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Active Root Ambassador Mandy gives us her top tips on canicross. Having competed for GB and recently placing 3rd in the British Canicross Championships, Mandy (and Max!) certainly know their stuff, so read on to find out more.
So what is canicross?
'Cani' is obviously the dog and 'cross' means to move cross country, so basically Canicross is trail running, attached to your dog, where your dog pulls you! It originated as a means of keeping sled dogs active when there was no snow but soon developed into its own standalone sport. It’s been popular in Europe for years but recently its seen a huge growth in its popularity the UK with the first canicross race taking part in 2000 in the UK. Its a great way of keeping yourself and your dog fit!
So what do you need and how does it work?
Dogs are fitted with a special canicross harness and the human wears a belt similar in design to a climbing harness with a 2m bungee line attachment to the dog’s harness. The harness is fitted in a way to allow the dog to pull from his chest and put no strain on the dog’s neck making sure the dog is free to run and pull with no detrimental damage. The human belt is designed to allow any pull to come through the hips so as not to damage your back.
Races and training all take part on trail routes, not tarmac pavements, so as to protect the dog’s paws and most are over a 5k distance. This then means trail shoes are recommended for the human athlete.
Dogs have to be at least 1 year of age to take part in races and depending on the dogs breed your Vet will give you the best advice as to when you can start training. However, all breeds can take part and we run with small schnoodles and spaniels! We obviously get a "pull" from the spaniels but not from the smaller dogs but the races are open to all. Smaller dogs are happy to run out front and enjoy it just as much as the pulling dogs!
The dog dictates the pace so dogs will only do what they enjoy. However, pulling dogs can do some serious speeds - the 5k pb for the present World Champion Ben Robison is 12mins 24 with his Greyster. So if you are going to compete at a high level you need to do your own training so you can keep up with your dog’s fitness and avoid injury!
Its not all about speed though, its mainly teamwork between you and your dog. Commands are vital and your relationship with your k9 running partner is key. The most important commands to teach the dog are left and right at turns, and to “ignore” distractions such as other dogs. Passing dogs on the course is very important and not allowing them to go over to the other dog and say hi mid-race! So getting some practice running with other canicrossers is key ahead of racing. We also teach ours a fast start with “3,2,1” used whenever playing fetch and releasing the ball to simulate an acceleration of pace on a start line. Dogs must pass the finish line ahead of you and not by your side so again we practice a fast finish by using commands such as “ finish finish finish” or “lets go home” but you can make up your own as long as your dog associates this with a finish line ahead.
It’s also important to remember that dogs can overheat so we don't run our dogs in harness if it’s over a certain temp and our racing season reflects this starting in Sept and usually ending in April/May
Where do we race?
Scotland has a huge racing scene now with Canisports Scotland, SDAS and Canifit all based here and have full race calendar for all levels https://canisportsscotland.wordpress.com/
And if you want to take it further you can race in the Uk and abroad
Each year Euro and World championships are held as well as the Trophee de Montangue, a 10 day racing event in the French Alps which I have competed at for the last 2 years with a top 10 finish this year with my schnoodle! You get to see some amazing routes and run with your best friend! What’s not to like. My 11year old spaniel still runs with me twice a week and has ran his whole life and still loves it! I now race with his son Max and I can’ t describe the bond you form with your dog when you run together it's very special and an amazing sport!