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Monday, January 5, 2015

Canicross - Trail Running with Dogs

Lookout Point Reservoir

Learning to Appreciate Where You Are

by: The DZ Dog Daddy


I began trail running to combat the winter gloom, and it has completely transformed my outlook on the season.  As I drive to the trail head and the rain is swept from the windshield by the metronomic cadence of the wiper blades, I catch the dark wide eyes and shiny nose of a particularly special little boy in the rear view mirror.  We are hitting the trails for a little canicross.

The Willamette Valley rains for nine months out of the year.  In the winter, if it isn't raining, then its probably just gloomy.  The picture above is Lookout Point reservoir.  It has been drained in anticipation of this coming spring's rain.  As we roll into summer, the water level will be near the top.  That's a lot water.  Especially considering that this reservoir continues around the distant turn and goes on for TEN MORE MILES before tapering off into the various rivers and creeks that feed into the reservoir.  Yes, we get a considerable amount of rainfall.

 Stopping to enjoy the view, and stretch my hammy
I got a bit muddy when I took a tumble


When you embrace the rain, the clouds, and the mud, the world comes alive.  Time vanishes on the trail.  It's just me and my dogs.

How to Canicross:

Canicross is a team sport.  You and your dogs must be dialed in together.  The dogs are attached with tow lines to your waist-belt.  They give some great assistance when powering up long steep hills, but they can cause tremendous disaster when you are coming back down the other side.  If you cannot control your dogs with voice commands in the excitement of activity, you are going to get pulled down a steep muddy embankment.  Dogs can bound down hill very quickly with their four paw drive where as your two feet are no match for theirs in terms of traction.  Canicross dogs MUST HEED WHOAH!

Dante and Ziva learned to pull on the flats with me on roller blades.  I taught them go, stop, slow, leave it, and they know their right from their left.  When I hit the trails with them for the first time, they were already pros and we had very few problems.  I wouldn't suggest trail running with your dog in a pulling harness until you have them dialed in on the flats.  Believe me, if your canine partner decides to take a detour going down hill on a muddy switchback, you are going down.  Especially if you are running with, in my case, a combined total of eight paws and 125 pounds of pure boxer and pit bull terrier muscle up front.

I've slipped and tripped many times out on a run and Ziva has drug me several feet all by herself across the mud.  She is seriously powerful for a little forty-eight pound pup.  She immediately stopped after she pieced together the grunt the thud and the sudden increase of tension on her harness and realized I was down.  She put on her worried face and was all kisses to make sure that I was alright.  After that tumble she kept looking back and checking on me to make sure I was still up.  What a sweetie.


I use the Ruffwear joring belt and tow lines.  The belt is very comfortable, it has two convenient pockets which i keep my phone in one and a .380 pistol in the other.  The tow lines were too long, so I shortened them by braiding up the lines.  The bungee in the lines works great for taking the shock out of the pulling and also for keeping the lines tidy and preventing them from dragging in the muck and getting caught between puppy legs.

Dante didn't go on this adventure.  He stayed with Mama

Canicross is a Great Confidence Builder

If you have been following the blog, you know that when we adopted Ziva she had pretty serious confidence and anxiety issues.  Trail running taps into the primal nature of both dog and man.  Running together strengthens bonds and develops security.  I took Ziva on her first solo trail run with me today.  She usually ques onto Dante and powers up front like a champ, but when she realized that we were leaving brother and mama behind, her confidence was shot.  Let alone not pulling, she would not even run down the trail with me.

I ended up unleashing her and letting her tag along down the trail behind me.  (off leash dog?.. you could say that the trail I was running is the road less traveled by.  We were very alone on this trail.)  Once her mind was off the leash and where to be, she started to feel the pace and tune into the trail and the run.  Within a mile her confidence soared and she took the next opportunity to bound past me and dart down the trail.

"Whooah!" I called to her.  She slowed and looked back at me with no fear or doubt in her eyes.  I clicked into her harness and called out, "HUP, HUP," and we were off at a dash.  She was perfect for the rest of the run.  She was out front following the trail, listening to my pace commands and left or right fork just as I called them out.

My wife walked Dante down the same path.  I set a turnaround time, so we each went down the trail for a set time, then turned around and headed back, that way we end up back at the car at the same time.

I knew precisely where they had turned around because Ziva suddenly picked up their scent on the trail.  It was a clear and instant change in behavior.  Her nose and ears focused in on the trail and we quickened our pace.  It was exciting and gave me the energy boost I needed to finish the run strong chasing down the scent with Ziva.

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8 comments:

  1. What a great sport! I used to run 5k with my German Shepherd until she got too old and tired to go with me. Running wasn't quite the same for me after that. There's just something about that union, that bond you get with teaming up with your dog. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I'd never heard of Canicross. Take care!

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    1. I understand completely, in highschool I had a border collie that I ran with. I was devastated when he passed away.
      We're really loving trail running, it has given us a good reason to go get muddy in our icky winter weather. :-)
      Thanks for commenting! *Wags!*

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  2. This sounds fun! Would love to see the Ruffwear joring harness in action... video next time? :)

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    1. Definitely! We'll get a video next trip out!

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  3. I once read a book that suggested that the reason dogs and humans linked so successfully was because they both evolved to run long distances. Think about it--most cats slowly talk their prey and then bring it down in a short burst of speed. But both early humans and dogs would run their prey over long distances until they were exhausted enough to take down.

    Perhaps your trail running is putting you and Ziva into touch with our earliest ancestors.

    I've considered bike-joring with Honey. I appreciated your reminder of the helpful cues we'll need to work on if we want to try it.

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  4. That's an interesting perspective, and it makes sense to me!
    I know the hubby and I would be happy if she tapped more into the confidence part of her brain, so we're glad we found something that can help us bond.
    Bike-joring with Honey would be a blast! You'll need to find her the right harness for it but with practice I bet you guys would make a great team!

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  5. I have such bad knees that I can't run. :-( I know that Delilah would enjoy this if I were a runner, because she has such boundless energy and is a natural born athlete.

    Thanks for sharing this along with your commands, often times on our walks we are going down slippery, leaf and rock strewn hills and I think whoa might be a good command to learn.

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    1. You could totally get into scootering with her or having her pull you in a dog cart!! Both fun activities! :-)

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