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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Pulling into the harness is the dogs' job in canicross

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

Canicross – how to go from ‘Zero to Hero’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canicross for beginners – A reading list

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

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

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

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

Number 1: To give you a brief introduction

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

Number 2: An idea of where to start

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

Number 3: How to choose a harness

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

Number 4: How to tell if your harness fits

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

Number 5: How to choose a belt

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

Number 6: How to choose a line

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

Number 7: When to start running your dog

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

Number 8: What to think about before racing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy trails!

 

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – C is for Commands

Commands are key to be able to successfully canicross and more specifically, voice commands. The main commands are ‘left, right, go and steady’ but people include all sorts of commands in their canicross repertoire. I personally use the mushing commands of ‘gee’ for right and ‘haw’ for left and there other agility commands for directions which I’ve heard people use too. What commands you use doesn’t really matter as long as you are consistent (there’s another ‘C’ word for you!) and your dog understands them. I also use ‘straight on’ and ‘on by’ which are useful forward commands to ignore distractions you may encounter, but I’ve never quite mastered the ‘whoa’ or ‘steady’, so must keep practising! In all seriousness if your dog has been taught very clear voice commands and is responsive to them, it can make a huge difference to your canicross experience, so my advice would always be to start to train the commands first, before you even attach yourself to your dog. Walking and using the lead to guide your dog is a great way to initiate voice command training and once you’ve mastered them, you know you’re as prepared as you can be to get out there and canicross. This being a vital part of your canicross training is the reason for me choosing ‘commands’ as my word for the letter ‘C’ in the A-Z of Canicross.

Teaching your dog commands for canicross give you the security that you have control over your dog when canicrossing and they are out in front of you

Teaching your dog commands for canicross gives you the security that you have control over your dog when canicrossing and they are out in front of you

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – B is for Behaviour

Behaviour is one of the main reasons I started to look into canicross with my dog (originally I only had one!) because she is a husky cross collie, rescued as a stray and she suffered with separation anxiety when I first had her. I had tried many other methods of training with some success but just wanted her to be calm and happy, which seemed nearly impossible to begin with. A friend had suggested I try canicross and it was something I had never thought of because I didn’t consider myself a runner and wasn’t aware you could buy the hands free kit. Once I got started with the canicross I found that she was much calmer after her runs and much more relaxed about being left after her routine morning run. The other benefit I noticed, once we started to meet up with others, was that when we were canicrossing she wasn’t being reactive with other dogs. Initially, she will still try to eyeball other dogs when we first meet them but when we are running, she will run shoulder to shoulder with other dogs quite happily because she is focused on her job. What canicross allowed me to do was socialise her in a safe and controlled environment and has meant that not only is she a calmer dog at home, but she is also a calmer dog out and about. Canicrossing isn’t yet widely recognised as a sport but many dog owners are beginning to discover it and along with it, the benefits that canicross can have for your dogs’ behaviour. I’m not a qualified behaviourist but I’ve seen the effect of canicross on many, many dogs now and when it comes to behaviour, it seems to provide a secure outlet for a dogs’ energy which you don’t find with many other ‘doggy’ activities. So that is why I have chosen ‘behaviour’ as my canicross word associated with ‘B’ 🙂

Giving your dog a job can help improve behaviour

Giving your dog a job can help improve behaviour

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!