Continuing with our K9 Trail Time A-Z of canicross the ‘T’ for us is ‘time’. Many people feel they don’t have time for a new sport or think they might have to spend hours running with their dog every day to really feel the benefit but this isn’t the case. One of the reasons we got into the sport was because of the time it saved us in getting all of the team out, exercised and set up for the day when compared with how long it took if the dogs were just walked normally. We found that just 20 – 30 mins of canicrossing was more beneficial and tiring than up to an hour of regular walking and therefore we actually saved time every day, whilst keeping everyones’ mental and physical needs met. Although it can be fun to build up to longer runs and spending more time outside, on a day to day basis this relatively small amount of time sacrificed was enough to leave us all feeling happy. Time is also important in how you decide to spend it with your dogs, we feel there’s nothing better than enjoying nature being out running the trails with your best friends and for these reasons we have chosen time as our ‘T’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross.
K9 Trail Time Team member Heather Jenner has recently come back from the Trophee des Montagnes race series in France and she has written a set of top tips for those thinking of making the trip for next year.
We thought we’d share her top tips as they are useful when considering any challenging race or race series and here in the UK we have our very own new set of canicross specific races that will challenge even the seasoned canicrosser in the Red Kite Event series.
More information can be found about them here: https://www.redkitetrailevents.co.uk/
My Five Top Tips for Trophee des Montagnes:
This is also very important for your trainer choice and keeping up with your dogs paw care. I train mainly on the South Downs where we are spoilt with sheep grazed wide grassy tracks. Unable to finance any Wales trips this year, I headed into our neighbouring counties and asked canicrossers to lead me around some new routes which included hard stoney terrain.
Triathlon for dogs isn’t something that had been done before Tri Dog set up in the UK in 2016, probably because we have a climate which makes it very difficult to get the timing right for all three disciplines to be participated in at the same event. Traditionally the running and cycling elements of a triathlon are winter sports when dogs are involved, so that the dogs are running in cooler temperatures and are not likely to overheat. Of course this doesn’t relate so well to the open water swimming element and it is something we have considered at great length and have chosen our dates according to balancing these factors.
The group of people behind Tri Dog events in the UK have all had a wealth of competitive experience with running and cycling dogs but the swimming is something we have only been doing to maintain fitness in the summer. We have taken inspiration from a competition which has been running in Europe for 8 consecutive years now called ‘Iron Dog’ and using their model we have begun to offer a programme of training and events to develop triathlon for dogs in the UK, mainly based around the Midlands area.
The main elements of a Tri Dog event are:
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 a fast growing sport in the UK and there have been specific races for people to take part in with their dogs for over 10 years now.
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.
Swimming with dogs hasn’t got a specific name and isn’t yet a recognised sport. For the Tri Dog events being brought to the UK we are requesting 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.
The Tri Dog series of training and events got underway in October 2016 with the first training weekend which sold out before the event. We welcomed a group of owners and their dogs along to Croft Farm, near Tewkesbury to come and participate in all three disciplines and also practice some vital race skills.
The bikejor group concentrated on bike skills for the people and then once some basic skills were established and practiced, the dogs were brought into the training sessions. Depending on previous experience, some people were tackling a specially designed skills trail and some were getting confidence with their dog being attached to the bike and running out in front.
The canicross group focused on the skills necessary for racing in a triathlon, this is very important when it comes to racing with dogs as you are responsible for your dogs’ behaviour as well as your own! Canicrossers were passing each other side by side and then progressing to head on passes encouraging the dogs to ignore each other and stay calm. Race starts were also practiced and the transitions were explained and then completed by all those taking part. We are using stake out lines to attach the dogs to whilst the owner changes the equipment for each phase, this enables the dog to see the owner at all times but not interfere with any other dog or person, keeping everyone involved separate and safe.
The swimming group worked on getting the dogs confidently into the water and for some this was the first time they had experienced open water swimming with their dogs, so making the process as calm and enjoyable as possible was vital to ensure the dogs (and their owners) would be happy to do this again. For the swimming element of the triathlon, the welfare of the dogs is paramount and we do not encourage owners to force their dogs to swim, with this in mind there is a wade option for those whose dogs are struggling with the swim.
The training weekend was a resounding success and we have already had calls for more training sessions which we are hoping to provide in 2019. We have our next Triathlon event in less than two week now with the biggest entry we’ve seen since we began the events, so it looks like it will be a good one!
If you would like to know more about Tri Dog and for the event and training information please visit the Facebook page Tri Dog and our website http://www.tri-dog.com, we’d love to get more people participating and enjoying this very new combination of dog sports with their beloved pets.
There is so much information out there about how we should or shouldn’t look after our dogs in the hotter weather. Is it safe to run our dogs? Should we run our dogs? How should we exercise them? There are so many different questions and if you ask on any canicross page you will get a range of answers. As we at K9 Trail Time are trying to get the best information out there we went straight to Dr Anne Carter and Emily Hall MRCVS from Nottingham Trent University who have, over the past few years been looking at how dogs respond to heat, especially when running in harness. There is very little published research about dogs exercising in hotter or more humid conditions and so the work that Anne and Emily have been doing is invaluable to our dogs.
The first question everyone wants to know is how do we know if it is too hot? Does the temperature x humidity = 1000 actually mean anything?
As part of our research we calculated the “temperature x humidity” for 210 dogs at 10 canicross races, to see if the “do not run your dog if temperature (oC) x humidity (%) is greater than 1000” guideline was an accurate predictor of “safe” dog temperature. We found no correlation between the temperature x humidity value and dog temperature, or the number of dogs developing hyperthermia, or the number of dogs developing a temperature at risk of heatstroke, so would not recommend using this as a hard and fast rule.
If there is no set way to determine if it is too hot, how do we plan training our dogs over the summer so that they are fit enough for the racing season in September?
Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Black and male dogs are at higher risk, as well as those that are overweight, unfit, dehydrated or have a breathing disorder (including brachycephalic dogs). The important thing is to know your dog, some dogs cope better with the heat than others. Heatstroke is still possible in winter. Dogs can acclimatize but this can take around 6 weeks, something the British weather doesn’t often lend itself to. So if the temperature suddenly increases, the risk may be higher than after a steady increase. Try to exercise in the cooler parts of the day and use alternative keep fit options like swimming. Above all, get to know your dog! Crucially, does your dog stop or slow down when they get too hot (if so you’re lucky), or, will they run until they collapse. If your dog is the latter, you need to be extra careful.
What is humidity and why does everyone make a big deal about it? How does it affect the dogs?
As with people, high humidity can make a temperature feel a lot warmer and a run feel a lot harder. It is used to calculate the ‘feels like’ temperature. In high humidity, it is harder for dogs to dissipate heat, making them more at risk of heatstroke. Both humans and dogs rely on some heat being lost through evaporation, in humans we have sweat to evaporate, dogs use panting. At any temperature, a high humidity will limit evaporation, limiting heat loss.
When running our dogs in harness over the warmer months are there things we can look out for to make sure that our dogs aren’t over heating?
Early signs your dog is getting hot include increased salivating, excessive panting that doesn’t stop after rest, and a large and darker tongue. This can progress on to staggering and loss of balance, eventually causing collapse. One early sign could be that your dog stops pulling, or starts to stumble and trip more frequently. Reducing speed can help and letting them take a dip to cool down throughout the run.
What if my dog doesn’t really pull in harness, they just trot, and does that make a difference?
The less effort the dog puts in to a run, the lower the temperature of the dog-on average. There is still a risk of heatstroke, particularly in very hot weather, but we did find slower speeds didn’t increase body temperature as much as fast speeds.
Can I run my dog in their cooling coat? It helps them keep cool at home…
The problem with cooling coats is they can affect the dog’s natural cooling mechanism. The only study to look at cooling coats put them on greyhounds after a sprint race. Those in cooling coats had a higher body temperature than those without. There is no current evidence investigating the use of cooling coats during exercise, so we can’t comment on this, but if it’s hot enough that you think you might need a cooling coat, then perhaps a walk in the shade or a dip in the river might be a better option.
If that isn’t a good idea then how do I cool my dog down after a run? What if my dog doesn’t like getting in water?
After a run, active cooling is a good idea. Standing in or lying down in water, splashing luke warm water under their belly. Avoid using cold or iced water or submerging them in it as this can restrict blood vessels in the body and increase the risk of shock. If they don’t like water, they can be walked round or rested in the shade to cool them off, air movement is also very effective so pick a windy spot, or use the car air conditioning or a fan if you’re worried.
Sometimes our dogs put on weight over the summer as they do less, does this affect how they cope in warmer temperatures?
Increased weight can increase a dog’s ability to cope with the heat. It your dog is a little less svelte than usual, you will need to be more cautious when exercising in warmer weather. Reducing food intake relative to exercise can help keep the pounds off through the summer
Our dogs do agility and other sports over the summer and always seem fine; should we be watching for anything whilst competing in other sports or is it just harness sports?
Heatstroke is a risk for all dogs at any time but particularly when exercising in warm weather. Although sports such as agility are for much shorter periods of time, ambient temperatures are often higher so the risk of heatstroke is just as real.
If you are worried that your dog is suffering from heatstroke, active cooling is key. The car air con can be very useful, but the best chance of survival is to get them to the vets as quickly as possible.
So it sounds like there are still quite a few unanswered questions regarding heatstroke in exercising dogs, do you have any plans for more research?
We have just finished surveying owners of sports dogs about methods of cooling used, so expect to hear the results of that study in the hopefully not too distant future! We are also currently researching cooling after canicross races, measuring the dog’s temperature for up to 20 minutes after a race to see what impacts how quickly they cool, this study is still on going so you’ll have to wait a little longer for the results of that one.
Our next big research project is looking at activity levels in all types of dogs, any age, any breed and any health status, looking at how much exercise dogs are getting in general, but also how extreme weather impacts their ability to exercise.
The results of all our studies can be found on our blog: https://hotdogscanineheatstroke.wordpress.com/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!