Those who are new to Canicross often have lots of questions about the sport. There are many common myths that crop up in these types of questions again and again. Happily, straightforward information and shared knowledge can help dispel these misconceptions and get people on the way to discovering the many (true) benefits of Canicrossing for themselves.
Someone who had been asked many questions by enthusiastic newcomers to Canicross is DogFit Trainer, Sian Swift. Sian is based in Leeds and has been running her pet sitting, dog training and dog walking business, Swift Paws, for four years. She has a particular passion for helping newcomers to Canicross get settled in and running safely with their dog. Sian has a background in fitness, sports training and dog training. Below, Sian ‘busts’ some of the more common myths she hears from people new to Canicross.
It is really hard to start running with your dog if you are new to both Canicross and running in general?
No, it’s not. If you are new to Canicross, and want to train with me, I start you off with a basic introduction session and we take things from there. If you are new to running as well, I might suggest that you try doing the Couch to 5K programme too. If you are finding it difficult to run on your own, doing Couch to 5K with your dog can make it much more fun. You can even do it as part of a larger group to help you commit to the programme and go all the way through to the end. It’s a great way to get moving, build up your confidence and fitness level and start you off running hands-free with your dog.
It can be scary to run with your dog – what if they go too fast and pull me over?
I find that talking to people about basic running techniques can really help dispel nerves. For example, take the subject of breathing. It may seem obvious, but when you are giving verbal cues to your dog and trying to breathe properly at the same time, it can be difficult to work it all out and that can seem scary. Knowing when to breathe in and when to breathe out, how to assume the right body posture and what to do with your arms and legs while running can also give you more confidence. It’s all about learning what to do and breaking through the mental barrier of “I can’t do it.” Using mindfulness techniques can help with nerves too. For example, seeing how many green things you can spot, or counting backwards from 572 in threes. It helps you to drown out that negative voice in your head and start believing in yourself.
Besides, I’ve never seen anyone actually get pulled over by their dog while Canicrossing. The secret is learning how to run safely and control your dog’s speed before you set out on the Canicross trails. You wouldn’t get in a car and start driving without having some lessons first. It’s the same with Canicross. If you book yourself in for a proper intro session with a decent instructor, you can learn the commands that control your dog and prevent you from being pulled over. You can also find out how to choose the right kit, including running trainers with the right tread to help you run safely and not slip. Remember, if you have trained properly and are kitted out correctly, you can remain the one who is in control of the speed you are running at – and not your dog.
I’m not fit enough to keep up with my dog so there’s no point trying.
Even the fastest runner who does regular marathons and road races should never try and keep up with their dog. If you try and run as fast as you possibly can, you’re not leaving yourself enough time to think about what’s coming up ahead of you. You can’t think about whether you are about to turn, whether your dog is changing direction, whether there are other dogs in front of you and so on. So, it’s not about trying to keep up with your dog; it’s about teaching your dog to go at the same pace as you. You’re on a highway to nowhere trying to catch your dog when it is running full pelt.
Don’t forget, too, that dogs also get tired doing Canicross. After all, it is running on a bungee line, obeying your commands and using its brain a lot to work out when to pull out, go faster, turn or overtake. All this can be mentally tiring. Even people who are amazingly fast runners must slow down enough to avoid the dog getting overly mentally tired.
My dog has learned bad pulling habits – they will never be able to do Canicross safely.
Everyone who comes to me for Canicross training starts off by walking, even if they have tried to run with their dog in the past. We begin by me walking in front of the person and their dog and giving the dog the command to pull. When the dog responds correctly, we give it lots of praise for doing the right thing. That’s a good way to reverse any bad habits the dog may have picked up. Pulling out in front is often completely contrary to what people teach their dogs normally. We train them to walk calmly by our side when they are on a loose lead. All of a sudden, when it comes to Canicross, we are expecting them to run and pull out in front of us.
A lot of people find that they automatically look down at their dog while doing Canicross, as this is also what we do when they are on the loose lead and going for a walk. If we do that while running, however, they cannot pull out in front of you, as they are too busy looking right back at you. Mixed signals like these are confusing for the dog and it finds it difficult to know when to pull out in front properly. Having a Canicross trainer watch you while you run and give you feedback on what you are doing can help you get rid of bad habits like this and help the dog learn what to do.
I don’t need to do any formal Canicross training. I can just rock up to a trail with my dog and start running with our normal clothes and walking harness.
That is not the case at all. You wouldn’t wear a pair of stilettos to run a marathon, and it’s the same with Canicross. You must have the right kit to set yourself and your dog up for safety and success. Make sure that your dog has a properly fitted harness for its size and breed that allows it to pull out in front without having anything rubbing or getting around their neck. A suitable Canicross bungee line is essential too, so they can pull safely without hurting you or themselves. Never buy Canicross kit without getting expert advice first. You can’t just buy the cheapest or most expensive, fanciest kit and expect it to work then and there. You won’t know what suits you until you have tried it on and tested it out. Get some good advice and then invest your money in proper kit that will last for years and keep you safe and injury-free.
Nervous or reactive dogs can’t do Canicross.
Yes, they can, given the right preparation and kit. I always begin my clients’ training with a one-to-one intro session so that I can assess what they are doing and what they need to succeed in the sport. That includes seeing how their nervous or reactive dog behaves. Doing this helps me to work out which type of Canicross approach or group will work best, and allows the dog to feel as calm and comfortable as possible. The good thing about this sport is that all dogs are kept attached during the run at all times and people spread out a lot, so no-one needs to feel pressured by those around them.
I have a reactive dog myself, so I do understand what it’s like to not always be able to go along to certain groups. I try to make my training and classes as inclusive and safe as possible. Often, taking part in Canicross can actually help reactive dogs learn how to cope with other people and canines. They prefer running alongside each other, rather than head on. If you let the group know that your dog might be nervous, they can give you both space and respect your dog’s needs to help it get used to being in a larger group.
Dogs (and people) can become too old to do Canicross safely and shouldn’t try to start at a later age.
Age doesn’t matter. Even if you or your dog don’t quite feel up to running any more, you can still take part in Canitrekking, which is walking with your dog hands-free. Canitrekking still gives your dog the mental stimulation of reacting to commands, as well as offering physical stimulation and exercise for both of you. You need to walk your dog every day anyway, so why not add in some of the elements of Canicrossing or Canitrekking and get more out of the time you spend together?
Ignore the voice in your head telling you that you are too old, too unfit or too overweight to start. Go at your own pace and you will be surprised by what you can achieve. Don’t try and impress other people in a Canicrossing group or keep up with their pace if it is too fast for you. Going at your own pace is how you will get the most enjoyment and reward from it.
As for your dog, if you are unsure about whether it can cope with the demands of Canicrossing or Canitrekking, ask your vet for advice. That’s what they are there for. A lot of vets are positive about Canicrossing, since many dogs don’t do enough exercise and this is a great activity for them. Canicrossing also tends to involve running in a straight line, which is far easier on their joints that twisting and turning to catch a ball multiple times during a walk. If you are worried, adjust things for your dog and yourself to make sure that you are safe and can enjoy running or walking together at a comfortable pace.
Some dogs are too big or too small for Canicrossing.
I’ve seen so many different sizes of dogs doing Canicross, from tiny Westies to massive Alsatians. In fact, the smallest dog I have ever seen doing the sport was an Italian greyhound that was no larger than a handbag. It doesn’t matter what size your dog is. As long as it is wearing the right kit and you are using clear commands so the dog knows what it is doing, you will both love it. Certain breeds may be more suited to the sport, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t also take part. I have a French bulldog cross who absolutely loves it. She is reactive and Canicross really helps her relax. If you and your dog are having fun, your dog can do the sport. Get on and have a good time.
Canicross takes up too much time. I can’t fit it into my busy life.
Another brilliant thing about Canicross is that you have to exercise your dog in any case, so you can simply replace your daily walk with a Canicross session and take the same amount of time doing it. You don’t have to switch over completely from walking to Canicrossing every day either. Start when you feel it is right for you to do so and don’t worry about committing fully to it until you feel ready. It’s such a flexible sport. Once you have had your introductory training and bought the correct kit, you can take it on how you want to.
Having busted several myths, here is one final piece of advice for people considering looking further into Canicross. Go and book a proper introduction session from a Canicross trainer who can show you how to get started safely. The last thing anyone wants is people going out on their own and getting into situations that will put them off trying again. Once you know what to do, Canicross is a safe and hugely enjoyable pastime. If you take the time to get proper training and advice, you will have the knowledge and tools to go out and have the best time ever.
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