Monday, 4 March 2019

Three tips for surviving an enthusiastic canine running partner (canicross)

Canicross is all about your dog running with you as a team.

So it seems almost madness to complain when your dogs are really strong pullers!

But the truth is your dogs have the potential to run a lot faster than you and if your dog has enough muscle mass and determination, they can make a big difference to your running pace.

This is all very well when they’re pulling you up that hill, but it’s a lot less fun at the beginning of a race. Especially if the start is on a downhill!

Today one of our canicross group members asked

My male is incredibly strong on a general lead and can pull me off my feet almost with me in a harness, what is the best way to get him into canicross without risking life and limb?

 My answer is one of those it depends…

Because it does. It depends on the size of your dog, the strength of your dog, the ground underfoot, and the situation!

My preferred option is to go with what the dog is offering you. That means if you can learn to run a little bit faster, even just to begin with, so that you can take the power your dog is giving you rather than trying to hold them back or worse still heel strike to stop yourself going forwards too quickly so much the better.

But since living and running with Laird (36.4kg of muscled GWP), I’ve learned that just going with the pace isn’t always a safe or feasible option. Let’s face it. Laird can definitely run a lot faster than I can and it hurts when I try to sprint with him.

So instead here are my top three tips when one of your dogs is a superstrong enthusiastic canicrosser:

  1. Make sure you have a clear distinction between the equipment that means running and racing versus walking calmly to the start line or walking by your side when the ground is tricky. For example, with Laird if I click the line to his collar then I’m asking him to walk beside me and under control. Rather than when the line is on his harness and he expects to be out front and working hard.
  2. Create your own management plan that helps your dog to relax, stay calm and be attentive. You might choose to teach your dog some specific attention games or ask them to do simple behaviours like nose targets in exchange for very small treats. I also like to teach a conditioned relaxation cue that can be used to help bring those excitement levels down to something that is more bearable.
  3. Lastly, I’ve recently discovered that it’s important to find the right balance of pre-running exercise or pre-race preparation. Often we might find that we’re running our dogs and that’s their first big bit of exercise of the day. Or we might both have been tapering down in preparation for a race. In my experience this works with some dogs, however, sometimes we need to include some pre-running exercise or prerace warmup etc in order to take the edge off that first really powerful sprint. So far I’ve had the best races with Laird when he’s had up to 2 hours of free running and hunting the night before a race and at least a 2 mile warmup before the actual event - he still has plenty of energy for running but he is also able to listen to my commands and back off if he’s pulling too hard 
My last little tip is also to look at the equipment and the kind of line you run your dog with. I love the non-stop full bungee lines because they make canicross feel smooth and connected. But, I found it easier to manage a big powerful strong pulling dog on a line that has slightly less elastic so that the dog can feel when they’ve actually reached the end of it.

The hints and tips above are based on my personal experience and from teaching canicross workshops for the last two years.

However as the Americans would say, your mileage may vary!

I’d love to know what’s worked for you and your dogs so please do post on our Facebook group hit reply to this email or comment on the blog post.

There are plenty of race events coming up and you’ll find those posted in our little Facebook group here is the link:

If you know of any events that allow canicrossers to join in please do let me know, post them up in the group and let’s spread the word and build awareness of our amazing sport.

Getting started or need a refresher?

If you’re just getting started on your canicross journey or you’d like to refresh on some of the core techniques our last introduction to canicross workshop of the season is running on Sunday, 10 March

Book your intro workshop here


Want to try something a bit more adventurous? 

Why not join us in the North York Moors on Sunday 31st March for an improvers workshop to learn how to descend without death, power up those challenging hills, and create a super focused canicross dog.

Location: The Cycle Hub, Fryup Dale YO21 2AP 

Book your adventure here!

Happy running!

Morag with #BeautyAndTheBeast

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