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!
Here at K9 Trail Time we believe that responsible dog owners will seek to give their animals the best possible care to keep them fit, healthy and happy. This includes daily and varied exercise, training, a good diet and an adequate level of veterinary care.
Over the last few years though, as dog sport has become more competitive, leading canine athletes have been receiving enhanced treatment to keep them performing at their very best. Our friend Jenny Lee of Joggy Doggy Limited decided to investigate how an enhanced care regime of five simple steps might secure you a competitive advantage come racing season and here is what she discovered:
- Hydrotherapy – this low impact, non-weight bearing therapy is an excellent and safe way for performance dogs to improve muscle strength and stamina. As Jak Dyson of Snowy’s Canine Therapy Centre, Smarden explains:
‘A 5 minute swim is equivalent to a 5 mile run for a dog with water based exercising using 30% more oxygen than land based exercising. The pressure on the dog’s chest under the water means that every breath requires more effort especially when inhaling which strengthen the whole respiratory system. The resistance of the limbs as they move through the water also builds muscle and increases range of movement. In addition the heart gets to work hard keeping all the muscles supplied with nutrients that they need’.
There are further advantages to hydrotherapy as the warm water used can increase circulation, decrease stress, increase metabolic function and enhance blood flow. Ellie Camacho used a hydrotherapy pool and a water treadmill to help rehabilitate her rescue dog Gruff and build muscle and fitness for scootering. Here he is in action at Splash Paws Hydrotherapy:
- Physical therapy – this could be in the form of the more traditional Canine Massage, Canine Physiotherapy and Canine Chiropractic Therapy or the newer therapies of Canine Myotherapy and Canine Bowen Therapy
Maddy Bowen from The School of Canine Bowen Therapy has this to say about Bowen Therapy:
‘The potential of Canine Bowen therapy is seemingly endless but then we are looking at the dog in an holistic way. That simply means we treat the whole dog, not just the area presenting with an issue, but we also look at other factors that could be playing a part in a dog’s health – this could include diet, exercise, training, where the dog sleeps, does it get enough sleep etc…. As we work on the soft tissue, muscle, tendon, ligament and most importantly fascia, we can affect many systems in the body – circulatory, lymphatic, neurological, endocrine, limbic, this helps to explain how far reaching Bowen can be!’
If you want to know more about Canine Bowen Therapy then please visit Maddy’s website: http://www.madaboutbowen.com
Cath Nicoll from Dogs Body Canine Massage has many sporting dogs on her books and has seen her clients’ dogs benefit from Canine Massage therapy. Cath also sponsors athlete Ben Robinsons’ dog with regular massages, she says this about her work:
‘For muscle and joint problems, this strong manipulative type of massage brings great results and relief while helping to resolve many sub-clinical, everyday mobility issues you may see with your dog. This unique type of massage for dogs relies on extensive knowledge of canine anatomy & physiology, the movement of tissue over tissue, connective tissue release and the remobilisation of muscle to help break down scar tissue and promote better range of motion in the dogs joints. If your dog is injured, you can expect to see an improvement within 1-3 sessions.
Maintenance massages are recommended for any dog to spot any issues before they become a problem. A young, fit, active dog can benefit from massage 2-3 times a year.’
For more information on Canine Massage and to find your local therapist visit: www.k9-massage.co.uk
- Core Stability Training – good canine core stability is important in sport performance dogs as it can help posture, balance and shape whilst also supporting the back. It is important though to check that the dog is injury free with good posture and correct loading as wobble boards and other core strength equipment could overload already weakened muscles if there is an underlying problem. Elaine Sherwin is a top level canicross athlete and uses core stability exercises combined with checks from a chiropractor to ensure correct alignment. Here is Elaine’s dog Uma demonstrating her wobble board skills:
- Free Running Training – dogs naturally love to run and running free and unrestricted gives them the chance to really stretch out and gallop. Once they exceed a certain level of exertion they produce endorphins, in higher quantities than humans, rendering them relaxed and happy. The level of stimulation achieved rewards the dog for their effort and encourages them to love their speed work. Vickie Pullin of Arctic Quest trains her sled dogs using a Quad Bike either in front or behind, encouraging them to do short burst of speed intervals to really optimise their fitness levels.
Vickie helps to train people with their own dogs as part of her job and one to one sessions can be booked with her through the contact form on her website: http://www.arcticquest.co.uk/contact.html
- Specialised Diets for Sport Performance Dogs – what to feed your dog has been a contentious subject in recent years. It is encouraging though that increasingly owners are realising that the ingredient list printed on the packet is more important than the branding and images. It is quite sobering still to read the list of ingredients for some of the most expensive and well regarded brands! While dogs have different dietary requirements to their human partners their need for a high quality food is the same. We would not expect top level human athletes to consume a diet of low quality processed food and still have the endurance, stamina and energy to compete under duress in top level competition so don’t expect that of your racing dog!
For many the chosen diet for their sports dogs is a raw food diet, high in protein and dietary fat but with less emphasis on grains and other carbohydrates. In addition to the core diet many top level competitors also feed their dogs joint supplements to support the skeletal system and connective tissue from the additional load placed upon them from regular racing. This is increasingly important in older dogs who are likely to suffer more ‘wear and tear’.
New to the market in the UK are the FASTDOG performance dog products which are designed specifically to support the canine athlete recover from exertion and we are seeing many dogs benefit from the increased interest and knowledge surrounding supplementation of the sport dogs’ diet. For more information on the FASTDOG products see the below link:
While there is no ‘magic formula’ to success in dog sport most would agree that for our dogs that give 100%, they deserve the best level of care that we can give within our own time and financial constraints. It might be worth trying out a few of the steps above just to see what happens!
Thanks to Jenny for looking at how all the above can keep your sport dog in tip top condition.
Jenny Lee is lead coach at Joggy Doggy Limited (www.joggydoggy.co.uk), a canine exercise and personal training business with branches across the UK. For more information on care of your sports performance dog please contact her at email@example.com
K9 Trail Time is also involved in setting up a centre for information, advice, training, therapy and equipment for sports dogs. One thing not covered in the 5 points above is how important getting the right equipment for yourself and your dog can be for your performance. If you’re not comfortable in your kit, then how can you perform to the best of your ability?
We will be holding various dog sport and therapy workshops, open evenings for kit consultations and canine first responder courses at this special venue beginning this month, so please do check out The Mutt Hut Central on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mutthutcentral/ or visit our website for details: http://www.mutthutcentral.co.uk/
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.
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.
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.
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!
Now you could be forgiven for thinking that the ‘R’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross would be for ‘run’ and although running is an important part of canicross, for this blog I wanted to focus on ‘rest’. Resting both yourself and your dog regularly is vital to allow your muscles to recover from activity and although you might have a dog with seemingly boundless energy, constantly running your dog in harness will cause fatigue in the same way daily exercise has a tiring effect on your own body. Without rest both of you are more prone to injury and illness and also your canicross runs could become monotonous for your dog, unless you are constantly changing the routes you take. Your dog might always be keen to go out with you, but you need to be the one to enforce a ‘down day’ from time to time and enjoy some other less physical activity to keep him or her occupied. The other thing to be gained from regular rest days is that your dog will learn to be calm without being run every day and that can be invaluable if for any reason you have to have a short break from training. So although canicross is all about running with your four legged friend, we think it’s well worth factoring in a few rest days in your programme and for that reason we have chosen rest as our ‘R’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross.
One of the most common things that people say to me about why they haven’t gone to a canicross race is that they don’t feel they are quick enough to enter, so I wanted to make the ‘Q’ in our A-Z of Canicross represent the word quick and explain why you don’t have to be! Canicross is growing so quickly in the UK because it provides an outlet for many dogs and their owners to engage in an outdoor activity which is good for both. Canicross racing for most people is just a way to challenge themselves to get better and give themselves a goal to aim for. I have been competing now for eight years and have never been quick but I have enjoyed running at many different venues and met so many like minded people by attending the events. If you are very competitive and want to improve, racing is a great way to improve your times but being a fast runner is not a pre-requisite for entering and I would always encourage anyone to have a go regardless of your speed. Of course you don’t have to race at all, there are now so many fantastic canicross groups who arrange regular fun runs that you can enjoy the social aspect of canicross with your dog without ever making it to a race. The canicross groups will always cater for every level too and even the slowest of runners will not get left behind. It is for that reason I’ve chosen the word ‘quick’ for my Q in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross, as in, you don’t have be quick to enjoy this fantastic sport with your dog.
Canicross is essentially a sport where your dog is meant to pull you whilst you run behind attached via a waistbelt, bungee line and harness, so how could we do an A-Z of Canicross without mentioning pulling?! The amount of pull you will get from your dog depends on the size, strength but most importantly, the inclination of your dog to actually pull into a harness and take some of your weight whilst you run together. Never underestimate how hard a small dog can pull if they are determined and likewise, you could have the largest, strongest dog breed available but if your dog is not focused on pulling as a job, then it is unlikely you will benefit from that size and strength. I get asked all the time if you can teach a dog to pull and the answer is yes but there is a condition to that, because although you can encourage and train your dog to pull, they have to enjoy it and want to, otherwise they will just keep you company rather than help you out canicrossing. So because pulling is such a large part of canicross it is our ‘P’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross.
We all know that there are two main ways to stay fit and healthy, firstly by eating the right diet and secondly by getting out and exercising. In the UK alone it is predicted that by 2020 as many as one third of the adult population will be classified as obese. The same can be said about the UK’s dog population. Recent studies estimate that up to one third of dogs nationwide are already overweight and this figure is set to rise to over half of all dogs by 2022. Obesity is linked with diabetes, orthopaedic disease, heart disease, respiratory distress, high blood pressure, skin diseases & cancer in both dogs and people, so this alone is a very good reason to be getting out and about canicrossing with your dog. A recent PDSA report estimates that across the country, six million dogs go for a daily walk shorter than an hour long, and a quarter of a million dogs don’t get walked at all. With these statistics it’s easy to see why we need to find a way to encourage people to exercise themselves and their dogs, and who can think of a better personal trainer than their dog?! At K9 Trail Time we are trying to make it as easy as possible for you to get into canicross too, by providing you with loads of information, including links to local clubs and national events we know about, as well as offering advice and help to anyone who asks for it. So if you are thinking you would like to find a fun way to combat obesity for both yourself and your dog, look no further, canicross is the perfect way to keep trim, whilst having fun and doing something you’ll both benefit from mentally and physically. For that reason we have chosen obesity, or rather, a way to combat it, as our ‘O’ in the A-Z of canicross.