Thinking about trying Canicross (running with your dog)? Since Millie came into my life around 2 years ago, I’ve found myself searching for dog-friendly days out, dog-friendly café’s, pubs and even holidays! If you are anything like me, despite the fact that Millie is very well looked after and has great fun at Doggy Daycare midweek, I get that guilty feeling that I’m just a weekend dog owner. Weekends for me are all about doing activities and visiting places where I can take her with me and try to let her release some of that crazy English Springer Spaniel energy (Yep… all the stories are true).
Since Millie came into my life around 2 years ago, I’ve found myself searching for dog-friendly days out, dog-friendly café’s, pubs and even holidays! If you are anything like me, despite the fact that Millie is very well looked after and has great fun at Doggy Daycare midweek, I get that guilty feeling that I’m just a weekend dog owner. Weekends for me are all about doing activities and visiting places where I can take her with me and try to let her release some of that crazy English Springer Spaniel energy (Yep… all the stories are true).
So just before Christmas, I was intrigued to come across a company called DogFit via Facebook– I couldn’t help spot their picture of a happy smiling dog running with its owner (who dare I say was also smiling and happy). Having looked into it more, I discovered they offered Canicross classes and equipment:
What is Canicross?
If you’re not familiar with Canicross itself, it was developed from the origins of skijoring, where people ski with their dog pulling out in front of them. The kit seemed simple: a waist belt for me, a harness for Millie and we would be attached via a 2-metre bungee line. And… I’d have help running… Millie would be pull me! Yay!
Having read a little more, snooped around their Facebook site and really helpful website, I found myself messaging to ask about their intro classes and whether there were any in the area. Having just moved to Wokingham and knowing the Surrey area, I was pointed to Catherine who was due to start a class in the New Year in the Guildford area.
Now if I’m honest, I suspect I may have gotten a bit lazy and left it there. However, thanks to Catherine for her gentle nudging, informative and quick responses to all my silly questions in January and combined with a 100-day goal to lose 10% of my body weight, I found myself signed up and attended my first Canicross Couch to 5k session on the 6th Feb 16.
I know we have lots of dog owners as customers so thought I’d share my experience with you – its not always easy to find dog-friendly days out or activities!
Why should you start running with your dog?
I had lots of reservations myself but here are my top 5 reasons to give Canicross a try:
1) Improve your fitness and your dogs health too
Ok… revelation time… so I’m desperately unfit! Having steadily put on weight for the last four years by working too much and not looking after me, I was looking for something to help energise me and help with my New Years resolution to lose weight. Having set a goal to lose 10% of my body weight in 100 days (a mini goal always helps me), I’d started to walk lots more during January which Millie has loved and this seemed a natural next step. Whilst DogFit offered an intro class, I was unable to make the date but was so pleased to see they were running Couch 2 5k along with other classes. This was perfect for me as I’m definitely a starter and had images of me lagging well behind seasoned runners.
Today’s group was a great mix of levels some had had injuries and, at least, two of us starting out for the first time. Despite my concern re ‘size’ and fitness, I felt at home thanks to Catherine and the mix of running and walking has helped ease me in!
2) It’s a social sport and great fun
Catherine really helped ease fears by dropping round an email around one week before the class with some great tips and answers to questions. She then followed this up with an email the night before. So when I arrived I was slightly less apprehensive about meeting new people and their dogs. Whilst I couldn’t vouch for this until today, I should not have been worried – anyone who chooses to do Canicross clearly wants to spend time with their dogs and thus you have something immediately in common! I don’t know a dog owner who can’t “talk the hinds leg off a donkey” re their own pooch.
During the run itself, I found time to talk to a few others in the class and both Catherine and her husband Phil made sure that everyone was well looked after whether up front or at the back. There were times that due to chatting, I forgot I was running and the run sections had ended.
3) It helps focus an energetic/busy dog
Millie has bounds of energy and despite lots of training, has developed a habit of barking at doorbells which has occasionally resulted in a bark at people when out walking. She loves water, beaches and woods and normally found bounding across fields to chase something or fetching sticks from water – she is a happy dog but can be anxious around new people, despite being a very friendly dog once she knows you.
You can imagine I was a little apprehensive re this – how would she cope with dogs she doesn’t know, people that she hadn’t met and not dart off after a squirrel and drag me off into a pond head first!
I’m not really sure how to describe this but after an initial bark at Catherine during the initial talk, she seemed to just find her stride and take direction from me. Whilst there was some weaving left to right (a springer trait) she seemed to really enjoy the direction and Catherine helped by steering me to start using left and right commands so that she can learn these as the week’s progress. I’d read a lot about this in the various Canicross sites – they really do seem to take the lead from other dogs and I could tell she was enjoying it, growing in confidence in the second half and really pulling me along.
I can see how Canicross could really help with dogs needing to release energy and/or who are nervous, less confident and was great to see such a mix of dogs in terms of breed, size and personality. All dogs are welcome.
4) You don’t need a huge amount of Kit
I found an early email helpful from Catherine when I asked advice re what I should wear (and DogFits great videos on youtube). The biggest thing for me was the need to buy trail shoes. I have to admit I didn’t know what they were and messaged DogFit to ask – essentially it’s about having tread on the soles for off road running so that you have more grip for those conditions.
I was lucky enough to be around the corner from a running shop midweek so popped in and tried on several pairs – I’d really recommend this in any shop (specialist) or other as you’ll find you just ‘know’ when put on the pair and glad I didn’t order online.
For the Canicross element itself – I would, of course, need the kit (harness, belt and bungee rope). Catherine was kind enough to organise a test for me and if you do one of the Intro classes then you can borrow a kit. I have today purchased a beautiful pink harness but you can borrow kit and test it out before you decide to buy. You can find the starter kit and range of options on the website (I had a look around in advance of the class to get a feel for what I thought I may go for – the GB colours looked great on two of the dogs today!).
5) Your dog will pull and that keeps you moving forward
Whilst Millie won’t’ always walk to heel perfectly, I’ve spent a huge amount of time training to stop her pulling when on lead and was a tad worried she wouldn’t quite understand this. She does understand ‘go’ from ‘lets go’ when out walking off the lead and I used this to encourage her.
On the first half of the session, she did go out in front with encouragement but wasn’t fully pulling at all times. As her confidence grew, she was pulling on the second part of the run – as if to say to me “run faster, run”. I found staying closer to the back really helped with this as she hates to behind and desperate to be up front with everyone. With Millie pulling I found it harder to make the decision to stop running – she was enjoying it and by default I didn’t want to stop her from running so had to keep going myself. This was great motivation and she also helped when on steeper ground.
It seemed to help to do Canicross in a group as the dogs effectively run in a pack. Catherine also suggested that if a dog isn’t pulling, they would run two together or I’d run ahead of Millie with another dog to encourage. So don’t worry about this part – look to the organiser to help you if you need some advice, they had lots of tips to help!
So if you are looking to bond with your dog, see the outdoors and generally have fun – then I could only encourage you to give it a try. I’m looking forward to the end of the course, seeing how we progress, adding some beach runs and our first 5k Park Run .. I’ll let you know how we get on in 6 weeks time!!
I want to point out that I wasn’t asked to write about the session, and I paid for it myself. But I have used the wonderful Catherine’s pictures as both Millie and I were slightly occupied…… it was an amazing morning and I couldn’t wait to share them all with you. Do get in touch with DogFit if you are looking for a dog-friendly activity .. I’m sure their classes are filling up fast!