Making the transition from canicross to bikejor

Many people who come into the dog sports begin with canicross because it is the easiest way to exercise your dog and also the simplest way to train your dog to pull in a harness. However, if you’ve ever attended a race which has the bikejor classes too, then you’ll have seen how much fun the competitors have at the faster speeds you can achieve with the wheels. It doesn’t appeal to everyone but once you’ve trained your dog to pull you, it can be very tempting to have a go at either bikejor or dog scootering to get that extra speed for a more exciting run.

Bikejoring is great fun and you can really get up your speed on a bike to go at your dogs’ pace – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

If you are thinking of giving bikejor a go then there are a few things you should know which will help you get the best from your experience.

The first thing you need to make sure of is that you have trained strong voice commands. When canicrossing it is easy to correct your dogs’ direction and quickly grab your bungee line to prevent any mishaps. However when you are on a bike there is no option to do this, so your dog must respond to your voice signals for directions and control otherwise you could end up causing an accident if your dog isn’t listening to you.

It doesn’t always go right at the best of times, so make sure you’ve trained your voice commands as best you can! – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

You also need to make sure the equipment you are using is suitable, don’t be tempted to ‘botch’ it with home made bikejor arms and lines. There are plenty of clubs now who may have equipment they can loan you to have a go with your dog and there are a small number of businesses offering training for the dog sports now. If you choose to borrow club equipment remember they are not liable for anything you do and might not be able to offer the ‘training’ you require but using the correct equipment will at least give you an idea if you’d like to do more bikejoring, so you can get your own kit to use later on.

Getting the right equipment for bikejoring will give your dog the best starting experience

We would suggest that it is quite important that you train solo on the bike first before attaching your dog. You might already be a skilled mountain biker and in this case you will be giving your dog the best chance of doing well at bikejoring by being in control of the bike and yourself first. However if you’re getting on a bike for the first time in a number of years (which was the situation we were in) then it is worth hitting the trails without your dog to gain some bike skills that you can utilise when you do attach your dog. Without having a basic skill level on a mountain bike you could be putting yourself and your dog at risk of harm, so just get used to being on a bike again and then you can help your dog get the best possible start to bikejoring.

Bike training without your dog can only be on benefit to you and your dog when you do try bikejoring, so try this first if you haven’t been on a bike for a while

It can be very helpful to find someone knowledgable to help you get started, we mentioned above there are a few businesses offering training now and some clubs also offer training weekends and camps which can be a great way to introduce your dog to something new. We recommend that you never try bikejoring first on your own, always take someone along with you who knows you and your dog just in case something unforeseen happens. Bikejoring can be great fun but always make sure someone knows where you are as accidents can happen in the most unexpected circumstances!

Make sure you are not on your own when you first start bikejoring or that someone at least knows where you are – Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

It is also worth educating yourself on the rules regarding insurance and rights of way when bikejoring. Many Forestry Commission sites require permits to be obtained for anything where a dog is attached to a ‘wheeled vehicle’ and the public liability insurance required to obtain a permit is £5 million. This might seem excessive but in a blame culture it is worth checking what you are covered for with your dog, as hitting into a person or another dog with your bike could be costly. Riding on roads is not permitted at all with a dog attached and it’s not good for a dogs’ joints anyway to be moving at speed on hard surfaces. With canicross a few road sections won’t do any harm but long stretches on tarmac at the higher speeds you can achieve on a bike can damage your dogs’ pads and joints.

Your dog might have been canicrossing for years and covered many miles with you on foot but always start bikejoring with short sections, to allow your dog to get used to the increase in speed. Too many people seem to think that because they can run 10 miles canicrossing they can go straight out and ride 5 miles with their dog on the bike. Being able to run at full pelt attached to a bike is a very different experience for your dog, so make sure you are not challenging your dog to begin with and keep it fun for them, leaving them wanting to do more.

Bikejoring should always be fun for you and your dog, so keep it short and simple to begin with – Photo courtesy of Matt Eames

If you want to know more about making the transition from canicross to bikejor we have a few recommendations for businesses, clubs and individuals who could potentially help so get in touch if you’d like to know more but we hope you’ve found this blog helpful as a guide on how to make the experience the best it can be for both you and your dog. 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 8 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 8 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!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 steps to an enhanced care regime for the performance sport dog

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:

  1. 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:

 

Gruff at Splash Paws Hydrotherapy

  1. 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

Maddy uses Bowen Therapy to treat dogs in an holistic way

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

Cath uses massage to ensure her sport clients are in tip top muscular condition

  1. 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:

Elaine’s dog Uma is a pro on the wobble board!

 

  1. 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.

Free running is great for building up dogs’ strength and speed

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

  1. 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:

http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/fastdog-performance-dog-products.html

Getting the right diet and supplementation for your sport dog can also play a role in performance

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 joggydoggy.co.uk@gmail.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 – Who, What, Why, When & How?

Voice commands are a big part of training in the dog sports and it’s important you get them right for you to get the best from your dog, so we thought we would do a quick blog on the Who, What, Why, When & How of voice commands in canicross, bikejor and dog scootering.

Who? – This one is fairly obvious, you are giving the command to your dog and your dog is the one listening and hopefully understanding and responding accordingly. It is worth mentioning that because these commands are for you and your ‘team’, you can use whatever specific words you want, which leads us on to…

What? – The words you choose for your commands can be anything you like, as long as you’ve trained it and your dog understands, no-one else has to. Many people simply use right, left, go on and other short words, some use noises and more obscure terms to indicate directions to their dogs but pick what you can be consistent with and stick to it.

Good voice commands are essential, particularly when you are on a bike or scooter – Photo courtesy of Take 2 Event Photos

Why? – Again relatively obvious but you might be surprised at how many people feel they don’t really need strong voice commands trained, especially when canicrossing, as you can generally reach out and pull your dog away from any situation. However it’s really important that your dog is listening to you and not just hauling you along enjoying doing their own thing with you as a passenger. It helps tire a dog out faster if they are concentrating on what directions you are giving them and it also builds a much stronger bond of trust if you can call to your dog and they want to do what you’re asking of them. As soon as you involve wheels into the equation, with a bike, scooter or rig, then this becomes crucial and we would never recommend trying any of the wheeled dog sports without having a good degree of control over your dogs’ actions through your voice commands first.

When? – Perhaps the most important of the questions on this list. Our answer to this would be to give voice commands ONLY when you need to. All too often you see people repeating over and over again a verbal direction to their dog, the most frequent of these being ‘go, go, go’ or similar. Your dog will switch off if you are continually issuing the same command, your voice will become like ‘white noise’ in the background of what you are doing and you may lose your dogs’ concentration on you as a result. It is much better to keep quiet while your dog is moving forward and save yourself for when you need to turn or stop or do something other than just run forward in a straight line.

You don’t need to be shouting voice commands at your dog during the whole run, if they’re moving forward in the direction you want then you just need to smile and enjoy! – Photo courtesy of Basil Thornton Photography

How? – Again a really important one because the tone and volume you use for your dog can have a huge affect on how motivated your dog is to work for you. If you are shouting at your dog and not using encouragement, then it follows that your dog may not feel so happy about following your directions. If you watch some of the best dog sports people with their dogs, they are generally always minimalist with voice commands, they never raise their voices unless there is danger (dogs have much better hearing than we do!) and they use a tone of voice which is calm, controlled and encouraging for the dogs.

 

Dog sports are always team work, so make sure you’re not too hard on your ‘team’, using encouragement rather than criticism is always more motivational! – Photo courtesy of Houdscape

Always make your training fun for your dog and remember voice commands can be taught from a very young age out on walks, so take the time to get your dog really responsive to your voice and we’re sure you’ll see the benefits when you’re out and about with them. Happy trails!

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – R is for Rest

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.

Resting is often as important as running for your dog