While agility is a lot of fun for our dogs, it is no secret that the sport is physically demanding for our canine friends (and us!). This is even more true for dogs that are overweight or out of shape. Before even starting agility training it is essential to have your dog at a lean wight and increase your dogs fitness and strength.
Fitness training is also important to the success of already established teams as it can enhance performance on the course.
There are many different ways to begin a fitness program for your dog (and as always, make sure you talk to your veterinarian first to make sure they are appropriate for your dog). Swimming, free-running, trick training, canine conditioning with fitpaws style equipment, balance work, weight pulling, and hiking are all great ways to increase your dog’s fitness. All of these will build muscle and endurance.
I’ve tried all of these with my dogs but often find I end up focusing more on their fitness than my own! (Although hiking and free-running can be great for me too). Recently, I discovered Canicross – which was developed to keep sled dogs fit in the summer months. Dogs are fitted with a non-restrictive harness and a bungee leash connects the dog to a waistbelt on their two legged companion. As they run, the dog leans into the harness and help pull the runner forward.
The option to work out with my dog immediately appealed to me and it seemed more fun for both of us than just running alongside each other. As I read more about the sport I found out that the resistance in the line not only improves fitness but can also improve jumping, body awareness, and more!
To get started, I started by joining a couch to 5k canicross program through non-stop dogwear. We also made sure we both had appropriate gear that fit. For me, this meant a Canix running belt. For my dog, Nate (a 5 year old 45lb Border Collie), this meant a Freemotion Harness in Size 5. Between us, a 2m bungee leash. This week, I did exercises on my own (both running and strength training). Today was the day for our first Canicross – a simple 500m run (about 1/3 of a mile). We got geared up and headed to the trail.
Warming up is critical, this also gave me a chance for Nate to get better use to the gear. He is a natural puller and has never been taught not to pull on a leash – so getting him to pull in the harness was easy for us. We walked with him pulling for about 5 minutes, then we started our 1/3 of a mile run. We held a 11.5 minute mile pace and a few minutes later had finished! To cool down, I let Nate run freely and I did a cool down walk. Noddy, my papillon, also joined us running freely nearby. She was equipped with a Non-stop Dogwear Line Harness (size 2) which allowed her to extend freely and not be restricted as she moved.
I was glad to have done all the work this week on starting to run as it meant the 1/3 of a mile with Nate went super easy for me. Nate is already an incredibly fit dog, so 1/3 of a mile was very easy for him too. Much like training agility, starting with something that was physically easy for both of us increases confidence and means we’ll be able to do even better and go further next time!