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!
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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:
The Pace Setter was a one day canicross, bikejor and scooter race held on the 9th February at Fineshade Wood near Corby. The venue itself was one we were familiar with from a canicross race we attended with CaniX a few years before, so we were vaguely aware of what to expect from the course before we arrived. We made the trip up to the area the day before as it was a 200 mile round trip, which is quite a lot of travelling to expect the dogs to do in one day, in addition to the racing.
The name of the actual site is Top Lodge because it is at the top of a hill and it is a Forestry Commission run site so there are toilet facilities, tarmac parking, a cafe and even a few shops to keep visitors entertained. During the spring and summer months there is also a caravan park open but it was closed this early in the season.
We got set up early to allow competitors to browse the available kit before racing began at 9.30am. The organisers had a map of the route set up on a board for everyone to view before the race briefing and so we didn’t worry about checking the course out before the race as it seemed fairly straight forward. A last minute decision to change my entry from one dog bikejor to two dog bikejor meant all our dogs would get a run. Although I’ve trained at home with two dogs attached to the bike, there are very few races which will allow two dog bikejor, so this was a first for us!
The best photo of us at the start can be found here but I can’t share in the blog for copyright reasons: (http://www.davidhawtin.co.uk/p300604313/h38892ebb#h301efda7)
The start tunnel was followed by a right and then a left hand turn out of the car park area and downhill on a hard packed trail into the woods. With both dogs attached I literally did not have to pedal, merely hold on for dear life, for the first couple of kms until we reached a steep incline where I didn’t even have to work very hard to get up the hill. My original Team Thomas were flying for the best part of the whole course and only began to slow the pace down after about 3.5 km. I know these distance markers because they were helpfully displayed on the route, it’s surprising how useful this is to pace yourself when you know how far you’ve come and how far is left to go.
The hard packed trails were available to the public too whilst we were racing and there were a few loose dogs, which is never helpful when taking part in a wheeled dog sport event but there are so few events run where the land is private, that this is something we are used to now. We completed the race with a respectable time for our efforts and took first place. Marc and Donnie also competed but in the one dog bikejor and took 5th in the class as it was a little more competitive.
The event was well organised with a marshal at the half way point and water stations for the dogs to take advantage of. The timing was done electronically and all seemed to be accurate, results were published quickly on the website, plus we all received a completion rosette on crossing the finish line. However it wasn’t mentioned there wouldn’t be a prize giving and I think some competitors were confused by the term ‘race’ and then there being no placings given out on the day. I would describe an event without a prize giving as more of a ‘fun run’ and I think it would have been useful to have known this from the outset.
That said we thoroughly enjoyed the Pace Setter event and I loved the venue, I would have liked more time to walk the woods after racing but we had to head back home. It is also worth mentioning that the course we ran was also quite hard on the dogs’ pads and I would have booted the boys up if I’d checked the trail before we raced. Judo had a small shred on one of his pads from working hard on the bike and I know a few others experienced problems as the dogs racing with the wheels work that bit harder and run that much quicker on the bike or scooter. I use the Pawz dog boots wherever I feel the trail is tough on pads and I sell them here: (http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/pawz-dog-boots.html) they just protect paws from the type of damage Judo picked up and are great in any dog first aid kit.