity (so much so I wasn’t even aware of what time I finished the course in) but the course itself was quite challenging with a big hill in the middle. The trails were mostly hard-packed paths and so I booted the boys up to protect their paws, which probably wasn’t necessary considering how slow we were going but I like to play it safe! I think everyone enjoyed the mix of woodland and farm tracks and I would be very tempted to make the journey again for this if it comes up in the race calender next year, because it was a particularly special venue with some of Scotland’s famous hills overlooking the farm.
CaniX Bracelands (Forest of Dean) Races, 20th & 21st September – This is a favourite venue of ours and the race is based from a lovely friendly little campsite called Bracelands, set well within the Forest of Dean. The weather was not on our side for dog running and it was so humid on the Saturday, we actually walked most of the way, which I have never done before. There was the option to drop the dogs and still race solo but I don’t run without my dogs, so I opted to just take it really steady with one of my dogs each day instead. The Sunday was slightly cooler, although still too warm for the time of year and again we just plodded around to complete rather than race. I particularly like the course here because of the huge uphill to the finish, it sounds a bit strange but it is a real challenge and you get a sense of achievement at crossing the finish line!
Checkendon Challenge, Nr Reading, 27th & 28th September – Our next event was to be our first wheeled event of the 2014/2015 season and so I was hoping for lower temperatures, sadly it was not to be. Although cool, the humidity was up above 80% both days and very dangerous for over-exerting dogs in. I made the decision to run the dogs but again we took it very steady, stopping for water and rest stops frequently over the 3 mile course. The fact the majority of this very challenging and technical course is in the woods did help but there was no way I could say we ‘raced’ this one, merely participated and used the event as training.
So to conclude September’s Race Review, we battled against the high temps and humidity, took part in some fun and friendly events but did not have any success in ‘racing’ as such because the dogs welfare is always paramount whenever we take part in anything. With very little opportunity this summer to do any serious training it will be an uphill struggle to be competitive in any way this side of Christmas but it was nice to be back out and taking part in the events again, which we miss over the summer. I have made the conscious decision this season not to push any of us in the races, so September really was a good learning experience for all of us about taking things a bit steadier and just enjoying the experience!
As I often see the question asked ‘what type of dog is the best for canicrossing?’ I thought I’d write a short blog on it. Firstly I’d like to point out this is not a scientific or fact based blog, simply my own thoughts and views on what type of dog makes a good canicross dog.
For a bit of background, I started in the sports of canicross, bikejor and dog scootering with my dogs not because I liked the sports and particularly wanted to take them up as a hobby, quite the opposite is in fact true. I didn’t even like running and hadn’t been on a bike since I was a child, but I have grown to love the sports because of the bond it has helped me create with my dogs.
The first time I came across canicross, I found a race through Cani-X which was in my area, a friend had mentioned it and so I looked it up and started a bit of training at home with my dogs to make sure I could cover the distance. Not once did it ever cross my mind that there might be a type of dog more suited for canicross. I was perfectly comfortable with the fact my dogs just loved running. For me, I was finding a great new way to keep my two rescue collie crosses exercised.
I attended my first race and from that point on was hooked. What struck me as being one of the best things about the sport of canicross, was the variety of breeds involved and how inclusive it was. I genuinely had no expectations when I turned up but realised very quickly this was something anyone could do if their dog wanted to run with them. I also observed that the winners of the classes didn’t just have big dogs and I remember in particular one competitor who ran with both a small dog and large dog in the two dog canicross, the little dog working just as hard as the big one and keeping pace.
Now I have been involved in racing for a number of years and I have seen and taken part in, some of the biggest competitions in Europe, I am wiser about the types of dog which excel at canicross, bikejor and scootering. Traditionally it has always been the job of the sled dog breeds, so the huskies, malamutes and many other types of ‘pulling’ working dogs to be used, but now there is a trend to use hound types for what is known as ‘dry-land’ racing and more specifically what I do, which is known as the ‘mono-sports’ (canicross, bikejor and dog scootering) because you can participate with one dog alone.
Many of the top European canicross competitors use hound crosses (usually with some type of pointer and some element of sled dog) and these dogs have developed their own pedigree based on their athleticism and ability to cover the ground with much larger strides than the traditional sled dogs. Their popularity is largely down to the fact these dogs excel at covering the sprint distances in the much warmer temperatures we experience in Europe for most of the year. These dogs are undoubtedly ‘built for purpose’ and are incredible to watch.
So if you are serious about the sports and competing at a European and International level you may feel you need a dog of this type to be able to compete in a level playing field. My personal opinion is however, that any breed of dog with good basic genetic conformation and no obvious limiting breed traits (ie, the short nosed breeds who may struggle getting enough air in their lungs for the sports) with a passion for running, can achieve just as much if the person training and running with them also has the athleticism and ability to allow the dog to run to its full potential.
What you have to remember is that unless you are going to keep dogs for the sole purpose of canicross, bikejor or scooter racing, they also have to fit into your lifestyle and be a dog you can live with day to day, in addition to the fun you will have taking part in the sports. Unfortunately there are far too many dogs in rescue in the UK and a worrying amount of them are now sled dog breeds because people think they look gorgeous (which they do) but don’t understand the characteristics of the breed and can’t cater for them around every day life. It is much more sensible to choose a dog for your lifestyle and then train together to enjoy the sports, than to take on something you may not necessarily be able to cope with because you think they will make a better running companion.
In summary, with canicross, bikejor and dog scootering in the UK and Europe being open to all breeds of dog, my opinion on what makes the best running dog is that your dog makes the best running dog! The best dog teams I have seen competing are those based on a strong bond that has been built by the handler with their dog over time and I have seen seemingly very small dogs, running their hearts out because they have the drive and motivation to work for their owner.
1 – Always put your dog first – This could mean dropping from a race because it’s too warm, carrying water and a first aid kit on longer runs or even just giving your dog a rest day if you’ve been doing a lot recently. The main thing to remember is your dogs’ welfare comes first above everything!
2 – Get a properly fitting harness – If you are expecting your dog to run with you on a regular basis then you must invest in a decent dog running harness. There are many different styles and brands now, not all of which will be suitable for your dog. Do some research and make sure you get one that fits correctly for your dogs’ shape and running style. It is very important your dog feels comfortable and the harness does not restrict movement. More information on choosing a harness can be found here: http://www.k9trailtime.com/information/team-thomas-harnesses
3 – Get yourself a waist belt – To prevent back strains, it is always advisable to get a proper waist belt and choose one which suits your needs. There are again many different styles but it is personal preference with a belt, as to what you feel will work best. For more information on choosing a belt see this article: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/belt-braces-how-to-choose-a-canicross-belt/
4 – Connect yourself with a bungee line – A line with bungee in it will help to absorb the shock of your dog tugging to chase any wildlife you may come across. There are different lengths available to suit different situations and environments but for some more guidance see this past blog: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/line-length-the-long-and-short-of-it/
5 – Keep training positive – Whether you are new to the sport or have been canicrossing for years, ensure your training always leaves your dog wanting more. If you are going out and doing too much at a time or on surfaces or in areas unsuitable for your dog, you will quickly find your dog isn’t so keen to keep in front and it is important your dog always enjoys the experience of canicrossing.
6 – Feed well before and after runs – As a rule of thumb I always feed 2-3 hours before a run and leave at least an hour after a run before I feed the dogs again. The reason for this is to avoid the life-threatening condition of bloat. Studies have suggested that exercise too close to meal times can be contributing factor, so it is always better to be on the safe side and plan meal around your runs. A tasty snack however is allowed!
7 – Make sure there is fresh water available – It could be that you carry this yourself or ensure that your run route has plenty of natural water stops. However you choose to provide it, you must be sure it will be available. I tend to carry about 250ml of water per dog per 5 mile run when it’s cool and more if it’s warmer but observe how much your dog needs and tailor this for yourself.
8 – Keep a first aid kit handy – You can carry the basics in a pocket, for example a bandage and some sterile wash pods or wipes. The injury your dog is most likely to pick up is a scratch or cut to the pads, so it is always useful to carry a couple of dog boots just in case. K9 Trail Time stocks PAWZ boots which are a lightweight and extremely tough option for covering a cut pad. For more information please see the website: http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/pawz-dog-boots.html
9 – Check the weather – It’s not canicross if it’s not muddy and raining but sometimes the weather can change quite dramatically in the UK in a short space of time and can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly in the summer months. You also need to be aware of the humidity level as this is just as dangerous for dogs as high temperatures and has a direct effect on your dogs’ ability to cool itself down. Using an app on your phone is the simplest way to keep a track of what the weather is doing and can also help you avoid the worst of the British showers if you want to, but personally I love running in the rain!
10 – Have fun! – The second most important thing on this list as far as I’m concerned, after putting your dog first. Whatever you are doing and wherever you canicross, on your own, in a social group run or racing, it should be fun for both you and your dog and should continue to be fun. The whole idea of canicross is to get out with your dog to do something enjoyable for you both, which is also beneficial to your health. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong. Happy Trails!