How Canicross helped me bond with my rescue dog
How Canicross helped me bond with my rescue dog
Join Lara a Canicross instructor as we talk about how Canicross helped her bond with her rescue dog Tilly.
Why a rescue dog?
Lara’s life currently revolves around dogs and running. She recently celebrated her third anniversary as a DogFit trainer in Bude where Lara established her company Let’s go Canicross after she adopted Tilly.
House build complete, feeling settled in North Cornwall; with more time to enjoy her home county, Lara already a keen trail runner envisaged running blissfully along the gorgeous beaches and myriad of paths that this coastline offers. She quickly realised that to make this rose-tinted image of free running with dogs’ work, she needed an adult dog.
Tilly was rescued from a pound in Spain, days away from being put down. She was 18 months old when Lara first met her. Tilly had many issues, some of which she retains today; all attributable to her previous miserable existence.
It soon became clear that running with Tilly would not happen overnight but required an investment of Lara’s time and energy. Lara knew about canicross but didn’t immediately follow this path because she didn’t want to run competitively and she mistakenly thought it appeared to be a bit hardcore.
Lara broadened her research which paid dividends when she honed in on DogFit believing that this would be hers and Tilly’s fit and a way for them both to bond and work together running.
When Tilly arrived in the UK, her pick up point a supermarket carpark in Taunton, Tilly was a broken dog. Recounting the heartbreak of seeing her and the other dogs who were being collected that day, brought Lara to tears. Still visibly upset by the scene she recounted to Louise; Lara described some of Tilly’s issues.
Tilly had no muscle on her owing to her existence in a concrete compound with little or no opportunity for exercise, she had no socialisation skills, she couldn’t look Lara in the eye and was very wary around men.
Lara knew from a friend’s experience that it was possible to give a dog another life, Lara embarked on a rehabilitation programme for Tilly. This took about a year of careful handling and training, the key aspect of this being running with Tilly. Her friends and family thought she was crazy taking on a rescue dog but Lara doggedly determined to prove them wrong.
As she spoke from her own experiences with Tilly, Louise commented that it isn’t just rescue dogs who require careful handling and training as her pure-bred gun dog, Pickle failed her gun school and it was canicross which created the outlet for her energy and gave her a job to do. Both owners agreed that you always have to work with the dog in front of you. Canicross can provide the role of ‘work’ for dogs.
Tilly is a reactive dog. Canicross and the training associated with this means that Tilly now listens, she responds to directional commands and is a happy dog.
How Canicross helps
Initially Lara put Tilly in a harness, attached to herself with a waist belt and a bungee line and set off to do park runs. After a couple of outings, Lara felt huge discomfort, her kidneys felt in her words ‘as if they would pop out’. It didn’t feel nice and trying to stop or direct a dog at the end of a bungee line is not great because there is no control. In DogFit she found her tribe and a place to belong and learn how to run with her dog, safely and well.
How has Canicross helped Tilly?
In reply, Lara spoke enthusiastically about how it made the bond between her and the dog better. After a month, Lara gained eye contact from her dog. In training Tilly became adept at taking directions. This has translated into being able to let Tilly free run as well as Canicross running. Canicross gives Tilly a level of confidence. When running, Tilly is quick and focused. Lara is now able to distract Tilly from squirrels. Joining in anecdotally, Louise laughed as she recounted the fact that Pickle is still distracted by squirrels as well as ducks!
What next for Tilly after this initial bonding with Lara?
Bonding with her husband took much longer, about a year and there were moments, Lara recounted when it was ‘touch and go.’ Tilly is now affectionate with her partner, although very much Lara’s dog when they are together. This can cause problems as Tilly guards her so well that anyone coming to the house is always seen as a threat. When Lara is out, Tilly relaxes.
Canicross can make a difference
Lara’s experience with Tilly proves that running with your dog, can and does make a difference to a dog with issues. Her passionate, zealous, evangelical approach inspired her to her own Canicross business after training with DogFit. Lara remains the only go to professional for DogFit in Devon and Cornwall. She urged people to spread the word about the opportunity to run with your dog, enthusing that it is a ‘brilliant sport.’
Both Louise and Lara recounted life changing examples of how Dogfit and Canicross has impacted on lives; clients feel good about themselves, there are numerous health benefits, mental health improves as does self-esteem. The changes are remarkable. Seeing smiles on clients faces as they embrace the run, trusting the dog to obey commands and going for it, is wonderful.
As if one rescue dog isn’t enough, Lara now has Reggie. Reggie arrived in December 2019 after Lara saw his photograph on the GSP Rescue UK website. A beautiful dog, his circumstances were the polar opposite to Tilly. Reggie had the privilege of a lovely start in life, a happy life but as his owners’ circumstances changed, so he needed a new home. Pitching for him against stiff competition, Lara was thrilled when the call came to say he was hers.
With support from GSP staff and careful introductions, Tilly and Reggie get on. Lara is convinced that Tilly has helped Reg gie calm down. An exuberant 6-month year old when he arrived, he adores Tilly. She tolerates him and definitely has the upper hand. Lara runs with them both, describing how Tilly conveys to Reggie that he is very much the learner and she the instructor.
Has Canicross changed your running?
Lara feels her running has improved. She is better, stronger and fitter because of her canicross running. She doesn’t sink into her hips when running now and is less fatigued with less risk of injury. Running with the harness encourages hips into a forward motion, helps with strengthening and conditioning. Lara is aware that she needs to keep fit and strong as she ages. She is working on her cadence which creeps up a bit.
Picking up on the benefits identified by Lara, Louise isn’t surprised by this summary and continues to describe how leaning into the run, using arms to propel forwards, lifts the diaphragm. Arms moving properly, she explains will increase cadence. Louise mentions her Pilates for Runners course which specifically targets strength and balance all instrumental aspects to avoid injury.
Canicross runners tend to overstride but strength will improve this, Louise says. As clients and competitors relax and focus on the dog, techniques get better, with the result that both runner and dog are in tandem running as one.
Lara is a passionate advocate of rescue dogs; she advises not to be put off even if the dogs exhibit reactive tendencies. Join a group, she enthuses as the benefits are immense to both dog and owner. Canicross is also good for walking with dogs as it instils a discipline and confidence in both parties. Muzzles can also give assurance, just make sure, Lara suggests that you find the one that is best for your dog. There is a lot of information out there including.
Lockdown puppies and the risk of there being more unsocialised dogs was mentioned in the context of muzzles. The view was expressed that if a muzzle makes you feel safe, then it is worth the investment. Too many dogs off leads, lunging at other dogs is not good. Although a much happier dog, Lara emphasised that Tilly is not and will never be a dog who is happy in a pack, so she may invest in a muzzle.
Lara’s attachment and emotional investment in Tilly and the thought of what might have been is evident throughout this interesting and enthusiastic conversation between two advocates of the benefits and advantages of canicross running at all levels.