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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Puppy Diary – Starting to train (10 weeks to 6 months)

So it’s no secret that we recently added a 4th dog to the K9 Trail Time team and this time we got our paws on a puppy. Yogi was a pup born in rescue when his husky mum was picked up as a stray and then gave birth to a litter not long after being placed with a foster home. We are not 100% sure of his breeding (other than that his mum was a husky) and it doesn’t matter at all to us what he is, as long as he’s a happy and healthy little dog.

Yogi with his mum, brother and sisters in the rescue.

Not having had a young puppy to train for the dog sports before we thought we would do a little diary blog detailing a few things we are doing to introduce him to canicross from a young age, so he will hopefully enjoy running as much as the rest of the team do when he is old enough.

The first thing to say is that he will NOT be doing any running in harness for a long while yet, he is currently coming up to 5 months old and all we are doing is laying down the groundwork for a happy and balanced dog at this stage. Yogi still has a lot of growing to do and when we got him at 10 weeks, he actually didn’t go for any ‘walks’ with the others for another 2 weeks to allow him to settle in and get used to life in his new home before we did anything physical.

We did quite a bit of training getting him used to coming to his name in the house and the very basics of puppy training to get him started but because he’d had all his vaccinations he did come with us to the Tri Dog event at Box End Park and got used to being outside with lots of others dogs around.

Yogi enjoyed watching the comings and goings of an event from his place on the stake out line next to the van

For us it’s really important Yogi doesn’t feel stressed surrounded by other dogs and particularly other dogs barking. At canicross events you get a lot of noise and activity at the start of races and if you want to have a calm and controlled dog on a start line, the sooner they get used to be around that kind of noise and understanding it’s not frightening, the better.

The next thing we’ve done is get him used to wearing a harness. It might sound obvious but so many people walk their dogs on a collar then just expect their dog to be ok with having a harness put on and learning to pull in it. The feel of a harness can be very different for a dog and so Yogi has been walked in a harness since we started proper walks, so he can learn a harness signals something fun and going out for activity.

The Neewa Running harness being adjustable on the neck and chest was the perfect harness to get him used to walking in one and he didn’t out-grow it within a week!

The other thing we have been actively training is voice commands on walks. It is never too young to start training the voice commands, so we have been working on ‘wait’ ‘go on’ ‘gee’ (for right) ‘haw’ (for left) and ‘steady’ (if we ever get that one mastered it will be a miracle!). So far it appears that Yogi is picking up his cues from the other dogs, as his responses are faster when he is with another of the team and can see how they react to the command but this is all part of his learning process and eventually he will independently know what the voice commands mean.

Yogi is learning a lot from the other dogs, including the reaction to voice commands and what they mean

It will be interesting to see how Yogi gets on with everything over the next few months as he grows and we can begin to do more activity with him. At the moment some off lead running and relatively short lead walks, along with reward based training at home is plenty to keep his mind and body occupied as he learns about life as a K9 Trail Time team member. We will continue his training in this way for at least another few months until he has developed a bit more and experienced being at some more races when the season starts again in September.

We hope you’ll enjoy following his progress and will blog again when there’s more we can do with his training. Happy trails!

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