We’ve recently taken on another rescue team member and it’s not been long but Delta (the new pup) is already proving to be a bit of a different challenge from the other dogs I’ve had. Delta is one of a litter of nine puppies brought over from an Irish rescue and is one of the lucky ones. I was told that often these unwanted farm litters just get drowned at birth because the farmers don’t want / can’t be bothered to neuter their dogs and so when the inevitable happens they just dispose of the consequences.
I think being one of nine, surrounded by her litter mates and then being brought over to the UK on a ferry on a trip that was over 24 hours, being split from her family and then joining our household with 3 established dogs already in place, was such a huge shock to her system she struggled a little bit to find her feet. Everything to her is scary until she is shown otherwise and other people, dogs, places could all be a potential threat to her, so she was understandably a bit overwhelmed.
How does this relate to our normal theme of ‘active dogs are happy dogs’ and our beloved dog sports I hear you ask…? Well my point in blogging about this is that my job, my aim and my sole focus for her right now is to make her feel safe. Unless she feels safe, she will be worried and may react accordingly when faced with new situations. Most dogs will either follow a fight or flight response to anything threatening, fight being anything from a growl, bark, to a full on attack and flight being a subtle movement away, putting distance between the dog and the perceived threat or a panicked exit which can result in a dog getting lost. None of these things are ideal and a dog in fight or flight mode is difficult to communicate with in terms of training.
Here is where I get to the point of my writing, if your dog can’t be easily communicated with, then you are going to experience problems if you are taking part in an activity where communication is essential (all activities you might want to take part in ‘with’ your dog). For example I want to walk Delta with other dogs but right now she can be so scared of the situation that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with her, so I decided on one of our first group walks I would carry her in a pack. This is not even remotely conventional and nothing I thought I would ever do but the result was that she was happy, she felt safe and it was a positive experience for her = my job done.
So relating this more specifically to dog sports, my older collie Judo was my ‘stooge’ dog for years, he loved running so much that I could loan him out to others to run with and he would enjoy the run with whoever looked after him on the trails. Unfortunately when bikejoring him one season there was a dog who seemed drawn to him and used to practice inappropriate trail behaviour whenever we met in a race situation. Three times this dog ended up with Judo’s head in his mouth, he never did any physical harm but the mental harm done was lasting.
Following the third episode, any time we biked, Judo would drop to the floor in front of the bike if he heard anyone behind him and displayed all the behaviours of a dog who just wanted to flee the situation, he no longer felt safe and I could no longer reassure him that he would be ok. I was pretty devastated about this and sought out ways to help ease his fears, training with dogs he knew and trying to build up confidence again but when we raced he obviously just didn’t want to be put in the situation. The result of this was ultimately that I gave up competitive bikejoring with him, I could no longer keep him ‘safe’ and so I didn’t want to put him through it. We could still canicross because I had much more control over the situation and could take him off the trail if someone came up behind us, he relaxed again and enjoyed his running once more, again = my job done.
Another example of this happened with my dog Yogi, who is one of the most confident dogs I know. However about 6 months into his canicross career he was accidentally ‘kicked’ out of the way by more competitive runners nudging past us during a race. This didn’t just happen once, it happened a few times and he began to drop back and even behind me if he heard someone coming up to overtake. I was so frustrated as again he just didn’t feel safe any more, I hadn’t been able to protect him before, so he didn’t trust that it wouldn’t happen again. Fortunately the work I’ve put in since has proved to him he can trust me and I often pull him right out of people’s way now so there is no chance of him being nudged again. Yogi is a pretty robust dog in terms of his confidence and now feels secure listening to me when I ask him to move over on the trail but it took a few months of training to get this back.
A dog who doesn’t feel safe will find it hard to respond to instruction, take direction and ultimately will not enjoy the activity you are participating in. Although I am not a qualified behaviourist, I have studied canine behaviour and in terms of a dogs needs being met, the ‘feeling safe’ aspect must be met before the need for physical activity for the dog to benefit from this. Very often we can help a dog to feel secure in situations and more relaxed through release of energy during activity but we must be mindful that we are not creating more stress and more anxiety in our dogs by asking them to participate in things which overload them and repeatedly create a fight or flight response.
In conclusion, whenever you are taking part in any activity with your dog, you need to make sure your dog is first and foremost comfortable with the situation and then you know you can communicate effectively and train your dog within that situation. We are firm believers at K9 Trail Time in positive reinforcement and have seen the effect that a negative experience can have on a dog in our sports. So remembering to keep your dog ‘safe’ in their interpretation of the environment they are in is an extremely important part of training and one which cannot be ignored to make your experiences fun at all times. After all that is what our time with our dogs is all about – having fun!
Continuing with our K9 Trail Time A-Z of canicross the ‘T’ for us is ‘time’. Many people feel they don’t have time for a new sport or think they might have to spend hours running with their dog every day to really feel the benefit but this isn’t the case. One of the reasons we got into the sport was because of the time it saved us in getting all of the team out, exercised and set up for the day when compared with how long it took if the dogs were just walked normally. We found that just 20 – 30 mins of canicrossing was more beneficial and tiring than up to an hour of regular walking and therefore we actually saved time every day, whilst keeping everyones’ mental and physical needs met. Although it can be fun to build up to longer runs and spending more time outside, on a day to day basis this relatively small amount of time sacrificed was enough to leave us all feeling happy. Time is also important in how you decide to spend it with your dogs, we feel there’s nothing better than enjoying nature being out running the trails with your best friends and for these reasons we have chosen time as our ‘T’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross.
K9 Trail Time Team member Heather Jenner has recently come back from the Trophee des Montagnes race series in France and she has written a set of top tips for those thinking of making the trip for next year.
We thought we’d share her top tips as they are useful when considering any challenging race or race series and here in the UK we have our very own new set of canicross specific races that will challenge even the seasoned canicrosser in the Red Kite Event series.
More information can be found about them here: https://www.redkitetrailevents.co.uk/
My Five Top Tips for Trophee des Montagnes:
This is also very important for your trainer choice and keeping up with your dogs paw care. I train mainly on the South Downs where we are spoilt with sheep grazed wide grassy tracks. Unable to finance any Wales trips this year, I headed into our neighbouring counties and asked canicrossers to lead me around some new routes which included hard stoney terrain.
Here at K9 Trail Time we are constantly researching and learning more about dog anatomy and physiology to help us understand the impact working a dog in harness will have on the natural movement of the dog. Part of this study has involved reading the latest research into dog movement undertaken by Dr Martin Fischer in the Jena study and his most recent work which has yet to be published. The findings have been summarised nicely here:
You might be thinking ‘what has this got to do with me and my dog?’ but we believe that to understand the dogs’ natural motion helps us to understand why a harness may or may not work for your dog based on it’s skeletal structure and how it was designed to move.
The first thing to say is that dogs are designed to move most efficiently in a ‘trotting’ gait and so if your dog is a trotter when they are pulling, they are using their energy efficiently and moving minimally. If your dog is ‘bounding’ when pulling in harness, either in a canter or a gallop (more likely at higher speeds when attached to a bike or scooter but if you run fast enough then canicross too) then your dog is exerting more effort than the efficient trot pace and it is even more important you have the correct fitting harness to ensure they have the freedom of movement necessary so as not to restrict them in any way.
The single biggest problem we see is harnesses which are too big on the dog and so are inadvertently restricting shoulder movement because the neck of the harness is encroaching on the shoulder when the dog moves. It is so important the neck on your sport harness is nice and snug to avoid this restriction but also to avoid your harness slipping up into the armpit of your dog when they might pull to one side and this again then restricts shoulder movement.
Below are 4 pictures of one of the K9 Trail Time dogs, Yogi, in 4 different sizes of the Non-stop Freemotion harness and in all honestly to the untrained eye it might be hard to tell which fits and which doesn’t. From top to bottom Yogi is wearing the size 4 Yellow flash (too small) size 5 Red flash (perfect fit) size 6 Blue flash (too big) and size 7 White flash (far too big).
Now looking at these picture you might think the size 6 is the one which fits Yogi best and we’d agree that based purely on the photos, it does perhaps look like it is sitting in the best place but if you look closely the top of the shoulder is slightly restricted and when slotting your hand in the neck (you can’t tell that from the photo) there is a huge amount of room for the harness to slide around on his neck. The size 4 is obviously too small being too close behind his front legs and the angle is wrong on his ribs. The size 7 is obviously too big, coming too far back on his body and when he pulls into it, the straps on his ribs will come behind the last ribs and pull up into his soft stomach region – not good!
At this point it is also worth saying you cannot always tell correct harness fit from a photo. Yogi is an easier candidate to judge from a photo because he lacks thick fur but even then you can only tell the neck on the size 6 Freemotion was too loose by feeling the gap when it is pulled tight. We see a lot of people asking for advice on social media and lots of people who comment haven’t got the first idea what they are even looking for, let alone have the experience to make a critical evaluation of harness fit based on a couple of photos!
Our advice would be if you’re unsure about your dogs’ harness fit get along to see someone who is experienced with correct harness fit in person and let them have a feel of the harness on your dog and observe how they move in it, this is by far the best way to get proper advice on harness fit. By asking people on social media you risk getting bad advice and ending up with something which could potentially cause your dog damage in the long term.
Another thing to look out for is that your harness is not too long. This doesn’t happen so often with the shorter harnesses although you do have to ensure the harness is not coming back behind the last ribs and pulling up into the stomach area. Again I have used pictures of Yogi below to demonstrate this (because he lacks the thick fur of my others!).
In the first photo the Zero DC Short is too big and is sitting right on the end of his rib cage. When Yogi pulls forward properly in this harness it will come further back still from where it is sitting in the photo and pull up behind his ribs into his stomach. In the second photo the Zero DC Short is much more snugly fitting on his neck and sits better against his ribs, you can still see he has room behind his front legs for movement but because of his (relatively) deep chest compared to his length the harness is sitting further forward on him than it would ideally.
The below photo of Judo shows the Zero DC Short harness as an ideal fit on him and as you can see it sits much further back from the front legs than on Yogi, this is because Judo hasn’t got the deep chest that Yogi has but this harness is still fitting him correctly and not restricting his shoulder by being too big or by coming too far along the ribs and likely to pull into the stomach.
It is most important with the longer harnesses that they are not too long as this can really have an impact on the way your dog moves. With a harness such as an X-Back or even the Zero DC Long you need to be very careful that when the harness is pulled into that it doesn’t extend back beyond the base of the tail. This may mean that when the harness is not being pulled into it looks as if it may be too short. I think this is demonstrated perfectly in the photo below.
Donnie is wearing the Zero DC Cross harness and it’s the correct size for him, however when it’s not being pulled it seems to sit quite far up his back. You can’t really see (the problem with a hairy dog) but it’s sitting perfectly on his neck and has enough clearance behind his front legs so that it will not be restricting front shoulder movement in any way.
You can see from the photo of the harness being pulled that it’s now sitting further back on his body and along the ribs in the correct way. The black webbing straps (not the cord) come to the base of his tail when the harness is pulled and will come back even a fraction more if he were to pull strongly into it, so it is in the correct place for a well fitted x-back harness.
Below is a photo of Donnie in an x-back harness which he used to wear (when he was heavier) and you can see what a harness looks like if it is too long. The length of the side straps mean it’s coming right back onto his hips when it is pulled and this will be even worse when he pulls forward into the harness. The neck on this harness is actually still ok and not causing any restriction to his shoulder but that extra length means the harness will be putting pressure on his hips if he bounds forwards and really pulls into this harness which is not great for his natural movement and could cause him to get sore spots in this area with repeated use.
So hopefully this blog and these photos give you a bit more of an insight into how your dogs’ harness should fit on your dog. We offer a free harness consultation service for our customers and you can either come and see us in person at one of our trade stands or pop up shops listed here:
or we do offer an online service for those who can’t make an event. If you are interested then e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org after answering the questions here:
If you can get to an event then that is always the best way to get a harness fitted for your dog, however we have successfully fitted thousands of happy, active, dogs with harnesses based on information taken online. So why not get in touch and see what might work best for your dog for the sport you take part in.
Triathlon for dogs isn’t something that had been done before Tri Dog set up in the UK in 2016, probably because we have a climate which makes it very difficult to get the timing right for all three disciplines to be participated in at the same event. Traditionally the running and cycling elements of a triathlon are winter sports when dogs are involved, so that the dogs are running in cooler temperatures and are not likely to overheat. Of course this doesn’t relate so well to the open water swimming element and it is something we have considered at great length and have chosen our dates according to balancing these factors.
The group of people behind Tri Dog events in the UK have all had a wealth of competitive experience with running and cycling dogs but the swimming is something we have only been doing to maintain fitness in the summer. We have taken inspiration from a competition which has been running in Europe for 8 consecutive years now called ‘Iron Dog’ and using their model we have begun to offer a programme of training and events to develop triathlon for dogs in the UK, mainly based around the Midlands area.
The main elements of a Tri Dog event are:
Running with dogs is now more commonly known as canicross and is defined as cross country running with your dog attached to you. To take part in canicross races, your dog must have a correctly fitting harness and be attached via a bungee lead to a waistbelt worn by the person. Canicross is a fast growing sport in the UK and there have been specific races for people to take part in with their dogs for over 10 years now.
Biking with dogs is known as bikejoring and although originates from the sled dog sports where people used bikes to keep their dogs fit in the spring and autumn when there was no snow for sledding, is now a sport in it’s own right. Riders usually have a mountain bike with an attachment which helps to keep the bungee line from falling in the wheel if the dog stops suddenly and the dog is in harness, attached to the bike via a bungee lead around the headstock of the bike. Bikejor is much faster than canicross and the top dog and rider combinations are reaching speeds of in excess of 30 mph on some of the trails.
Swimming with dogs hasn’t got a specific name and isn’t yet a recognised sport. For the Tri Dog events being brought to the UK we are requesting that your dog is attached to you via a lead of some description for safety. The idea is to try and get your dog to either swim alongside you in the open water or if you’ve got a really strong swimmer, they can even pull you if they are wearing a comfortable harness.
The Tri Dog series of training and events got underway in October 2016 with the first training weekend which sold out before the event. We welcomed a group of owners and their dogs along to Croft Farm, near Tewkesbury to come and participate in all three disciplines and also practice some vital race skills.
The bikejor group concentrated on bike skills for the people and then once some basic skills were established and practiced, the dogs were brought into the training sessions. Depending on previous experience, some people were tackling a specially designed skills trail and some were getting confidence with their dog being attached to the bike and running out in front.
The canicross group focused on the skills necessary for racing in a triathlon, this is very important when it comes to racing with dogs as you are responsible for your dogs’ behaviour as well as your own! Canicrossers were passing each other side by side and then progressing to head on passes encouraging the dogs to ignore each other and stay calm. Race starts were also practiced and the transitions were explained and then completed by all those taking part. We are using stake out lines to attach the dogs to whilst the owner changes the equipment for each phase, this enables the dog to see the owner at all times but not interfere with any other dog or person, keeping everyone involved separate and safe.
The swimming group worked on getting the dogs confidently into the water and for some this was the first time they had experienced open water swimming with their dogs, so making the process as calm and enjoyable as possible was vital to ensure the dogs (and their owners) would be happy to do this again. For the swimming element of the triathlon, the welfare of the dogs is paramount and we do not encourage owners to force their dogs to swim, with this in mind there is a wade option for those whose dogs are struggling with the swim.
The training weekend was a resounding success and we have already had calls for more training sessions which we are hoping to provide in 2019. We have our next Triathlon event in less than two week now with the biggest entry we’ve seen since we began the events, so it looks like it will be a good one!
If you would like to know more about Tri Dog and for the event and training information please visit the Facebook page Tri Dog and our website http://www.tri-dog.com, we’d love to get more people participating and enjoying this very new combination of dog sports with their beloved pets.
There is so much information out there about how we should or shouldn’t look after our dogs in the hotter weather. Is it safe to run our dogs? Should we run our dogs? How should we exercise them? There are so many different questions and if you ask on any canicross page you will get a range of answers. As we at K9 Trail Time are trying to get the best information out there we went straight to Dr Anne Carter and Emily Hall MRCVS from Nottingham Trent University who have, over the past few years been looking at how dogs respond to heat, especially when running in harness. There is very little published research about dogs exercising in hotter or more humid conditions and so the work that Anne and Emily have been doing is invaluable to our dogs.
The first question everyone wants to know is how do we know if it is too hot? Does the temperature x humidity = 1000 actually mean anything?
As part of our research we calculated the “temperature x humidity” for 210 dogs at 10 canicross races, to see if the “do not run your dog if temperature (oC) x humidity (%) is greater than 1000” guideline was an accurate predictor of “safe” dog temperature. We found no correlation between the temperature x humidity value and dog temperature, or the number of dogs developing hyperthermia, or the number of dogs developing a temperature at risk of heatstroke, so would not recommend using this as a hard and fast rule.
If there is no set way to determine if it is too hot, how do we plan training our dogs over the summer so that they are fit enough for the racing season in September?
Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Black and male dogs are at higher risk, as well as those that are overweight, unfit, dehydrated or have a breathing disorder (including brachycephalic dogs). The important thing is to know your dog, some dogs cope better with the heat than others. Heatstroke is still possible in winter. Dogs can acclimatize but this can take around 6 weeks, something the British weather doesn’t often lend itself to. So if the temperature suddenly increases, the risk may be higher than after a steady increase. Try to exercise in the cooler parts of the day and use alternative keep fit options like swimming. Above all, get to know your dog! Crucially, does your dog stop or slow down when they get too hot (if so you’re lucky), or, will they run until they collapse. If your dog is the latter, you need to be extra careful.
What is humidity and why does everyone make a big deal about it? How does it affect the dogs?
As with people, high humidity can make a temperature feel a lot warmer and a run feel a lot harder. It is used to calculate the ‘feels like’ temperature. In high humidity, it is harder for dogs to dissipate heat, making them more at risk of heatstroke. Both humans and dogs rely on some heat being lost through evaporation, in humans we have sweat to evaporate, dogs use panting. At any temperature, a high humidity will limit evaporation, limiting heat loss.
When running our dogs in harness over the warmer months are there things we can look out for to make sure that our dogs aren’t over heating?
Early signs your dog is getting hot include increased salivating, excessive panting that doesn’t stop after rest, and a large and darker tongue. This can progress on to staggering and loss of balance, eventually causing collapse. One early sign could be that your dog stops pulling, or starts to stumble and trip more frequently. Reducing speed can help and letting them take a dip to cool down throughout the run.
What if my dog doesn’t really pull in harness, they just trot, and does that make a difference?
The less effort the dog puts in to a run, the lower the temperature of the dog-on average. There is still a risk of heatstroke, particularly in very hot weather, but we did find slower speeds didn’t increase body temperature as much as fast speeds.
Can I run my dog in their cooling coat? It helps them keep cool at home…
The problem with cooling coats is they can affect the dog’s natural cooling mechanism. The only study to look at cooling coats put them on greyhounds after a sprint race. Those in cooling coats had a higher body temperature than those without. There is no current evidence investigating the use of cooling coats during exercise, so we can’t comment on this, but if it’s hot enough that you think you might need a cooling coat, then perhaps a walk in the shade or a dip in the river might be a better option.
If that isn’t a good idea then how do I cool my dog down after a run? What if my dog doesn’t like getting in water?
After a run, active cooling is a good idea. Standing in or lying down in water, splashing luke warm water under their belly. Avoid using cold or iced water or submerging them in it as this can restrict blood vessels in the body and increase the risk of shock. If they don’t like water, they can be walked round or rested in the shade to cool them off, air movement is also very effective so pick a windy spot, or use the car air conditioning or a fan if you’re worried.
Sometimes our dogs put on weight over the summer as they do less, does this affect how they cope in warmer temperatures?
Increased weight can increase a dog’s ability to cope with the heat. It your dog is a little less svelte than usual, you will need to be more cautious when exercising in warmer weather. Reducing food intake relative to exercise can help keep the pounds off through the summer
Our dogs do agility and other sports over the summer and always seem fine; should we be watching for anything whilst competing in other sports or is it just harness sports?
Heatstroke is a risk for all dogs at any time but particularly when exercising in warm weather. Although sports such as agility are for much shorter periods of time, ambient temperatures are often higher so the risk of heatstroke is just as real.
If you are worried that your dog is suffering from heatstroke, active cooling is key. The car air con can be very useful, but the best chance of survival is to get them to the vets as quickly as possible.
So it sounds like there are still quite a few unanswered questions regarding heatstroke in exercising dogs, do you have any plans for more research?
We have just finished surveying owners of sports dogs about methods of cooling used, so expect to hear the results of that study in the hopefully not too distant future! We are also currently researching cooling after canicross races, measuring the dog’s temperature for up to 20 minutes after a race to see what impacts how quickly they cool, this study is still on going so you’ll have to wait a little longer for the results of that one.
Our next big research project is looking at activity levels in all types of dogs, any age, any breed and any health status, looking at how much exercise dogs are getting in general, but also how extreme weather impacts their ability to exercise.
The results of all our studies can be found on our blog: https://hotdogscanineheatstroke.wordpress.com/