Canicross: An Easier Way to Run With Your Dog

Chances are you’ve never heard of canicross -- but if you want to run with your dog, it just might be the sport for you. Although popular in Europe, it’s less well-known in North America. Canicross -- for “canine” and “cross-country” -- is the sport of running or walking behind a dog in harness. Dog-powered sports enthusiasts, such as mushers and skijorers (skiers pulled by dogs), canicross when there’s no snow to keep man and beast fit.

Now, runners, hikers and dog lovers are discovering the sport, which offers fun and health benefits for you and your dog. In canicross, your dog is harnessed with a line attached to your waist. Your dog then pulls you along, adding distance to your stride when you run -- and assistance on the uphill stretches. Here’s a clip of the sport from the U.K. group The Kennel Club:

Canicross Isn’t Just for Huskies

Canicross harnesses a dog’s tendency to pull and puts it to good use. “Most northern breeds are naturals because it’s bred into them,” says Catherine Benson of Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC. “But any dog whose adult weight is over 30 pounds, who has a desire to pull, and who is in decent physical condition with no joint or bone issues can be a good partner.”

Long-distance runners need a high-energy, fast-paced dog, whereas walkers and hikers do better with a strong but slower dog that won’t pull them off their feet.

Equipment and Training

Canicrossers use specialized gear. You can’t just attach a leash to your dog’s collar and off you go. You’ll need pulling harnesses, shock-absorbing lines, belts and related items. The best way to find these and to learn about the finer points of equipment is to contact a sled dog or canicross club in your area. These dog-power devotees will be happy to show you the ropes, so to speak. Dog adventure businesses also offer classes and clinics.

Pull training is a progressive process. “Let your dog get used to wearing the harness and lines when he’s young so it becomes second nature,” says Linda Newman of Points Unknown, a dog adventure business in Minnesota. “Teach him commands for “Go” (“Line out” or “Tighten up”), “Stop,” “Right” (“Gee”), and “Left” (“Ha” or “Haw”). Any commands are OK as long as you’re consistent. Reward him for pulling in harness, never on a leash. Dogs are smart, they know the difference.”

Train a puppy in short sessions a few times per week, ramping up the frequency and duration as your dog matures. Check with your veterinarian when it comes to building endurance in your dog, as your dog’s stamina can depend on his age, his current condition, where you train and many other factors. Your dog is likely to build endurance more quickly if he’s already accustomed to jogging with you.

Dogs learn to love canicross and might pull to the point of exhaustion, so it’s up to you to not overdo it. Labored breathing, occasional stumbling and an unwillingness to keep pace are signs your dog is fatigued.

You can train in any weather, but dogs don’t offload heat as well as people do. Benson uses the “Rule of 100.” She explains, “If the combined temperature and humidity are 100 to 120 F, either don’t train or give your dog lots of breaks, including swim breaks, and have plenty of drinking water available.” Excessive panting and rapid breathing are indications of heat exhaustion.

Improved Fitness for You and Your Dog

Canicross is ideal for exercise fanatics. The health benefits include stronger muscles and improved endurance for you and your dog -- although he’ll think it’s just plain fun! Plus, the exercise and training help alleviate boredom and improve the bond between you and your canine companion. Best of all, canicross can tone you and your dog at any pace, almost any place, and any time you want to “line out,” as the canicrossers say.

Photo: Akna/WikimediaCommons

Winter Weather Hazards for Dogs

With cold weather in full swing, the winter months can be a dangerous time for your dog. There are many hazards that occur when there is snow, ice and ice melting chemicals on the ground.  However, your dog can still enjoy the great outdoors during winter if you follow a few precautions.

When the temperature drops, it’s important to protect your pup from the cold. According to Dr. Kimberly May, Director of Professional and Public Affairs with the American Veterinary Medical Association, “people often overestimate their pet’s resistance to cold, so it’s better to be safe than sorry and go on the assumption that if you’re wearing a coat and you’re cold, odds are your dog may be cold, too. If your dog is acting as if he/she is cold, it’s time to go back inside.”

The type of dog and the age of your pet are both factors to keep in mind when determining how long your dog will be comfortable in the cold weather. However, Dr. May warns that no dog should be left out alone for extended periods of time in extremely cold (below freezing) weather.

Your dog’s paws are susceptible to many winter weather hazards since they encounter ice, snow and chemicals. “There’s a risk of physical injury from rough or sharp surfaces or edges that can cut or abrade the paw pads,” Dr. May explains. “There’s also a risk of frostbite or cold damage, and the risk of chemical burns from non pet-friendly ice-melting chemicals put on roads and sidewalks.”

Booties are an excellent option for protecting your pooch’s paws from the winter elements. Not only do they offer protection from injuries from sharp pieces of ice, but also shield delicate paws from chemicals. “If you choose to use booties, make sure they are properly sized-they could rub sores or reduce circulation if they don’t fit correctly-and gradually introduce your dog to them,” suggests Dr. May.

If you don’t use booties, make sure you clean off your dog’s feet and paw pads with a damp cloth and then dry well to remove any irritants.

Ice-melting chemicals, such as road salt, can make your dog ill and hurt their paws. There are a few ways to protect your pup from this winter danger. “To prevent ingestion, don’t let your dog lick the salt or any treated surface, don’t let him drink from puddles near the road and don’t let him eat snow or slush,” says Dr. May.

You also can protect short-haired, young or old dogs with a coat. “Remember that road salt tends to be splashed up on your dog’s belly, legs and sides, so give these areas a thorough wipe-down after a walk to prevent your dog from ingesting the road salt when they lick their paws or body,” Dr. May added.

As a dog owner, you can make this winter comfortable and safe for your pet by checking the weather before walks, making sure to plan a route without icy areas and cleaning off salt and chemicals so that your dog stays healthy.

Big Fun for Little Dogs

Is your lap dog spending too much time lounging on your lap? Or maybe there’s little lap time and too much yapping from your petite -- yet vocal and bored -- pet. In either case, small-dog expert Deborah Wood can come to the rescue for you and your dog.

“I think the big thing for owners of little dogs to remember is that these dogs have the same needs as their larger cousins,” says Wood, who is the author of The Little Dogs’ Activity Book: Fun and Frolic for a Fit Four-legged Friend. “They need exercise and mental stimulation. The great news is that they don’t need a lot of space to meet those needs.”

Make sure your small friend gets the mental and physical exercise he needs. Wood, who is also the animal services manager for Washington County, Ore., shares her top tips to help you provide big fun for your little dog.

Loose and Easy
Take your dogs for walks -- and stay in charge. Your small dog should have no problem following basic commands such as “Watch me,” “Sit,” “Come,” and “Down-stay.” For small dogs, learning how to walk on a loose leash is essential, according to Wood. Before outings, your dog should be on a comfortable buckle or snap collar, she advises. “Have him on a lightweight 4-foot or 6-foot leash -- not a flexi leash.”

Small dogs tend to have big opinions about where they’d like to go, darting left when you want them to go right or zipping to the right just as you’re ready to go left. The instant your dog pulls in the other direction, say “Let’s go!” as you gently guide your dog. This verbal command should always accompany the correction. When your dog is walking on a loose leash, “provide an easily chewed treat and tell him he’s a very, very good dog,” says Wood. Combine this with the “Watch me” command later, and soon your dog will be merrily walking wherever you go, paying attention to you for guidance.

Matching Activity to Breed
The adventures you and your dog will enjoy are partly determined by your pet’s breed. Woods suggests the following guidelines by breed:

  • High-energy-level activities -- including chase and fetch games, agility, flyball and hiking -- are often enjoyed by dogs of these breeds:

    Affenpinscher, Australian Terrier, Bichon Frise, Border Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Jack Russell Terrier, Parson Russell Terrier, Miniature Poodle, Papillon, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Rat Terrier, Schipperke, Scottish Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Silky Terrier, Smooth Fox Terrier and Toy Manchester Terrier.
  • Moderate-energy-level activities -- including long walks, dancing and tricks -- are frequently enjoyed by furry friends of these breeds:

    Beagle, Boston Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Chinese Crested, Dachshund, Havanese, Italian Greyhound, Maltese, Manchester Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Norfolk Terrier, Norwich Terrier, Pomeranian, Pug, Skye Terrier, West Highland White Terrier and Yorkshire Terrier.
  • Low-energy-level activities -- including shorter walks and work as a therapy dog -- are often enjoyed by the following breeds:

    Brussels Griffon, English Toy Spaniel, French Bulldog, Japanese Chin, Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, Shih Tzu and Tibetan Spaniel.

Your Little Dog Is Unique
Your dog’s breed is only half the story. Each and every dog has its own unique personality, likes and dislikes. Over the years, Wood has taught her own small dogs “a ton of fun tricks, from playing the piano to the dog sticking out her tongue on command.”

It doesn’t matter so much what you do, however. “It’s all about fun, bonding and joy, and having a positive relationship with your dog,” says Wood. “What could be better?”

Check back on ExceptionalCanine.com for more small-dog activities and training tips from small-dog expert Deborah Wood.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/ParkerDeen

Go on a Desert Retreat With Your Dog

November weather may conjure up thoughts of cold, rainy days, with you and your dog huddled indoors dreaming of summer fun. But picture this: If you and your furry pal visit the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, you can replace that dreary November scenario with scenic vistas, fresh air and T-shirt-worthy temperatures.

November through April is the perfect time for you and your dog to hike through this beautiful national monument, which is located in Southern California. Resorts, celebrity getaways and world-class golf courses surround the area. Few activities, however, beat the exhilaration and freedom of getting out into nature with your best canine friend.

Dog Hiking Heaven
Dogs usually crave adventure and socialization, but they sometimes wind up squabbling with other canines or running out of steam early on in the confined space of the local park. Not so on these outings. “I have a large dog and a small dog, and the hikes are perfect for them,” says Arielle Maccio, director of volunteer services for Friends of the Desert Mountains, the organization that supports the hikes as well as conservation, research, education and other activities associated with the protected area. “On the desert hikes, your dog can socialize with other dogs in a controlled, safe situation.”

Maccio explains that all dogs are on leashes, with hikers led through the trails by certified interpretive guides. The duration of trips is just right for most dogs. The weekly Saturday hike, for example, starts at 9 a.m. and lasts for 2 1/2 hours. If you are a dog lover without a dog, you can still join the group. But most hikers show up with their canines.

Two Choices
Visitors with dogs can choose between two trails: the Cove Oasis Trailhead in the city of La Quinta, Calif., or the Homme-Adams Park and Cahuilla Hills Park trail in the city of Palm Desert, Calif. The latter is “a 3-mile hike that includes some hills,” according to Maccio. She recommends it for more seasoned hikers. The one in La Quinta “does not feature as much elevation,” she says.

The substrate for both trails consists of sandy washes and hard-packed ground, says Maccio, so tender dog paws tend to fare well. Some owners put protective booties on their pets, but Maccio says those aren’t necessary for the leisurely paced hikes, which stop every 15 to 20 minutes to allow for education and engaging discussion.

Dogs Allowed -- Or Not
Guided desert hikes with dogs are extremely rare across the country, and for good reason. “Dogs, like their cousins -- the wolf, coyote and fox -- exert pressure on prey animals by acting aggressively and marking their territory with scent,” explains Ginny Short of the Center for Natural Lands Management in Thousand Palms, Calif. “This type of behavior causes additional stress in the prey animals that must now expend precious energy preparing a defensive action.”

Although your dog might be the perfect picture of good health, he could also still be a carrier of certain viruses that could spread to wild animals that may be more vulnerable, according to Short. Trails allowing dogs are very limited as a result of these risks, but that’s one reason why the Southern California desert hiking opportunities are so unique and special.

Tips for Desert Hiking With Your Dog
Maccio and guide Emily Horner ask that you bring the following:

  • Water for both you and your dog
  • A collapsible water bowl
  • Doggy bags
  • A leash (required)
  • Sunscreen, since temperatures are often between 70 F and 80 F

Because up to 15 or so dogs can be on any given hike, your pet must be well-socialized. Maccio also recommends that dog participants be used to outdoor activities and warm weather.

Learn About Sheep While Bonding With Your Dog
In addition to seeing other happy dogs, you might spot beautiful bighorn sheep -- or at least learn more about them. Peninsular bighorn sheep are endangered, so conservationists work hard to help protect them, which includes keeping dogs on the trails. That’s one reason these special hikes were established.

Once you and your dog go on a desert hike, it probably won’t be your last. “The information you’ll learn about introducing your dog to natural environments can be taken elsewhere, on other adventures,” explains Maccio.

If you have cabin fever and would like to visit the national monument, the area offers many other dog-friendly spots, including at least three dog parks nearby: Fritz Burns Park in the City of La Quinta, Calif.; the City of Palm Desert University Dog Park; and the City of Palm Springs Dog Park.

4 Steps to Prepare Your Dog to Play a Sport

Is your dog the canine version of Usain Bolt, sprinting faster than his neighborhood peers? Or maybe he’s like Gabby Douglas, jumping over hurdles with ease.

Even if your pet is just an athlete wannabe, you can get him in good shape by taking the right steps in these four, easy-to-remember categories: veterinary care, nutrition, exercise and training.

Dog Sports Preparation Tip #1: Visit Your Vet

Before starting any exercise or sports training program with your dog, it’s always a good idea to visit the veterinarian. “You want to make sure your dog is ready to exercise,” explains Susan Nelson, clinical associate professor at Kansas State University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. “You may have to start slow to build up their endurance, but once you get started, it can be fun.”

Dog Sports Preparation Tip #2: Select the Right Food

Charlie, a Jack Russell terrier who belonged to Virginia-based veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson, more than passed that first veterinary visit and was “an extraordinarily active dog.” Nelson says that Charlie couldn’t wait to run, swim and hunt during the autumn months, which Nelson’s family spent in southern Louisiana. But Charlie was so active that he seemed to burn calories faster than he could take them in.

Nelson decided to feed Charlie an “active formula” dog food, meant for canines like her speedy boy, and that “made a huge difference in his energy level and his physique,” she says. Such foods have sources of fat, protein and carbohydrates in appropriate proportions to meet the energy needs of active dogs and optimize their performance. In many of these foods, high-quality protein sources comprise about 29 percent of the mixture, to support lean muscles. For sustained energy, the formulas may have about 18 percent fat, which can include fish oil to help maintain healthy joints and minimize inflammation.

Dog Sports Preparation Tip #3: Choose Appropriate Exercises

The size and breed of your dog along with his particular likes and dislikes can help to determine what sports are best. “It really depends on what the dog can do,” Susan Nelson says. “For short-legged or arthritic dogs, walking is good. Running is good for bigger dogs who are in good shape -- but how much running you can do depends on the dog and how in shape it is. Remember, you can’t run a Basset Hound like you would a Great Dane.”

If you have a small dog, walking up to a mile or two each day is about the limit. Larger dogs can generally handle three or more miles of walking or running. As a basic guideline, Susan Nelson says that “dogs should get exercise at least twice a day, generally around 15 to 20 minutes each session for small dogs, and 30 to 40 minutes or more for large dogs.”

Dog Sports Preparation Tip #4: Train for Sports Gains

Your dog’s breed also might affect how you handle training. Did you know that your dog’s breed can influence how he responds to cues?

Márta Gácsi of Eötvös University, Hungary, for example, worked with a team of researchers to examine how various dog breeds made sense of the human pointing gesture. The scientists found that gun and sheep dogs were better at following a pointed finger than hunting hounds, earth dogs (dogs used for underground hunting), livestock guard dogs and sled dogs.

Don’t forget that mental training is just as important, since dogs are incredibly smart. “Dogs are in a special way tuned in to humans,” explains Jozsef Topal, who works in the Institute for Psychological Research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. “They are interested in finding out how we think, and they are able to do it by reading our subtle communicative behaviors. So if you are a responsible dog owner, you should devote time for communicating with your dog, not just by talking to it, but also by solving problems together -- which may include training tasks, playing, or other dog activities.”

Canine Athlete Initiative: Get Your Dog Started!

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recently launched the Canine Athlete Initiative, a major public awareness campaign. “Whether your dog joins you on your morning run or participates in weekend agility competitions, all dogs are canine athletes,” says Dr. Shila Nordone, chief scientific officer of the AKC’s Canine Health Foundation. Visit the AKC’s website for educational materials on the most popular dog sports, including agility, dock diving, flyball, Frisbee, herding, hunting/field trials, lure coursing, obedience, rally, sledding and tracking.