Sled Dog Sports? But I don’t own a ‘Sled Dog’!

I thought I’d write this article because I’ve heard so many people say ‘I don’t own a ‘sled dog” when they first take up one of the dog powered sports with their pet dog. What many don’t realise however is that the dog powered sports, which include sledding but also encompass dry land mushing, skijor, bikejor, dog scootering and even canicross, all originated from dog sledding. People first harnessed up dogs to utilise their strength and athleticism to help them move loads across some fairly inhospitable, frozen areas of the countries based in the Northern hemisphere.

Traditionally people see sled dog sports as being sports for sleds and dogs! However this has developed now into dry land dog sports

My personal background is in canicross, so if you’d said to me when I first started running with my dog that I was participating in a sled dog sport, I would have laughed at you, in spite of the fact my first canicross dog was part husky. I just didn’t see how running with my one dog (who shared my bed at night) could be comparable to running teams of dogs attached to sleds. I have since progressed from canicross to bikejoring, dog scootering and have even run my ‘team’ (three collie crosses) on a rig (three wheeled dog-propelled cart type thing, for those who are unfamiliar with the term).

My team of collie crosses on the rig

Now I’ve been in the sports for a number of years, this question of how the sports are classified comes up quite frequently but I’ve learned that the majority of people taking part in ‘sled dog’ events are unaware they are actually competing with their own ‘sled dog’ if you use the term as defined by the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (the current main international governing body for the sports established in 1985).

According to the IFSS definition below, any dog can be classified as a ‘Sled Dog’ for the purposes of competitions run under their regulations.

The International Federation for Sleddog Sports, coveres any breed of dog suitable for running in harness

‘SLED DOG: A sled dog is a dog, irrespective of the breed or type, capable of being harnessed and of competing in one of the classes listed in the IFSS Regulations without a potential, beforehand, to be calculated risk, of harming the dog’s well-being’  – Taken from the IFSS Race Rules

I still think that in the UK the wording of events and organisations using ‘sled dog’ in the title will conjure up images of huskies and not the broad spectrum of breeds who currently attend the growing numbers of races. I would actually even argue that it puts some people off joining a club or attending an event, purely on the basis that they feel it might not be for them and their Jack Russell / Labrador / Border Collie.

Sled dogs do come in all shapes & sizes!

The reality is that you will find many different breeds and shapes & sizes of dogs at every open event and you will fit right in with whatever dog you have, as long as it has the enthusiasm to run in harness. There are of course still breed specific clubs running rallies and races but they are easily recognisable by the use of the breed in the club title, for example SHCGB (the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain). 

Huskies are definitely the more recognised ‘sled dog’ breed

The dog powered sports have grown so much in the time I have been involved in them and I think in the future there will be further classification of events and potentially the dogs too. One term that has already emerged is ‘mono sports’ and this refers to the dog powered sports which can be run with one dog, so specifically canicross, bikejor and dog scootering. The European Canicross Federation which is the main European organisation for these sports, is focused solely on the ‘mono sports’, although the  ECF Championship held in Scotland in October 2015 was the first ever to host a scooter class. Prior to this it had only included canicross and bikejor.

The European Championships, last help in the UK in Scotland in 2015

I think as the demand for events grow and the word spreads that the ‘sled dog’ sports can be for everyone, the dog powered sports will gain more publicity and acceptance, which can only be good for the sports as a whole.

It’s all about canicross belts (how to choose and wear them)

With so many more new people coming into the dog sport of canicross and not having seen the range of canicross belts in person, it can be very difficult to know what to buy for yourself. We’ve personally tried and tested every single belt sold on the K9 Trail Time website so you can always ask us if you have any specific questions, however in this blog we hope to give you the information you need to make a sensible choice from our selection.

Having the right canicross belt can make your runs much more comfortable for you and your dog

The first thing to say is that belts for canicross have always been called waistbelts but the reality is that they should all be worn sitting on the hips, not high around the waist and even if you have one of the wider padded belts, we always recommend to pull them down onto your hips. This is to prevent the force of your dog pulling being anywhere near your lower back. I have heard people try and differentiate between the styles by referring to some of the belts as ‘hip belts’ but I think this just confuses things because they should all be worn on the hips. The belts should probably just be called ‘belts’ to avoid any confusion!

The next thing to say is that a canicross belt is as individual for a person as a harness is for a dog, so don’t expect to buy the belt your friend has and for you to love it as they do. It might be they are a different shape to you, or their dog pulls differently to yours, or you just want different things from a belt. So try to avoid just buying what everyone else has and make the decision based on what your requirements are, that said, the popular belts are popular for a reason.

To help choose, identify what is most important to you in a belt, do you need pockets? I would say you can carry things like water, your phone, poo bags and keys in a separate way and not to rely on having a big pocket on your belt, as the type of belt that suits you best might not have pockets.

A good canicross belt will distribute the pull from a strong pulling dog without any impact on your back

Many people are now going for the lightweight belts such as the Non-stop CaniX Belt, the Neewa Canicross Belt and the Zero DC Speedy Belts. This type of belt directs the pull low down and across the backside so you feel like you are being ‘lifted’ forward if you have a strong pulling dog, rather than being pulled from slightly higher up. These belts all have a small pocket and leg straps you have to use for the belt to work correctly, so leg straps is another option you will have to consider.

It’s a myth that leg straps will chafe. I can count on one hand the number of people who have said their leg straps rub and it’s usually down to not having the belt fitted correctly. The belts have been designed by people who have been doing the sports for years and understand the needs of the belt, so have positioned the leg straps so they work to keep the belt in place without chafing.

The Non-Stop Running Belt is very lightweight and designed to pull from low down with integrated leg straps to keep it in place – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

The other main style of belt is the more traditional belt which has a padded middle section, perhaps with leg straps but some without. The Zero DC Canicross Belt, the Non-stop Trekking Belt, the Neewa Trekking Belt and Howling Dog Alaska Canicross Belt are examples of these. The Zero DC, Howling Dog and Non-stop have removable leg straps, the Neewa has no leg straps. Of these belts the Zero DC, Howling Dog Alaska and Neewa have pockets, the Non-stop Trekking does not. These are the type of belt I see most often being worn incorrectly, with the band high up on the waist and in the small of the back. I would always have it sitting on the top of the hips to protect the back, even if you’re just using the belt for walking.

There are a couple of other belts which sort of sit in the middle of the styles, the Non-stop Comfort Belt and the Dragrattan Ergo belt. Both have integral leg straps and spread the pull over the entire area of the material of the belt, the Non-stop Comfort is mesh material with a pocket and the Dragrattan Ergo is more padded but with no pocket. Both are good for strong pullers but have different attachment points at the front, which brings me to another difference in the belts which might influence your decision.

The Dragrattan Ergo Belt sits low down but is padded and has a sliding trigger clip for your your line

The Non-stop Trekking, Non-stop Comfort, Howling Dog Alaska and Neewa Trekking Belts all have a fixed point of attachment at the front, either a ring or in the case of the Non-stop, a clever hook and ring system (which allows quick release). The Zero DC belts have a rope to attach your line to, either by pulling it through on itself using the handle of the line or by using a carabiner in addition. The Non-stop CaniX Belt and the Neewa Canicross Belt have rings to attach your line to which slide over material at the front and you attach your line in the same way (thread through handle or use a carabiner in addition) and the Dragrattan Ergo belt has a trigger clip that slides on the rope, which negates the need for a carabiner.

Why would you prefer either a sliding attachment point or a fixed attachment point? The fixed attachment point gives you more control as your dog can’t move quite a far side to side on the belt, the sliding attachment point means if your dog is strong and pulls around a corner, you have a more gentle experience than if your line is fixed in the middle of the belt. It might not make any difference to you at all but these are things which I have found influence the decision people make when choosing a belt for themselves and from my own observations of how the belts work.

The Neewa Canicross Belt which is lightweight, has a pocket for storage and a sliding ring to attach your line to

Most of the belts available are ‘one size fits all’ however if you’re concerned that the belt may not adjust big or small enough for you then please do drop me an e-mail to check. Some of the belts do come in different sizes although this usually just means the material section is slightly bigger and the straps are more or less the same length regardless of size. We also have a couple of childrens’ belts in stock to cater for the very young or very small child, so if you can’t find what you’re looking for then again just ask and there’s bound to be an option that will work for your needs.

We stock some very small junior belts for the younger canicrosser

If all this is still not helping you make a decision, drop me a line at emilyt@k9trailtime.com and I can help you with any specific questions but do have an idea of what your needs are, as I can’t make the decision for you, or even narrow down the options unless you have thought about what you might prefer first.

A well fitted canicross belt can make the experience so much more comfortable for you, so make sure you do get some good advice that is personal to you before making a purchase and ideally if you can get to a club who have a kit bag for you to try the belts out first, then that will ensure you are happy with your purchase.

Happy trails!

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 10 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 10 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!

 

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – Q is for Quick (you don’t have to be)

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.

I think we enjoy our canicross racing more because we’re not quick, it’s gives us time to enjoy the scenery! – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

So you don’t want to race?

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.

We have now competed in two European Championships in both Canicross and Bikejor

We have now competed in two European Championships in both Canicross and Bikejor

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.

Is your dog ready for the stress of a start line? - Photo courtesy of tzruns.com

Mass starts are actually quite rare but even with a mass start the racers ensure their dogs have enough space – Photo courtesy of tzruns.com

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!).

Once you are out on the course it can be a relaxed and quiet experiencing racing on the trails - Photo courtesy of Houndscape

Once you are out on the course it can be a relaxed and quiet experience racing on the trails – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

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.

The dogs may enjoy some of the prizes but they aren't bothered by the rosettes, medals and trophies!

The dogs may enjoy some of the prizes but they aren’t bothered by the rosettes, medals and trophies!

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!

 

 

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!

Race Review – November & December 2014

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.

We thoroughly enjoyed our Mad Dog Jog experience and the goody bags were incredible! Photo courtesy of Colin Roberts

We thoroughly enjoyed our Mad Dog Jog experience and the goody bags were incredible! Photo courtesy of Colin Roberts

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.

The uphill to the finish was a killer - Photo courtesy of Chillpics

The uphill to the finish was a killer – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

The three water crossings on the course proved to be challenging fun! - Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

The three water crossings on the course proved to be challenging fun! – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

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 lake at Box End provides the backdrop for the 5km course - Photo courtesy of Houndscape

The lake at Box End provides the backdrop for the 5km course – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

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.

The large arch at the start of the race at Stowe park was just one of the impressive sights we saw on the course.

The large arch at the start of the race at Stowe park was just one of the impressive sights we saw on the course.

 

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!

Happy dogs enjoying the mud in the start chute of the race

Happy dogs enjoying the mud in the start chute of the race

Happy dogs enjoying the mud in the start chute of the race

Happy dogs enjoying the mud in the start chute of the race

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The Wyedean East Mushing event was well worth the journey to Thetford forest for the great racing weekend.

The Wyedean East Mushing event was well worth the journey to Thetford forest for the great racing weekend.

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.

 

Race Review – September 2014

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.

We had a very relaxing weekend training at Checkendon

We had a very relaxing weekend training at Checkendon

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.

The day we managed to run we enjoyed it! Photo courtesy of Fraser Connal

The day we managed to run we enjoyed it! Photo courtesy of Fraser Connal

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!

The Sunday run was much better for us at Bracelands - Photo courtesy of Chillpics

The Sunday run was much better for us at Bracelands – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

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.

We enjoyed the Checkendon Challenge but still too warm for us - Photo courtesy of Karen Burd

We enjoyed the Checkendon Challenge but still too warm for us – Photo courtesy of Karen Burd

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!

The Best Running Dog?

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.

When I started out - I wasn't aware of which breeds would be better for canicross

When I started out – I wasn’t aware of which breeds would be better for canicross – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

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.

Sled dogs have traditionally been using for the pulling dog sports and still make great competitors - Photo courtesy of Karen Richardson

Sled dogs have traditionally been using for the pulling dog sports and still make great competitors – Photo courtesy of Karen Richardson

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.

The Hound type dogs are undoubtedly very well designed for the mono sports of canicross, bikejor and scootering - Photo courtesy of Houndscape

The Hound type dogs are undoubtedly very well designed for the mono sports of canicross, bikejor and scootering – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

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 my opinion any dog that loves to run can be successful in the dog sports as long as the owner can keep up and not hinder them! Photo courtesy of Houndscape

In my opinion any dog that loves to run can be successful in the dog sports as long as the owner can keep up and not hinder them! Photo courtesy of Houndscape

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.

K9 Trail Time 10 Commandments of Canicross

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

A good fitting harness is a must for canicross!

A good fitting harness is a must for canicross!

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/2017/07/25/its-all-about-canicross-belts-how-to-choose-and-wear-them/

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/2020/08/12/looking-for-a-line/

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

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.

Allowing your dog access to water is a must for canicross runs

Allowing your dog access to water is a must for canicross runs

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: https://www.k9trailtime.com/pawz-dog-boots.html

Pawz dog boots are a useful addition to a first aid kit

Pawz dog boots are a useful addition to a first aid kit

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!

Having fun with your dog is the objective of canicross!

Having fun with your dog is the objective of canicross!