• Fanny Mahìngan Peltier

HARNESS DOG SPORTS: PREPARE FOR YOUR WINTER SEASON!

The snow is falling on a dense cover, the atmosphere is cozy and the trails seem deserted. All you hear is your dog's breath and the friction of skates, skis or the crackling of your footsteps on the snow. White ecstasy!

I don't know about you, but at AniMush we love winter and our dogs too! However, although our dogs are trained and have experience in harness sports, there are several routines that we have adopted since our beginnings to make sure the season runs smoothly. In this article, we'll cover the basics so you can safely discover new activities with your dog. Without forgetting all the pleasure that goes with it!




PREPARE YOUR DOG

To ensure the safety of your duo, you must take certain precautions as well as prepare your dog to initiate him to winter sports. Know that if you doubt about your pet's health and abilities, the best person to reassure you on this side is your veterinarian.

Health, nutrition and hydration

Just like humans, a lack of muscle mass as well as being overweight can increase the risk of injury. Therefore, know that it is essential to maintain a healthy weight in your dog and to make sure that he maintains good muscle and bone structure. Especially for the practice of sliding sports, which requires more physical effort on the part of your partner.

Many diets are controversial and it is difficult for the majority of owners to navigate them as the rhetoric flies from one extreme to the other. The important thing is to make sure that your dog is properly metabolizing nutrients and that his portions meet his needs for energy spent. However, I recommend that you have a discussion with people who specialize in dog nutrition if the dog:

  • eliminates the equivalent of what it ingests,

  • has bloating followed by frequent gas,

  • saliva a lot and gets tired quickly during a workout,

  • has abnormal faeces (too soft or too hard),

  • never or rarely seems to be full ...

Also, know that a well hydrated body regulates its temperature better and recovers more quickly from physical exertion. For dogs who are not good drinkers, you can encourage them to drink by adding a small amount of water to their meal to make soup. Avoid feeding him snow, which can contain bacteria in addition to being cold and contributing to energy loss. If your dog tends to eat snow a lot, try to determine his motivation. He may be thirsty, hot, or just enjoy playing with it.

In order to limit the risks of digestive disorders and gastric torsion, a dog should not eat the two hours preceding intense and sustained physical activity. For morning workouts, recommend a slightly larger meal the night before or simply give him his meal after the activity. The same goes for workouts at the end of the day, you can give him his portion after training or give him part at dinner and the second part after the activity.

After intense or sustained training, some will opt for a bone broth to allow their dog to better recover and hydrate. These broths are available in some pet stores or online.

Learning the basics

Depending on the sport practiced as well as its playground, we can allow ourselves certain errors on the part of our dog. However, the risk of falls and various injuries being higher in winter, it is better to have a dog that responds very well to instructions. This becomes even more important when practicing slide sports or bikejoring. The most important instruction to teach your dog to limit injury is the notion of traction: to teach the dog to position himself correctly and to transfer his weight to his harness. Many of the dogs we see at AniMush who have learned to pull crookedly and develop shoulder, spine and other ailments. Know that it is easier to condition than to dis-condition the learning of a sports motion.

Of course, all the instructions are important in the practice of harnessed dog sports as well as the work of distractions. We want to avoid a nasty accident caused by a squirrel race. That being said, there are two other instructions that we make a point of honor among the rest:

  • Easy : to slow down or descend gently

  • Stop : to stop and stay in a stop or seated position

Finally, in learning basic instructions, we take the opportunity to desensitize our dog to various moving objects behind or nearby: presence and movements of the scooter, skis, bicycle, snowshoes.

At the start of each season, we make sure that our dogs are always comfortable with the objects they have to tow and the noise of the skates, skis or wheels rubbing on the ground.


Temperature and injury prevention

Temperatures vary greatly in winter, and some dogs are more affected by climate change than others. If your partner doesn't have enough undercoat, chances are they'll need a coat to help maintain their body temperature. Resistance to cold will vary according to several factors: health, genetic predispositions, age. No matter the weather, you must stay vigilant and make sure you respect your dog's abilities.


Several factors must be taken when practicing winter activities: sliding conditions, humidity and temperature, backwind or headwind, thickness of the snow cover, uneven terrain, etc. Avoid going into terrain that you do not know or that you have not explored for several days. A small layer of snow under a patch of ice on a downhill slope or a poorly marked trail in a curve can turn into a nightmare for your duo. In addition, the ground must be well groomed and have a hard bottom. If the snow cover is too soft and deep, your dog will lose a lot of stability and the risk of injury is higher.

Before and after each ride, get in the habit of checking the condition of your dog's pads and claws. Also take a few minutes to massage him and check his joints, his flexibility. By adopting a series of checks, you will more easily detect injuries or pain in your partner. Before training, you can take him for a 15-minute walk to allow him to warm up and eliminate as needed. Your dog will be much more focused if he has been exploring the trail and grooming himself before your favorite activity.





THE DIFFERENT WINTER HARNESS CANINE SPORTS

The snow scooter

A cousin of the sled, lighter and more malleable, the snow scooter is gaining popularity with fans of harness dog sports. Although it is lighter, it is unrealistic to think of going several miles with a small dog, a young dog or a dog new to harness sports. In addition, you will have to help your dog by running behind, pushing and disembarking from your scooter during climbs. So, if you think sledding isn't cardio, we've got some news for you! You will discover new muscles and feel warm there, but you will find your child's heart again! Some models are foldable and allow a child to sit in the front. To try it is to adopt it !

Dog Type: For dogs over 25 pounds, in good physical condition, and over 18 months of age.

1-2 dogs per scooter depending on their size and strength.


Required equipment: scooter, line, dog harness designed for traction on the ground, mat or brake, suitable coat and / or booties for the dog, helmet and goggles as needed.

Instructions from the musher: never let go of the scooter no matter what! Otherwise, you risk finding your dog meters away, or even a kilometer away. Sometimes panicked to be mowed down by the sled behind him.



Canicross

Canicross is a traction sport that connects dogs and humans in the same stride, but does not lie about our abilities in winter if we have a strong and motivated dog. Ideally, it is best to have some canicross experience before venturing out on snowy trails. Also, if you are running with a small dog, you will need to take the playing field conditions into consideration to make it fun for your duo. If you are a beginner canine rider, consider reducing your distances to get used to running on the different surfaces offered by our winter conditions.

Dog Type: For dogs of all sizes over 8 months old.


Equipment: canicross belt, bungee line, harness for the dog, runnings adapted for winter according to your practice, coat and / or booties for the dog as needed.



Dog Hiking

Dog hiking is practiced with or without snowshoes depending on the conditions and the level of difficulty of the trails. Of course, if you have a small dog, as with canicross, you have to opt for a cleared course. Make sure you know your route well and have the necessary in your backpack depending on the distance traveled. Is your dog strong and very motivated both in the climbs and in the descents? Teach him to descend gently next to you so that your outing is pleasant. In addition to the physically tired, this is a good fun exercise to do with him. Have fun and use your course to teach him different things.

Dog Type: For dogs of all sizes over 8 months old.


Equipment: canicross belt, bungee line, dog harness, snowshoes adapted to your practice or good hiking boots.


Skijoring and bikejoring

These two sports require first of all a mastery in their practice for the safety of the duo. When it comes to skijoring, when we add the dog to the equation it is not uncommon to feel out of control. The technique is completely different for the skate when being pulled. It is not necessary to take a step skating class as they do not teach you how to help your dog and your motion will be different on many levels. However, if you are skilled on your skis, you will have a lot of fun with your partner. Use a narrow path if your dog is not yet completely consistent in his traction to prevent him from stepping left to right.


Regarding winter bikejoring, it's practiced on Fatbike. Again, you have to start getting used to handling this type of bike in the winter before adding your dog. Otherwise, recommend a well-groomed straight line trail with a hard bottom for your first experiences.

Dog Type: For dogs over 25 pounds, in good physical condition, and over 18 months of age.

Special equipment for skijoring: cross-country skis without metal body, harness for the dog, belt, bungee line with extension, helmet and goggles if necessary.

Special equipment for bikejoring: Fatbike, bungee line for bikes or simple bungee line with an extension, draft bar, harness for the dog, coat and / or booties if necessary, helmet.