The Sport of Canine Hoopers – An Introduction

We’re always interested in sports new to us and so we recently asked fellow dog sports enthusiast Hayley Laches to explain a little bit more about the dog sport known as ‘Canine Hoopers’.

Here’s what she and her friends put together for us…

Photo Credit to Zooming Pixels


‘Canine Hoopers is a fairly new dog-sport that has been gaining popularity throughout the UK. The dogs pass through hoops, tunnels and around barrels on a low-impact, smooth flowing course. The tunnels are 80cm diameter – much larger than agility tunnels. The larger tunnels, and the lack of twists and sharp turns on Hoopers courses, means the sport is all breeds inclusive; from tiny Chihuahuas and Daschunds to larger breeds like St Bernards, Great Danes and Newfoundlands. Another element of hoopers is the TanGo mat Tango mats are 900mm wide and 1800mm long. Mats must be made from a non-slip rubber material. It has marker poles can be free standing or can stick into the ground which are placed near each corner or the mat, the dog has to run across the mat making contact with at least one paw.

It is inclusive for people as well, those with limited mobility, mobility scooters and power chairs discover distance handling so they can send their dog round the course instead of trying to run with their canine friend. 

Dogs and their owners can accumulate points earned at Canine Hoopers UK (CHUK) competitions to progress through the five Hoopers levels; from Starters to Masters. Speed is not crucial to moving through the levels – slower dogs have equal opportunity to gain qualification points.

History

Canine Hoopers UK was formed in 2017. Clubs, societies and individuals are able to host Canine Hoopers UK shows, competitions and training by Accredited Instructors. Canine Hoopers UK strives to protect the long-term well-being of the dog by maintaining flowing courses of low impact obstacles and aims to be an inclusive dog sport making sure that this sport is accessible to all dogs and handlers. Canine Hoopers UK endeavours to promote only force free modern training techniques through the training and assessment and of their OCN Accredited Canine Hoopers UK Instructor Training scheme.

Instructors

All Accredited Canine Hoopers UK Instructors have been thoroughly assessed and only awarded accreditation when they prove their understanding, knowledge and teaching aptitude, meaning you are secure in the knowledge that your learning journey will be both fun, and safe, and that the instruction you receive will be to the highest standard. We are committed to making sure that all Canine Hoopers UK Accredited Trainers are consistently teaching to a high standard, they use only modern force free training techniques and are promoting everything this wonderful sport has to offer.

For those wishing to showcase their abilities, there are Canine Hoopers UK shows held all year round throughout the UK. Focusing on the partnership between dog and handler, CHUK competition courses will be smooth and flowing and can include optional handling challenges too for extra points! Unlike many other dog sports, progression is based on consistency rather than individual class wins.

Whether you want to compete or not, in training classes you can work through your Good Hoopers Awards. These awards are suitable for everyone and are great fun as well as providing a record of achievement of your hoopers skills!

Carol Bentley an advanced accredited instructor from the Dorset area quotes “The results of this modern training method speak for themselves! I’ve seen the difference Hoopers has made; ‘velcro dogs’ gain confidence and become unstuck, dogs lacking focus gain drive and dogs that couldn’t, or didn’t, previously partake in any other activity suddenly have a whole new passion and lease of life! You can see how much the dogs – and their owners – enjoy the sport. “

Faye Nemeth is an advanced accredited instructor near Carlisle Cumbria; “Phase Purple regularly hold shows involving canine hoopers and the numbers are increasing at each show. ‘hoopers is not just about running through hoops and sending around a barrel, if trained correctly it’s a whole different skill set to teach your dog. Some dogs that have had a go have been a little confused when they first had a go due to the fact that they had not trained the hoop as a different piece of equipment but when the foundations have been correctly trained the dogs definitely know the difference between doing a hoopers course and doing agility. My grade 7 dog, Jess, will regularly compete in agility and hoopers at the same show and she knows the difference between going over jumps and through hoops, there was one show where we did our agility class and ran straight over to do our hoopers class and Jess managed to win both of classes.”

Award scheme

Throughout Lockdown, Canine Hoopers UK have been running an online awards scheme. Specifically created and written to both provide instructors with some income during a difficult time, and to provide owners and dogs with a focus. Originally designed with 4 different levels (foundation, bronze, silver and gold), later a fifth Platinum level was released. Each level has daily training videos to watch to teach your dog new skills. At the end of each course, your skills are combined for the assessment. The Online GHA’s are designed to be done in gardens and even using make shift equipment from around your home (see the full list of suggestions on the website), my favourite suggestion being; a pair of wellies and a bit of hose pipe!

Hoopers really is accessible for all, it’s a non-expensive, fun and enjoyable hobby for dogs and handlers of all ages. Want to get stuck in and have a go?

To find out more information on hoopers, or to your nearest trainer or club go to https://www.caninehoopersuk.co.uk

How to get started training

Let’s get stuck in shall we and teach our dogs what a hoop is! I would advise using your dogs meals whilst training to prevent weight gain!

  1. Firstly, set up your hoop (or hoop shaped equipment) on a non-slip surface or in your garden on grass. Avoid concrete and patios as this won’t be good for your dogs pads once they gain speed.
  2. Stand with your back to the hoop, be so close to the hoop that your heels are touching the end of the hoop, have 5 pieces of food in each hand.
  3. Have your dog in front of you and just get their attention and let them know you have their food and that you are about to have some fun – note you don’t want to overly excite your dogs here.
  4. Once your dog wants what you have got in your hands, rotate 180 degrees so that you are now facing the hoop. Your dog should come a step or two around your body to see where your hands (and therefore the food) went!
  5. As soon as your dog takes a step or two around your body, give a marker word word (this could be YES or GOOD etc). Immediately bowl a piece of food out on the opposite side of the hoop to your dog. Your dog should see the food and travel through the hoop to go and eat it.
    NOTE – aim to bowl the piece of food at least 4 times the length of your dog away from the hoop. (no less than 2 metres from the hoop regardless of dog size.
  6. Once your dog has eaten the treat, they should turn around to see if you have got any more food. Because of how far away from you your dog is, your dog should naturally take a step or two back in your direction to get closer to the food again. MARK the first step forwards (YES or GOOD etc) and now deliver the next piece of food on the far side of the hoop, again aiming for no less than 2metres but ideally 4 dogs lengths from the hoop again. Your dog should pass through the hoop to get to the food.
  7. Repeat this action of marking your dog for taking a step forwards and delivering the food to the far side of the hoop until all ten pieces of food are gone.
    Give your dog a break, a cuddle/sniff time etc.
  8. With short breaks between the sets of 10 treats, you can do a couple of sets a minute or two apart. Be sensible with this and adapt it to your own dogs fitness level.
  9. Want to progress? If you think your dog now understands what you are asking, take 1 step back from the end of the hoop. Continue to mark your dog for travelling towards the hoop and deliver the reward on the far side ahead of your dog.
    If your dog has built value in the hoop, there will be no limit to the amount of steps back from the side of the hoop that you can take.

Important things to remember:

  • Make sure not to wave the treat around to lure the dog to come towards the hoop – simply capture your dogs actions of moving forwards and they will quickly learn what to do without needing to rely on handlers arms actions.
  • Keep your marker word short, ideally 1 syllable. Every time you give your marker word, you are signalling two things to your dog. The first being that you are indicating what the dog has done is correct. The second tells your dog that the reward is now going to be delivered. This means that your dog will learn to only go looking for the treats when they hear their magic marker word.
  • Stand still – this can be especially hard for humans, especially sporty ones!’

Final note from K9 Trail Time

We think this is a great introduction to Canine Hoopers and we’d like to thank Hayley and her team for sending over details of what the sport is and how to get started for our followers – if you’re thinking of something new this year, do get in touch with Hayley for more information.

Training provided by Hayley Laches of Taming Canines. Hayley is an advanced accredited instructor who offers both in-person training and online training through Dog Sports Direct to your home.

For more information please visit:
www.tamingcanines.co.uk

Product Feature – The Arctic Wolf Adventure Harness

We have recently launched the brand new Arctic Wolf Adventure Harness, which we have been involved with from the start of the design process last year. Arctic Wolf came to us for inspiration, ideas, information and we fed back all the comments and experiences from ourselves and our customers to create the Adventure Harness, new for 2020.

Yogi proudly modelling the Arctic Wolf Adventure Harness, he helped to design and test!

The Adventure Harness is intended to be useful for all active dogs taking part in a variety of activities, from walking / hiking, agility and flyball to canicross and bikejoring with your dog. The harness is made from lightweight, strong but quick drying materials, sourced to ensure that if your dog is getting wet and muddy in it, the harness won’t hold water or cause rubbing associated with heavy, wet, thick material.

The Adventure Harness is perfect for a wide variety of activities with your dog

The design of the harness is simple, so it will suit dogs who perhaps don’t like the feel of a more structured or longer style harness on their body, however it does sit longer on the body than your standard walking / hiking harness and is well clear of the front legs to allow a full range of movement.

To put the harness on all you need to do is pop the harness over the head of your dog and clip up the strong, lightweight plastic clips either side of the dogs’ body. This is an advantage for any dogs who don’t like lifting their feet into harnesses and with a generous space for the head to go through, it is also not as snug as some of the other sports harnesses to fit over the ears, which many dogs don’t like.

The neck of the harness whilst being designed to be a snug fit on the neck has a reinforced ‘V’ in the front of the neck piece which has two functions. It’s first function is to offer that little bit of extra space when being fitted over your dogs’ head, the other is to ensure the harness ‘V’ sits low on the neck and doesn’t rise up into the throat of the dog, which can happen with some of the rounder style necks on some harnesses. This means that even if your dog is a strong puller, the ‘V’ ensures the neck of the harness doesn’t put pressure on your dogs’ throat.

At the front of the harness there is a reinforced piece of webbing where you can clip a lead to, this is perfect for people who use a two clip system to walk or train their dog, as this encourages a natural and balanced stance in the dog and gives you more control if you need it, without twisting your dogs’ neck or head around.

The Adventure Harness also features an internal handle on the top of the harness, so when your dog is pulling out in front of you, the handle isn’t noticeable and lies flat into the harness. If and when you need it however, the handle can be used to hold your dog if you have to bring them close to you and also if you need to help them scramble over obstacles, like a style or even for older dogs who need a hand climbing into vehicles etc.

The secret poo bag pocket down either side of the harness means there’s no excuses for not carrying poo bags with you on your walks / runs either! The pocket is a really discrete extra layer of the harness material which allows a few poo bags to be stuffed in, accessed when you need them.

So as you can probably tell we are pretty proud of being involved in the design of this harness and have responded to your feedback over the years to produce something with Arctic Wolf which will hopefully provide a solution for many dog owners. The Adventure Harness is a really functional active dog harness which is suitable for use in a variety of situations. We’re also proud of the fact that this harness is designed and produced in the UK, so the quality is extremely high, with a low carbon footprint.

We recommend this harness for any active dogs who need a lightweight, top quality, multi functional, dog harness which doesn’t restrict movement in any way. With all the extra features this harness has, we know this is going to be really popular for walking / hiking, canicross, agility, flyball, general dog training and even faster sports such as bikejoring and dog scootering.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us info@k9trailtime.com and the harness can be found on our website here: https://www.k9trailtime.com/arctic-wolf-adventure-harness.html

Keeping your dog ‘safe’

We’ve recently taken on another rescue team member and it’s not been long but Delta (the new pup) is already proving to be a bit of a different challenge from the other dogs I’ve had. Delta is one of a litter of nine puppies brought over from an Irish rescue and is one of the lucky ones. I was told that often these unwanted farm litters just get drowned at birth because the farmers don’t want / can’t be bothered to neuter their dogs and so when the inevitable happens they just dispose of the consequences.

Delta, the new pup is a different type of challenge for us

I think being one of nine, surrounded by her litter mates and then being brought over to the UK on a ferry on a trip that was over 24 hours, being split from her family and then joining our household with 3 established dogs already in place, was such a huge shock to her system she struggled a little bit to find her feet. Everything to her is scary until she is shown otherwise and other people, dogs, places could all be a potential threat to her, so she was understandably a bit overwhelmed.

Everything has been a little overwhelming for a nervous pup to begin with

How does this relate to our normal theme of ‘active dogs are happy dogs’ and our beloved dog sports I hear you ask…? Well my point in blogging about this is that my job, my aim and my sole focus for her right now is to make her feel safe. Unless she feels safe, she will be worried and may react accordingly when faced with new situations. Most dogs will either follow a fight or flight response to anything threatening, fight being anything from a growl, bark, to a full on attack and flight being a subtle movement away, putting distance between the dog and the perceived threat or a panicked exit which can result in a dog getting lost. None of these things are ideal and a dog in fight or flight mode is difficult to communicate with in terms of training.

Here is where I get to the point of my writing, if your dog can’t be easily communicated with, then you are going to experience problems if you are taking part in an activity where communication is essential (all activities you might want to take part in ‘with’ your dog). For example I want to walk Delta with other dogs but right now she can be so scared of the situation that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with her, so I decided on one of our first group walks I would carry her in a pack. This is not even remotely conventional and nothing I thought I would ever do but the result was that she was happy, she felt safe and it was a positive experience for her = my job done.

Carrying Delta in a bag is unconventional but allowed her to feel safe on a group walk at first

So relating this more specifically to dog sports, my older collie Judo was my ‘stooge’ dog for years, he loved running so much that I could loan him out to others to run with and he would enjoy the run with whoever looked after him on the trails. Unfortunately when bikejoring him one season there was a dog who seemed drawn to him and used to practice inappropriate trail behaviour whenever we met in a race situation. Three times this dog ended up with Judo’s head in his mouth, he never did any physical harm but the mental harm done was lasting.

Following the third episode, any time we biked, Judo would drop to the floor in front of the bike if he heard anyone behind him and displayed all the behaviours of a dog who just wanted to flee the situation, he no longer felt safe and I could no longer reassure him that he would be ok. I was pretty devastated about this and sought out ways to help ease his fears, training with dogs he knew and trying to build up confidence again but when we raced he obviously just didn’t want to be put in the situation. The result of this was ultimately that I gave up competitive bikejoring with him, I could no longer keep him ‘safe’ and so I didn’t want to put him through it. We could still canicross because I had much more control over the situation and could take him off the trail if someone came up behind us, he relaxed again and enjoyed his running once more, again = my job done.

Judo used to love biking but in the end we had to stick to canicross to make sure he was happy – Photo from 2016 courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

Another example of this happened with my dog Yogi, who is one of the most confident dogs I know. However about 6 months into his canicross career he was accidentally ‘kicked’ out of the way by more competitive runners nudging past us during a race. This didn’t just happen once, it happened a few times and he began to drop back and even behind me if he heard someone coming up to overtake. I was so frustrated as again he just didn’t feel safe any more, I hadn’t been able to protect him before, so he didn’t trust that it wouldn’t happen again. Fortunately the work I’ve put in since has proved to him he can trust me and I often pull him right out of people’s way now so there is no chance of him being nudged again. Yogi is a pretty robust dog in terms of his confidence and now feels secure listening to me when I ask him to move over on the trail but it took a few months of training to get this back.

Thankfully Yogi has been confident enough to get over his earlier experiences of racing and being knocked out of the way

A dog who doesn’t feel safe will find it hard to respond to instruction, take direction and ultimately will not enjoy the activity you are participating in. Although I am not a qualified behaviourist, I have studied canine behaviour and in terms of a dogs needs being met, the ‘feeling safe’ aspect must be met before the need for physical activity for the dog to benefit from this. Very often we can help a dog to feel secure in situations and more relaxed through release of energy during activity but we must be mindful that we are not creating more stress and more anxiety in our dogs by asking them to participate in things which overload them and repeatedly create a fight or flight response.

In conclusion, whenever you are taking part in any activity with your dog, you need to make sure your dog is first and foremost comfortable with the situation and then you know you can communicate effectively and train your dog within that situation. We are firm believers at K9 Trail Time in positive reinforcement and have seen the effect that a negative experience can have on a dog in our sports. So remembering to keep your dog ‘safe’ in their interpretation of the environment they are in is an extremely important part of training and one which cannot be ignored to make your experiences fun at all times. After all that is what our time with our dogs is all about – having fun!

Always ensure your dog has fun, first and foremost in any activity your are participating in – Photo courtesy of Horses of Courses Photography

K9 Trail Time Interview with an expert – Laura Hope, Agility Team GB Member

With the European Open Agility Championships being held next weekend (27th – 29th July 2018) we thought we would interview one of Team GB who also happens to be the K9 Trail Time agility trainer too!

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?

My name is Laura Hope and I am a qualified paediatric nurse which I’ve practiced for about 13 years. I had my daughter in 2015 and last year decided to take a break from the shift work to be with my daughter. I have been doing Competitive Agility for around 10 years and started my own training business – Clever Little Dog Agility Training up on Cleeve hill in Cheltenham last August. I started Agility with my American Bulldog who qualified us two years in a row to compete at Discover Dogs. I now have x3 beautiful collies. Jade Grade 7 and on Team GB, Rambo Grade 5 and Bonders who is learning the game 🙂. I love the game, it’s so much fun learning and developing with my dogs. Always things to learn and every dog teaches you something new. Great fun.

Laura and her dog, Regalaway Serendipity (Jade)

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

A day in the life of me consists of being woken up by my daughter any time from 0530 🙈🙈. Feed the dogs breakfast around 0630 and get ready for the day. Take grace to nursery and go up to Cleeve. Where I work / spend time with my dogs before I pick grace up at 1300. I do a 4 mile round trip run over Cleeve with the dogs most days – exhausting 😂 and then either do a bit of training or just chill out with them. It’s lovely just spending time with them in the countryside. I train my clients and then go and get my daughter. The afternoon consists of childish things 😂🙈 and then we walk the dogs in the evening. Often I then return to the field to teach some more and then I return home around 2100, to repeat it all again the next day. When I write it down I’m able to reflect on how lucky I am.

Laura not only competes herself but now trains others to compete in agility too

Share with us your proudest moment so far

My proudest moment so far, apart from raising my beautiful daughter has to be making Team GB with Jade and being picked for the Team to go to Vienna. Still can’t quite believe it.

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

1) have fun with your dogs

2) be consistent and

3) have some more fun

What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future are to just continue, keep trying to build my business, keep having fun with my dogs and keep striving to be better for my dogs.

Laura is a force free, positive trainer who strives to be the best for her dogs

How can our followers get in touch with you?

You can get in touch with me via phone – 07961 796905

Or contact me via FB – Clever Little Dog Agility Training

We’d like to wish Laura the best of luck with all her competing and go Team GB!

The full team competing next weekend can be found here:

https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/activities/agility/international-agility-teams/european-open-agility-championships/

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!

The Puppy Diary – Continuing to train (6-9 months)

So now that your puppy has grown up a bit and looks a little bit less like a puppy and more like a proper dog, it can be tempting to up the game in terms of training at this point. It is at this age that I feel people get a bit too excited about getting their dog trained up and it’s really important to remember your dog is still a puppy no matter how grown up they now look.

Your dog might look grown up but is still a puppy on the inside (Photo courtesy of Becky Harding)

This is where the debate kicks in. In many sled dog kennels the youngsters will begin going out in harness in teams (and this is the crucial thing) from about 6 months to learn the ropes. Whilst that might be all well and good for a big kennel where larger teams of dogs are run together and the pull is distributed between the team, it is not the same as one dog pulling your weight on it’s own. It is also worth pointing out that many of these dogs are not expected to have long running careers and although many do, there is a big difference between a racing kennel dogs’ experience and your pet dog.

It has been proven that a dogs’ growth plates do not fully close until they are a lot older and in the case of some of the bigger dog breeds, 2 years is normal for full skeletal maturity and full maturity isn’t reached until the dog is about 3 years old. With this in mind, wouldn’t you rather wait a few months and ensure you will not be harming your dog? I’m not a fan of putting a specific date on when you should start doing proper harness training, as every dog is an individual and should be assessed on their own development, not against other breeds or even other individual dogs of the same breed.

Dogs can take up to 3 years to reach full maturity, so why not let them stay puppies for as long as possible? (Photo courtesy of Becky Harding)

For example you might get one GSP (German Shorthaired Pointer) who when fully grown can weigh in excess of 35 kgs and will have to have developed the bone and muscle structure to support that weight before doing any pulling in harness. Then another GSP who barely weighs in at 20 kgs and will be physically fully grown a lot quicker than the bigger, heavier dog. Even this doesn’t take into account the dogs’ own ‘head space’ and this is something I feel is equally as important as their physical development.

To explain this further, some dogs (like some people!) mature a lot slower mentally than others and need more time to process information to be able to follow commands confidently. If you’ve got a pup who is easily distracted or nervous in new surroundings, it is worth building the dogs confidence in both you, and new situations, before you expect them to work for you, particularly in a racing environment. Unfortunately there are some dogs who don’t get the time they need to learn about working in harness and when put in a race situation can become very nervous or even aggressive if they are not confident, so it is really, really, important you go at your dogs’ individual pace when considering increasing the training you’re doing with your dog.

Every dog is an individual when it comes to development both physically and mentally (Photo courtesy of Becky Harding)

My own pup at the time of writing is 7 months old and we’ve been doing a lot of training but it might not be the type of training you would necessarily expect when talking about training a dog for harness sports. We go to new places almost daily and don’t stick to the same walking routes, so that he encounters new things all the time. I use the voice commands consistently on all our walks and I am really keen to get a good ‘wait’ command instilled in his brain (because he’s already way bigger and stronger than I had anticipated!) so we stop regularly to reinforce this. In addition to this, I had started to allow him to free run while I incorporated a jog into some of our walks. Recently his prey drive has kicked in however, so this has limited how much free running he can do.

Yogi has done a little bit of free running now

In terms of being in a harness, he has had a walking harness from day 1 and now he is starting to pull into the harness (as he sees the others doing) I have not discouraged this. I have tried some of the longer harnesses on him at home just to see what he thinks of having something longer down his back, as I believe he will need a longer harness eventually. At the moment he doesn’t like having something over his back, so we’ll need to do some more work on that to make sure he’s happy with straps and something pulling over the length of him.

Yogi has not been discouraged from pulling into the harness on walks

We’ve also been to a few races and when I’ve had a chance I’ve had him out and about meeting as many dogs as we can, getting him used to being around lots of people, dogs, and of course the noise associated with the start of a race! I don’t think the importance of getting them used to this can be overstated, as the last thing you want is your dog to feel stressed when running in harness around other dogs and so if they are already comfortable and happy around lots of dogs, this can only be a good thing. I also make sure he’s not allowed to play with every dog we see, as this can be a problem too. You don’t want your dog to be pestering others when out running, so ensuring you can still get your dog to focus on you is very important.

Yogi has been enjoying watching from the sidelines at events

Other than increasing the time and distances of our walks and incorporating the odd jog, we haven’t done much else different in terms of exercise, Yogi has been growing a fair bit and he’s going to be quite tall, so I want to limit how much he does to ensure he doesn’t suffer later on in life. Above all he’s just enjoying still being a puppy and I think it’s crucial to allow your dog the time to be a puppy as long as they need and not push them into something too soon which could put them off further down the line.

So for now, I’m happy he’s learning what he needs to and he’s loving his life as sidekick and van traveller. Training in harness will only increase when I’m certain he’s developed enough both physically and mentally and I’ll post another blog update when we start with the really fun stuff!

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!

Building a bond

This little blog is my story about building a bond with your dog through the dogs sports of canicross, bikejor and dog scootering and why these activities help with the process. When I started running with my first dog I didn’t actually set out with any aim other than to wear her out because she is a collie/husky cross (whoever let that happen didn’t think about the consequences!) Tegan was suffering with separation anxiety having been found as a stray somewhere in Wales and then taken to a pound, she was then transferred to a kennels and after a few months found herself in my home. I imagine for her, being left alone while I went to work caused her a huge amount of stress, as I was the first constant in her life after months of upheaval and change.

Tegan has relied on me for security since she first arrived

Tegan has relied on me for security since she first arrived

With the decision made that running with Tegan in the morning would hopefully tire her out enough to get her to sleep at least some of the time I was out, I set about my new routine. I noticed very quickly that not only did her separation anxiety improve slightly but also her behaviour in general and she began to respond to me in a much better way, treating me with a bit more respect than she had prior to this. When I got Judo as a 4 month old puppy nearly a year after Tegan, the runs were put on hold while he grew up enough to join us and I could tell Tegan missed the fun of being able to go that bit further and faster.

Finally when Judo came of age we took up canicross properly and began training for our first race, it was through this training that I really began to get a ‘feel’ for what my dogs enjoyed. I watched them constantly when running, looking for any signs of being tired, injury or what made them increase in speed. As a result of this, my first race wasn’t a shock, I knew how my dogs were likely to respond to other dogs around them and knew the triggers to look for with Tegan, who can be dog reactive on the lead. Canicross was teaching me to read my dogs better in all situations not just when we were running.

Running my dogs created a stronger bond and improved behaviour - Photo courtesy of Chillpics

Running with my dogs created a stronger bond and improved behaviour – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

By the time my third dog Donnie came into our lives I had already taken up scootering as an alternative way to keep the dogs fit while I recovered from an ankle injury. I felt I didn’t have such a connection with the dogs when scootering as you’re that bit further away and I didn’t feel so involved because I wasn’t doing quite as much work as I had to when canicrossing. With hindsight I can see this wasn’t quite true.

Scootering made me realise how 'switched on' my dogs were with me when we raced - Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

Scootering made me realise how ‘switched on’ my dogs were with me when we raced – Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

What I discovered was that you need to have a bond already in place to be able to communicate effectively with your dog at distance, so in actual fact to be able to scooter or bikejor your dog properly, the bond needs to be stronger than with canicross. This really hit home for me when I began to bikejor with Donnie as we could really pick up speed and turn very quickly on a single voice command. I realised he was anticipating my lines through tricky sections of courses and it was almost like he was reading my mind in some circumstances. That type of connection doesn’t happen if your dog is not switched on to you.

This development was organic, I didn’t seek it out, I didn’t force it, it just happened through time and training. I’m not saying my dogs never do anything unexpected or that we never make any mistakes, but I do find that through taking part in the dog sports, I feel more in tune with all of my dogs and can usually spot a potential problem before it becomes one.

You need to be brave, stupid or have faith in your dogs and their training to attach multiple dogs to a bike! Photo courtesy of David Hawtin

You need to be brave, stupid or have faith in your dogs and their training to attach multiple dogs to a bike! Photo courtesy of David Hawtin

A recent example of this was the diagnosis of Addisons Disease in Donnie. Thankfully I was very aware he wasn’t ‘himself’ even though to anyone else he would have looked like a normal dog and that prompted me to keep asking for tests and keep insisting something wasn’t right. Unfortunately with Addisons because it is so difficult to diagnose it often takes the dog reaching a critical condition before the vets will test for it and in some cases it is missed.

To conclude my blog, which is a glimpse into my own experience of building a bond through dog sports, I’d recommend any dog owner who wants to gain a better understanding of their dog to give canicross or bikejor a go. The shared experience of running or biking as a team will no doubt result in strengthening your bond and I found had many positive effects on my rescue dogs’ behaviour too. If you’d like more information on how to get started please visit my website: http://www.k9trailtime.com and if you have any specific questions e-mail me: emilyt@k9trailtime.com

I certainly feel the bond I've developed with my dogs is directly related to the amount of time I've spent training with them in the dog sports.

I certainly feel the bond I’ve developed with my dogs is directly related to the amount of time I’ve spent training with them in the dog sports.