K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – S is for Sport

We’re still working our way through the A-Z of Canicross and so now we’re at ‘S’ we can’t ignore the fact that canicross is a recognised sport, with it’s own races and even different championship series taking place all over the UK, Europe and the world. Canicross was also recently added to the Kennel Club listed activities, although we would suggest going to one of the more experienced clubs and organisations who have actually been involved in the sport for over 10 years if you’re looking for up to date information and advice. One such organisation is CaniX http://www.canix.co.uk who set up the first race series specifically for canicross in the UK and are still holding events all over the country today. Another of the largest clubs who organise races and who offer training, advice, and kit to try, is the Canicross Midlands group http://www.canicrossmidlands.co.uk/. Although canicross is now known as a sport, CaniX and Canicross Midlands have always encouraged people to run with their own pets and to just enjoy the bond you can create with your dog through running together. As the sport has developed many people are beginning to take the racing side of canicross more seriously and have invested in purpose bred dogs (mainly originating in Europe) to compete in higher level races such as those organised by the BSSF (British Sleddog Sport Federation) and the IFSS (International Federation for Sleddog Sports). However, whilst these dogs are beautiful athletes, there is no need for you to change from your pet dog to enjoy canicrossing with your four legged friend and we would suggest that the most fun you can have is in seeing your dog simply enjoying activity with you, keeping you both fit and healthy. Our slogan is after all, active dogs are happy dogs, and so for ‘S’ in our A-Z of Canicross we have chosen to highlight the fact that canicross is a sport that anyone with a dog can enjoy!

Although canicross is a sport with it’s own races, it is also something that can be enjoyed by anyone with their pet dog – Photo courtesy of Dylan Trollope

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 – R is for Rest

Now you could be forgiven for thinking that the ‘R’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross would be for ‘run’ and although running is an important part of canicross, for this blog I wanted to focus on ‘rest’. Resting both yourself and your dog regularly is vital to allow your muscles to recover from activity and although you might have a dog with seemingly boundless energy, constantly running your dog in harness will cause fatigue in the same way daily exercise has a tiring effect on your own body. Without rest both of you are more prone to injury and illness and also your canicross runs could become monotonous for your dog, unless you are constantly changing the routes you take. Your dog might always be keen to go out with you, but you need to be the one to enforce a ‘down day’ from time to time and enjoy some other less physical activity to keep him or her occupied. The other thing to be gained from regular rest days is that your dog will learn to be calm without being run every day and that can be invaluable if for any reason you have to have a short break from training. So although canicross is all about running with your four legged friend, we think it’s well worth factoring in a few rest days in your programme and for that reason we have chosen rest as our ‘R’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross.

Resting is often as important as running for your dog

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – Q is for Quick (you don’t have to be)

One of the most common things that people say to me about why they haven’t gone to a canicross race is that they don’t feel they are quick enough to enter, so I wanted to make the ‘Q’ in our A-Z of Canicross represent the word quick and explain why you don’t have to be! Canicross is growing so quickly in the UK because it provides an outlet for many dogs and their owners to engage in an outdoor activity which is good for both. Canicross racing for most people is just a way to challenge themselves to get better and give themselves a goal to aim for. I have been competing now for eight years and have never been quick but I have enjoyed running at many different venues and met so many like minded people by attending the events. If you are very competitive and want to improve, racing is a great way to improve your times but being a fast runner is not a pre-requisite for entering and I would always encourage anyone to have a go regardless of your speed. Of course you don’t have to race at all, there are now so many fantastic canicross groups who arrange regular fun runs that you can enjoy the social aspect of canicross with your dog without ever making it to a race. The canicross groups will always cater for every level too and even the slowest of runners will not get left behind.  It is for that reason I’ve chosen the word ‘quick’ for my Q in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross, as in, you don’t have be quick to enjoy this fantastic sport with your dog.

I think we enjoy our canicross racing more because we’re not quick, it’s gives us time to enjoy the scenery! – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

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 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!

 

Canicross – An Introduction

The sport of canicross is rapidly growing in the UK as more people discover it and the benefits it can bring for both human and canine alike.

Canicross in it’s simplest form is running cross country (on trails and paths, rather than roads) with your dog and many people have been doing this with their dogs without even realising there is a name for it, or that it is a sport which has it’s own competitions.

Canicross is a growing sport with lots of people now realising the benefits

Canicross is a growing sport with lots of people now realising the benefits

Why canicross? I’ve divided this into the 3 sections I feel are most important

Behaviour – Many rescued and high energy dogs have benefitted from participating in outdoor pursuits with their owners such as running (canicross) biking (bikejor) and scootering in addition to the more established outdoor dog activities. The effect of activity is to allow your dog an outlet for energy which might otherwise be used for destructive and unwanted behaviours around the home & garden. Canicross is a great way to exercise a dog who can’t otherwise be let off lead due to (among other things) a high hunting instinct, which is why you will see many different breeds participating from terriers to malamutes.

Health – Recent studies estimate that as many as one third of dogs nationwide are overweight and this figure is set to rise to over half of all dogs by 2022. Obesity is linked with diabetes, orthopaedic disease, heart disease, respiratory distress, high blood pressure, skin diseases & cancer (much the same as in people) so you might even be prolonging your own life as well as your dogs’ with consistent exercise!

Fun – Taking part in dog sports usually means you and your dog get to socialise with likeminded people but even if it’s just you and your dog, you will be strengthening your bond with your dog which is very rewarding and great fun too.

The social side of canicross is reason alone for many people to try the sport

The social side of canicross is reason alone for many people to try the sport

What do I need to canicross? The basic kit for canicrossing properly is a comfortable, well fitting harness for your dog, a bungee line to absorb the shock from any pull for both you and your dog and a waist belt so you are hands free when running. These 3 main elements form the basis for a pleasant experience when running with your dog. Without the harness you risk pulling on your dog’s neck, without the bungee you can find yourself jerked after something interesting on your route and without the waist belt your may find your neck, shoulders and back ache from holding a lead.

What harness? There is now a huge variety of choice for all sizes and shapes of dogs, with new products being brought out regularly. Which harness is best suited for your dog depends on a number of factors but at K9 Trail Time we offer a free consultation to help get you started in the right direction, or to help you choose I have written another article here: http://www.k9trailtime.com/information/team-thomas-harnesses

A good fitting harness should be top of the list for canicross equipment

A good fitting harness should be top of the list for canicross equipment

What line? As long as there is bungee for shock absorption then most lines will be fine. Some are made from webbing and some from stronger polypro braid but which you choose is personal preference. The standard canicross lines are approximately 2 metres when stretched but many people run with shorter or longer lines based on their own requirements. Some races have rules on line length, so do ask if you’re thinking of competing in canicross competitions and we can inform you of the rules.

Zero DC Lines

Zero DC Lines

What waistbelt? The style of waist belt which you choose is down to what you would like from it and what you find most comfortable. I’ve written about choosing a belt here: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/belt-braces-how-to-choose-a-canicross-belt/ but the basic things you need to ask yourself are: Do I want something padded or lightweight? Do I want leg straps? Do I want pockets? Once you know the answer to these then it makes choosing a belt much easier. The purpose of the belt is for your comfort and to ensure canicrossing with your dog does not damage your back, shoulders, neck or arms.

A good canicross belt and bungee will make your experience much more comfortable

A good canicross belt and bungee will make your experience much more comfortable

How do I get started? The best way to get started is to find a group of people locally who are already canicrossing, as there are many social groups now encouraging new people to join them. A group will most likely have spare kit they could loan you to kit to try out and will be able to offer advice about training your dog with voice commands for directions etc.

Finding a local group to join is probably the best way to get started - Photo courtesy of Karen Burd

Finding a local group to join is probably the best way to get started – Photo courtesy of Karen Burd

Lastly, but most importantly, your dog needs to be fit and fully developed before you begin canicrossing. Most races will not allow a dog under 1 year old to compete and it is recommended you start your dog off very gently at around the year old stage and not before. You also have to ensure you will be putting your dog’s health first and to avoid any problems, stick to running in cool temperatures (never in the heat of the day in summer) and carrying water with you in case your dog needs it.

If you would like any more information on canicross or the equipment you need to begin please do contact me at K9 Trail Time and I will be happy to help you. There is also a lot of information on my website http://www.k9trailtime.com and on my wordpress blog:

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com