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Is Your Dog Ready for Canicross? – Vet Advice

Some basic health and safety considerations from vet Carol Dobson – Craigpark Veterinary Centre.

Dogs like to do things with their people! Canicross is a great way of getting out and getting fit with your dog, but it is wise to consider some basic principals for exercise before you start.

Is he fit?
Just like us, dogs may be fit or unfit, depending on their previous exercise levels. Build up fitness levels gradually for your dog if you need to, and don’t assume he can manage just because he’s a dog. Your dog will do his best to keep up, and show himself to be a good member of his pack, but he may find a long or fast run difficult if he’s unfit, and it will increase the chance of muscle strain or joint injury too.

Is he healthy?
When your dog has his annual health check for vaccination, as well as at other times, your vet will usually assess heart and lung function. If a problem, such as a heart murmur has been detected, seek advice prior to taking part in activity which could be challenging for your dog. This also applies to joint or limb problems. Having a problem does not rule out your dog’s ability to take part, but may influence what you do, and how you do it.

Check the feet!
You will choose suitable footwear with comfortable socks, before you go for a run and you should consider your dog’s feet too. If he has been used to exercising mainly on soft ground or grass, his pads may be very soft. The dry, cut grass in summer, and the cold, wet conditions of winter can irritate the delicate skin between the pads. Consider exercising your dog on pavements regularly to toughen up his pads and nails. Consider applying a protective layer of Vaseline around his toes if it is very icy, or when there is a lot of salt and grit on the roads. Check your dogs’ feet at the end of Canicross for worn pads, spilt nails, cuts or grit in between the toes so that you can make sure your dog is comfortable.

Warm up, cool down!
How many people load their dogs into the car, stop at the park, play fetch using the ball chucker until the dog tires a bit, then return in the hot car with a panting dog? In the wild pack, the dogs will lope for a distance, to seek their prey, followed by be some sprinting to catch dinner, a rest, and a slower journey home. Just like us, it is much better for dogs’ joints and muscles to have a warm up, and a cool down, so we should try to incorporate that into any exercise activity to avoid injury. Also, be very conscious of the temperature. You may remove a clothing layer or drink some water while you run, so be aware that your dog may be getting too hot. Access to water for drinking, paddling, and wallowing for a cool down is essential to your dog if he’s exercising vigorously, even in colder weather.

What’s his ‘pedigree’?
Consider your dog’s type, and exercise him appropriately. Not all dogs are designed for prolonged running, some are not built for running at all! Exercise is healthy, but some need ‘little and often’, rather than a sporting event. This can also apply with a dog that has been very active, but may need a modification in lifestyle when a bit older. We have all seen old, arthritic dogs valiantly trying to keep up with an owner who hasn’t noticed the struggle. The age of the dog at the ‘young’ end of the scale is less critical in terms of coping with the exercise, but the immature joints of large breed dogs should not be subjected to any extreme wear. The young dog needs to be comfortable in canine gatherings, and needs to know what he’s doing on his lead. The ‘brachycephalic’ or short-skulled breeds are rarely able to cope with fast or long exercise because their breathing and cooling abilities are impaired. Seek veterinary advice if you’re not sure, and watch your dog. He should be enjoying this exercise too!