Do you go running with your dog?
Today, June 5th 2019, is Global Running Day and what better a running partner than your dog?
When I first adopted Daisy who was wild and full of energy, but would vanish for hours if let off lead, running together seemed to be the answer.
It got me fit, Daisy loved it, and she even helped me train for a marathon. As she got older, I’d run and she’d be off lead so could go at her own pace.
After a couple of years off from injury, now I have Patch I’m keen to get running again so for Global Running Day I thought I’d do an expert guide on how to get started.
Lara Trewin is a dog mum, trail runner and a certified trainer for Dogfit UK, an organisation that puts on Canicross running classes for dogs and their humans across the UK.
She rescued her dog Tilly, a German Pointer, from Operation Waggy Tails rescue in Northern Spain in 2017 and running helped them bond.
Lara, 47, looked into Canicross and it led her to set up her own DogfitUK group in Bude, Cornwall.
Now she puts on two classes each week helping owners enjoy running with their pets.
Recently, she took part in a 32 mile ultra race with Tilly – with lots of breaks and water stations of course.
Here, Lara explains what Canicross is, the benefits for dogs and us humans, and how you can get involved.
Can you tell me what exactly is Canicross?
Canicross is an exciting and fast growing sport of off-road running with your dog and a fun and social way for you and your dog to get fit.
It is also the safest way to enjoy running with your dog – by using specially designed equipment so you can run hands-free and for your dog to run comfortably.
Canicross came from the origins of skijoring, where people ski with their dog pulling out in front of them.
The owner wears a waist belt, the dog wears a harness and they are attached to each other via a 2 metre bungee line. So very little equipment is required to get started.
So it’s running with your dog but while wearing specific running kit?
Yes, you can run with as many dogs as you want, and it’s about teamwork between the human and the dogs.
You’ve got to communicate with each other and understand each other, and it really is quite remarkable when it happens, and you just think, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’
You’re running as a team together. During our local Parkrun, for example, if I’m running and we’re trying to beat my personal best, I’ll keep Tilly running straight and focused, at that point it feels absolutely amazing!
How much quicker are you with her running with you than you are normally?
I’m five minutes faster on a 5K. So, for every kilometre, I’m a minute faster.
I feel it, I’m running so much faster than I would if I was on my own. I’ve tried to run as fast without her, and there’s just no chance.
Where do you start if you want to get involved in Canicross?
First of all, the most important items are the three pieces of kit. Without those you’re looking at possible injury for either yourself, or for some very expensive vet bills.
The waist belt is designed to sit on your hips or the top of your bottom. This way, any pull from the dog comes through the hips and ensures there is no nasty jarring to the back.
The dog must wear a specially designed Canicross harness built for comfort and efficiency. The bungee line is very important as it helps prevent any jarring from the dog.
There’s no hand holding, it’s completely hands-free and the dog is pulling out front on the bungee line and start by going out on your own power walking or trekking off road.
How do you get your dog to understand they need to walk in front of you and not trip you up?
It’s about introducing things slowly and gradually so they understand what’s expected of them
It’s basically trying to make it as fun as possible, so you elevate your voice, so I say, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go! Come on, let’s go!’
As soon as I put Tilly’s harness on, she now knows what she’s going to be doing, she sees it as the work element of her day.
And that’s what will happen with most dogs. They know they have got to run forward and straight.
I keep my Canicross harness purely for that, so she knows the minute the harness is on what she’s going to be doing and she gets excited, I’d advise you do the same.
But it is a process, it can take time depending on the dog, but they do pick it up. You just need a little patience.
Once you both settle into the kit and the dog is in front, you can join a group?
The best thing to do to get started once you have your kit, is to get together with a local group or DogFit trainer.
Being with other dogs can help encourage your dog to pull and focus. Basically, they follow the leader of the pack!
What are the benefits for the dogs?
One benefit is behaviour. We work a lot with rescues, so we’ve seen very, very reactive dogs become much more sociable when they are doing the job of Canicrossing.
With reactive, nervous rescue dogs, we found that it really does help them have a job to do.
In terms of fitness, it’s a great way of keeping your dog as fit as possible and of course it helps get you fit too.
When I rescued Tilly, she couldn’t look at me, she wasn’t responding to me but running helped us to bond and it’s remarkable how strong that is.
And what are the benefits for the human?
There’s the physical fitness, you don’t need to pay a gym membership, but there’s also the social side.
It’s been a huge eye-opener for me. I didn’t realise how vast the sport is, we help beginners in the sport right through to Georgie Lambert, who is competing in the Canicross World Championships!
You can take whatever you want from it. You don’t have to be competitive, or you can be. You can join a group, or you can do it solo.
Well you have absolutely sold it to me!
If I could get everybody Canicrossing with their dog, I’d be so happy. I see some dogs and I think, ‘Oh, you don’t look very happy.’
Some people let their dogs out, and don’t even walk them, they let them off around a field and they’re sitting in the car.
I often think ‘There’s got to be more to owning a dog than that.’
When we come back from a session you can just tell, the dogs are really happy, the people feel so much better about themselves.
They might have had a bad day, or a bad week, and that run has helped.
Everybody talks about mental health or wellness right now, and there’s so much research that has proven getting outdoors and being active can really elevate your mood.
Running is ideal for ‘me time,’ and adding a dog elevates your mood and decreases any anxiety you might have.
You’re concentrating on keeping to a path with your dog in front of you. Nothing else really matters at that point.
Do you have to be really fit to do Canicross?
No. What we tend to say is, if you can walk for half an hour comfortably, then you can start a couch to 5K six week programme that’s specifically designed for Canicross.
We have people running 5K and Parkruns, then 10Ks, half marathons, through to marathons and sometimes ultras because they’ve enjoyed it so much.
What’s your advice to people who want to try it?
Get your kit and get out there. You don’t need to be uber fit. Start by walking or trekking with your dog and try to introduce some Canicross commands.
- This post here explains how to use the commands Top tips on Canicross Commands
You can enjoy walks in your Canicross kit, through livestock or on coastal paths that you might not usually be able to do.
It gives you added security and lets you bond with your dog. But most of all, have fun, it’s a brilliant experience for your both that you can build at your own pace.
- Find out more about Dogfit plus details of classes near you at dogfit.co.uk/
- With thanks to Marianne at Trotting Dog www.trottingdog.com for gifting Patch and I our harness, lead and belt set.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read How Milo Royds created his dream dog running business or We try Pawlates – Pilates for dogs