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It takes two

Communication is the key to canicross, says local dog running expert

3 min read
caption Sarah Peel from Dogrunnin was on hand to greet all the students and their owners.
Mathew Kahansky

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The bond between human and hound has always been close, but the increasing popularity of canicross in Halifax is making that relationship even tighter.

It’s a sport that evolved from mushing, or dogsledding, but it differs from simply running with a dog where the dog is at the owner’s side and requires a team effort.

“Essentially your dog pulls, and you are the driving force behind them,” said Sarah Peel of Halifax company Dogrunnin. “It really changes how you run.”

Canicross is a harness dog sport, meaning that the dog is attached to its owner with a taut line. The owner is also positioned behind the dog and gives commands to start, stop, speed up and slow down.

Peel has been coaching canicross programs for two years. She said she and her dog, Nahla, have gained confidence together thanks to the sport’s need for strong, consistent communication.

“I was at a point where I was really stuck inside my head and my body was falling apart and just working with her … really helped both of us,” said Peel. “For her, to come out of her shell, because she was a brand new greyhound right off the track; they’re pretty shy when they first get off. As you can tell, she’s not anymore.”

While Dogrunnin’s programs are relatively new to Halifax, canicross is already popular in other parts of Canada. Quebec has a strong canicross community, as there are plenty of trails to run on and enough snow in the winter to pursue seasonal sports. There are also a number of groups in the interior of British Columbia, where canicross has also found a following.

The Signal visited Dogrunnin’s latest clinic on Saturday in Point Pleasant Park and saw Peel in action, showing local dogs and their owners how to run better together.

The dogs present at the clinic were all shapes and sizes, from huskies to labs to greyhounds, but they all shared a desire to run.

Some had previously taken classes with Peel, but nonetheless she reiterated the need to practice commands regularly to make sure that both pet and owner were on the same page.

“With your dog, they hear everything much louder than you do so we don’t really want to increase our volume, and they will actually hear you better if you whisper,” she said. “The quieter you give your dog their commands, the greater ability they have to focus.”

The stress of communication in canicross cannot be underestimated — and it’s the reason that many participants decided to take up the sport.

“I run and I’d been trying to run with Marley — she’s only 10 months old — and we’re having some challenges,” said clinic participant Roxanne Myers. “She’s pulling me and although that’s good for my time, when she pulls me, we’re here just to be safer and learn some commands so we can run better together as a team.”

The sport is also a gateway to other harness dog events such as bikejoring, where the dog pulls its owner on a bike, and skijoring, a popular sport in Scandinavia which involves being pulled by a dog on cross country skis.

Canicross isn’t the only local option for dog owners wishing to get outdoors with their canines. Members of HRM Urban Mushing “train for the joy of improving the runs we can do with our dogs,” whether with sleds, bikes or on foot.

Dogrunnin is organizing a skijoring clinic in Truro later this winter, and puts on regular time trials for Halifax-area dog and runner teams. There was enough participation in  last year’s events that the group is planning to host sanctioned races in 2017.

Myers hopes to run races with her dog, Marley, and perhaps go even further.

“I would like to try cross-country skiing with her,” she said.

Myers is not alone in her desire to expand her horizons with her canine companion. Peel is glad that more people are trying harness dog sports, and expects the trend to continue.

“My favourite thing about canicross is really just the bond that you get with your dog,” she says. “It gives you the ability to communicate with them on a totally different level — especially if you run.”

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