So we’ve now reached the stage where our first race is not too far away, we’ve thought about a ‘proper’ harness and also been doing a little bit more in terms of actual canicross training for Yogi, the K9 Trail Time pup. It is still important to remember that dogs will continue growing right up to and even beyond 12 months old and essentially even at a year old, they are still youngsters who need to be trained gently, with consideration for their joints and their impressionable minds.
Yogi was comfortable with his shorter harness from a very young age but looking at his movement and his shape, it was fairly obvious that he would be better suited to running in a longer style. Yogi is a natural puller and also when free running really ‘bounds’, he has a very long stride length and so whilst a short harness doesn’t restrict his running in any way, a longer harness will be better for him long term to capture the ‘pull’ of his movement. With this in mind at around 10 months we started to try on the longer harnesses to try and gauge what might suit him best, he was an unwilling model and didn’t seem to like the longer harnesses over his back, so we persevered and just had a few fitting sessions for him to get used to the longer style, just whilst sitting around.
We are lucky in that we have the harnesses to try but if you can borrow some kit for your dog and just get them used to having different styles and lengths on your dog, this is a great way to see what looks good and get them walking around in a proper running harness. Many dogs won’t need a longer harness but because Yogi is hound shaped and an athletic build, there was never any doubt in my mind he would be in a longer harness eventually. We didn’t actually start running him in one until he was about 11 months old.
So with the harness selection covered we were also doing lots of other little bits of training to get Yogi used to life running in harness. We have not covered any great distances in this time and it is important to build up any distance slowly to encourage your dog to want to do more. If you exhaust your pup by taking them straight out to do 3 miles in harness, you might find they make a negative association with the process. It is far better to stick to short runs and leave them wanting to do more so they are excited when the harness comes out. You also need to ensure they do not overwork, like humans, dogs will feel aches and tiredness in muscles and joints, so be very mindful of this when training.
The other thing we have done to make training fun is to vary what we do every day. Yogi has done runs in woods, through fields, through water, up hills, through ankle deep mud and it’s all good experience for him to learn nothing is scary and that we might encounter any type of surface during a run or race too.
Yogi has been training through, mud, water, snow, fields, woodland and on as many different surfaces as we can find, grass, track and even very short sections on tarmac to ensure he will not be phased by anything we might come across
So with all this in place Yogi shouldn’t be intimidated by anything he might find on the course at a race but what about other dogs? We’ve done a lot of socialisation with Yogi to make sure he’s friendly and interacts well with other dogs but we’ve also had times where he’s had to ignore other dogs and focus on the job in hand. Being honest he’s very interested in saying ‘hello’ to other dogs when he’s been out but I’ve actively discouraged this while he’s working in harness because this isn’t acceptable behaviour during a race and it’s not something I want to be dealing with when I eventually put him on the bike! We’ve met up and run with friends a few times who have dogs that Yogi only sees from time to time and he has been encouraged to ignore them whilst running but he’s been allowed to play with them when he’s not in a ‘working’ situation and this seems to be working well.
When training a young dog it is always helpful to have other experienced dogs around from them to learn from and this is what we have found works best. That’s not so helpful if this is your only dog but with so many canicross groups around now to meet up with, it shouldn’t be a problem to find friends with dogs who are very focused that you can meet up with to join for a social run. I have found that Yogi is now confident running on his own while my other dogs are off lead and I also recently took him on a night run with some other dogs he didn’t know and he behaved very well, passing without trying to interfere with another dog and taking the lead when he needed to, so he has learnt to run out front and not to chase.
When training a dog at this age it’s also important to consider that this type of focus will be tiring and whenever I’ve asked Yogi to really think about what he’s doing, he has been tired afterwards, so do give your young dog plenty of rest time too. You’ve hopefully got a long and happy running career with your pup so there’s no need to rush things or cram loads of training in right now, they can carry on learning ‘on the job’ as long as the basics are in place and you have a happy and confident dog who enjoys their running.
To summarise we recommend:
Take training very steady and wait until your dog is both physically and mentally developed before you ask them to run in harness with you.
Make sure you have done the basics, socialisation and voice commands are two key things that are crucial to have your pup happy and focused.
Don’t ever push your dog beyond their capability or get cross with them if they’re not doing something you want, go back to basics and start again if you find you have issues.
Meet up with others and let your dog learn from experienced canicrossers and their dogs, sharing knowledge, experience and tips can make a big difference to how you get started.
We hope that this (very brief) guide has been of interest and we look forward to seeing how Yogi (and all the other pups we know who are coming into the dog sports) get on in the coming year as they become old enough and experienced enough to take part in races.
Happy trails everyone!
With the dog sports of canicross (running with your dog) and bikejor (biking with your dog) becoming so popular it is inevitable that new people will come into the sport and want information on how to get the best experience for them and their dog. From our point of view the most important piece of kit you need for both canicross and bikejor is the harness for your dog. If you are going to expect your dog to pull any weight when running, then it is your responsibility to make sure that your dog is in the most suitable harness which allows your dog the best range of movement to suit their shape and running style.
We’ve recently seen a number of people out running with their dogs on a collar and lead, which for us is just not an acceptable way to exercise your dog, unless it is running to heel and not pulling at all. The pressure put on the neck (a very sensitive area) with your dog pulling is something that should always be avoided and we even walk with a harness for the same reason. If you are going to run with your dog, it is highly likely your dog will be faster than you and therefore pulling at some point even if off to the side, so ensuring their comfort and safety should be a top priority.
The next problem we’ve seen more regularly is well-meaning people who have been badly advised or have been mis-sold a harness and although the dog is wearing a harness, it is just not suitable for the purpose of running. For example there are no-pull harnesses which have been used because they have a fleece lining on the webbing and so it is assumed to be comfortable but anything which tightens when pulled into will not be comfortable for a dog and will not encourage freedom of movement. The other common unsuitable type of harness is one which has a strap across the front of the shoulders, these are often sold as ‘sport’ harnesses by the manufacturers so people are being misled into thinking these are suitable for the pulling sports – they are not. The reason being that this front strap restricts shoulder movement and will prevent a full, free range of motion when the dog is running.
Sometimes even when the correct style of harness has been chosen unfortunately the sizing is wrong and most commonly, too big. As a general rule a dog sport harness should fit snugly, many people feel that the neck is too tight, when in actual fact the neck of the harness should make it snug to put on and pull off over the head of the dog. You only need to be able to fit a few fingers in the neck of a proper fitting harness and there should be no gaping along the body when the harness is pulled into. If the harness is just sitting on the dog with no tension through it then it may bunch up or slide about, this is normal, these harnesses are designed for dogs to pull into. If you have a dog who doesn’t pull, there are harnesses which don’t do this and we can point you in the right direction for these particular harness styles.
It is actually quite rare for a harness to be too small, it isn’t easy to get a dog into a harness which is too small and unless your dog is young and has been growing, or put on a bit of weight, then it’s usually very easy to tell if the harness is too small straight away. If you think your harness is putting pressure on your dog’s neck (you might hear a coughing noise) this is not necessarily down to it being too small, in most cases the style of harness doesn’t suit your dog and in some cases the harness might actually be too big but is pulling back because of this and causing an issue.
Most owners will recognise a properly fitting harness as soon as they see it on their dog but without having anything to compare it to or someone to confirm the harness fits, it can be difficult to know for sure. We get asked all the time to check harness fit and we’re honest, if you don’t need a new or different harness we won’t try and persuade you to buy one and if your dog is running happily in a harness then 9 times out of 10, it is suitable. But if your dog isn’t in the correct style and size of harness to suit them then it’s a bit like wearing ill fitting shoes, they will pinch, restrict, rub or even stop your dog wanting to run. If you own more than one dog you might even find that each dog you own is suited to a different style of harness.
There’s loads of information on our blog about choosing a harness and we’re always happy to help anyone who wants to find the perfect harness for their dog, just drop us an e-mail to email@example.com and we’d love to help. It really is the most important part of your dog sport kit, so it’s worth spending the time to get it right! Happy trails 🙂
So now that your puppy has grown up a bit and looks a little bit less like a puppy and more like a proper dog, it can be tempting to up the game in terms of training at this point. It is at this age that I feel people get a bit too excited about getting their dog trained up and it’s really important to remember your dog is still a puppy no matter how grown up they now look.
This is where the debate kicks in. In many sled dog kennels the youngsters will begin going out in harness in teams (and this is the crucial thing) from about 6 months to learn the ropes. Whilst that might be all well and good for a big kennel where larger teams of dogs are run together and the pull is distributed between the team, it is not the same as one dog pulling your weight on it’s own. It is also worth pointing out that many of these dogs are not expected to have long running careers and although many do, there is a big difference between a racing kennel dogs’ experience and your pet dog.
It has been proven that a dogs’ growth plates do not fully close until they are a lot older and in the case of some of the bigger dog breeds, 2 years is normal for full skeletal maturity and full maturity isn’t reached until the dog is about 3 years old. With this in mind, wouldn’t you rather wait a few months and ensure you will not be harming your dog? I’m not a fan of putting a specific date on when you should start doing proper harness training, as every dog is an individual and should be assessed on their own development, not against other breeds or even other individual dogs of the same breed.
For example you might get one GSP (German Shorthaired Pointer) who when fully grown can weigh in excess of 35 kgs and will have to have developed the bone and muscle structure to support that weight before doing any pulling in harness. Then another GSP who barely weighs in at 20 kgs and will be physically fully grown a lot quicker than the bigger, heavier dog. Even this doesn’t take into account the dogs’ own ‘head space’ and this is something I feel is equally as important as their physical development.
To explain this further, some dogs (like some people!) mature a lot slower mentally than others and need more time to process information to be able to follow commands confidently. If you’ve got a pup who is easily distracted or nervous in new surroundings, it is worth building the dogs confidence in both you, and new situations, before you expect them to work for you, particularly in a racing environment. Unfortunately there are some dogs who don’t get the time they need to learn about working in harness and when put in a race situation can become very nervous or even aggressive if they are not confident, so it is really, really, important you go at your dogs’ individual pace when considering increasing the training you’re doing with your dog.
My own pup at the time of writing is 7 months old and we’ve been doing a lot of training but it might not be the type of training you would necessarily expect when talking about training a dog for harness sports. We go to new places almost daily and don’t stick to the same walking routes, so that he encounters new things all the time. I use the voice commands consistently on all our walks and I am really keen to get a good ‘wait’ command instilled in his brain (because he’s already way bigger and stronger than I had anticipated!) so we stop regularly to reinforce this. In addition to this, I had started to allow him to free run while I incorporated a jog into some of our walks. Recently his prey drive has kicked in however, so this has limited how much free running he can do.
In terms of being in a harness, he has had a walking harness from day 1 and now he is starting to pull into the harness (as he sees the others doing) I have not discouraged this. I have tried some of the longer harnesses on him at home just to see what he thinks of having something longer down his back, as I believe he will need a longer harness eventually. At the moment he doesn’t like having something over his back, so we’ll need to do some more work on that to make sure he’s happy with straps and something pulling over the length of him.
We’ve also been to a few races and when I’ve had a chance I’ve had him out and about meeting as many dogs as we can, getting him used to being around lots of people, dogs, and of course the noise associated with the start of a race! I don’t think the importance of getting them used to this can be overstated, as the last thing you want is your dog to feel stressed when running in harness around other dogs and so if they are already comfortable and happy around lots of dogs, this can only be a good thing. I also make sure he’s not allowed to play with every dog we see, as this can be a problem too. You don’t want your dog to be pestering others when out running, so ensuring you can still get your dog to focus on you is very important.
Other than increasing the time and distances of our walks and incorporating the odd jog, we haven’t done much else different in terms of exercise, Yogi has been growing a fair bit and he’s going to be quite tall, so I want to limit how much he does to ensure he doesn’t suffer later on in life. Above all he’s just enjoying still being a puppy and I think it’s crucial to allow your dog the time to be a puppy as long as they need and not push them into something too soon which could put them off further down the line.
So for now, I’m happy he’s learning what he needs to and he’s loving his life as sidekick and van traveller. Training in harness will only increase when I’m certain he’s developed enough both physically and mentally and I’ll post another blog update when we start with the really fun stuff!
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.
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.
Many people are now going for the lightweight belts such as the Non-stop Running 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 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 and Non-stop have removable leg straps, the Neewa has no leg straps and the Howling Dog Alaska has integral leg straps. Of these belts the Zero DC and Neewa have pockets, the other two do 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 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 Running 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.
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.
If all this is still not helping you make a decision, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Many people who come into the dog sports begin with canicross because it is the easiest way to exercise your dog and also the simplest way to train your dog to pull in a harness. However, if you’ve ever attended a race which has the bikejor classes too, then you’ll have seen how much fun the competitors have at the faster speeds you can achieve with the wheels. It doesn’t appeal to everyone but once you’ve trained your dog to pull you, it can be very tempting to have a go at either bikejor or dog scootering to get that extra speed for a more exciting run.
If you are thinking of giving bikejor a go then there are a few things you should know which will help you get the best from your experience.
The first thing you need to make sure of is that you have trained strong voice commands. When canicrossing it is easy to correct your dogs’ direction and quickly grab your bungee line to prevent any mishaps. However when you are on a bike there is no option to do this, so your dog must respond to your voice signals for directions and control otherwise you could end up causing an accident if your dog isn’t listening to you.
You also need to make sure the equipment you are using is suitable, don’t be tempted to ‘botch’ it with home made bikejor arms and lines. There are plenty of clubs now who may have equipment they can loan you to have a go with your dog and there are a small number of businesses offering training for the dog sports now. If you choose to borrow club equipment remember they are not liable for anything you do and might not be able to offer the ‘training’ you require but using the correct equipment will at least give you an idea if you’d like to do more bikejoring, so you can get your own kit to use later on.
We would suggest that it is quite important that you train solo on the bike first before attaching your dog. You might already be a skilled mountain biker and in this case you will be giving your dog the best chance of doing well at bikejoring by being in control of the bike and yourself first. However if you’re getting on a bike for the first time in a number of years (which was the situation we were in) then it is worth hitting the trails without your dog to gain some bike skills that you can utilise when you do attach your dog. Without having a basic skill level on a mountain bike you could be putting yourself and your dog at risk of harm, so just get used to being on a bike again and then you can help your dog get the best possible start to bikejoring.
It can be very helpful to find someone knowledgable to help you get started, we mentioned above there are a few businesses offering training now and some clubs also offer training weekends and camps which can be a great way to introduce your dog to something new. We recommend that you never try bikejoring first on your own, always take someone along with you who knows you and your dog just in case something unforeseen happens. Bikejoring can be great fun but always make sure someone knows where you are as accidents can happen in the most unexpected circumstances!
It is also worth educating yourself on the rules regarding insurance and rights of way when bikejoring. Many Forestry Commission sites require permits to be obtained for anything where a dog is attached to a ‘wheeled vehicle’ and the public liability insurance required to obtain a permit is £5 million. This might seem excessive but in a blame culture it is worth checking what you are covered for with your dog, as hitting into a person or another dog with your bike could be costly. Riding on roads is not permitted at all with a dog attached and it’s not good for a dogs’ joints anyway to be moving at speed on hard surfaces. With canicross a few road sections won’t do any harm but long stretches on tarmac at the higher speeds you can achieve on a bike can damage your dogs’ pads and joints.
Your dog might have been canicrossing for years and covered many miles with you on foot but always start bikejoring with short sections, to allow your dog to get used to the increase in speed. Too many people seem to think that because they can run 10 miles canicrossing they can go straight out and ride 5 miles with their dog on the bike. Being able to run at full pelt attached to a bike is a very different experience for your dog, so make sure you are not challenging your dog to begin with and keep it fun for them, leaving them wanting to do more.
If you want to know more about making the transition from canicross to bikejor we have a few recommendations for businesses, clubs and individuals who could potentially help so get in touch if you’d like to know more but we hope you’ve found this blog helpful as a guide on how to make the experience the best it can be for both you and your dog. Happy trails!
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?
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.
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.
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!