The best way to learn anything is to get involved. When I was first introduced to canicross I really didn’t know anything about the sport, all I knew was that I was running with my dogs attached to me. I wasn’t sure how to train and more importantly didn’t know if I was doing things correctly for my dogs. I muddled along like this for a few months but when I joined the Cani-X races and met people who had clearly been doing this for years, I increased my knowledge dramatically in a short space of time.
From my own experiences there are a few things I would recommend now in terms of training.
Firstly it is advisable to teach a few commands whilst walking your dog on the harness and lead. The basics for me are left (‘haw’ in mushing terms) right (‘gee’) go or faster (‘hike’) and slower (‘whoah’ or ‘steady’). The commands can be whatever you like, whatever you feel comfortable using and what comes naturally to you and your dog.
It is useful to get your dog to recognise these commands as when you are going a bit faster with a 2 metre line between you and your dog it helps to be able to direct your dog. I have also taught ‘on by’ to continue straight on and ‘leave’ in case we come across something particularly interesting on our route!
Once your dog begins to recognise these commands you can introduce encouragement to pull by running a few strides with your dog and inevitably they will run ahead of you and pull into the harness. Praise & reward the times when the dog pulls into the harness and reinforce your ‘hike’ command as the signal to pull on.
If your dog doesn’t seem to understand being taught to pull, make sure the differences are obvious when you clip a lead to the collar and when you clip the line to the harness. Using a higher pitched tone in your voice and upping your own energy can help with this as dogs notice things in our behaviour which can appear subtle in our eyes.
However, the very best way to get a dog to run is to attach it to other trained running dogs as they seem to instinctively pick up on what to do as part of a ‘team’.
An example of this was when I harnessed my third rescue dog, Donnie for the very first time. I’d done no training with him, I just wanted to see what he would do. I held the line in my hand so I could quickly resolve any potential problems and ensure he didn’t pull too much as he was younger than a year which is really the earliest advisable age to train a young dog to pull in harness.
As I started to run with the other two attached to my waist belt, he looked at them, looked at me and took off in line with them with no hesitation!
I couldn’t believe how instinctive it was for him to just run in formation with my older more experienced dogs.
Once your dog has grasped the concept of pulling in harness there will be no stopping you. Of course dogs are individuals and you cannot expect every dog to want to haul you around the countryside but most will happily trot out in front or beside you enough for you to enjoy the experience together. People often say to me ‘oh I can’t run with my dog because it’s too…(insert small, fat, lazy or any other word which might fit)’ and my reply is always the same.
Dogs have run from the beginning of the evolution of the species and I know people who run with the tiniest of dogs very successfully, people who have encouraged lazy dogs into a new lease of life by including them in their runs and if your dog is fat then what better way to prolong your dog’s life (and your own) by gently taking part in canicross and enjoying getting fit together.
If you would like any more information please contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can put you in touch with some organisations who can offer the same kind of advice and support I received when I was starting out.