Main pic: Amy Hughes
New research has revealed that the number of pets looked after by UK families has been on the rise during lockdown, with 3.2 million new households owning one since the start of the pandemic.
And, according to canicross specialists K9 Trail Time, running with dogs is becoming increasingly popular too.
The Gloucestershire-based company reported a 52% year-on-year increase in online sales for January.
However, with potentially so many new canicrossers, experts highlight safety concerns that need to be borne in mind.
K9 Trail Time has produced the following guide to making sure you have the right equipment and ensure a steady progression for your canine running companion.
If you’ve ever thought about running with your dog, or already are but are not sure you’ve got the right equipment, then there are a few things you need to be aware of to make sure you and your dog are comfortable.
Number 1 on the list, the dog harness – this must be a specific sports harness or at least one which is designed to be non-restrictive. In terms of canine anatomy, the dog's shoulders need to be free to move in an unrestricted way. In other words, when your dog's shoulder swings forward and backwards, make sure nothing could potentially cause a limitation to movement (imagine trying to run in a long, tight, skirt!), so any harness must allow full range of motion and not cross over the shoulders.
Harnesses are individual to every dog as there are so many different shapes and breeds of dog, so it is worth getting some expert advice on this to ensure you get the right style and fit for your dog. It is as hard as selecting the right pair of trail trainers unfortunately!
Sports harness prices start at around £24.99 and can reach upwards of £70 depending on the brand and style.
Number 2 on the list, the human belt – these look like climbing harnesses in some cases, with leg straps to keep the belt in place. The canicross belts are designed to distribute the pull of your dog away from your lower back and keep you comfortable and stable, leaving your hands free so you can keep a more natural running style.
There are a few different styles available and choice is usually made on personal preference and your needs. For example, do you need a pocket for keys or poo bags, etc?
Canicross belt prices start at around £34.99 and can reach upwards of £80 depending on the brand and style.
Number 3 on the list is the bungee line to connect you with your dog – these are relatively standard and come in a variety of lengths. The most popular is 2 metres when stretched but for parkruns which allow dogs and situations where you might need more control, shorter options are available. The purpose of the bungee line is to absorb the force of your dog pulling and protect you both from potential injury caused by any sudden increase or decrease in speed!
Bungee lines start from around £20
Pace and duration of runs
We all know a bit about running safely on trails for ourselves but what about when we take our dogs along with us?
1 - Monitor your dog for signs of fatigue
If you are new to running with your dog, you should build up the distances and time slowly with your dog from the age of about 12 months (or later for big breeds). It is worth going back to your couch to 5km to condition your dog to running in harness with you safely.
Once you’ve achieved this and want to go further or faster, there are certain things to look out for to make sure you’re not pushing your dog too far or too fast:
· Looking to lie down / reluctance to move
· Excessive panting
· Stiffness in movement
· Damage to pads after runs
If you see any of these, take a step back. Decrease your distances and/or speed and work back up until your dog is comfortable keeping up with you.
2 – Monitor your dog for signs of heatstroke
Many of the signs of fatigue can also be observed if you are running your dog in unsuitable temperatures, the most common being if your dog gets too hot.
Heatstroke is life-threatening for a dog and, although we might enjoy a sunny, summer day, your dog might struggle to cope with even mild temperatures depending on breed, build and believe it or not, temperament.
In addition to the above signs of fatigue look for:
· Excess salivation and thick sticky saliva
· Glazed eyes
· Red or very pale pink (rather than healthy pink) gums
If you suspect your dog is suffering from heatstroke then they need to go straight to a vet and, if possible, you need to slowly cool them with tepid water, moving air and shade until you can get them there. You can always carry water for you and your dog to share if no clean water sources are available on your routes.
3 – Be aware of the environment
If you are running mostly on trails then you will be aware of the impact of running on asphalt on our joints. As humans, we can alleviate for this by changing our trainers but your dog doesn’t have the ability to pop on a pair of more cushioned shoes! If you need to run short stretches on roads or pavements, this can be fine for your dog and, although they might find it more boring than trails, will more than likely be happy to accompany you on a more urban run.
However, be aware that dogs pads can suffer with too much running on hard surfaces, particularly if they are pulling hard too. Dogs’ also develop arthritis just as we do and so, although it’s fine in moderation, running on roads and pavements should be limited, particularly for heavier breeds, to help prevent joint problems in later life.