This post will be all about training how when and why from my own experience and my own opinion what I would have done differently and why.
Let’s say it loud there is no one right recipe for how to teach the dog how to canicross. There are a lot of knowledgeable folks there who are happy to share their experience, but there is no right or wrong way. You need to find the way that will work for your dog.
Roger and his start was the easiest job ever! He is a natural puller, harness on, bungee attached and he is off! He is smart cookie so knows the commands very well. Yes, 2 years old dog and he knew very quickly what to do. Roger was just getting better with every training. I knew I could trust him 100% when running.
On the other hand, Laferra was a puppy when she landed on my doorstep. I had no clue what to do and why. I have search internet, talk to folks and really couldn’t find the perfect recipe for training the dog from zero. It was a really good lesson for her. Let’s start from the beginning then.
You look around on youtube, Instagram and facebook and a lot of top athletes from sled dog sport are starting training their puppies at age of 7-8 months. They run them for 0.5-1mile canicross or even bikejor. I felt for Lafie it is too early and I wanted her to be a puppy for as long as possible. Usually, the start time for dogs according to race rules is they need to be 12 months old for canicross and 18months for bikejor and scooter. I have decided to just make her familiar with a harness so she was running off lead with harness on. I also focused my training on 100% recall of lead as I knew I would train her off lead on bike for her fitness and take her up the mountains when I was out with my MTB pals. We did well there, she has 100% recall! I know you think: not a chance. Well, I have tested it with having fox, horse and deer on the way!
I was super excited to finally start working with her, but I haven’t rushed to anything. At 10months old, we started doing power walk with canicross equipment. She was all over the place. Comparing to Roger she was just daft. We continue that even tho it was very frustrating at times as she wasn’t really good at focusing and listening what I tell her. She just wanted to say hi and be best friends with every single dog. I have never tried her with Roger either, and I know some did. It worked for them, pro-dog teaching new dog. In my case, I wanted to make her confident on her own as she is very shy and submissive dog. We just continue the training, she was more interested in birds and stops when she could cuddle with me. It was frustrating every single time. Now I only laugh at it as she is such a baby.
My teenage dog
She turned 12 months and we started doing more during the run, which was much easier than power walking due to that there was less time for her to get distracted. Finally, she started to understand what is this all about. Training was going really great until our first race! Our first race (first race report is here), Laferra thought we will do exactly what we did at training and we will stop for cuddles. Oh! Princess, we need to run to the finish line! Not successful but we finished our first race.
Although training was going well I discover that she didn’t understand the 5km distance and stop at the finish line (not when she felt like it). I realized all this few months I did it wrong. I didn’t build her for distance. Don’t take me wrong, she was fit to run it or even longer. It was just her head not ready for 22 minutes constant run or even other dogs on the trails. She was 15 months already so I really felt like I wasted time. It was time for changing the game, or at least I thought I did. Another race and unfortunately another fail (you can read here). We didn’t finish the race and I never give up. I was devastated and very upset that I really tried to prepare her.
I had two months to make sure she is ready as I already committed to going to IFSS World Championship (you can read about it here). After few days having a break from all the running, I sat and wrote a plan.
The new plan which changed the game
I knew that my dogs don’t care about winning or loosing, they just want to run with me. I just couldn’t disappoint them myself. Laferra and I started building up the speed and the distance at that speed. We ran 1 mile! Next week we did 2 miles and so on. I started doing more of 1-2miles with her on scooter or bike. She was loving it. Eventually after few years saying I will never go to parkrun, we went to parkrun and ran it. It was amazing to see how she cops with all the people, noise and distraction.
She was just amazing and I could see all these worked for her, which showed at the World Championship that it was all worth the patient. The time we spent together also build fantastic bonding between us. I have learnt one thing, if one training doesn’t work try something different. Dogs are different. She loves running and her harness.
Yes, I had an easy life with Roger, but the most rewarding with Laferra. I feel very emotional when we go out there and race. She just loves it. It isn’t always perfect, as you always learn something new right?! Sometimes we go back to basic or a small thing makes her distracted. However, at only 19months coming all the way from Greek streets, she really grew up to a fantastic “sled dog”. I am looking forward to our future and more competition. We both have fun and that what’s matter most.
What I would do different?
I think this time I would make sure Laferra is more familiar with wheels from early stages of her life. Even just putting it near her feeding place. She is brilliant MTB and with scooter, but she isn’t 100% sure about bike. Probably also would make her more familiar with hydration after training as she hates drinking water after training or race (no clue why). Finally, I would defo allow her runnning free when I did training with Roger on wheels or just canicross. She would have watched the wee pro doing it perfectly. Maybe this would help me to have less time being frustrated.
I probably wouldn’t attach her to bike or just run with both of them, but would defo want her to see more of Roger in action. Maybe two dog scooter one day! I presume she would love to have Roger with her during training now.
Note: here are other posts which has some tips on training.