It’s all about canicross belts (how to choose and wear them)

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.

Having the right canicross belt can make your runs much more comfortable for you and your dog

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.

The Zero DC belts, which come in a range of colours, also have large 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 Non-Stop Running Belt is very lightweight and designed to pull from low down with integrated leg straps to keep it in place – Photo courtesy of Houndscape

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.

The Howling Dog Alaska Canicross Belt is made in a more traditional style but should still be worn low down on the hips

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 Dragrattan Ergo Belt sits low down but is padded and has a sliding trigger clip for your your line

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.

The Neewa Canicross Belt which is lightweight, has a pocket for storage and a sliding ring to attach your line to

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.

We have some exceptionally small handmade belts in stock at K9 Trail Time for children

If all this is still not helping you make a decision, drop me a line at emilyt@k9trailtime.com 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.

Happy trails!

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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 – 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