Monday, 28 January 2019

The dog that doesn’t like to pull (trouble shooting for canicross)

Canicross can be about building up a running partnership with your dog so you barely even need any direction words. Leaning slightly into your waistbelt is enough of a signal, and the miles just melt away under your feet and paws.

But what if your dog doesn’t pull?

This is definitely one of the most common problems that we get asked to help with, and as usual there really isn’t a one size fits all answer.

It’s where the experienced eye of a dog trainer can be extra helpful too, because we need to start by understanding why your dog isn’t pulling in specific situations.

Trouble shooting for the canicross dog that doesn’t pull consistently

Step 1: gather more information 

When DOES your dog pull in their harness? Do they ever pull? Is it at the start of an event or race? Are they better or worse with other dogs around? Do they start strong but then tail off as you cover more distance? Do they seem startled or worried when they hit the end of the bungee line?

Step 2: understand the cause of the problem 

Physical – is the harness uncomfortable or poorly fitted? Is your bungee the right length? Does your dog have any movement restrictions or muscle imbalances that might be affecting things? Does your dog have enough harness-fitness for the length of run?

Emotional – is your dog worried or fearful about moving away from you? Is your dog reluctant to be followed by other dogs? Might your dog be worried about noises in the environment?

Mental – have you spent so long training your dog NOT to pull that they can’t believe you just changed the rules? When your dog reaches the end of the bungee, do they assume they should return to you?

Step 3: set up training situations to create, reinforce and maintain consistent pulling in harness 

Using the answers to the previous questions, work out what you and your dog need!

We’re going to use lovely Nikki and Coco as our example this week:

Coco will pull sometimes, its more likely to happen early on in a run, and definitely more likely to happen if there is a dog in front of her or passing to the side.

Coco definitely doesn’t like leading a group, or having dogs running behind her and will drop back further and further when she is tired. Coco isn’t always a fan of other dogs especially if they are rude or starey, and she’d rather avoid confrontations if possible. Coco isn’t always super happy around strangers either – so we need to take this into account and maybe don’t try cheering her on loudly!

The equipment was perfect for Coco, and we opted for the Non Stop bungee line to reduce the risk of any sudden jolts – its fully elasticated and a great option for sensitive dogs. We did start on a park run length because Coco was worried about going too far from her mum, but we’re now transitioning to the standard canicross length.

Physically Coco is in good shape and has regular hydrotherapy.

Tuesday’s evening canicross class gave us a lovely forest track and plenty of space to test out our strategies.

Our goal was to create a situation where Coco wanted to pull, but would only be asked to do so for a very short distance. We would then gradually increase the distance/duration of the effort. We’re NOT asking Coco to sprint run, just pull into her harness for now.

Coco and Nikki started at the back, with another team just ahead of Coco. The front team used a ready, followed by 3-2-1-go and set off. Nikki and Coco mirrored the routine but one step behind, so by the time Nikki gave the release Coco was already starting to pull forward.

We ran for no more than a count of 5, and then used our steady cue to come back down to a walk. It was important to make sure the leading dogs didn’t get too far away or Coco just seemed to give up!

So we did lots of short’n’sweet sessions, gradually building up the pulling time.

Result? Success! We had 20 seconds of consistent steady pulling within just a few repetitions, and Coco was much better on another run later in the week.

We’ve plenty still to work on, and it does mean Nikki will have to do more of her own running without Coco for now, but this team are doing so well!!

And if you want help with your teamwork, don't forget you can book onto any of the weekly classes! Full information, class locations and booking links here 

Happy Running!

Morag with team #beautyandthebeast and Laura with team #smallbutmighty 

PS Congratulations to our new canicrossers who started their exciting journey this weekend: Alison, Anna, Catriona and Mark! We’re so looking forward to seeing you out on the trails.

PPS Nikki is a fellow dog trainer based in Selby, you can check her out here:

Workshops and seminars: Physical Fitness for Active Dogs

Led by Hannah from Theakston Veterinary Physiotherapy + Morag  (canine massage and acupressure, ultracanicrosser)

Evening seminar Thursday 7th Feb (rescheduled)

We will dig into what you need to look for in your dog’s movement. Learn about what normal is for your dog, and when to seek help. Discuss the usefulness of warm up and cool down routines with us, and think about sport-specific demands on your dog’s body.

7th Feb 7pm, University of York             £25 per ticket, includes refreshments

Book here Physical Foundations for Active Dogs

Half day practical workshops Sat 23 March

Learn how to observe your dog's movement in detail with help from an expert. We'll develop warm-up and cool down routines together, and explore the benefits of active stretching exercises. 

23rd March 9.30am and 1.30pm, Shipton by Beningbrough nr York






York Weekly Canicross Classes (every Tuesday at 7pm) 

What could be more fun than running in the mud, at night, with a headtorch – right? Especially when you’ve got expert coaching and skill building sessions too.

Full information, class locations and booking links here 

Classes around Thirsk and Ripon

See Charlie’s Chums for more information

Free Social Runs 


York CaniRun Social 8.30am Sundays @ Allerthorpe Woods, nr York
A 5k loop on tracks and trails through the woods, option to do a second loop for those feeling very keen. You need to have your own kit (waistbelt, harness and bungee), and pick up your dog’s poo! Just say you’re coming in the FB group and download directions and a route map here here

Pennine Canicross group 
Sunday social runs most weeks at various locations in South Yorks, check the group for more details 

Want to run somewhere else with like minded people? Pop a post up in the Yorkshire Canicross and Canisports page and get it organised!

Know of any other free social runs? Send in the details to get them listed!


Dalby Dark Run night run (in aid of Mountain Rescue) Sat 2nd March
Just £5 for a relaxed night run under the starts, and it's dog friendly! A great way to dip your toes into racing with your dog without the full on excitement that tends to come with dedicated canicross races. 
**sadly I've just been informed this race is sold out - hope you got your place!*

Dalby Canicross – Forestry Commission 
A series of 4 races have been announced for 2019 and you can find more details here:

Running Riot (Skipton) 5k Race 14 April 2019 
Several of us attended last year and it was a great experience. While the field margins were tricky for novice dogs, the event was well organised and the water crossing added some extra excitement too. More information here: 

Tail Trails Events (Lake District) 
Another new series of events aimed at people running with their dogs but this isn’t quite a canicross focused event yet. Worth checking out if you fancy a trip over
First one was 27 January 2019, and more to follow. 

Other places to find out about races 

Canicross Events FaceBook Group:

K9TrailTime event listings: 

*if you know of any events that might be of interest to the canicross community PLEASE do email or message me the details and I will add them in!

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