Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Slowly, slowly builds the canine athlete (UPDATED March 2019)

Did you choose a young dog or puppy hoping that they’d love to run with you?

Have you heard all kinds of conflicting advice about what exercise your dog can have and when?

You’re not the only one – I promise!

Why do we have to wait SO long?

We need to give your dog’s body time to mature and develop properly. Growth spurts can unbalance your dog and too much work could cause compensation patterns leading to later injury.

Open joint plates are at risk of damage from repetitive impact, and closure time varies hugely across breeds. It’s also affected by early neutering so you need to consider what’s right for your specific dog.

Not sure what to do?

Look at your dog and honestly ask yourself
  • Do they look physically mature?
  • Do they move like an adult?
  • Are they in control of their legs?!

If I was unsure, I might consider x-rays under advice from my vet, but I’d definitely want to get an assessment with a veterinary physiotherapist.

What you CAN do while you wait...

There’s lots that you can be doing while you wait for your pup to mature. If you need more ideas why not borrow from the agility and flyball communities where keen competitors are very aware of focusing on core skills with young dogs.
  1. Help your dog to love trying on and wearing harnesses – this makes the fitting process much easier!
  2. Use a different style of harness for normal walks and training so the running harness can be super special.
  3. Train your dog to relax in exciting situations (like start lines!) and to ignore distractions.
  4. Start training the essential basics (reliable stop, slow down, speed up, and when a little older working on ahead/pulling) 
  5. Make sure your young dog is very comfortable being handled ahead of any physiotherapy or in case of injury.

So what age can you start canicross training?

There’s no simple answer I'm afraid. When we talk about canicross training, we often mean running our dogs in harness. But free running and other exercise should definitely be part of your training plan too.

Working in harness puts extra strain on your dog’s body, and asks them to move in a way that’s very different from free running.

We definitely don’t want to be doing any significant running before 12 months of age, but it also depends on what kind of running you’re doing (speed? terrain?). Most races will accept dogs over 18 months, but that doesn’t mean you *should* be racing by then.

We love the Puppy Culture Exercise Chart, because it summarises the evidence and expert opinion we currently have – but there’s lots of gaps in our knowledge.


And while the headline some articles might make you think that all this caution is overrated, when you dig into the details it's actually yet more experienced professionals advising us to be cautious when it comes to weight bearing exercise.

Find out more here:

and download the free pdf chart here:  https://www.avidogzink.com/ 

Make an informed choice for YOUR dog

I want you to be cautious about your choices because the exercise you do with your young dog now could affect their health later in life. And it’s not worth risking joint problems for the sake of waiting a few months early on…

And keep asking questions!

This was just a short blog to get you thinking, but please do pop onto our Facebook Group to ask your questions about starting with a young dog!


Meanwhile, if you and your dog are ready for some fun, I’d love to see you at one of our workshops!

Introduction to Canicross evening workshops at Murton, Yorkshire Museum of Farming

Improvers Canicross Skills Adventure Challenge on Sunday 31st March (1pm-5pm)   
Includes: Canicross Skills Clinic, coaching on your technique plus a guided run to put it all into practice. We promise you'll learn to love descending AND climbing hills!

Dogs of one year old and upwards are welcome on the Introductory Session as we can adjust the content to keep everyone safe.

Happy Running

UltraCanicrosser, Firewalker, Clinical Animal Behaviourist

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