K9 Trail Time Interview with an expert – Claire Martin, Dog Behaviourist

Here at K9 Trail Time we believe in so much more than just going out for a run or being active with your dog. We like to look at the whole picture when it comes to our dogs and what we do. We retail active dog products but think our customers would like a broader picture of active dog health and well-being, so we’ve come up with our ‘Interview with an expert’ series where we will be asking different experts, that we feel are relevant to having an active and happy dog, questions which will give you an insight into how they help active dogs to keep fit both mentally and physically.

Our first expert is Claire Martin who is (amongst other things) a qualified dog behaviourist.

Claire is our expert because she knows how the ‘active dog’ mind works

Tell our followers a little bit about what you do, how you got into it, how long you have been doing it and your experience / or qualifications?

I have been training dogs ever since I adopted my first “own” dog – a rescue greyhound called Poppy. As a teacher, at that time, I was well versed in educational methods and good dog training is positive and kind as good education should be.

I got into studying behaviour and training dogs when I took on a foster dog that had significant behavioural problems, I needed to understand why she was afraid and how that had happened to her and so I took the brave move and made a career change that I had always wanted to and studied with COAPE to become a CAPBT Behaviourist and Trainer. I also became a full member of the IMDT and a FFTT (force free trick trainer). I now realise how the past experiences that the foster dog had been through had affected her and that it had literally changed the way her brain worked. Sadly there is a lot of poor information about how dogs should be trained, much promulgated by unscientific celebrity dog trainers that have access to peoples homes through the media.

Claire believes in force free training, as do we at K9 Trail Time

Over the last 5 years that I have been working as a behaviourist and trainer, things have already started to change and positive, reward based methods are pushing the out of date and inaccurate pack theory and dominance methods of the past. I started canicrossing 10 years ago and scooter racing 4 years ago. I, with a group of friends, set up Canicross Midlands and our team now run a 14 race series as well as other stand alone races and events and we have 5 regional groups that bring in and support new people entering into the sport. I also run my own Chrysalis Canicross Series which is a very unique “league” format.

 

What does a day in the life of you consist of?

Each day varies significantly, one thing is constant though – I always spend time training and enjoying the company of my dogs. They travel with me almost everywhere I go. Some days I might have 6 agility classes, other days trick training classes, life skills classes and then there are the 1-2-1 behavioural consultations to help people with dogs who struggle to cope with some aspect of life. Often I work late into the evenings, often teaching classes at 9pm! The advantage is that I have mornings free and that’s when I do admin and train my dogs. Weekends are either taken up with my own competing – winter for canicross and scooter, summer for agility but I also run weekend workshops at my training venue too. Its certainly not a 9-5 job! My van is my mobile office, mobile home and a mobile kennel! My dogs sleep in bed with me and often share my meals – truly my family in every way. Some of my dogs are the right temperament to stooge for fearful dogs and that skill is very special indeed. Currently I have 8 dogs who share my life.

Claire works on building a bond with dog and owner, through understanding of behaviour

Share with us your proudest moment so far

I have a client with a very scared dog. He’s a powerful breed and he is afraid of people. He is a rescue dog and he could be very dangerous if he wasn’t so well cared for and supported. The day I became one of his safe people was a very powerful one – it took time, love and trust for him to learn I wasn’t a threat and now he will greet me with his paws on my shoulders and a happy wag. He’s well on the way through his journey to lifetime happiness – he is a lucky lad – few owners would be so dedicated to him and his owner cries with me often, happy tears – as he makes progress. Saving dogs that have had tough starts is incredibly rewarding because often by the time I get to meet them they are already a family member and dearly loved – even if they are hard to like at times.

What are your top 3 tips connected with what you do for our followers and their active dogs?

1 – Remember that your sport dog has absolutely no idea if they have won or lost, come first or last, its our job to make them believe that they have won – they don’t value ribbons, bits of tin and glass, they know how you feel about them – they understand love and pride in their achievement – so make sure your dog always feels like they are a winner.

Although it can be fun to win things, your dog has no idea what ‘winning’ means, they should win every time

2 – Never punish a dog for your failings, indeed – never punish a dog. They didn’t do that thing that infuriated you because they were mad at you, they don’t know that you had a bad day at work, they just know how you feel and they think that if you are angry that you are angry at them. We have them each in our lives for maybe a decade, sometimes more – make every day with us happy and special. Let their happiness to greet us at the end of a tiring day put to rest any other frustrations and who cares if a cushion exploded!

3 – Play with your dog – play tug, teach them tricks, teach them games other than the sport you want to compete in. If you want to canicross seriously then take them to scent work classes for fun. Teach them formal obedience and who cares if your breed doesn’t “do” obedience – if you want to and its fun for you both then who cares? If you have multiple dogs spend at least 1 hour a week with each dog on their own doing something special that the two of you enjoy.

Claire with one of her own dogs (she has 8!)

What are your plans for the future?

Chrysalis K9 is growing fast. I’m not alone now with Vay Coltrose working alongside me. We want an indoor training venue for classes over the winter and we want to spread the word of positive training in harness sports far and wide – which we are already doing through our Canicross Midlands Summer Camp. For me personally, I am hoping to get my own dog Axis confident in competition on the scooter as he is certainly physically capable and I hope that Sirius and I will achieve our goals in agility. I’ll keep on rescuing dogs though currently single figures of dogs is my limit!

 

Claire can be contacted through her business Chrysalis K9

How can our followers get in touch with you?

PM messages via facebook on my work page are probably the easiest way to contact me https://www.facebook.com/ChrysalisK9/ . I try to keep work stuff on my work page and my personal page for personal stuff – but of course there is overlap. I have email as well – Claire@chrysalis-k9.co.uk

Thanks so much to Claire for answering our questions, we hope you’ve found her answers of interest – Happy trails!

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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

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

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – K is for K9 Trail Time

At K9 Trail Time we are dedicated to helping get you and your dog canicrossing, bikejoring or dog scootering in the safest and easiest way possible. Our background in the dog sport retail industry comes from years of practising and enjoying canicross, bikejor and scootering ourselves, not just training but racing too and we’ve also enjoyed a bit of dryland mushing at times. K9 Trail Time was started after I couldn’t find anywhere online that stocked all the equipment I wanted to use for my own dogs and although there were other retailers out there, no-one had the full range I wanted to see. So I decided to set up for myself nearly 5 years ago now and the range we stock is probably the biggest you will find of any dog sport equipment retailer. I test EVERY item we sell personally, so I can help to explain how everything works and to be able to tell our customers what might suit them and their dogs most. I wanted to be able to offer everyone coming into the sport the best possible options, tailored for them and their dogs, and to do this I needed to stock all the top brands and have used them. Over the years I have added brands and they have added more products to cater for every type of dog imaginable to be able to participate comfortably and also to cater for the different circumstances you might be running in. For example the Parkrun length lines were added after manufacturers realised the popularity of running with your dog in the weekly Parkrun events. Check out the website, which is always being updated with new products for you and your active dog, at http://www.k9trailtime.com. I know it’s unashamed advertising but I just couldn’t do an A-Z of canicross without including K9 Trail Time somewhere, so for that reason, we are the ‘K’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of canicross!

K9 Trail Time, the business behind the blog

K9 Trail Time, the business behind the blog

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – I is for Instinct

When you are doing anything with dogs, it pays to use your own intuition and instinct even if you are new to something. I often find that people have had a certain piece of equipment suggested to them or have been told to do something in a way which doesn’t make sense to them, but because they are a ‘novice’ they have gone along with what the more experienced person has said. I would always encourage someone to do or use what feels right for their situation or dog and that is why I’m not a huge fan of just telling people what I think they should buy in terms of canicross kit. I will always try and give people as many options as possible and allow them to make a choice for themselves based on their personal knowledge of their dog and their own comfort. People tend not to value their intuition as much as they should and dismiss their own feelings based on what the majority may be doing. I even wrote a blog about it a few years ago:

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/the-expert-in-you/

It is also worth remembering that your dog will have their own instincts and this should also guide you in everything you do within the dog sports. If you rely on each other to work out what training, routines, equipment and experiences will benefit you both the best, then you can’t go far wrong.

So for that reason I have chosen ‘instinct’ as the ‘I’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of canicross.

Learning to trust your instinct when it comes to what's best for your dog can allow you to have the most fun when it comes to the dog sports

Learning to trust your instincts when it comes to what’s best for you and your dog will make sure you both have the best experiences when it comes to the dog sports

Heatstroke in dogs (a temperature monitoring study in sport dogs)

Dog welfare is of upmost importance to us here at K9 Trail Time and so we spoke to Dr Anne Carter and Emily Hall MRCVS who have been conducting a temperature monitoring study for Nottingham Trent University, with dogs who have been at some of the races we attend, hosted by the Canicross Midlands club.

The aim of the study is to try and discover what factors affect dogs core temperatures and potentially put them at risk of heatstroke or hyperthermia. The study is still in it’s early stages and results have yet to be published, as both Anne and Emily feel there is much more research to be done in this area and that they have only begun to scratch the surface of what needs to be looked into to give dog owners and in particular, owners of dogs who compete in sports,  a useful guide to help them prevent their dog from suffering hyperthermia.

Dr Anne Carter put together these notes for us so that we could share them with our followers but there will be more to follow due to the full study not having been completed yet. We have added additional notes not within the speech marks, which summarise the points as we see them.

Prior to the study it was noted…

“Dark coated, male dogs appear to be at higher risk of hyperthermia. This corresponds with findings from literature that suggest higher risk groups include: brachycephalic breeds, those with respiratory disorders, overweight dogs, and poorly conditioned dogs.”

So this suggests that dogs who are unfit and unused to exercising in higher temperatures will be more at risk than those who have been sensibly and gradually acclimatised to working in warmer temperatures. We have always advocated light training through the summer months for this reason but distances need to be kept shorter and measures taken to ensure your dog never over works in the heat.

Training runs in warmer months should be kept short to avoid over heating

Training runs in warmer months should be kept short to avoid over heating

The study so far has taken the previous notes into account but developed them…

“Normal core temperature in the literature appears to be 38.3-39.2⁰C – We found a normal core temperature range of 37.4 – 39.1⁰C.”

“‘Knowing your dog’ is key. Some dogs appeared to be naturally hotter at both resting and post exercise temperature. Therefore, their normal range may be different to another dog. This doesn’t appear to be breed specific.”

Which is indicative of the individuality of the dogs measured in the study so far and would imply that it is very useful to understand your own dogs’ regular resting core temperature, so you can be aware of anything abnormal specific to your dog.

“Hyperthermia in canine patients is defined as a core body temperature above 39.2oC. Canine heat stroke is therefore associated with a core body temperature above 40oC

Both these temperatures were exceeded in (some) dogs after a 5km run, but dogs quickly returned to normal range.”

This would indicate that dogs very quickly reach internal body temperatures which would be considered abnormal and dangerous to dogs, however the fact the dogs return to normal very quickly and that there has been very little study done on this so far, seems to suggest that this is probably perfectly normal and as long as we are aware of our dogs’ limits, is not harming the dog in any way. This type of raise in body temperature is probably occurring in any daily activity we do with our dogs but we would not necessarily be aware of it because we wouldn’t be monitoring their core temperature so closely unless we were concerned.

Allowing your dog to cool off when they require it by planning run routes with water is a great way to know your dog will be happy

Allowing your dog to cool off when they require it by planning routes with water is a great way to know your dog will be happy

“If heatstroke occurs, active cooling should be undertaken using lukewarm (not cold water), air con in the car, mist spray of fans. Cooling coats so far, have not been shown to be effective. Veterinary care should be sought immediately to improve survival chances (delays over 90 minutes increased fatality rates significantly in the literature).”

We discussed in great detail the things associated with heat stroke and the main signs of over heating are as follows: restlessness, seeking out cool areas/shade, looking to lie down, excessive panting, excess salivation and thick sticky saliva. Also look for glazed eyes, red or very pale pink (rather than healthy pink) gums, stiffness in movement which can lead to staggering and any anxiety or agitation. If your dogs displays any of these signs then it must be taken straight to a vet as any delay may cost your dog it’s life.

The main issue with heatstroke in dogs is shock, so even if you get your dog to a vet (ideally within 90 minutes of the dogs first showing signs of heatstroke) there are no guarantees that they will be able to undo the damage done to the internal organs by shock.

The things you can do to help your dog if it has been affected by the heat is to cool the underside of their body with cool but not cold water (shock damage can be increased by using ice water), ensure air flow over the dogs’ body i.e. with a fan or breeze in a car and don’t put anything over them which can trap the air in the dogs’ coat, so no wet towels, blankets or coats.

Remember that dogs lose heat through their paws, so boots can restrict a dogs’ ability to cool efficiently, therefore only use boots in cooler weather and never to protect your dogs feet from hot pavements, if it’s too hot for paws on pavements, it’s too hot full stop.

Boots s - Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

Boots should only be used when it’s cold enough for them not to interfere with a dogs ability to cool itself – Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

Dr Anne Carter and Emily Hall MRCVS will be continuing their studies throughout this dog sport season so if you would like to take part they will be at some (not all) of the Canicross Midlands race series and also some training runs, asking for volunteers. They have also provided this link on body temperature in racing greyhounds for anyone who is interested in a published study. It’s open access so free to all. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fvets.2016.00053/full

We will be following the progress of this study and hope it will help to raise awareness of heatstroke for all dog owners not just those taking part in the dog sports.

Happy trails and if in doubt – don’t run!

How to choose a harness for your dog

Harness Selection – Every dog is unique!

If you are new to dog sports you’d be forgiven for being a little confused about what type of harness you should be using for your dog! This question is not easy to answer and is based on a number of variables.

The first thing to consider is what type of sports you will be doing with your dog?

If you are competing in agility or flyball classes then a good fitting shoulder or walking harness should be perfect for your dog, as you are not asking your dog to pull any weight into the harness, it is there for ease of use for yourself and to prevent your dog from potential neck injury if your dog pulls strongly when walking. We stock the Non-stop Half Harness, the Zero DC Euro Short, the Neewa Running Harness, and the Howling Dog Alaska Distance Harness which all serve this purpose very well.

The Non-stop Half Harness is pictured below – the perfect multi sport harness, for walking, canicross and even bikejoring.

The Non-stop Half Harness has been re-designed from the Line harness with some great new features

The Non-stop Half Harness is the perfect multi sport harness which is equally suited to walking.

If you are going to be running with your dog (canicross) then the harness needs to be designed to allow your dog to pull you along with no restriction on breathing or natural movement, the aim of the harness is to capture the dogs’ running power and allow the dog to pull you along through a bungee line (the line must always have this element of bungee to prevent jarring injuries).

The same is true of biking with your dog (bikejor), scootering (your dog pulls your scooter and you help by ‘scooting’) and mushing (pulling a three wheeled rig which you stand on). The harnesses used for these activities need to be fit for purpose and so it is not worthwhile selecting a walking harness for these purposes. Every harness we stock is designed to be multi-functional and in most cases can be used for walking in addition to the dog sports.

The Howling Dog Alaska Distance Harness is a another of the fantastic multi-purpose harnesses we sell.

The Howling Dog Alaska Distance Harness is a another of the fantastic multi-purpose harnesses we sell.

So if you have decided what sports you are taking part in and have decided if you need a pulling harness or not (I have made some suggestions for walking harnesses and multi-use harnesses above) the next thing to look at is your line height. This is very important because it can affect how the harness was designed to be used.

For example the x-back harnesses are a wonderful harness with years and years of success for sled dogs all over the world. The x-back is designed to spread the strain of pulling from the dogs’ shoulders down to the point of the line attachment by the base of the dogs’ tail. The line then extends at an almost horizontal angle to a sled or rig. If the line angle is more acute then the x-back cannot work as it was designed to function and could end up causing problems if it ‘lifts up’ from the base of your dogs’ tail.

Pictured below is the Dragrattan x-back harness, a traditional design but be careful of your line angle

Donnie in Dragrattan x back

I use either a Dragrattan or Non-stop Nansen Nome x-back harness on a couple of my dogs for canicross, bikejor & scootering because they pull very strongly and I have a long line (plus I’m really short) so the angle of my line is never too high to cause any problems and I know plenty of other canicrossers who also compete their dogs successfully with x-backs. I would generally recommend x-backs for most dog sports where your dog is pulling out front consistently, be aware of the potential problems with a much shorter and steeper angled line if canicrossing and bikejoring, but as long as your line is long enough, you should be fine.

So what other harnesses can you use? One of the newer European harness designs is that of the Euro Harness by Zero DC which comes in both a long and short option. The Zero DC Euro Harness is designed to be a multi-sport harness suitable for canicross, bikejor, scootering, mushing and even skijor (skiing with your dog). With the long version it directs the pull from the dogs’ shoulders away from the neck and to an attachment point at the base of the tail but the difference in this harness to the x-back is that there is no material over the dogs’ back. The harness material comes from the front underneath and along the rib cage then up to the base of the tail. It does not suffer the same problems as the x-back with using a shorter line and at a steeper angle because it is not designed for the line to pull straight along the back, but for the pull to come up from underneath the dog.

Pictured below is the Zero DC Euro Long Harness, a great multi-purpose harness for dogs who pull strongly

Judo Euro Long

I have used the Zero DC Euro Long Harness on my Sprollie because when he runs he ‘bounds’ along and his back when running is much more mobile than my other dogs’ backs when they run. Anything which directed his pulling power along the top of his back could potentially hinder his natural movement.

The Zero DC Euro Short Harness is designed much more like a shoulder harness with a shorter attachment point mid way down the dogs’ back and seems to suit both small and large breeds alike because of the adjustability of the girth on this shorter harness and it’s suitability for most sports. I have used the short version on my husky cross because the pulling power is lost through the long version when she ‘trots’.

Pictured below is the Zero DC Euro Short Harness, great for both pulling and non-pulling dogs

Tegan in Euro Short Yellow

Another good multi-sport option is the Non-stop Freemotion Harness, which again has an attachment point at the base of the dogs’ tail and is designed to direct the pull away from the throat and allow freedom of movement. The Freemotion is used for all sports and is more adjustable than the other harnesses which allows it to work correctly for a larger number of breeds who might be broader or longer in shape than the sled dog breeds, who the original pulling harnesses were designed for. I have used the Freemotion on all of my dogs because it is so versatile in its uses and can be adjusted to accommodate their individuality.

The Non-stop Freemotion Harness below is one of the best multi-sport harnesses available

Tegan Non-stop 6

The Howling Dog Alaska Second Skin or Tough Skin Harness is another option you may want to consider for pulling activities, as it has a simple design, is adjustable around the ribs and by attaching your line at the end of the cord, gives you a happy mix between the long and short harnesses. One thing to note about this harness however, is that it must be used for dogs that pull into the harness, if the Second Skin is not pulled into, it can tend to slip on the dogs’ back and for that reason I do not recommend it for activity where you may want to let your dog off lead in the harness.

donnie second skin

Finally, and brand new to the dog sport harness market is the Dragrattan Multi Sport Harness which is based on an x-back style harness on the neck, with all pull being directed along your dog’s body and underneath, but with the back being left open to allow your dog to move more freely. The harness is also suitable for dogs who might be a less traditional sled dog or hound shape and has a belly strap for those who might be liable to wriggle out of longer harnesses. I recently used these harnesses on all my dogs for a long distance canicross challenge we completed and they performed perfectly over 100 plus miles, so I can highly recommend them.

Judo with Tegan Multi sport Dragrattan

The Dragrattan Multi Sport harness is brand new for 2016 and a great option for all dog sports

To conclude this article on harnesses I need to say this is my personal experience of the harnesses I have mentioned when being used on my own dogs. Each of my dogs has a different running style (trot, bound and all out pull from the shoulders) each of my dogs is a slightly different breed which means they are a slightly different shape and so it would seem obvious to me that each dog might suit a different style of harness.

When selecting a harness for your dog, you need to consider the purpose for which you need the harness, the angle at which your line will be and lastly but most important, the individuality of your dog. I have chosen to stock a variety of harnesses for this reason as I don’t believe in a ‘one size fits all’ approach and if you can it’s always better to trial a harness to see how it works with your dog and set up before you commit to one. Otherwise you’ll end up like me with half a dozen harnesses for each dog!

If you need any further help I have provided a ‘Harness Consultation’ sheet here: http://www.k9trailtime.com/index.php/information/harness-consultation-questions which will help us to advise you and I would suggest considering the questions to provide us with a bit more information so we can get the perfect harness for your dog.

We also have a video on choosing the right harness for your dog here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8yZ7EFslqE