Running with a reactive dog

March is Pet Anxiety Month so it felt like a good time to write this blog on running with a reactive dog. Many of the people who get into the dog sports of canicross, bikejor and dog scootering, do so because they have a high energy dog, possibly bred to do a job which isn’t accessible to them in their current home. Some of these dogs are rescues and some have just developed anxiety leading to the dog being reactive in certain situations. I know plenty of people who have a found a safe haven in canicross because it allows you to exercise your dog, whilst keeping them close to you and under control to prevent incidents with other dog walkers.

Canicross can be a great way to exercise your reactive dog, allowing them to socialise safely with other dogs

People who have never owned a reactive dog will probably not understand the daily struggles of planning a stress free route for your dog or the impact that their ‘friendly’ off lead dog interfering can have on your dog and your day. So whilst it is extremely annoying, we do all have to consider that not everyone will understand your dogs’ reaction and often their first response is to accuse you of having an aggressive dog – not fun or fair on anyone!

I want to point out that I’m not a qualified behaviourist, I talk about this from my own experiences having owned three reactive dogs now, all of whom were reactive in slightly different ways and for different reasons and all of whom I have canicrossed with and canicross raced with.

In my experience dogs become reactive for a reason and whatever that reason is, it is usually based on a fear of something. If you can find out what ‘triggers’ their reactivity (so basically work out what is frightening them) then you are halfway there to helping ease, or resolve, the problem.

My own dogs

The first example I have is with my first canicross dog Tegan, Tegan was a husky collie cross, loads of energy and a mix of two renowned working breeds, both endurance breeds with a really strong work ethic. This is important because Tegan NEVER gave up on something if it upset her, if she had a ‘run in’ with another dog, she would remember that and it was very difficult to persuade her not to react in any future meetings with that dog, I think her persistence in this was part of her genetic make up, not just as a result of an individual disagreement.

Tegan was always shouting at me or someone else to let her opinions be known!

Tegan would react badly to most dogs she saw whilst on the lead and holding her in situations where we met other dogs ‘head on’ was always difficult. Canicrossing however, was a different story and I couldn’t understand at first why she was fine running shoulder to shoulder with a strange dog, yet would create merry hell in the car park after a run if the dog came any where near her. I began to learn about what situations ‘triggered’ her reactivity and so I would avoid them if at all possible.

Avoidance of the trigger has now become my key tool in dealing with reactivity and you might be thinking ‘well that’s not really an answer that solves the problem’ but for me and my dogs, it is. Tegan would react because she felt threatened in a situation, not because she was a nasty, aggressive dog but because she genuinely felt that for whatever reason, she was unsafe in meeting some other dogs in head on situations and so she would react first.

My springer collie cross Donnie is similar, he will happily canicross alongside a dog he has never met before but if you ask him to ‘meet’ a dog in a walking or running situation, he turns into a spitting, snarling and quite frankly scary looking dog. I often find myself apologising for him if we meet someone out on walks or runs and generally leave the encounter embarrassed, which is why more often than not, I just try to avoid meeting people altogether.

Donnie will happily run alongside dogs he doesn’t live with but won’t tolerate them approaching him

Where it’s not possible to avoid coming face to face with other dogs, I have to do my best to ensure every situation is managed and doesn’t lead to something which could reinforce the behaviour, so staying calm, moving him as far out of the way as possible and reassuring him, are generally the methods I employ for helping to keep him below his ‘threshold’ for reacting.

Canicross has been a lifeline for us in that I know I have him under control when he is attached to me, I can pull him in closer to me quickly and he is generally a much happier dog than if he were constantly in a situation where he was reacting to everything. The other thing about Donnie is that he has Addisons Disease which is influenced by stress and so keeping him as stress free as possible is quite literally keeping him healthier!

My final example dog is Delta who is much quieter and more subtle with her reactivity but she is still nervous and whereas Tegan and Donnie’s reactions were your typical ‘fight’ response to a potential threat, Delta’s is flight, so she runs! This is where canicross comes into the picture again for being a great way for her to see the countryside with me but without her being in a situation where she feels the need to flee. Delta knows she can just drop by my side and I can keep other dogs / people away and so her confidence has grown since we have been canicross training, as she learns that nothing bad happens when she’s with me and I wrote another blog on this here: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2020/01/27/keeping-your-dog-safe/ about making sure she felt safe.

Delta is happy to run with me and I feel she is safer attached to me, so there is no ‘flight’ risk if we meet other dogs – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

So what happens when you go to a canicross race?

Canicross racing is something I have written a fair bit about but not necessarily in the context of the reactive dog. I often see people ask if they can take their reactive dog to a canicross race and the short is answer is ‘yes’. The longer answer however is, ‘yes, but think very carefully about whether you should’.

I am always actively encouraging people to get to canicross races, the organisers are people generally experienced with dogs and will be friendly and understanding towards you, even if you dog is reactive. Most true dog people understand that not all dogs will behave in the same way and will help you feel welcome and try and accommodate any worries you might have about taking part in a canicross race.

However, and this is quite a big however, if you feel your dog won’t cope very well with the situation being surrounded by other high energy and excited dogs, or having to pass other dogs and this might cause your dog more stress than enjoyment, or worse put your dog in a situation where you feel they have the potential to harm another dog, you or even themselves, then perhaps a race situation isn’t for you.

I have to hold my dogs by their harnesses on the start line to make sure they do not cross the path of other runners and their dogs

You do need to be able to control your dog in a race situation so that you are not responsible for causing anxiety in someone else’s dog. I’ve been on the receiving end of this and have had my dogs lunged at and ultimately put off racing by other competitors’ lack of care when handling their dog in a race. I personally wouldn’t want my dog to be the cause of this for someone else and so I would always recommend building your reactive dog up slowly to racing. If you positively train them around other dogs, taking time to reinforce the fun elements of running with other dogs and work hard to do all you can to make the experience exciting rather than anxiety inducing, then you can enjoy racing with your reactive dog too.

Canicross is much more fun if you know everyone has control over their dog – Photo Courtesy of CBR Photography

My final thoughts

So to conclude, running with your reactive dog can be a really good way to get your dog used to being around other dogs without putting them under too much pressure to interact, or allow them to reinforce any negative behaviours around other dogs and people. Whether your dog is confrontational when anxious or looks to escape the situation, you have much more control if your dog is attached to you and can give you the peace of mind you need to be able to enjoy going out with your dog, without the fear of a negative situation with other trail users.

Happy trails!

Snack time for your dog – HundEnergy. Bars

We discovered the HundEnergy. Bars last year when we were kindly donated some for all our Tri Dog competitors and the K9 Trail Time team got to sample them. We spoke to Sarah at HundEnergy. and asked her to share a bit about the Bars so our active dog owners can see for themselves why they might want these handy little snack bars for their dogs.

HundEnergy. is a brand for active dogs and their owners and our flagship product is the HundEnergy. Bar. This nutritional snack uses only ingredients that are beneficial to a dog after an extended period of exercise and is completely plant-based.

What’s inside HundEnergy. Bars?

At first you may think having a snack that’s plant-based goes against the more traditional food you currently feed your dog, however a dog thrives of a high protein diet made up of both meat and plant based matter.

When to use?

Humans need additional nutrients during or after exercising to replenish those that are lost, and to also aid with recovery. The same rule can be applied to your dog. Each dog has its specific daily exercise requirements depending on age and breed, however we can assume all dogs require extra nutrients after a long period of exercise. That is where the HundEnergy. Bar steps in.

HundEnergy. Bars contain natural ingredients that either aid in recovery and build, such as raw peanuts or give quick release energy such as gluten free oats.

This makes them the ideal snack for your dog when taking part in activities such as Canicross or any other type of Canisport.

Each Bar is individually wrapped meaning they can be kept in a handy place such as a kit bag, or backpack ready to give to your dog when they need it the most. As the ingredients are all completely natural, one bar for one serving will be suitable for any type of dog, they can even serve as a nutritious snack in-between meals.

If you’d like to find out more information or to buy HundEnergy. Bars you can find them here: https://www.k9trailtime.com/other-activities/walking/hundenergy-bar.html

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

K9 Trail Time Myth Buster Number 2 – You can’t canicross a dog in a short harness

You can’t canicross your dog in a short harness – Ever heard this one? I’ve seen this comment on a number of groups recently and the irony of this is that 11 years ago when I started canicrossing, everyone was told they could ONLY canicross in a short harness!

At that point there weren’t so many options for a longer style harness and X-Backs were the main design for a long pulling harness, so the theory was at that time, that you shouldn’t canicross in an X-Back because the harness was designed for a low pull point (this much is true) and that when used for canicrossing, the X-Back would lift off the dogs back and cause issues for the dog (never seen this happen). This prompted us to write a blog about why we love the X-Back harness because certain companies and individuals were trying to profit from this false information and we wanted to explain why the X-Back was still a fantastic harness for running dogs in, no matter what the sport…

We love X-Backs (even if Donnie’s face doesn’t say so in this picture!)

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2016/06/21/why-we-love-x-back-harnesses/

So instead of an X-Back, people were suggesting that a ‘H- Back’ Harness (essentially a short harness) was the only option for canicrossers to use safely. We actually started out with shorter style harnesses for this reason and quickly realised that there were pros and cons for both styles of dog sport harnesses and that different dogs suited different things.

The Howling Dog Alaska Distance Harness an example of a ‘H Back’ style

Another typical ‘H Back’ style harness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At K9 Trail Time we prefer to use common sense and a knowledge of a dogs anatomy to determine whether a particular style of harness will cause a dog any restrictions to movement, rather than hearsay and the marketing of companies who have a vested interest in persuading you one way or the other about a suitable running harness they manufacture.

There are certainly some short harnesses we would not recommend for canicross and there are many ‘walking’ harnesses which claim to be suitable for canicross but are not in our opinion. Remember what you are looking for in a harness is for it to be non-restrictive and allow your dog to move as freely as possible, so a harness which comes across or covers the shoulders in any significant way, will not be suitable.

Harnesses which restrict shoulder movement are not suitable for canicross

However, we have used a number of different, highly suitable, short harnesses and recommend only harness which we have personally used for the dog sports. It is also worth mentioning at this point that we took all our harnesses to a group of qualified and experienced Canine Massage Guild members and in terms of potential for muscular problems from a badly fitting harness, they preferred the shorter styles of harness on the whole.

The Non-stop Line Harness, one of the selection we have which have been throughly tried and tested by our team!

We do always recommend the shorter harnesses for dogs who are more leisurely pullers and dogs who drop back because sometimes dogs who pull very hard out in front all the time can make a rasping noise in a short harness. This is due to the fact that the pull on a short harness is directed along the top of the harness, which pulls the harness back, sometimes up and if the harness isn’t sitting low enough on the dog, this can mean into the throat. All this depends on your dog and the way the harness fits and I can run 3 of my 4 dogs in a short harness with no problems, however the 4th dog will always make this rasping noise, even when walking!

Even my biggest, most athletic dog can run well in his short harness

So we hope that blog has helped dispel another myth we have seen floating around in groups and reassure those of you who do run your dogs in short harnesses, that you’re not going to do them any harm running them in a shorter style harness.

Happy trails!

K9 Trail Time Myth Buster Number 1 – You have to be super fit to canicross

At K9 Trail Time we often hear the words ‘I’m not fit enough to run with my dog’ and we’d like to dispel that myth and turn it into ‘you will get fit ‘if’ you run with your dog’!

We all have to start somewhere and although you might see plenty of athletic looking people taking part in the sport of canicross, particularly racing, please don’t think that everyone starts off like this. Often it takes a lot of patience, willpower and determination to get fit running with your dog but once you get involved you realise how good it can be for both of you.

In fact many people start off exercising with their dog and go on to enjoy other sports as a result!

A few case studies:

Duncan Wells as he started canicross in the UK

Duncan Wells canicrossing in the French Alps – much fitter after a few years of running with his dogs!

Natti Shaw as she just started canicross, Natti now takes part in OCR races and many other fitness activities but she started with canicross

 

Sarah was also inspired to get fit with her dogs and now runs couch to 5km canicross club runs with her local canicross group

So where do I start?

Couch to 5km

A really good place to start is a simple Couch to 5km programme and we have posted a blog with a couple of options for this here: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/k9-trail-time-basic-couch-to-5km-plan-for-canicross/

There are also apps which can get you motivated such as the NHS one here: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/get-running-with-couch-to-5k/

You can also download podcasts to listen to but we personally prefer to canicross without ear phones in as you can hear what’s going on around you.

Canicrossing can be enjoyed just you and your dog, not necessarily with groups or music to spur you on, your dog will do that!

Canicross Groups

You can start a Couch to 5km programme on your own, or get a group of you together to start this, by organising a group you’re more likely to succeed as you hold each other accountable for your progress. Groups can encourage and inspire and we highly recommend trying to find people in your local area to meet up with to get started. You might find that you already have a local group with experienced canicrossers  who can also join in to help with advice on running with your dog and getting the right equipment so you are both comfortable. Often there will be someone who will lead these runs for beginners and this is the perfect place to start.

Having a group to run with can be extremely motivating for both you and your dog

Canicross classes

There are a number of individual trainers, clubs or organisations offering canicross classes now and most of these will focus on getting you started safely with your dog. Our advice with these classes is to investigate your instructor to find out how much canicross experience they have themselves. Some classes are run by personal trainers and some are run by dog trainers, some are run by people who have been canicrossing for years with their own dogs and this is most valuable. In our opinion you need to have some experience of both running AND dogs to be able to teach canicross, as it is a lot more than just going for a run with your dog and your trainer should be able to train both you and your dog in your classes.

Make sure your canicross instructor has had years of training for the specific sport, not just running or dog training

Whatever way you get into it, running with your dog can be a great experience and most people certainly start off in the sport of canicross without having had a running background. If you are one of these people, do not be put off!!! Join the thousands of other people who have begun their canicross journey being unfit and unsure but develop with their dog to increase the fitness and health of both of you, who knows where your journey together might take you!

We hope that has helped dispel the myth that you have to be super fit to run with your dog, you can start anywhere but if you stick with it you will both definitely benefit – Happy trails!

 

Tri Dog – The first UK Triathlon with Dogs

In 2017 the Tri Dog events committee (made up of recreational, national and international athletes) organised the very first triathlon with dogs in the UK. As individuals we all wanted to be involved in running events and do something for the dog sports community, but there are so many organisations doing such a good job of the standard canicross and bikejor events, we wanted to do something a bit different.
The aim of Tri Dog was to arrange a 3 stage event where participants swim with their dogs, then exit the water and transition onto the bike to complete an off road bike course, then transition to the trail running section to finish the triathlon. To explain a little bit more about how this works with dogs we’ve divided the triathlon into the three disciplines.
Swimming:
Swimming with dogs hasn’t got a specific name and isn’t yet a recognised sport, there are however a number of groups beginning to hold Canine SUP and swimming sessions across the UK. For our Tri Dog events we request that your dog is attached to you via a lead of some description for safety. The idea is to try and get your dog to either swim alongside you in the open water or if you’ve got a really strong swimmer, they can even pull you if they are wearing a comfortable harness.

Swimming with your dog – Photo courtesy of John Boulton

Bikejor:
Biking with dogs is known as bikejoring and although originates from the sled dog sports where people used bikes to keep their dogs fit in the spring and autumn when there was no snow for sledding, is now a sport in it’s own right. Riders usually have a mountain bike with an attachment which helps to keep the bungee line from falling in the wheel if the dog stops suddenly and the dog is in harness, attached to the bike via a bungee lead around the headstock of the bike. Bikejor is much faster than canicross and the top dog and rider combinations are reaching speeds of in excess of 30 mph on some of the trails.

You can bike or scooter with your dogs for the wheeled stage but most chose to bike – Photo courtesy of John Boulton

Canicross:
Running with dogs is now more commonly known as canicross and is defined as cross country running with your dog attached to you. To take part in canicross races, your dog must have a correctly fitting harness and be attached via a bungee lead to a waistbelt worn by the person. Canicross is the fastest growing sport of the 3 in the UK and there have been specific races for people to take part in with their dogs for over 10 years now.

Canicross is a rapidly growing sport in the UK – Photo courtesy of Take 2 Event Photos

The Tri Dog series of training and events got underway at the beginning of October 2016 with our first training weekend, we then went on to hold a duathlon in January 2017 to practice the transitions and ensure we could run the event safely with numerous dogs in one area. The training and duathlon went without a hitch, so it was full steam at the end of April for our first dog triathlon!
We chose to host the event at Box End Park near Milton Keynes because we’ve attended events there before and the site was perfect for everything we needed, with two separate transition areas, one at each end of the park. We wanted plenty of space for everyone so no one felt pressured to transition quicker than they wanted to, the aim was to keep everything very calm for the dogs and we think we achieved this.

We kept our transition area calm for the dogs at both the duathlon and triathlon – Photo courtesy of Take 2 Event Photos

The other big consideration we had was what time of year we held the event as the water temperature needed to be warm enough for the human and dog combinations to complete the 70 metre swim comfortably but also cool enough for the dogs for the bikejor and canicross sections. We had many a discussion about this and decided the end of April and end of September were probably our best bets and that certainly seemed to be the case for our first triathlon.
We had in excess of 60 entries over the weekend, made up of individuals completing the triathlon or a duathlon which we also ran after the main triathlon. We also allowed people to put together teams so they could relay the 3 stages if they wanted to, so everybody who wanted to come and have a go at the event could enter something they felt comfortable with completing.
The best part of the weekend for us as organisers was to see the real look of achievement as people crossed the finish lines with their dogs and received their competitors medal. The triathlon was a real test of people’s bond with their dog as it takes quite a lot of trust and training to be able to swim, bike and run with your dog. Not to mention the fact that although the distances were kept short (70 metres for the swim, 2.5 km for the bike and 2.5 km for the run) you needed to have a decent level of fitness to be able to race in all 3 disciplines, one after the other. At every stage we saw participants working with their dogs and it was evident who had done the most training from the dogs’ trust in their owner to guide them through the event from start to finish, competing in a race they would never have experienced before.

Competitors had a real sense of achievement after completing the event – Photo courtesy of John Boulton

We are pleased to say the September event also had a great response and we managed to increase our numbers slightly and had some great feedback from both events. We are looking forward to hosting the next Tri Dog triathlon at the beginning of May at Box End Park again. We have learnt valuable lessons about timings, numbers and general administration of the event, so we are confident we can improve on the 2017 events and give people an even better experience of triathlon with dogs at the next one.
To find out more about the events please visit our Facebook page www.facebook.com/TriDogUK/, where will be beginning to post updates and information about the next event soon or visit our website: http://www.tri-dog.com/
We look forward to seeing more people entering and completing their first triathlon with their dog with us in 2018!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The importance of getting a properly fitted harness for your dog

With the dog sports of canicross (running with your dog) and bikejor (biking with your dog) becoming so popular it is inevitable that new people will come into the sport and want information on how to get the best experience for them and their dog. From our point of view the most important piece of kit you need for both canicross and bikejor is the harness for your dog. If you are going to expect your dog to pull any weight when running, then it is your responsibility to make sure that your dog is in the most suitable harness which allows your dog the best range of movement to suit their shape and running style.

Your dog should be comfortable and have free range of movement while running and pulling – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

 

We’ve recently seen a number of people out running with their dogs on a collar and lead, which for us is just not an acceptable way to exercise your dog, unless it is running to heel and not pulling at all. The pressure put on the neck (a very sensitive area) with your dog pulling is something that should always be avoided and we even walk with a harness for the same reason. If you are going to run with your dog, it is highly likely your dog will be faster than you and therefore pulling at some point even if off to the side, so ensuring their comfort and safety should be a top priority.

The next problem we’ve seen more regularly is well-meaning people who have been badly advised or have been mis-sold a harness and although the dog is wearing a harness, it is just not suitable for the purpose of running. For example there are no-pull harnesses which have been used because they have a fleece lining on the webbing and so it is assumed to be comfortable but anything which tightens when pulled into will not be comfortable for a dog and will not encourage freedom of movement. The other common unsuitable type of harness is one which has a strap across the front of the shoulders, these are often sold as ‘sport’ harnesses by the manufacturers so people are being misled into thinking these are suitable for the pulling sports – they are not. The reason being that this front strap restricts shoulder movement and will prevent a full, free range of motion when the dog is running.

Harnesses such as this with one strap across the front of the shoulders are just not suitable for running dogs in, although may be sold as such

Sometimes even when the correct style of harness has been chosen unfortunately the sizing is wrong and most commonly, too big. As a general rule a dog sport harness should fit snugly, many people feel that the neck is too tight, when in actual fact the neck of the harness should make it snug to put on and pull off over the head of the dog. You only need to be able to fit a few fingers in the neck of a proper fitting harness and there should be no gaping along the body when the harness is pulled into. If the harness is just sitting on the dog with no tension through it then it may bunch up or slide about, this is normal, these harnesses are designed for dogs to pull into. If you have a dog who doesn’t pull, there are harnesses which don’t do this and we can point you in the right direction for these particular harness styles.

The Non-stop Line Harness, one of the selection we have which suits pullers and non-pullers

It is actually quite rare for a harness to be too small, it isn’t easy to get a dog into a harness which is too small and unless your dog is young and has been growing, or put on a bit of weight, then it’s usually very easy to tell if the harness is too small straight away. If you think your harness is putting pressure on your dog’s neck (you might hear a coughing noise) this is not necessarily down to it being too small, in most cases the style of harness doesn’t suit your dog and in some cases the harness might actually be too big but is pulling back because of this and causing an issue.

Most owners will recognise a properly fitting harness as soon as they see it on their dog but without having anything to compare it to or someone to confirm the harness fits, it can be difficult to know for sure. We get asked all the time to check harness fit and we’re honest, if you don’t need a new or different harness we won’t try and persuade you to buy one and if your dog is running happily in a harness then 9 times out of 10, it is suitable. But if your dog isn’t in the correct style and size of harness to suit them then it’s a bit like wearing ill fitting shoes, they will pinch, restrict, rub or even stop your dog wanting to run. If you own more than one dog you might even find that each dog you own is suited to a different style of harness.

Choosing the right harness for your dogs might mean each dog is in a different style of harness, not every dog suits every harness, they are individuals – Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

There’s loads of information on our blog about choosing a harness and we’re always happy to help anyone who wants to find the perfect harness for their dog, just drop us an e-mail to info@k9trailtime.com and we’d love to help. It really is the most important part of your dog sport kit, so it’s worth spending the time to get it right! Happy trails 🙂

 

Why we race (when we know we’re not going to win)

When we first got into canicross we’d never done any dog sports competitively (unless you count a failed attempt at a flyball show!) so it was quite daunting going along to a ‘race’ particularly as I’d not taken part in a running race since I was at school. But it was explained to me that I didn’t need to be fast to enter and it was all about having fun with your dogs. That first race with CaniX got me hooked and from that point on, I knew this was something I wanted to do regularly. However I never have been and never will be, a fast runner, so why did I want to keep entering races I knew I wasn’t going to win?

Our very first CaniX race at Stanton Country Park – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

The answer lies in the whole experience of racing, not just the races themselves. To take part in a race there is an element of training, you need to have spent time before the race, building up your distances, making sure your dogs are happy to run alongside other dogs, other people and also working out what equipment will suit you best. This training also builds a strong bond with you and your dogs, you have good days and bad days, all of this can only be achieved through teamwork and working with your dogs to make improvements.

I joined plenty of social canicross runs, driving over an hour each way in some cases to go and run with people I’d never met before. I was welcomed with open arms (and cake in most cases) and began to develop friendships on the back of my training for the races. I could never have imagined myself regularly entering races previously but there was something special about the events that made me want to do more. I just enjoyed taking my dogs to new places and meeting new people who didn’t see my dogs’ slightly unruly behaviour as a problem, they accepted it and helped me channel that behaviour into something positive.

Social canicross runs are a great way to train your dog to get used to being alongside others and part of building up your dogs’ confidence to race

The more races I went to, the more people I met who had similar interests to me and I quickly made some really good friends who I still see regularly nearly 10 years later. Now I still use races as a way of meeting people but also to get my dogs to new parts of the country I haven’t seen before and to socialise them in a way that doesn’t stress them out, with people who understand what it’s like to own dogs who might not be perfectly behaved.

I also started to get a feel for who in my category was a similar standard to me and that gave us something to train for. If I was only 20 seconds behind someone in one race I would try and improve my times at home so I could beat that person by 20 seconds the next time we raced. I also learnt a lot from other people at races and still do, everyone has a slightly different approach to racing and training and so by talking to people about their dogs and their routines, I have picked up great information to use to make changes to my own habits.

Spending time with other people who are doing the sport allows you to pick up training tips, learn from them and vice versa

Of course we have had some successes too, when you work hard and give yourself goals then anything is possible and together with my dogs we have been placed in many National races and Championships in the 10 years we’ve been racing but the majority of the time we don’t race to win and more often than not we are not being placed these days. Someone said to me last year that the dogs believe they have won every single race if you tell them they have and it really struck a chord with me. So now I tell my dogs every time we cross a finish ‘well done, you’ve won’ and it sounds daft but they don’t know or don’t care if we’ve won but my excitement and praise lets them know they’ve done well and that’s what counts.

So it is everything about racing that we love, not just the race itself. The time you spend, training you do and bonding with your dog all creates an experience which I personally wouldn’t want to live without now. We’ve done local races, national races and European level races and can honestly say all of them have given us so much enjoyment no matter where we have placed. If you’re thinking about racing but don’t feel confident, my advice would be just to give it a go because so much of the fun is in the preparation and social side of it, whether or not you actually do well in the race is down to your perspective on it. My dogs ‘win’ every time and the happy look on their faces is all that matters to us. Happy trails!

Whether or not we win, we enjoy the whole experience of racing and the dogs ‘win’ every time!

 

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – S is for Sport

We’re still working our way through the A-Z of Canicross and so now we’re at ‘S’ we can’t ignore the fact that canicross is a recognised sport, with it’s own races and even different championship series taking place all over the UK, Europe and the world. Canicross was also recently added to the Kennel Club listed activities, although we would suggest going to one of the more experienced clubs and organisations who have actually been involved in the sport for over 10 years if you’re looking for up to date information and advice. One such organisation is CaniX http://www.canix.co.uk who set up the first race series specifically for canicross in the UK and are still holding events all over the country today. Another of the largest clubs who organise races and who offer training, advice, and kit to try, is the Canicross Midlands group http://www.canicrossmidlands.co.uk/. Although canicross is now known as a sport, CaniX and Canicross Midlands have always encouraged people to run with their own pets and to just enjoy the bond you can create with your dog through running together. As the sport has developed many people are beginning to take the racing side of canicross more seriously and have invested in purpose bred dogs (mainly originating in Europe) to compete in higher level races such as those organised by the BSSF (British Sleddog Sport Federation) and the IFSS (International Federation for Sleddog Sports). However, whilst these dogs are beautiful athletes, there is no need for you to change from your pet dog to enjoy canicrossing with your four legged friend and we would suggest that the most fun you can have is in seeing your dog simply enjoying activity with you, keeping you both fit and healthy. Our slogan is after all, active dogs are happy dogs, and so for ‘S’ in our A-Z of Canicross we have chosen to highlight the fact that canicross is a sport that anyone with a dog can enjoy!

Although canicross is a sport with it’s own races, it is also something that can be enjoyed by anyone with their pet dog – Photo courtesy of Dylan Trollope