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Canicross and Clinical Canine Massage Therapy

canicross harnessCanicross is cross-country running with your dog, done in a controlled way.  The dog wears a running harness and their human runner wears a belt designed for canicross around their waist/hips.  A bunjee lead is attached to the belt one end and the other end is attached to the harness that the dog is wearing.  The reason the lead can expand and contract (hence called bunjee lead) is to prevent any jarring which could result in injury to both dog and owner.

Canicross and the importance of a properly fitted harness

Getting your dog properly measured for the correct harness is very important.  It is important not to restrict movement in the shoulder area and so this area should be clear of any straps.  The harness be snug around the neck and should fit around the rib cage and allow full lung expansion for your dog whilst exercising. An ill-fitting harness can cause injury and discomfort for your dog and can hinder their mobility. The photo shows a good fitting harness which allows the dog to pull the runner along with no restriction on breathing or natural gait.

Canicross harness

Just like humans, dogs can get injured from exercising only they can’t tell you they are in pain.  They can get Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) which causes stiffness after canicross plus they can get muscle strains (tearing of the muscle fibres when overstretched).  Unlike humans, however, dogs don’t think about warming up before and stretching after exercise and so can get injured.  It is important to rest your dog, especially after a long run and take it easy the following day.  Canine Massage is great for aiding recovery of the muscles after canicross by increasing blood flow, oxygen and nutrients and disposing of toxic waste.  It can be beneficial for the owner to learn how to give their dog a pre and post event massage to help warm muscles beforehand to reduce the risk of injury and to cool them down afterwards by helping the body to better assimilate lactic acid which when stored in the muscles becomes the cause of DOMS.

Muscle can be likened to an elastic band.  It is flexible and stretches.  However a cold muscle which is overstretched will snap and so warming up before canicross is as important for the dog as the human.  Walking your dog up and down in a straight line is a good warm up exercise.  Once you start to canicross, start off with a slow jog and build up speed gradually.  Your dog will probably pull to go faster immediately but remember, it is you who has control and using appropriate commands will help to slow the dog down and prevent injury to you both.

Canicross is great if your dog is unable to or unwilling to jump (over stiles) as the routes are organised to allow for every size of dog to take part, allowing for such obstacles to be avoided.

Like all sports, canicross can result in your dog getting strains, myofascial pain and trigger points.  Injury prevention is key and canine massage therapy can not only help to prevent injury by finding a problem before it becomes a problem but can also enhance performance by warming the muscles, increasing blood flow, enhance mobility and flexibility and reduce stiffness issues.

With injury, what you, the owner, can look out for:

  • lameness/limping
  • reluctant to participate in the sport/activity
  • stiffness on getting up after lying down
  • stiffness after exercise (DOMS)
  • yelping or crying for no apparent reason
  • twitching down the back when you touch or stroke your dog
  • unwilling to be touched in a particular area
  • unwilling to interact
  • dog appearing depressed.

These are all signs of possible debilitating muscular strains, trigger points and myofascial pain.

Canine massage has so many benefits:

  • It can increase the range of movement in a dog
  • Reduce stiffness
  • Resolve or significantly reduce lameness
  • It can improve sporting performance
  • Help to prevent muscular injuries
  • Improves circulation
  • Reduces or removes painful trigger points
  • Speeds up the body’s natural healing process.

Human athletes rely on their masseuse to not only keep them in condition but also to rehabilitate them after injury, just have a look at this article on our very own Jessica Ennis and her masseuse click here!

Therefore after massage we would aim for improvements such as significant pain reduction, improved mood, pain free dog, a ‘younger’ more active dog, better movement, reduced stiffness and quicker recovery after canicross sessions.

I have treated many canicross dogs both with injury problems and for owners who want to make sure their dogs are in good muscular condition.

One of my clients, Claire Williams, from Wales, does a lot of canicross and she wanted to make sure her dog was in good muscular health.  Nye is a young, fit, active dog who has really benefitted from canine massage.  He has a treatment every 3-4 months to prevent injuries and to enhance his running performance.  He completed a half marathon with Claire and prior to the race I was able to give him a pre-event massage.  The aim was to stimulate and to warm his muscles, increase blood flow and get him ready to race.  A pre-event massage will enhance mobility and flexibility and decreases the chance of injury by reducing the chance of harmful effects of exercise such as a muscular strain.  It also loosens muscles and connective tissue and enhances the elimination of toxins and by products of exercise.

After the race Claire reported that Nye ran an excellent race and didn’t suffer from any problems afterwards like stiffness or soreness and seemed very happy.  She followed my advice and rested him the following day to allow time for his muscles to continue to recover.

Another thing to remember is the dog’s age.  With puppies you should never over-train them and so canicross would not be suitable for any dog until it has reached at least 12 months old as they are still growing and developing.  After the dog has reached 12 months you should start off slowly and do very short runs.  Canicross is all about the dog and you need to think for them.  Every dog is different and some dogs will continue to run well when they get to senior age.  Again you need to take into consideration how fit your dog is and adapt your run accordingly. Never run when it is hot and if you dog starts to slow down, you need to slow down too.  Always carry water for your dog but do not force him to drink – he will drink if he needs to.  I tend to plan my route so that my dog can cool down with a swim during the run at some point and at the end of the run.  Living close the Forest of Dean and Ross on Wye means there are plenty of routes with water!

For more information visit Cath Nicoll’s biography