11 Jan

Two Legs Good… Six Legs Better

CanicrossImagine a running partner with bags of enthusiasm, who won’t bail on you in the worst weather and who’ll never ask you to pay for his post-run cake. Impossible? Not if you have a dog. runABC looks at the benefits of taking to the trails with your four-legged friend…

We’ve evolved together, after all 
Dogs and runners are a natural fit. Evolutionarily speaking, we’ve already been working together for thousands of years. Dogs have an in-born desire to run, as well as to work in a pack with a leader – and that means you!  Running with your dog also solves the perennial problem of trying to fit in time to walk your best friend and stick to your training plan at the same time. 
 
Ruff and ready?
Most dogs are ready to run by the time they’re a year old, but check with your vet first. Dogs can mature at different rates and those that are heavy or prone to joint problems may need special care and attention. At the other end of the spectrum, remember that dogs can develop arthritis and vision problems as well as slow down with age (like we do!), so keep an eye on their performance, not just yours.

Top dog?
Some breeds are better suited to running longer distances or coping with obstacles than others, so bear that in mind when choosing routes and terrain. It’s not reasonable to expect a Chihuahua to jump a five-foot-high fence, so you may need to alter your routine to suit your dog. Certain breeds are better able to cool themselves down than others, too, so you may need to pay more attention to warmer weather conditions and where water can be found than you would out on your own. Your vet should be able to guide you on what to expect from your breed of dog, but only you know your individual animal. 
 
Out of the traps
Like their owners, dogs need to build up their training gradually. Mixing up the terrain for the first few weeks will also help their paws adjust to their new regime. And just like running with a new human partner, it can take some time for dog and owner to get the hang of running together. Expect tangled leads and going head over heels into the bushes to be a frequent occurrence in the first few weeks. Good communication, consistency and patience are key – but taking a few classes can help too. Companies like Cani-Fit and Joggy Doggy offer group and private training sessions to help both dogs and their owners get the most out of running together.
 
Joining the pack 
Once you and your dog are used to running together, you might both enjoy a bit of company – and competition. Many parkruns are dog friendly and more and more events catering for canines – like Bark in the Park – are popping up all the time. But if your local event or running club isn’t playing ball with your pet, your local CaniX branch certainly will be. The CaniX season runs from autumn to spring, so you’ll be able to scratch your cross-country running itch with your best friend too. Let’s just hope that itch isn’t fleas! 
 
If you’re running regularly with your dog you’ll need a harness, belt and line. 
 
•  A good, washable body harness should be the right size for your actual dog (not just the breed), allow him to move and breathe freely and pull into the chest, not the neck. Most harnesses are designed for dogs to run in front of their human companion, but some also suit those that run at the side. 
 
•  Tied to the harness will be your line. This won’t be a normal ‘walking’ lead, but a proper running line with a bungee section to lessen the impact of your dog’s sudden movements.
 
•  Your dog’s running line should be tied onto a belt around your waist, not held in your hand. If you have a bigger dog or one that pulls very strongly, you might want to consider a belt that distributes the ‘pull’ more evenly around your lower body.
 
Images courtesy of Canicross