The Puppy Diary – Training for the future (9 – 12 months)

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.

At 9 months old, it’s still important to keep things low key in training as your dog will still be growing and learning about life

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.

Yogi tried on longer harnesses at around 10 months but we didn’t settle on one until just after he was 11 months old.

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.

Yogi out on a training run in his longer harness, the Non-stop Freemotion.

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.

Yogi has been learning that he has a ‘job’ to do in harness and to focus on running, not other dogs when we’re out training

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.

Yogi did very well on a recent night run but the focus required also tired him out!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – E is for Environment

The environment we are running our dogs in for canicross is very important, from the surfaces you are running on, to the weather you are running in, you need to be aware of all aspects of this when canicrossing. I always advise people it is better to choose trails which are all off road and if this is not possible then try to limit running on tarmac, as it can be damaging for joints in both you and your dog. I also try and pick routes with natural water sources on them, so that if it is warmer than I expected, then I have somewhere to safely water and cool off the dogs on our route. I’m not going to go into too much detail about temperature, as I could write pages on that itself, but be sensible about how warm it is when you run your dog, paying particular attention to the humidity, which can be very harmful for dogs. Included in environment is making sure you are being respectful of the surroundings you are canicrossing in too. Try not to spook other trail users, dogs and horses not used to seeing dogs attached to people can be quite nervous, and not everyone likes dogs so be mindful of not allowing your dog to invade someone else’s space while out and about. Any livestock you might encounter might also be scared by your dog running at them, even if they can’t chase them, so keep your dog under close control in fields. Finally, make sure you clear up after your dog and follow the countryside code, shutting gates behind you and ensuring you leave areas as you found them for others to enjoy. With so many things to consider about your environment when canicrossing, it was the obvious choice for the letter ‘E’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of canicross.

Be aware of everything in the environment you are canicrossing your dog in, from the surfaces and weather to the livestock and people you might meet

Be aware of everything in the environment you are canicrossing your dog in, from the surfaces and weather, to the livestock and people you might meet

Canicrossing the Cotswold Way – Day 1

Day 1 of our adventure started in Bath by the Abbey where there is a special circle with an acorn on it to mark the beginning of the long distance route. The route then takes you (very clearly if you follow the acorns) through some of the streets and parks in Bath until you start winding your way up and out of Bath city towards Lansdown.

The start of the Cotswold Way in front of Bath Abbey

The start of the Cotswold Way in front of Bath Abbey

I had chosen Judo to accompany me on this first leg of the route which totalled 10 miles, or would have if I had not dropped my phone taking pictures at the top of a hill and added an extra 3/4 of a mile! The weather although lovely and sunny was a jump up in temperature to recent days and so I found the heat, even at 9am, quite hard work with all the hill work.

We passed by the site of the battle of Lansdown with lots of brightly designed, metal flags and a couple of monuments but we didn’t really stop to read the information boards, as the dogs might have been bored!

The route once we were out of Bath took us along some lovely grassy trails

The route once we were out of Bath took us along some lovely grassy trails

The hills were relentless, we just seemed to go up and up and up and then up some more, with just a few downhill sections for a bit of relief. We stopped regularly to give the dogs water if they needed it but to be honest they are all fitter than we are and weren’t bothered by the higher temperatures, although because of the inclines we were walking large sections of the route anyway to save our legs.

The views from the top of the escarpment above Bath were amazing

The views from the top of the escarpment above Bath were amazing

After the first 10 miles we made our way up another hill into Cold Aston for a dog swap and a re-fuel for us.

There was yet another hill up into Cold Aston

There was yet another hill up into Cold Aston – Photo courtesy of Colin Roberts Photography

A quick pit stop and we were on our way again with different dogs, this time the girls, so I had Tegan with me. We had a couple of major road crossings to deal with in this short section but there was little traffic due to it being mid morning on a Thursday, so this was not an issue.

In the middle of our 5 mile route we came across a herd of very inquisitive and quite frankly scary, cows! They managed to distract us enough to mean we missed a route marker and found ourselves crawling under and over a gate to get out of the way of the herd who were following us.

The herd of cows we found who sent us very briefly off course

The herd of cows we found who sent us very briefly off course

The last couple of miles were again mainly uphill and through fields to a lay-by near Tormarton where we ended our first day of canicrossing the Cotswold Way.

Thanks once again to all our sponsors Arctic Wolf, Meat Love, Big Bobble Hats, K9 Trail Time and Pupmalup, we had a great first day and spent the rest of the day at home resting up for Day 2.