The Puppy Diary – Training for the future (9 – 12 months)

So we’ve now reached the stage where our first race is not too far away, we’ve thought about a ‘proper’ harness and also been doing a little bit more in terms of actual canicross training for Yogi, the K9 Trail Time pup. It is still important to remember that dogs will continue growing right up to and even beyond 12 months old and essentially even at a year old, they are still youngsters who need to be trained gently, with consideration for their joints and their impressionable minds.

At 9 months old, it’s still important to keep things low key in training as your dog will still be growing and learning about life

Yogi was comfortable with his shorter harness from a very young age but looking at his movement and his shape, it was fairly obvious that he would be better suited to running in a longer style. Yogi is a natural puller and also when free running really ‘bounds’, he has a very long stride length and so whilst a short harness doesn’t restrict his running in any way, a longer harness will be better for him long term to capture the ‘pull’ of his movement. With this in mind at around 10 months we started to try on the longer harnesses to try and gauge what might suit him best, he was an unwilling model and didn’t seem to like the longer harnesses over his back, so we persevered and just had a few fitting sessions for him to get used to the longer style, just whilst sitting around.

Yogi tried on longer harnesses at around 10 months but we didn’t settle on one until just after he was 11 months old.

We are lucky in that we have the harnesses to try but if you can borrow some kit for your dog and just get them used to having different styles and lengths on your dog, this is a great way to see what looks good and get them walking around in a proper running harness. Many dogs won’t need a longer harness but because Yogi is hound shaped and an athletic build, there was never any doubt in my mind he would be in a longer harness eventually. We didn’t actually start running him in one until he was about 11 months old.

Yogi out on a training run in his longer harness, the Non-stop Freemotion.

So with the harness selection covered we were also doing lots of other little bits of training to get Yogi used to life running in harness. We have not covered any great distances in this time and it is important to build up any distance slowly to encourage your dog to want to do more. If you exhaust your pup by taking them straight out to do 3 miles in harness, you might find they make a negative association with the process. It is far better to stick to short runs and leave them wanting to do more so they are excited when the harness comes out. You also need to ensure they do not overwork, like humans, dogs will feel aches and tiredness in muscles and joints, so be very mindful of this when training.

The other thing we have done to make training fun is to vary what we do every day. Yogi has done runs in woods, through fields, through water, up hills, through ankle deep mud and it’s all good experience for him to learn nothing is scary and that we might encounter any type of surface during a run or race too.

 

Yogi has been training through,  mud, water, snow, fields, woodland and on as many different surfaces as we can find, grass, track and even very short sections on tarmac to ensure he will not be phased by anything we might come across

 

So with all this in place Yogi shouldn’t be intimidated by anything he might find on the course at a race but what about other dogs? We’ve done a lot of socialisation with Yogi to make sure he’s friendly and interacts well with other dogs but we’ve also had times where he’s had to ignore other dogs and focus on the job in hand. Being honest he’s very interested in saying ‘hello’ to other dogs when he’s been out but I’ve actively discouraged this while he’s working in harness because this isn’t acceptable behaviour during a race and it’s not something I want to be dealing with when I eventually put him on the bike! We’ve met up and run with friends a few times who have dogs that Yogi only sees from time to time and he has been encouraged to ignore them whilst running but he’s been allowed to play with them when he’s not in a ‘working’ situation and this seems to be working well.

Yogi has been learning that he has a ‘job’ to do in harness and to focus on running, not other dogs when we’re out training

When training a young dog it is always helpful to have other experienced dogs around from them to learn from and this is what we have found works best. That’s not so helpful if this is your only dog but with so many canicross groups around now to meet up with, it shouldn’t be a problem to find friends with dogs who are very focused that you can meet up with to join for a social run. I have found that Yogi is now confident running on his own while my other dogs are off lead and I also recently took him on a night run with some other dogs he didn’t know and he behaved very well, passing without trying to interfere with another dog and taking the lead when he needed to, so he has learnt to run out front and not to chase.

Yogi did very well on a recent night run but the focus required also tired him out!

When training a dog at this age it’s also important to consider that this type of focus will be tiring and whenever I’ve asked Yogi to really think about what he’s doing, he has been tired afterwards, so do give your young dog plenty of rest time too. You’ve hopefully got a long and happy running career with your pup so there’s no need to rush things or cram loads of training in right now, they can carry on learning ‘on the job’ as long as the basics are in place and you have a happy and confident dog who enjoys their running.

To summarise we recommend:

Take training very steady and wait until your dog is both physically and mentally developed before you ask them to run in harness with you.

Make sure you have done the basics, socialisation and voice commands are two key things that are crucial to have your pup happy and focused.

Don’t ever push your dog beyond their capability or get cross with them if they’re not doing something you want, go back to basics and start again if you find you have issues.

Meet up with others and let your dog learn from experienced canicrossers and their dogs, sharing knowledge, experience and tips can make a big difference to how you get started.

We hope that this (very brief) guide has been of interest and we look forward to seeing how Yogi (and all the other pups we know who are coming into the dog sports) get on in the coming year as they become old enough and experienced enough to take part in races.

Happy trails everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

The Puppy Diary – Starting to train (10 weeks to 6 months)

So it’s no secret that we recently added a 4th dog to the K9 Trail Time team and this time we got our paws on a puppy. Yogi was a pup born in rescue when his husky mum was picked up as a stray and then gave birth to a litter not long after being placed with a foster home. We are not 100% sure of his breeding (other than that his mum was a husky) and it doesn’t matter at all to us what he is, as long as he’s a happy and healthy little dog.

Yogi with his mum, brother and sisters in the rescue.

Not having had a young puppy to train for the dog sports before we thought we would do a little diary blog detailing a few things we are doing to introduce him to canicross from a young age, so he will hopefully enjoy running as much as the rest of the team do when he is old enough.

The first thing to say is that he will NOT be doing any running in harness for a long while yet, he is currently coming up to 5 months old and all we are doing is laying down the groundwork for a happy and balanced dog at this stage. Yogi still has a lot of growing to do and when we got him at 10 weeks, he actually didn’t go for any ‘walks’ with the others for another 2 weeks to allow him to settle in and get used to life in his new home before we did anything physical.

We did quite a bit of training getting him used to coming to his name in the house and the very basics of puppy training to get him started but because he’d had all his vaccinations he did come with us to the Tri Dog event at Box End Park and got used to being outside with lots of others dogs around.

Yogi enjoyed watching the comings and goings of an event from his place on the stake out line next to the van

For us it’s really important Yogi doesn’t feel stressed surrounded by other dogs and particularly other dogs barking. At canicross events you get a lot of noise and activity at the start of races and if you want to have a calm and controlled dog on a start line, the sooner they get used to be around that kind of noise and understanding it’s not frightening, the better.

The next thing we’ve done is get him used to wearing a harness. It might sound obvious but so many people walk their dogs on a collar then just expect their dog to be ok with having a harness put on and learning to pull in it. The feel of a harness can be very different for a dog and so Yogi has been walked in a harness since we started proper walks, so he can learn a harness signals something fun and going out for activity.

The Neewa Running harness being adjustable on the neck and chest was the perfect harness to get him used to walking in one and he didn’t out-grow it within a week!

The other thing we have been actively training is voice commands on walks. It is never too young to start training the voice commands, so we have been working on ‘wait’ ‘go on’ ‘gee’ (for right) ‘haw’ (for left) and ‘steady’ (if we ever get that one mastered it will be a miracle!). So far it appears that Yogi is picking up his cues from the other dogs, as his responses are faster when he is with another of the team and can see how they react to the command but this is all part of his learning process and eventually he will independently know what the voice commands mean.

Yogi is learning a lot from the other dogs, including the reaction to voice commands and what they mean

It will be interesting to see how Yogi gets on with everything over the next few months as he grows and we can begin to do more activity with him. At the moment some off lead running and relatively short lead walks, along with reward based training at home is plenty to keep his mind and body occupied as he learns about life as a K9 Trail Time team member. We will continue his training in this way for at least another few months until he has developed a bit more and experienced being at some more races when the season starts again in September.

We hope you’ll enjoy following his progress and will blog again when there’s more we can do with his training. Happy trails!