JEANETTE: Nearly 40,000 people are following the adventures of today’s guest and her husky, Finn. They have traveled to eight countries together, and today she will share her best tips on trail running with her dog. Elisa Deutschmann from Germany, welcome. ELISA: Thank you, thank you. Nice to be here. JEANETTE: Yes, we’re very happy to have you here. You are an influencer? ELISA: Yeah, that’s right. JEANETTE: You and your dog, Finn. Can you tell us a bit more about yourselves? ELISA: My name is Elisa, as you already have heard. I’m living together with my husky, Finn, normally in Germany. I think for two years, I started to share all my photos and adventures which I and my dog are doing to Instagram. I uploaded pictures and videos about my life, about all the sports we are doing together, and yeah, it started to get more and more popular, and I think people like it and love to see what we’re doing. That’s why we’re always out and having fun. It’s nice to see that people get motivated about it. I think it’s nice. It’s a little bit more about how everything works with him, because it’s always important to do something together. JEANETTE: And you really are an outdoor person, and so is your dog. Can you tell us a bit more about Finn? ELISA: It’s my first dog ever. Before I got him, I knew I need a dog which was really robust so he can do everything I do and I don’t have to bring him warm jackets or so that he’s safe and ready for adventure. So I chose a Siberian husky. I got him when he was 8 weeks old, and now he’s already five and a half. We’ve made a lot of adventures together, and it works really well. So that was the point – that was when I said, okay, I need a Siberian husky. After five and a half years, I really know it was the right decision, and we’re a really good team together. I can’t think of a life without the dog. JEANETTE: Can you tell us a bit about the adventures you’ve had so far? You’ve visited many countries and you have been on top of mountains, you have been running down mountains together, winter, summer, everything. ELISA: That’s true. I’m traveling a lot with my dog. To be honest, the first holidays or adventures, I was not that prepared how to do everything with a dog because it was my first dog. The first holidays we made were to some really hot countries like Albania and stuff like that. If I’m thinking right now about it, it was not that nice because it was way too hot. But I think that’s the way you learn and how you can prepare everything better for your next adventures. After all that experience, I focused my holidays more on like Norway, countries which are colder or whatever, Netherlands, things like that. Right now it works really well. I was before really into the mountain stuff, but through my dog I became more and more into it. As you may know, we started to get into trail running and all that kind of stuff. Of course, if you have a dog, I think your life changes a little bit. It’s not like you go to the Bahamas and make holidays there. After that, we’re doing a lot of that stuff, but for both, it’s our passion and we love to be in the mountains. It’s insane. JEANETTE: Do you have any advice if you plan to go to a totally different country with your dog? You don’t know how it is when it comes to temperature, where to go, where the nice trails are. How do you navigate when you do research before your trips? ELISA: After a while, I really know my dog really well and I know what fits him and what doesn’t. If we’re going to a really warm place because we have to go or something like that, then I know that my dog loves to swim. That’s a really good point, because I always can put him in the water and he can cool a little bit down. But if it’s maybe too hot, I always search for shadows and stuff like that. I think it’s really important that you know your dog really well. That’s how I prepare it, and I think we’re a really good team, so we can figure everything out together and everything works quite well. JEANETTE: When it comes to water, how do you do it when you’re on the mountaintop and there might be no lakes or small rivers, or you don’t have any extra water with you? ELISA: That’s a really good question. Normally when I know where to go and I know there are a lot of rivers and mountains, then it’s no problem for us drinking the water. But I already had it once where I was really far up in the mountain, and I expanded my trip. It was not that long a plan, but I said, “Okay, it’s fine. We will find some water.” Then we were at the top and I saw Finn needed some water and we had nothing. Then I just picked up my bottle and gave him all my water. I think it’s always important to have enough water for you, of course, but also more for your dog. It’s really important to think about it. But it was good that I still had some water. But normally, as I said, I always plan it, and when I know I’m going to areas which have no water, I bring – I’m not sure how they call these dog bottles, where you can fill them with water – and bring that for him. It works quite well. I also know how much he needs. Of course, it depends on the temperature, shadow, all this stuff. But that’s how we can figure it out. I always try to be a really good dog mom. [laughs] JEANETTE: When you go hiking and running, how do you prepare your dog for this? ELISA: I start to train a lot. For a month I did my first real race, trail run race, and for that we trained half a year or something like that. When it’s hot I always go out really early in the morning or really late so that the dog is not starting to get too hot. The last race was 22 kilometers and 1,200 meters high, so I know it’s a long way. We started with some shorter uphill runs, like 5k, stuff like that. It was really cold, but after a while, we also started to run more at lunchtime, stuff like that, because I knew the race would be at the same time. So I looked at when it is and that my dog feels really comfortable doing the race and it’s not something new. He was really used to the long distances and everything after the half year. I think that’s really important. It’s not like you take your dog and say “Okay, now we are going for a 20k run,” because he’s not known to that. It’s super important that you train your dog for that and that you do it step by step. Also, during the race, I made some breaks. He got some water, and I was always looking for him. That’s also not that easy because if you’re going for a race with a dog, it’s not only about you that you have to take care of. It’s also about your dog. When the race started, it was a little bit too warm, so the first 5k I was really afraid and took it super slow and had a look at him. But after a while it starts to rain, and then the temperature goes down. Then I also saw on him that he was really into it and feeling good. I think it’s important that you really have a good connection to your dog. It’s not only a dog, it’s my best friend, my everything, and I really can see when he’s doing well or when he’s doing not well, when he needs water, a break. That’s important, and that’s how I prepare everything for it. JEANETTE: What kind of equipment do you need for doing this? ELISA: I’m always using Freemotion harness for Finn because it fits him really, really well, and he’s been using it already for 4 years, so I know it works. I don’t change it so much because I think that it fits good is really important, that he can breathe and run really good. Then I’m using the running line, super simple, and the running belt. Everything is super light and comfortable, and that’s really important if you go for long, long trails. But he’s not always running on the leash, because when I’m up on the mountain and running down, it’s super important that he’s not pulling too much for me, because otherwise my knees or other stuff are destroyed after a while. So he has to run behind me. That’s also something which I trained really, really early with him. Because it’s a Siberian husky, it’s not like a border collie, which is doing everything you want. So we had to train a lot for it. After a while it worked, and now he’s running behind me and sometimes I put the leash away. JEANETTE: Can you tell us a bit more on how you trained him to walk behind you? Did you use a treat behind your back? What did you do? ELISA: It was quite hard at the beginning. I was not used to how to do it. [laughs] I tried everything, but after a while I recognized that a pole is really good, because I’m always running with poles uphill. I just used the pole and said the German word “run behind me.” In English, it means that. So I used it and I put my hand to the back, and the pole was in the back, and then he had to have the distance between me and that. That’s really important because I’ll also be out a lot on skis in the winter, and there I also use it so that he is not coming too close to the skis. That works really well. I just can say that’s a good way to use the poles, and always try it so he’s a little bit away. JEANETTE: When you’re out running in the mountains, sometimes you can meet some animals. Not all animals are just as nice. Cows, for example. How do you handle them? ELISA: Cows. [laughs] I’m really afraid about cows because in Germany we have so many on the mountains. They’re all running free. Especially when they have small baby cows, then they start to get really angry if they see a dog. When I see cows, Finn is always on the leash. That’s super important. But I had one time a problem that a cow was too close, which was attacking me. Then I let him loose, of course, because otherwise we were both in trouble. But another really good thing which helps is that cows are afraid of noises. I use my poles and throw them through the track or whatever, and if they hear a noise, they go away. That’s maybe a good point. But always be careful because if they have small cows and they see a dog, they’re not that friendly anymore. [laughs] JEANETTE: Are there other challenges people might face when they’re running with a dog? ELISA: I think there are always some challenges which you never know. For example, trees which fall on the track or other dogs. My dog is super happy with other dogs, but of course, it’s not always a good connection. And as I already said, you always have to think about two, so that’s also maybe a point. You have to think about it. JEANETTE: And you also have nature. Things get stuck to your dog’s fur, or maybe insects as well? I don’t know, do you have experience on this? ELISA: Yeah, that’s true. I had it. It was in Albania. Finn was laying a lot in the sand, and there had been some – I’m not sure how they’re called, but some super small horrible things. They were stuck everywhere in his fur, and we had to pull them out of his fur. He started to bleed and everything, so it was not that nice. But I think all what happens, you get more and more prepared for everything that comes. It’s a good way to do it. [laughs] Or not a good way, but a way, and you learn about everything. That’s good. JEANETTE: For the summer and the future, what are your plans? ELISA: For this summer, we want to make some longer trips, Finn and me. For that, we have to prepare a little bit, go for longer hikes, and also prepare what to pack and how much food and how much water is there. I really love to be out with the dog. Being outside on the mountaintop is just amazing. Also, Finn really likes it. But for that, we have to train and have to think how much food, stuff like that. I just can say it’s amazing to be out with a dog, and maybe everyone should do it. Sleeping over on a mountaintop, stuff like that, and connect really more to your dog. JEANETTE: What does it mean for you to have a dog on all these adventures? I guess it would be cool doing it by yourself, but having a dog, what extra joy does it give you? ELISA: I think it’s so nice. I really like to be sometimes alone in the mountains, but with a dog, you’re never alone alone. That’s super nice because you never feel alone, and it’s just nice to have something and someone with you. We have made so many adventures and such nice memories, I can’t think – or if I think if I had done it without anyone or without my dog, it would not be the same. I’m really happy about it. JEANETTE: Does it make you feel extra safe? Or is it like if I go camping with my dog and it’s dark and they start barking, maybe I would get a bit scared as well. [laughs] ELISA: [laughs] Yeah, maybe. But I think it’s just nice to have him with me. Of course, if I’m sleeping outside, I know that he always will wake up if something happens. It’s not like I’m alone and whatever, a cow is coming. He feels earlier than I can feel something. Also when the weather is changing. He’s super afraid of thunderstorms, things like that, so he can hear it when I can’t see it already, so that’s also nice. It helps me also. So it’s not only that I have someone; he’s sometimes really helping me and showing me what to do. That’s nice. JEANETTE: If there is a thunderstorm or something else happening and your dog gets scared, how do you handle it? ELISA: That’s a big problem because nothing happened to him, and I don’t know why he’s so scared about it. But if he hears some crazy noises, he always wants to go away and search for holes and stuff like that. Sometimes when it’s a little bit too much – because I know it’s not that big, but he’s so afraid of it, so we search for a place where he feels okay. And I’m next to him, and that also brings him a lot. But that’s the only way I can do it, because I can’t run down the mountains in 10 minutes when rain is coming. [laughs] That’s not possible always. So searching for a place where he’s feeling safe. JEANETTE: You do trips alone, and you also do competitions. What’s your favorite? ELISA: I think both have something really nice. I like sometimes to compete. It’s nice to see how everything works for you and your dog. But of course, adventures are also so nice, and I like sometimes to stand there and have no time pressure and enjoy it. I think it’s important that you have a nice balance between both, and also it’s nice for my dog just to run free and not have to pull, and having an amazing life. So both sides have a good side. JEANETTE: When you are out running, hiking, sometimes you meet other dogs as well. Do you have any tips? ELISA: Oh yeah, I tried a lot out. It always depends on how your dog is, but I recognized my dog is feeling everything I feel. If I start to get nervous because I see a dog, he really feels it. For me and my dog, what works the best is stay there, do nothing and then go, and nothing ever happened. Everything is happy and friendly. But yeah, it always depends on your dog. I think it’s really important that you know that your dog is feeling what you’re doing and that there’s a nice balance between both sides. JEANETTE: Would you ever consider having another dog? Or is it enough with one? ELISA: Right now I’m still studying and I have to do a lot, so I’m happy with one. But sometimes I really can see that the Siberian husky like Finn, they really want to play always, and sometimes I feel he’s a little bit tired or sad because another dog is not there. So I go really often to dog beaches, stuff like that where dogs can play together, so he has contact with all the other dogs. So I think that’s important, but right now I’m doing enough – I’m also a lot in the air with paragliding, and I want my dog to feel the best and not just stay at home. I think that’s important, if you have a dog or want to get a dog, that you have enough time and it’s not just “okay, I have a dog and it’s next to me.” It takes a lot of time, and it should take a lot of time, and you really should want the dog and want to spend all your free time / spare time with him. I’m thinking about it, and right now I have enough with one. [laughs] But you never know what’s next. JEANETTE: If you and Finn had to do another activity, another kind of sport, what do you think that would be? ELISA: That’s a good question. Right now I’m really dreaming of going paragliding together with Finn. [laughs] JEANETTE: Wow, is that even possible? ELISA: Yeah, it is. I have seen a lot of movies and talked to people which are doing it. But the problem is that Finn is – not heavy, but he is a Siberian husky, so he’s not a small dog. I have to prepare a lot for it. I think it would be really cool because we can go together on the mountain and then just fly down. But I think if this doesn’t work, we’re doing a lot of trail running and a lot of ski mountaineering in the winter, but not that much mountain biking stuff. So maybe that’s something we could try next. JEANETTE: Good luck on all your adventures. ELISA: Thank you so much.
JEANETTE: If you like biking, you will probably like this episode as well, as today’s guest is the World Champion, European Champions, and Norwegian Champion in bikejoring. He also competes in scooter and Nordic with skijoring, pulka, and 4-dog sled. Viktor Sinding Larsen, welcome. VIKTOR: Thank you. JEANETTE: You have achieved some impressive results throughout many years, so of course we want to know: how are you training yourself and your dogs? Now it’s offseason. VIKTOR: It is. We just finished the winter season. Every year, we give the dogs an 8-week offseason period where we do other things, like not competition-specific training. We try to build up their strength, so we do some power training, a lot of core training. But in general, fewer hours than what we normally do. If some of the dogs come out of the season with small injuries that we do not see, these 2 months normally will heal all kinds of small potential injuries so that when we start again in 2 months, we know that they’re ready for a new year of training and competition. JEANETTE: How do you build your training throughout the rest of the year? VIKTOR: When the offseason period is over, we start very, very light. Only short trainings, maybe 1-2 kilometers in the beginning. Then we build up. Normally when the weather gets colder, it’s possible to do longer trainings. We start 1-2 kilometers and we try to end when the dryland competition is getting closer. We build up so that we are on 9-10 kilometer trainings. Then we prepare for the dryland competitions, and when the dryland competitions are done, we have a lack of time, trying to prepare for the winter season, trying to catch up. All the Nordic guys have been training huge amounts through the fall, so then we have to program the dogs for longer distances, train big amounts in November/December, preparing for competition. JEANETTE: You divide your training into light, medium, and hard weeks. What’s the difference between these weeks? VIKTOR: We try to have these light, medium, and hard weeks. In general we do a lot of pulling. In the light week, maybe two or three times of pulling. The main purpose of this week is to recover. The medium week is a bit harder, maybe three to four times a week pulling. Then we end up with the hard week, five to six times pulling, and we also try to combine it with some core training or just free running in the garden. JEANETTE: You’re living in Oslo, and that’s a city where it could be hard to have your dogs free running, but you solve this by training them in many other different ways. VIKTOR: Yes, that’s true. We live in Oslo, and it’s a little bit challenging to train as much free running as we might like to do for the capacity of the dogs. But I like swimming a lot. It’s a very good, gentle way of training both capacity and strength. So during summer, we try to swim as much as possible. JEANETTE: Swimming is also a very gentle way to train the dogs to avoid injuries. VIKTOR: It is. I always spend quite a lot of energy on avoiding injuries for our dogs. Especially when we got our first greysters, they were really, really good dogs, Siri and Sagan. Because they were such amazing dogs, it was very important for us to get them to the starting line without having any injuries. It was better to compromise a little bit on the capacity training and more focus on having them without any injuries. Therefore, we train a lot of power, core, swimming, and not that much free running as maybe others do. Of course, we don’t get the same capacity, but a healthy dog normally has good enough capacity for bikejoring anyway. It’s more important that it is without any kind of injuries. JEANETTE: At the European Championships this winter, you started with seven dogs. Every dog was healthy. VIKTOR: Yeah. Even though it was a very challenging winter with a lot of ice and it was really hard to train, we managed to bring all our seven dogs without any kind of injuries to the starting line. That’s something I’m very, very proud of. The brain behind keeping the dogs free of injuries is my wife. She’s a physical therapist for both humans and our dogs, and she’s very good at observing. She spends a lot of time looking for any kind of injuries, if they walk in special ways. She spends a lot of time observing the dogs to see if there is anything wrong. This also affects the way we train. We say we try to be better safe than sorry. If there’s any kind of risk involved in the plans we have or the conditions, etc., we try to drop it just to make sure that we avoid any injuries. JEANETTE: Even if it’s competition? VIKTOR: Yeah, even if it’s competition. I think this has changed a little bit. When we started racing and for many years, we were in the middle of the list. It was quite a gap to the best ones, especially on the Nordic part. Then the feeling was much stronger to come up with something a little bit fancier, involving a little bit more risk, to close this gap. But when you continue training like this and try to build the gap in a fast way, it’s normally not possible. The coach of Karsten Warholm says that they build in millimeters, but things can be destroyed in meters, meaning you cannot do something fancy in one training, which means that you need continuity in your training. Every day you train, you become a little bit better. But if you do one mistake, you can ruin everything just in one training. So it’s better to take one step at a time, being careful, instead of having to risk ruining everything and putting you many steps back. I think also it’s important to think about what’s going on besides training. We train maybe 1 or 2 hours a day, and the rest of the 22-23 hours, it’s important to be careful. Most injuries happen during that time. JEANETTE: Do you train with both bike and scooter? VIKTOR: I train 99% of the time on bike. I think with a bike, it’s much easier to find the right speed. You can help them upwards, and especially at the end of the training session, you can help them in a much better way to control and find the right speed that you want for the dogs. Especially where we live, it’s very hilly. It’s up and down. Especially at the end of the training when they’re a little bit weaker, it’s super nice to go on a bike, and you can help them find exactly the speed that you want. JEANETTE: How do you know what speed is the right speed? VIKTOR: In general, we train very, very slow downwards. I think this is very important for them to build up the trust for going slowly downwards so that the dogs have the feeling that they want to run faster. When you do that all the time, they really put themselves in a nice way into the harness. They really push downwards, and it’s like they want to go faster. So when competitions come and we pick the speed up, then it’s something they want. When it’s going upwards, then we train very differently. Sometimes we want to do it heavy; sometimes we want to do it light. But by using a bike, you can adjust it just the way you want. In general, I think we train very slow. I get many questions from people following me on Strava for example. They can follow each of our dog trainings, and they ask why we go so slow. I think for me, it’s important just to find a good rhythm where the dog is like flying in a comfortable speed. If the goal for us is to reach, for example, 10K during this training, I try to find a speed, up, down, and on the flat, that will bring us to this 10K as easily as possible, a speed that they will roll or fly in the most efficient way. Then we have to brake downwards, trying not to have it too high on maximum speed, trying to find a good average speed, a good flow, so that we as efficiently as possible reach the kilometers that we want. By doing that, we can gain a lot of kilometers where the regeneration or restitution time is as low as possible. My theory is that if I bring the speed up too much, the gain or the effect is very small, but they need much more time to regenerate and they don’t manage to run as many kilometers as if you find the right rhythm, the right flow, where they can fly away, gaining as many kilometers as possible. JEANETTE: That theory seems to be correct because you’ve done quite well. [laughs] VIKTOR: Yeah. It seems like this is working. I have many different dogs; they’re all running quite well. JEANETTE: After a training session like this, how tired are the dogs? VIKTOR: I always try to vary that as well, but in general I’m very fond of having short trainings. Very often, I end the training before they are very tired. By doing that quite often, they always want to push harder. It’s a very important key in having the progression during the year. We start with just 1 or 2 kilometers, but I know the dogs can run two or three times as much. But by doing this many, many times, maybe five times a week, they will push harder and harder because they know, “This training is going to be short; I’ll spend as much energy as I can on these 3 kilometers.” By doing this, then we can slowly add one more and one more kilometer and still have a lot of power, building up towards 10K. JEANETTE: Is it only in competition that you’re really pushing it to the maximum? VIKTOR: Yeah. Only one time a year, I push 100%. I say that every competition or exercise is like putting money into the bank, and it’s only the European Championship or the World Championship where we go 100%. Even the Norwegian Championship or small competitions, I just do about 90-95%. I’m saving everything for the big championships because if you push your dog as hard as you can, even the strongest dog cannot do this very often. That’s my theory. Maybe I’m a little bit soft, but I think that even such a short distance cannot take out money from the bank every time. You’ve got to save it. By doing this holding back a little bit all the time, I think I have much more money in the bank when the championship is coming that I can take out. JEANETTE: During a competition, you are also working hard yourself. How much are you training yourself without the dogs? VIKTOR: I train as much as I can. It’s a busy life now with plenty of dogs. They need a lot of training. But when I train the dogs, I don’t see this as an exercise myself. I put on warm clothes, and the dogs are doing the job. I ride a bike almost every day. Two or three times I have an interval per week, and we’re also working with my coach on building up my leg power. I try to, especially during winter, have three power workouts with my legs. So I train as much as I can. The total load of dogs and the work and everything is quite high. But in bike training, it’s also like as long as you reach a certain level, I think the dog gets very, very important. You need a super dog to win. You cannot win just with legs. I know that now I’m really lucky, having a super good bikejoring dog, and I have some young dogs that I think will be good as well. But without these super dogs, I have no chance. That’s why we changed our focus a little bit during the years and now we have more dogs than we used to have, just to be a little bit less vulnerable, to make sure that when Siri, my super dog, is getting too old, I have some new dogs coming up. And of course, having four, five, six dogs in training takes a lot of energy. It affects my own cycling capacity, which I know can be improved a lot. But as long as I have one of those super dogs, I think my cycling capacity now is good enough. JEANETTE: How do you see the difference between a good dog and this super dog? VIKTOR: There are some super dogs that have a high speed, but there’s a lot of dogs with high speed at the moment. I think the super dogs also have stamina. They can just run and run. If the track is 4K, 5K, 6K, it doesn’t matter. They just keep on. That’s also the most amazing feeling, and maybe what motivates me. When you go for a race and you come towards the finish line and there’s still power and speed in front of you, this feeling is amazing. JEANETTE: What do you focus on during a race? VIKTOR: A bikejoring race is very tight. You need full speed from the beginning, and normally you don’t have to think much. Just full speed. But sometimes the track is longer. When it’s more than let’s say 5K, then you need to maybe start to think a little bit. My goal during a race is always to have as high an average speed as possible, but as low maximum speed. I always compare my Strava race with my wife, just to see who has had the lowest maximum speed and the highest average speed. When it’s going downwards, this is where you can control the race. If you’re nervous if your dog is going to manage to have full speed all the way to the finish line, this is where you can save energy, by using your brake. Don’t push the maximum speed as high as possible because every dog can run fast downward. It just makes it possible. But not all dogs can manage to the finish line if they are pushed too hard when going downwards. If you’re nervous, if you don’t know if you’ll manage all the way to the finish line, use the downwards to brake and save energy. JEANETTE: Do you spend much time with the dogs besides the training itself? VIKTOR: Yeah, I try to spend as much time as possible. When you train dryland, you don’t spend that many hours on training. That means that you have more time available for taking care of the dogs, and I think it’s very important that the dogs always feel well. It’s important for the dogs to have good images from training. That means that it has to be 100% in shape every time you take it out, which means that we try to spend much time making their paws perfect, cutting their nails – these very, very simple things that should always be perfect because if it’s not, it will just create negative images when they’re training. And of course, my wife is super. She spends so much time every day going over the dogs, their muscles, and telling me if it’s ready for training the next day or not. JEANETTE: You have several dogs at home, but how do you follow up with each individual? VIKTOR: They are very different. They are different in size, they are different in age, even though they are from the same breeding. I try to give each one of them a individual program. They have different challenges, and they need to train different things. In general, they follow the same easy, medium, and hard program, but the younger they are, the more careful I am. It depends also on what they are training for. If they’re training for bikejoring, if they’re training for skiing, which is much longer, they need more training. Then I can push a little bit harder for the long distance. But the young ones that are doing a shorter distance, then I’m more careful. In general, I know that at the end of a hard week, they’re supposed to be a little bit tired, but I always look at how they performed on the last training and then I decide how they’re supposed to train this day. And at the end, my wife is feeling their muscles. She has the last word if they are going out for training or not. JEANETTE: Do you follow a strict program during your trainings? VIKTOR: No. Before each training, I have a plan – where we train, what we’re going to train– but it’s all based on feeling, what kinds of problems these dogs are having, and especially where we’re going to put our breaks, if we’re going to have many stops, and where we have them. But in general I don’t follow a strict program. I take breaks where there’s water so that they can have a drink, and I always try to think of what’s coming next. If the dog had a problem on the uphill and I know we’re coming toward an uphill, maybe I have a break in front of this hill so that it’s fresh, and when we enter the uphill, it can do this with great confidence. Or if they have problems passing a lake, for example, we can have the break in front of that. I try to put the breaks just before they get tired. I don’t follow the clock. JEANETTE: Do you use a different bike during training than you do in competitions? VIKTOR: Yes. Now I have three different kinds of dog bikes: one steel bike that’s almost unbreakable that I use for everyday training – big tires and big disc brakes make it very comfortable. It can stop even if I have two dogs in front. If there are people, downhills, I can still stop easily. Then I have a competition bike that is always ready for racing, and a training bike for if I want to simulate competitions but I don’t want to use the competition bike. Having many different bikes is very time-efficient. I just bring out the old one for normal training, and I know that the competition bike is always ready and in mint condition. JEANETTE: If you had to put away your bike and do a different sport with your dogs – this is a question we ask everybody on this podcast – what sport would it be? VIKTOR: I don’t know much about other kinds of dog sports, but I think maybe I would go for something like lure coursing. I like this idea of just having one dog and you put all your resources into the details for this one to run as fast as possible. JEANETTE: Thank you so much for joining us on this podcast. VIKTOR: Thank you.
JEANETTE: I see a lot of questions on social media about what distances a puppy can walk, when they can start pulling or carrying a backpack, or whether they should walk on stairs or not. Today’s guest has worked with physical therapy for 20 years, and she can help find answers to these questions. Line Østerhagen, welcome. LINE: Thank you. JEANETTE: Your goal is to make life better for dogs by spreading knowledge about how their bodies are working and how we can take care of them in the best way possible. Therefore, you have been working on a book for the past year. LINE: Yes, during 20 years of work and contact with dog owners, I found out that many courses and many places where they teach normal dog training, they actually don’t teach training physiology. So there is a lot of myths and wrong information out there, and I wanted to create a book with all the things that I think are missing from all the ordinary courses and all the important knowledge to all the dog owners so they can take good care of the body of their dog. My book is about training exercise, but also about making a well-balanced program for the dog, how to train strength, endurance, and core muscles, and also how to put all these training methods together. But it’s also about how to train a dog according to their age, because there are certain practices that you need to take care of when maybe you’re training a puppy or training a grown dog. But it’s also a little bit about rehabilitation, harness, and how to actually do an easy physical checkup routine for your own dog and a little bit of stretching and massage. I think my book can help a lot of dog owners out there. JEANETTE: The beginning of the dog’s life is very important. As a puppy, how do you prepare it for an active life? LINE: There are so many misunderstandings, so many myths. Many people say that you have to keep the puppy quiet, don’t do any physical activities, be careful about exaggerating their training. But actually, it’s more like if you don’t do any exercises with your puppy, it will not be prepared for the exercise it’s going to do later in life. In the beginning, when a puppy is born, it is really important that we let the puppy experience a lot of different stuff and a lot of different stimulation to the body because the body will develop to manage the things that we tell it it has to manage. And if you don’t tell it to manage anything, the puppy might easily get injured. Actually, in the United States, in the military, they start stimulating the puppies when they are 10 weeks old. They have had quite good results with that. I’m not saying that you should exaggerate. You shouldn’t do anything that the puppy doesn’t actually manage to do by itself. But the puppy has to be in activity. You are not going to stop the puppy from any normal activities. For example, walking on stairs. Puppies can easily walk on stairs. It’s actually just if the puppy is so small that it cannot manage the stairs that you might wait a little bit with it. But if you make small stairs, even a small puppy will manage to do that. So when they’re old enough to manage it all by themselves, they can do anything. You shouldn’t stop the puppy from anything. But I recommend that you don’t have a tired puppy. If you’re walking, for example, in the woods, you should notice if the puppy is tired. Maybe you should take a break. But the puppy should be in activity. Of course, as it grows, it should be in more and more activity, and you should present to it more and more different kinds of stuff. JEANETTE: Does this include jumping, different surfaces, and everything? LINE: Yes. Surfaces are really important to teach the body how to control itself on different surfaces. Also, of course, mentally so that a puppy is not afraid of anything. A body that is afraid of a surface will also have a very tense body, and a tense body will easily get injured. I believe there are many factors that make it important to present all kinds of stuff, actually. JEANETTE: I know one question many have is: for how long can I walk my puppy? LINE: I wrote a blog about this, the 5-minute rule. Here in Norway we have something called the 5-minute rule that says that the puppy should increase with 5 minutes of walking every day. Actually, that makes maybe a six-month-old puppy say that it should only walk for half an hour. As I have border collies, I can tell you that if I kept my puppy from walking or moving more than 30 minutes a day when she was six months old, she would go crazy. After a trip in the woods, she would run hours in the garden. I think that the puppy must decide itself. As long as it’s not human-driven exercise, they should move as much as they want. And as long as you take breaks when you go into the woods, I believe it’s totally okay. I think it’s really different walking a small chihuahua to walking, for example, an Alaskan husky. You cannot use the 5-minute rule for both of those two. A chihuahua will walk maybe twice or three times as many steps as the other dog when they’re in the woods. It also depends on how well-prepared their body is at that stage. If the puppy has been in normal activities since it was small, then it will also be able to walk further. But of course, if you keep a puppy from walking and then start later on, then you have to start more carefully because the body is not built up to manage that kind of exercise. I would not let a puppy jump all the time as exercise, but normal jumping in the garden, jumping over trees in the woods and everything, of course they can do that. As long as they physically manage it by themselves, then they can do it. JEANETTE: How do I know if my puppy is tired? What signs should I look for? If it’s my first dog, it could be difficult to know if the puppy is tired or not. LINE: Yes. The most normal sign, of course, is that it maybe walks a little bit slower, wants to sit down. Maybe it doesn’t manage its movement as well anymore. But actually, a puppy can also be overtired and get even more active than it normally does. Of course, it’s important to learn this from the beginning and to know their signs before you go on a long trip. I would recommend all people get knowledge about this because every dog is a little bit different as well, so it is really important that you know your puppy. JEANETTE: A lot of our listeners have sports dogs. Many of them are doing pulling sports like bike drawing or canicross. One important question for them is: when can the puppy start pulling, and how do you start? LINE: We recommend that a young dog learns how to do everything with only its own body first. So they build up their muscles, they build up their movements in maybe their first and second year. At approximately two years of age, a young dog can start to pull something or carry a backpack. But of course, this is also relative because the dog has to be prepared for the work. It doesn’t matter if the dog is two years old if it just laid on the sofa for that long. It needs to be prepared for every work that it’s going to do. If it’s well-prepared, then about two years of age. You have to remember that we have to carefully build their body up progressively from the beginning. Those rules, for example, in agility, it says that as long as the dog is approximately one year old, it can participate in training. But of course, the dog has to be prepared in their body, so it doesn’t help to be the right age if they have not done the right preparation. Actually, I have a kickbike, and although my dog is one year old this year, one of my dogs, she is walking beside the kickbike. She has a harness on, but she doesn’t actually pull. But I teach her techniques and I teach her commands and I teach her to be safer on the kickbike and everything. She also goes on the trip, but without pulling. So I believe it’s really important that we prepare the dogs. That is what it’s all about with a puppy as well because it’s really a big difference if the dog is maybe three months old until it’s a year. We have to very gradually increase the exercise. Also, when the dog is maybe about a year, maybe eight months – depends on what it’s going to do – I would also start to prepare it for the sport or the thing that we want it to do later in life so the body gets the right preparation. JEANETTE: Do you start with easy weight and not very long sessions? How do you build it up? LINE: Yes. Actually, many times I start with no weight or no pull. As I told you, with my puppy, she’s just joining the trip, learning the technique, but she’s not pulling. I have also with my own dogs started to make them comfortable with carrying the backpack without anything in it in the beginning. Then we start with a really easy weight. For normal training, I recommend that you use the body weight of the dog and train with approximately 10%. I know that there are certain dogs doing a lot heavier than that, and for short trips and if it’s really well-trained for it, of course it can carry more. But for normal weekly training, we recommend that. There are also some contraindications. For example, a dog with weak carpus, I would never make those carry a backpack. So you should really know what you’re doing when you’re putting external weight or pull on the dog, that your dog is capable in every way. JEANETTE: Maybe get a checkup from the vet before you start training? LINE: Yes, I believe that’s a good idea. Also maybe read about it. Get help to make a good training program so that the body will build itself up to the thing that you want your dog to do. JEANETTE: What benefits can it have for a dog to pull or to carry a backpack? LINE: I believe it has many benefits. We use pulling also for strengthening the side of the thighs. For example, if a dog needs to have more strength in their shoulder muscles, a backpack can be a good thing. But it depends a little bit on the way we train them. It depends a little bit on what the goal is. But if it is to get stronger in the body, it’s really great for building up certain parts of the body. We also use the backpack in rehabilitation. There, the goal is not always to carry all of this weight, but to make a frame for the shoulders – for example, for dogs with shoulder instability, the backpack will actually help the shoulders to keep together so that the dog will build the right muscles. Then we might not use any weight at all. JEANETTE: When we’re talking about rehabilitation, swimming is something that’s commonly used. It’s quite light on the body. When can a puppy start swimming? LINE: Actually, a puppy can start swimming as soon as they’re swimming willingly. But of course, how far they swim and how much they swim – and I would also be careful of puppies swimming in very cold water because the body reduces warmth really fast in cold water. Swimming is not actually a good exercise for endurance when the water is cold because of the temperature loss of the muscles. But puppies can swim from the beginning. Here in Norway, it’s possible to use indoor swimming pools when the puppy is small because there is ice on the water and it’s too cold. There are some breeds, of course, that swim less well. If you have one of those, they should wear a swimming vest, I think, just because it will make it easier and more comfortable from the beginning. I also recommend using a life vest for dogs that have issues in their body and for dogs that are moving their front legs a lot when they swim because it makes them more comfortable, and then the technique will be a lot better and you will get more out of swimming as exercise. JEANETTE: Is there anything else you can do or you should not do with a puppy? LINE: I think that it’s important not to jump from really high places. It’s really normal to maybe lift the puppy up on the sofa, but we have to remember that the puppy was not able to get onto the sofa by itself, and then it’s also really important that it doesn’t jump down. The body must be able to do the stuff that the puppy is doing, so if you are lifting them up, then you should also help them down and not let them jump from the sofa. The surface on the living room floor is also often very slippery, and then it will be a double risk having them jump down. JEANETTE: We talked a little bit about age. With competitions, in some sports you can start when the dog is about a year or a year and a half old. What do you think about these age limits? Is that too early, or is it okay if the owner is experienced and knows how to prepare the dog? LINE: For me personally, I would never recommend doing stuff faster than the dog’s body manages. Of course it’s nice to have limits because then we at least help younger animals not to exaggerate what their body can manage. But I think that how mature a body is is different. It’s different concerning breed and it’s different concerning how well-prepared they are. But of course, if people are really well-prepared and have done a good job without exaggerating, maybe it can be ready at that age. But I always recommend that you make it individual, that you look at it individually so that we don’t start too early with a dog that is not mature enough in the body. JEANETTE: Is there anything else we should know about puppies and training? LINE: I think it’s really important to know that we have some myths out there that are saying that if you do exercise with your puppy or if it goes down stairs, they can actually develop hereditary diseases or develop mental diseases. I think that is a myth. Of course, everything that is exaggerating stuff for the body, no matter what you do, can be a bad thing. But normal movements, normal activities, you should never be afraid of that. I think it’s really important to know that when the puppy is born, at the end of every bone in the body, there is cartilage. This cartilage will form as we are stimulating the body. If you don’t stimulate the body, this cartilage will not form normally, so it’s really important not to be afraid of letting the puppy do the stuff that they want to do. Just make sure that they are not tired. Just make sure that they are not pulling, that they are not carrying weight until the proper age. But just live a happy life. Let the puppy do what it likes to do. JEANETTE: Another myth I know you have some strong opinions about is growing pains. LINE: Yes. Unfortunately, people are using “growing pains” a little bit diffused. We have a disease in the skeleton that many people call “growing pains,” but it’s really important to remember that every puppy that shows lameness should go to the veterinarian. We should never use any excuses of any kind because it can be a more severe developmental disease. We should really take the lame puppy. If it’s lame for two minutes and then it disappears forever, it’s okay. But as long as a puppy is lame, it should always be examined by a veterinarian. It’s really important. Some puppies are struggling for too long and then the prognosis will be really bad. They could have had a really good life if they’d just come to the veterinarian and got the right help earlier. I believe that it’s really important to teach both new and maybe more experienced owners how to prepare their dog for each sport. The body needs different kinds of preparation concerning the sport it’s going to be a part of. My dream would be that every club that is offering courses, for example in agility, has an introduction course – not for jumping or anything, but really teaching the owners how to prepare the body to be able to do all the stuff that they are going to do later. Very often, people start at training with dogs that are not prepared at all, and it really is one of the biggest triggers for injuries when the body is not well-prepared. So if any race club or training club would start doing these courses, like preparational courses for the sport that the dog is going to train, that would be so great. Of course, the instructor needs to have experience with this, but in a perfect world, there would be instructors that can help people build the body up for what it needs to be built up for. JEANETTE: You are doing some dog sports yourself. You’re doing a bit of obedience and you’re doing a bit of agility, and as you mentioned, you’re pulling a bit. You haven’t competed in that yet. But we have one question we ask everybody on this podcast, and that is: if you had to do another dog sport with your dog, what would it be? LINE: I believe for me it would be nose work. I think that’s really fun to do. I hope that I get to train my – I have actually decided to attend a course now, so maybe I will find some mushrooms in the woods this year. [laughs] JEANETTE: Good luck with that, and thank you so much for joining us on this podcast. LINE: Thank you too.
JEANETTE: We wanted to involve our listeners in today’s episode, so we’re doing a Q&A with dog trainer Steve Walsh from McCann Dogs. Welcome. STEVE: Good morning. How are you? Well, good morning over here. I guess good afternoon over there? JEANETTE: Yeah, it’s afternoon for us. You’ve had dogs for more than 30 years and taught classes for the last 15. Is that right? STEVE: Yeah, at least. They’ve been a part of my life since I was a little guy. Always something that I’ve had a lot of fun with. Training was always the most important thing to me, and actually, it was the most fun, more so than anything else. [laughs] JEANETTE: What kind of dogs have you had throughout the years? STEVE: My first dog when I was a kid was a black standard poodle. She was the worst trained dog ever. [laughs] JEANETTE: She taught you a lot, I guess. STEVE: Yeah, she was a dog that when you walked out the front door, you had to try to close the door really fast so she wouldn’t run away. I think that probably started me on this idea of wanting to train dogs. Since then, I’ve had several Irish wolfhounds and whippets and border collies and things. I have two border collies right now and an Irish wolfhound currently in the house. JEANETTE: You’ve been competing in different kinds of dog sports? STEVE: Yeah, I’ve done a fair bit of lure coursing with the sighthounds and stuff, and now my main focus is agility. I’ve been lucky enough to represent Canada overseas at the European Open and national events around here as well. I’m very, very lucky to be able to do that. JEANETTE: That’s good. So you have a lot of experience. STEVE: Well, there’s always things to learn. [laughs] That’s the one thing I’ve learned. I never know enough, so I’m always trying to learn more. JEANETTE: That’s good. Our listeners seem to be eager to learn more as well. We asked everyone on Instagram to send us their questions, and we got a lot, actually. There seems to be a lot of excited dogs out there because there were a bunch of questions similar to this first one “Do you have any tips on how to train your dog to not get too crazy and excited before a training or a race?” STEVE: Dogs that are stimulated and excited, especially when it comes to training, are things that I love because I want a dog that’s eager and I want a dog that’s motivated to do the things that we want to do, whether it be agility or just some retrieving or some field trials or any of the sledding sports, things like that. I will say before any of the sport stuff starts, though, I spend a lot of time with my younger dogs just near the environment. The reason I say near is if they’re right in it, we all know the events, especially the trials and events and races and things, are very high energy. If I can start to spend a little bit of time getting them comfortable in the area, doing basic things – having them sit, having them lie down, having them walk with me before I ever get to trialing, that can really help down the road. Now, that doesn’t mean that older dogs can’t do that. We spend a lot of time trying to simulate a trial environment and trying to simulate that energy level because it is so different, and teach our dogs to listen. The more they can do that, the easier that becomes. One thing I don’t want to ever do is try and get rid of that interest and excitement from the dogs. I really like it, but I really want to make sure that they can focus on listening to me in spite of that excitement. That’s a bit of a challenge to do, but like anything else, if I do it in a manner that my dog can be successful, that can help in those situations. That’s for sure. It’s a challenging thing to do, but it’s definitely worthwhile focusing on. JEANETTE: Do you start when the dog is a puppy and you start from a distance and then gradually work your way closer? STEVE: Yeah. Distance is a really big benefit. If you’re right next to something and let’s say the dog’s not even listening because you’re right next to the start line and there’s dogs screaming and barking and all sorts of things, going 40 or 50 feet away can really, really help to bring that puppy’s mind back in and allow it to listen. I think about my dogs as having a bubble around them, and when they’re puppies, of course, that bubble is quite large. Anything that comes within that bubble really affects them and really distracts them. But the more adept they get at learning to listen with those distractions, the smaller that bubble gets and the more they can focus. But it also starts with doing simple, basic behaviors, simple things that I want them to do, and really letting them know what to do instead of what not to do. This is one of our big training philosophies. I don’t want to spend a lot of time telling my dog what not to do, but I want to spend time telling them what to do and showing them how to do it to be successful. If I can give you something that you know how to do when you’re in an excited mindset, it becomes easier for me to prevent the things that I don’t want to be happening. Basically, I replace behaviors that I don’t want with behaviors that I do. That’s a bit of a challenge, but that distance that you talked about is really helpful in doing so. Just having a dog sit on a loose leash near that excitement – it might not happen 10 feet away, but at 50 feet away, it can be really, really successful. And then I would move slowly closer, building on that success. JEANETTE: And if your dog is starting to fail, you just go one or two steps back again? STEVE: Yeah, I move back. I move back to where they can be successful. Teaching a dog to offer me some focus when they’re excited is another thing that I really spend a lot of time doing. If I have an excited dog and they’re let’s say standing next to an agility ring, going nuts, if I move away, just encourage the dog to move away with me – I’m not going to tell them “leave it,” I’m not going to tell them “no” or anything negative – I’m just going to wait, and oftentimes in waiting, they will offer to look and offer a little bit of focus. That’s a great way to build a little bit more of the idea in the dog’s mind that when you’re excited about things, you need to look at me for directions, not continue to focus on looking at that thing that is exciting to you. I want my dogs to feel free to look around the world. I don’t expect them to stare at me the whole time. But any time they do offer me some focus, and especially any time they offer me calm focus, then I start to offer a lot more reward. I simply build on that idea that yep, those exciting things are there, but I’m still here and all the good stuff comes from me. JEANETTE: Do you prefer to reward with a toy or with treats? STEVE: Every dog is different. People get so caught up on the thing, whether it’s the toy or the food. I want my dogs to think that I am a reward. All of me, whether it’s a piece of a kibble, whether it’s a toy, whether I’m running and playing with them, whether I’m simply talking to them, I want my dogs to think of me as a reward. All that stuff is just the icing on the cake, so to speak. The more that they think I’m fun, the more they’ll pay attention to me. JEANETTE: Staying in a starting area can be quite challenging because in some sports you have a specific time. You know that “at this time, I’m going to run,” but in other sports it depends on what’s happening on the course. Sometimes you have to wait for a long time, sometimes a shorter waiting time. It can be quite hard to train this. STEVE: Oh yeah, absolutely. You know with a lot of the sports that you do and a lot of the events you’ve been to with agility that sometimes the setups to go into the ring are very different from event to event. Sometimes you can be on the other side of the field and there’s a sound system where they call your name when you need to go. Other times you’re waiting in line, 30 or 40 or 50 dogs long. That’s where spending time away from those events, working on that ability to focus and that ability to settle, can really go a long way when you really need it to. Of course, the other side of that is at those events, we’re also worked up. We’re also nervous or focused or a little bit more on edge, and that goes right to the dogs. They read that, as far as I’m concerned. So conditioning us both to be calm and collected can really make a big difference. Again, starting away from those events and working towards it. The other thing that we really try and do, we often set up fake trials, or we play games in our training to put pressure on them, because pressure changes how we interact with the dogs. Pressure changes how the dogs react to it. We’ll make silly bets or silly games or play music really loud or do something else that simulates that environment to really have the dogs work through it. Maybe it’s a challenge for if you don’t run clean, then you have to do 50 pushups, or something where there’s something on the line that we really have to work towards, and that makes it fun. JEANETTE: When you are at competitions, would you use the chance to do – I like to call it false starts, to pretend that you’re preparing for a start, but then you don’t start so that the dog never knows when it’s an actual start and when it’s just a game? STEVE: Yeah. I go on the adage “train like a trial.” At events, whether it be at your race starts where there’s times to warm up and then sit and wait and warm up and sit and wait, by all means I would do the same routine every single time, whether I’m starting or not so that the dog isn’t sure whether we are actually going to run or not, but they are tuned to the excitement level. That’s always a great idea. JEANETTE: We got another question that’s a bit related to this, I would say. “My dog is perfect in training, but won’t listen to me at competitions. What can I do about this?” STEVE: To me, that sounds like pretty much the same question. Slightly different result, though. It has more to do with the environment. One of the things that I hear from students all the time is they’re often surprised when their dog doesn’t follow something that they ask them to do. The first thing they say is, “My dog knows this.” My answer to them is, no, your dog doesn’t know it in this second, in this environment. It may know it in your kitchen, it may know it in your yard, it may know it at the field or the place where you practice all the time, but in this particular environment, your dog doesn’t know it. That really highlights the fact about how much environment plays a role in dogs’ learning and dogs’ ability to perform things. In that particular second, does the dog know it at that particular second in time? No. But it’s the stimulation that we talked about in the last question that’s overruling the dog’s understanding of what we’re asking them to do. With that particular dog, personally, if it were my dog, I wouldn’t be doing any competitions at that particular point. I would spend a fair bit more time spending time around competitions without actually running – but again, still trying to build on a little bit more verbal control in those situations and a little bit more focus. JEANETTE: I guess consistency is also quite important when it comes to these kinds of issues. STEVE: Here’s the other thing. If I have a dog that’s already proven itself to be more distracted in those environments and I continue to be able to give it – we talked about rewards briefly; running agility for my dogs is a reward. But if my dog is rewarding itself by not listening and doing all the things it wants to do, it’s not doing anything for their ability to be successful and be more focused on me on a course if I continue to trial and continue to let those things happen. It’s not doing a whole lot for our relationship and our goals overall. One of the things that we really try and do is take away our dog’s ability to rehearse things incorrectly. If my dog never does anything wrong because I’ve set it up that way, they don’t know how to do anything but be right. Let’s say I went out with a young dog – I have an adolescent dog right now, and he listens really, really well, but there are still those times where he looks around and says, “Do I really want to listen to you or do I not?” That’s part of it. But one of the things I will make sure I do at that point is if I see any hesitation in him to respond – I’m never mad at him, but what I will do is take a step back and give him a little bit less freedom. Put a long line on him, do something where I have a direct connection to him to simply prevent him from making the mistake. If I can prevent my dog from not listening to me at an event or a race or a trial or whatever, they never learn that they can. [laughs] Going back and setting him up for success can really, really help with that. JEANETTE: We have another question that’s also kind of the same alley. “When my husky gets overexcited or wants to play, she starts biting. I’m desperate.” STEVE: Okay. JEANETTE: What would you do with this dog? STEVE: Biting in and of itself to me is a hard fast rule in my house. I do not allow it. I want to qualify that, though. This dog sounds like it’s more redirecting its energy than anything else. If it was really biting, this person would be quite hurt. So it is a bratty behavior, but it’s another thing that I definitely do not let go. This to me sounds like, again, a dog who’s a little bit overexcited, and because it can’t go and join in the fun or whatever, it has to be simply redirecting onto the leash and then usually onto the person and jumping up and all that type of thing. First things first, I would move that dog away from that excitement in that particular second. With a dog like that, though, I would actually spend a little bit of time away from those exciting things, teaching a little bit different skill, and that skill is to settle. It seems kind of silly, but I spend a lot of time with my dogs giving them permission to play and then teaching them to settle, and giving permission to play and teaching them to settle. I teach them to get high when I ask them to, but I also, in the process of doing that, teach a bit of an off switch or a bit of a settle command so that they understand that there’s value for both. The way I do it is, again, away from all sorts of distracting things. They get permission. I call it playtime. “Okay, playtime.” We run around, we have fun, we are crazy. The dog’s leash is in my hand, and we’re simply goofing around. Then I change my body posture and I will stand up, stand nice and tall, loose leash, and it’ll be “settle,” which is my yellow light, and then “sit,” which is red light. The point of doing that is if I can install that settle switch away from exciting things, when things are exciting, it has more value to the dog. When I’m taking that young dog and playing with him away from things, I stand up tall, “settle,” “sit,” and the moment they sit, my praise is calm, my reward is calm, but it’s long and it’s drawn out. I spend a lot of time giving them lots of love and lots of praise and pets calmly. Not only am I teaching them to calm their bodies, but I’m also praising calm and keeping that calm. I don’t want to go crazy and let them be excited again; I really want to make a big deal for the calm behavior. JEANETTE: If the dog can only sit for like 1 second and then it starts jumping around again, what would you do? STEVE: There’s a great question. This starts with maybe a second or two. I will say, though, that if I ask my dog to sit and they get out of the sit, I will just place them back in the sit. Just make it happen. I’m not mad at them by any stretch of the imagination, but I build a lot of value for that calm praise. If I have a dog that’s struggling with holding sit in a sit position, I might up my frequency of reward. I might mark it with my “Yes” and reward two or three or four or five times, building a little bit of duration with some food. That’s a great place to put food in your training. Then, again, I give my dogs a clear release word. My dogs learn that they’re not allowed to get up out of a sit or a down or a stand or whatever position until I release them with “okay.” Some people use “break” or “release.” There’s also other things. But they learn that pretty darn quickly, and that gives me time to do both things. I start to build value for the settle and that stationary position, and then I bring them high again, and then I bring them low. I play that game back and forth of play and settle, and it really translates over to things like this. Now, again, that’s something I would do away from all these exciting things because, again, I don’t want my dog rehearsing jumping and nipping and biting and doing all those things. That’s a big no-no-no in my house. [laughs] My current wolfhound, who’s the smallest one I have had, she’s about 130 pounds, and I have a 6-year-old son. Nipping and biting and jumping is not allowed. It’s a rule. You do not do it. That means we are very clear with young dogs about having leashes on in the house and making sure we prevent those certain situations. But back to this husky idea, spending time teaching a settle and teaching that command away from things translates into more exciting things. Again, it’s not going to instantly fix it, but it is going to help build that idea of an off switch. Sometimes doing the opposite of what we’re trying to get dogs to do can really help. My one border collie loved to bark in her crate. Loved it. She would just bark in her crate because it sounded great. She was also the dog that, when you went over and asked her to be quiet, she would, but then you’d turn around and walk away and you’d get two steps away and she’d bark one more time. You know that feeling where she just wanted to get the last word in. [laughs] I spent a lot of time teaching her to bark on command outside of her crate and then teaching her to be quiet outside of her crate, and building lots of value for that quiet command away from that crate situation. I removed the crate from the situation and changed the approach. I was teaching her to be excited and make noise, but then I was building much more value and higher value rewards for her being quiet. In her particular case, she loved toys more than anything. But what it allowed me to do was install a quiet command and put a ton of value for it so that when I then took it and put it in the crate, that other environment, she understood what it meant. She understands there’s a lot of value for it, and she was able to generalize and put that in practice in her crate and fix the barking problem in the crate. But it had nothing to do with the crate when I fixed it. It was away from the crate. [laughs] So changing the environment to get some success can really help. JEANETTE: That leads us to the next question, actually, from @hikingbuddies: “Best tips to stop the dog from barking when he sees people?” STEVE: What kind of barking? [laughs] JEANETTE: Yeah, that’s a good question. STEVE: There’s lots of different types of barking. There’s barking “Hi, how are you?”, there’s barking “I’m a little bit worried,” and there’s barking “If you come near me, I’ll bite you.” [laughs] JEANETTE: So what kind of barking it is is actually important to find out how to solve it. STEVE: Yeah, because if my dog is excited by people – let’s go back. First things first, my dog’s job when people are around is, unless we’re moving or walking by, if I want to stop – let’s say I want to talk to a neighbor or something – my dog’s job is to sit at my side. My young dogs. My old dogs can hang around. So their job is to come to my side and sit in what we call a control position or sit at my left-hand side. That starts from a very early age. They get rewarded a lot for that position. The other thing is, I’m also pretty specific about what people do when they come in to greet the dogs. I don’t know how it is over there, but over here, everybody really thinks that they can just come and pet your dog. Not that any dogs are bad, but in my opinion, my dogs are ours. They’re not public property, and people shouldn’t be able to just rush up to a dog. I very much look at my dog and say, “What’s your mindset? Are you able to have this person come and pet you or not?” I might stop the person maybe 5 or 10 feet back and just say, “Hey, hold on, please. Let me see if I can work my dog a little bit.” So that’s the first thing. I don’t let people come in to my dog all the time. I also don’t want my dog thinking that every person they see is going to pet them, because that can create a bit of a problem. If I have a dog that is rehearsed that every person that they see, they get to (a) pull on the leash, (b) they get to pull on the leash to that person, and then (c) that person pets them and gives them that physical reward – what am I rewarding? I’m rewarding a dog that’s excited, that learns to pull on the leash to get what it wants. JEANETTE: Good luck going to the city with that kind of dog. STEVE: Exactly. People don’t realize that dogs are learning all the time, whether we are actually teaching them or not. We need to look at all the things that are happening. Back to this barking dog, the question of what kind of barking really does come into play, as you know. Is it excited to see that person? If that’s the case, first things first, I am not going to let that person come in and pet the dog because then the dog also learns “if I bark, people will come and pet me.” [laughs] I spend a fair bit more time teaching, again, an alternate behavior. Any time there’s people around, instead of jumping up on them, barking, pulling on the leash, your job is to sit at my side. As long as you know how to do that, then, once you’re capable of doing that in a quiet environment, then I might introduce people. One of the very first things we teach our classes in all of our family dog obedience programs is that sit at your left-hand side. It goes back to formal obedience and dogs sitting nice and tight in heel positon. It gives the dogs a great home base. We spend a lot of time proofing that by first of all teaching them how to hold that sit, rewarding them for holding the sit, then having people walk by while that dog holds the sit, and then maybe having people walk by and stand close while that dog holds the sit. The whole time they’re holding the sit, we’re coaching them, rewarding them, and doing all those things. But it’s several weeks until we actually go in and pet the dogs. What we want our dogs to understand is that home base is the left-hand side, and that’s where everything should be when new people are around you. That takes care of a lot of the excitement. This to me sounds like an excited dog that wants to go and say hi to people because people come in and pet it all the time. [laughs] Now, that’s what I would do to train it, but what I would do in the situation where it is barking is move away from that person. Say, “Hey, good to see you. I’ll talk to you later. Dog’s a little bit excited.” Again, making space, because that person at 25 or 30 meters away, that dog could most likely not be overexcited, but all of a sudden at 10 meters, that dog is pretty excited because that person is quite close. And then, of course, at 5 meters, that dog can’t listen at all because that distraction is too high and too close. It goes back to the start line stuff we had talked about, or dogs nipping and biting and jumping for excitement. All those things are simple things of excitement, but need other behaviors. Instead of being mad at them for doing those things, let’s give them other behaviors to do to prevent them from doing it. JEANETTE: That may be relevant for the next question as well, from @sleddogs: “How do you stop dogs from whining when they want attention?” STEVE: Again, this in my class would be: what’s the situation and what’s the scenario? Is the dog tied up, they’re supposed to be relaxing and people go by, and the dogs are whining and wriggling, ready to go? Or is it you’re hooking up dogs, getting harnesses on, getting ready for a race? It would depend on the situation. There are, as you know, some dog breeds that tend to be more vocal than others. JEANETTE: I have two, yeah. STEVE: Yeah. I have to look at that a little bit and decide how much of a thing I want to make of it. Everybody has their own question. It sounds like this person is having it, I’m guessing, when they’re about to go run or they’re about to go out to do something. I might try a slightly different behavior in that situation, and that may be simply just to go and lie down. That may be alternate, easier behaviors. But if in that second, I want my dog high because we are going to run, I might not make that big a deal about it. The only thing I would do is I would make sure if I’m getting something I don’t like – let’s say I’m getting really high whining – I definitely wouldn’t let anybody pet or reward them at that particular moment. I would ignore them; when I see a little bit more calm behavior, then I might go a little closer. If I get a little bit of stimulation or excitement at that point, then I might move a little further away. I play the game and I only go closer to them when I see they’re more calm or hear that they’re calm, like they stop whining or something. You can play that game. We know when our dogs are excited. You know when your dog is sitting calmly or lying calmly versus when they’re trying so hard to hold position yet they’re vibrating in place. When I have excitement in dogs like that, I very rarely will pet them or really praise them when they’re excited, especially if I’m working for calm behaviors. I’ll wait until I get that split second of settle, and then I can calmly praise them and reward them there. But if they don’t, I just move away. Think of it like you’re sliding in and out as the dog gets excited. JEANETTE: Then we have another question that’s quite relevant to the time we’re in right now. “Because of quarantine, my dog is used to me being at home. How can I prepare him for when I have to go back to work and he suddenly needs to be alone again? I cannot leave my house, so I find it hard to prepare him.” That’s a good question. STEVE: Yeah, it’s kind of a challenge right now. In our program, we have several hundred students each month that come through with their dogs, and we’ve had to switch a good majority of them because of what’s going on to online classes. This has actually been a pretty common question. My biggest suggestion would be to try to maintain a bit of routine and separation. What I mean by that is I will do something for my dogs, and even my older dogs have crates that they use and I use them all the time – not that they’re not trustworthy in the house, but teaching my dogs to be comfortable in crates is a really, really big thing for me when we go to events or if I go away somewhere with the dogs or they have to go to the vet and stay there. That to me is a really valuable tool, and that can help in these situations, because I will do a little routine with my dog where we get up, we have our normal breakfast, we go for our normal walk, we get home, and then when I go on my computer to start working, I will put the dog away in another room in their crate. I make it like I’m going to work. JEANETTE: So you actually close the door between you and everything? STEVE: Yeah, I absolutely do. Now, again, every dog is different, but if I have a dog that’s really reliant on me, I will start to make sure that I have that physical separation just so that we avoid that kind of thing. I will say that I think dogs are also really adaptable, and the reality of people going back to work is going to be harder on the people than it is on the dogs. [laughs] JEANETTE: Probably true. [laughs] STEVE: I think a lot of the dogs are going to be quite happy to get their sleeping time back. So I think overall, it will not be a bad thing. But if this person was worried about it, then yeah, I would use crates. I would put them in it, give them a bone, tell them to go lie down, and then they could go and do whatever they want to do for a few hours, and then come back, “Oh hi, I’m home, good to see you.” Pretend like you were gone. JEANETTE: Sounds good. And then gradually extend the time you’re away? STEVE: Yeah, exactly. Just build on that. But there has to be some sort of physical separation at that point. Again, I’m a big fan of dogs being comfortable in crates, and that’s the easiest way, of course, to create that separation. Put your dog in a crate. It’s one of the best things that you can ever teach a dog, in my opinion. JEANETTE: We have another question. “My dog freaks out when he sees cars. He totally blocks me out, even if I have yummy treats. What to do?” And the owner points out this is not a herding breed, so that should not be the issue. People with herding breeds might know that that could be a herding problem. STEVE: It’s not necessarily a herding problem in my mind. Certainly, it is pretty prevalent in the herding breeds, of course. But again, it all has to do with stimulation. Usually, with cars, it’s down to the motion. There’s the big woosh. I’d be willing to bet that this particular dog – again, just throwing it out there – if an excited dog ran by quickly or something else went by quickly, that would also spark its interest. It’s probably more the motion than anything else. Again, I don’t know the setup for this dog in terms of what they have in terms of space. I like to spend time, again, teaching what I call a “leave it” command. “Leave it” has a very specific meaning. It means look away from what you’re looking at and check back in with me, look at me. It doesn’t mean stare at me. The reason I qualify that is people want to do something that requires the dog to look at you the whole time, but we need to think about this from the dog’s perspective. That dog is either excited or worried or interested about whatever that thing is that’s going by really, really fast. I don’t want to create tension in the dog and anxiety in the dog because they feel like they have to look at me the whole time when what they really want to do is look at that thing. What I want my dogs to do is, if you see something that’s really exciting, instead of reacting and running on the leash or pulling or anything like that, I want you to check in with me. I want you to look at me just for a second, and then I will give you direction. Because there may be times, if you’re herding, with our herding people, I need my dog to lie down, and then I will need to give him permission to move away or go to left side or whatever. Same thing in agility. If we’re on a start line, I know my dog is excited, but I want to make sure they know where they’re going. So teaching them to check in with me is, again, a replacement behavior. How do I do that? Actually, we’ve got a couple of great videos on our YouTube channel that talk about that specifically. It becomes a really, really fantastic command. Say I’m near a road and a car goes by. My dog sees the car coming, gets excited. I can tell them “leave it,” they look at me, I can praise them, I can reward them and have some fun. But like anything else, it doesn’t start at the road. I like to try and find fields or places where I can move away from the road to introduce cars and those sounds in a manner where both the dog and handler can be successful. This is why I say it depends on where the person is, because I know sometimes you’re walking on a sidewalk and there’s no place to go but right there. [laughs] JEANETTE: You’re kind of stuck sometimes. STEVE: Yeah, exactly. So I would suggest to this particular person, find yourself a place where you can move away from the road and create some instance – again, the idea of a bubble around your dog, teaching them the idea that focusing on you is way more valuable than reacting to cars. The more they get that, the closer you can go to the road. My ideal situation would be a field near a road that wasn’t too busy. I simply have my dog on leash, I let them look at a car, I say “leave it,” I put a little food on their nose, I turn them away and move away from whatever your marker is, reward, and have a little bit of fun. A couple of things are really important. This person says that his or her dog blocks him out even if he has yummy treats. Really look into getting great treats. Any time I’m training with food, people say, “I tried the best treats I can.” All they did was go to the store and buy whatever treats. There are so many great treats around your house that you need to try. [laughs] Things like cheese or chicken wings or all sorts of stuff that are way more valuable than commercial treats. That’s the first thing. The second thing is I would do this when the dog is hungry. Do it first thing in the morning before you give the dog breakfast. Take advantage of those times when your dog is more apt to be focused on food. Then, again, as the dog gets better at it, I can move close to the road and have less food to lure. But because this is teaching a new command to this dog, I need to show the dog how to do it. This is where the use of food is pretty important. You asked me right off the bat, do I prefer using food or toys? Every dog is different, but when I’m teaching a dog something new, if I can use food, it allows me to control the distraction and keep the dog a little calmer. It works really, really well because I want to be able to give my dog a command and show them how to respond to it instead of expecting them to know how to respond to it. So I would say “leave it,” I would use some food to turn them away, “Yay!,” praise them, move away, reward them several times. I would do that 10, 12, 14 times, let’s say 100 meters away. Then I might go to 75 meters away, and then 50 meters away, and see how the dog still responds. If they’re struggling, then go further away from it again. But I want my dogs to feel free to look around the world. What I want them to be able to do is when I ask them to check back in with me, to do it pretty darn quickly. That really helps with things like cars because once my dog is comfortable with this, the moment I see them looking at a car when we’re walking down the street, “Hey, leave it, you’re fine.” Just very matter-of-fact. Instead of tensing up waiting for them to go, I spent the time installing the behavior, and then I can be calm and direct with them, and it really helps transition them and they can generalize that really easily once they have a solid foundation. But it does take some repetition. People think that you can do this one or two times and the dog will understand it. No, most dogs don’t. [laughs] They might understand it in that second, in that place, but they don’t understand it everywhere in every part of their life. That’s where the consistency and repetition comes in. JEANETTE: Perfect. That was the last question for now. I’ve learned a lot, and it seems like the same things go for most questions, actually. STEVE: All of these questions fell into one little vein. JEANETTE: Yeah, they did. STEVE: They’re not uncommon things. One of the things that we do, we spend a lot of time in our program teaching dogs to listen to distraction. I’ll use our agility classes for an example. Our agility classes are pretty hard to get into because we have a really, really high expectation for verbal control. We will have up to 10 dogs at a time in the arena, running at the same time. So dogs have to listen really, really well for safety. And let’s face it – for teaching agility, I don’t want a dog that’s not listening to me learning how to do agility. Until they can do that, it’s not to their benefit to try and do a lot of these sports. We want to make sure we have that solid verbal control in all those situations before ever trying to do those fun things. That means that all these types of distractions we’ve talked about today are things that we spend a lot of time trying to work through before we ever get to the sports because that’s what’s going to help make it successful further down the road. JEANETTE: There’s one question that we ask everybody on this podcast, and that is: if you had to do another sport with your dog, what would it be? STEVE: That’s a good question. You know what? I think some of the pulling sports are piquing my interest now. Something with a bike or a sled. Actually, we had a terrible winter here, and I say terrible in that there was no snow at all. But I thought about getting a kicksled for the dogs. That’s probably the one I’d look at; I just don’t know if we have the weather for it here. [laughs] I go biking with the dogs, and they just run free. But the sledding stuff is really piquing my interest a little bit more. Especially the more I talk to you guys. JEANETTE: It’s good training as well. STEVE: Exactly. JEANETTE: Cool. Thank you so much for joining us on this podcast. STEVE: My pleasure.
JEANETTE: Today’s guest is actually the fastest 5k runner in the whole world. Assisted by his dog Blake, Ben Robinson from the UK beat the world record with the time at 12 minutes, 24 seconds. I met him at the World Championships in Canicross in Sweden some months ago to find out how he is training. After they won, he was already more than 30 seconds ahead of #2. How is that possible? BEN: It’s a combination of factors. I just had really good preparation. We started preparing for this race in the spring. Throughout the summer, I did whatever I could with Blake in terms of heat acclimatization, and obviously in the end we actually had slightly warmer temperatures than expected, but Blake was able to deal with those. Obviously I’m very lucky that Blake’s an exceptional dog. And just massive athletic preparation myself as well, away from canicross, and then just put the two together, and the result was pretty good for us. JEANETTE: There’s a lot of good runners out there, but you seem to be one step ahead all the time. How are you training? BEN: I train in athletics and canicross, obviously with the dog. A lot of my training will be on my own, but at the same time I place a great importance on working with Blake. I think we’ve seen in the past some really strong athletes, but then maybe don’t have the bond with the dog. So all the time, even when I’m training say an average week where I’ll train most of the time myself, I’m with Blake, walking him, whether that’s on lead, whether it’s off lead, scooter training, free running. I’m always with him. He lives at home with the family as well. So I think it’s a combination of my athletic ability, obviously his incredible ability as a sport sled dog, and then still keeping that bond and importance on that bond. JEANETTE: How does a normal week look for the two of you? BEN: An average week, I would run most days. Maybe the odd rest day, so one day off. Probably two interval sessions for myself, one hills-based session and then one long run, and then the rest of the run is just made up of a little bit of recovery work. For Blake, in season, probably between three and four harness-specific sessions, which would mostly be scooter with just the occasional bike session as a speed and maybe the occasional canicross just to get my legs used to it, certainly in season. And then hit up a couple of free runs with the rest of the team dogs. They all free run as a group, so they run hard together, and then a couple of days where he’ll walk on harness. I use obviously the half harness, the shoulder harness, but he will pull. I always let him pull on the walk, so that’s like a high resistance session for him. And then I always give the dogs at least one rest day. Sometimes two if I feel they need it, but a complete rest day where they’re only at home, only in the garden, nothing at all, no walk, no run. I think there’s a lot of importance on the recovery for the dog as well. JEANETTE: Do you have any breaks throughout the year, like a week or a month or something like this with alternative training? BEN: Yeah, I always try and find a couple of stages across a calendar year where we have a few weeks of no structured training. We just do what we feel like, just enjoy time together, just the free run and the walk, but nothing else. It will depend a little bit where that fits on the seasons. That’s quite a hard thing to manage. Obviously, I manage my own training around an athletic season and cross-country and road running, and then obviously for Blake, there’s the domestic season at home and then there’s an international season, and they don’t always agree, so a lot of the time it’s dictated to by that a little bit. But we’ll always try and find some time to rest too. JEANETTE: How is it for you two to rest? BEN: We’re quite active, still. Blake will accept it for maybe a day or two of complete rest. He’s used to that, obviously, in the week setup that I described earlier. But after that he’ll want to do something and he’ll get quite pent up. So yeah, there has to be some activity in there, like activity if he’s been out, free run a little bit. So more a little rest for the mind. I take him away from the harness work so he’s not having to think, he’s just doing what he wants to do. If that’s run hard, he can. For me, a little bit easier. Obviously I’ve got the family at home, so a rest from running is okay, but I’m busy and they’ll keep me busy, the kids. Some time spent with the family is nice as well after a really intense preparation. JEANETTE: How is running with a dog different than running just by yourself? BEN: It is different and it isn’t. I obviously run track. What I generally find is it’s like me running a much, much shorter distance. My effort in canicross with Blake would maybe be like my 400 to 800 meter running, but obviously the addition of Blake just means I can keep that pace going for much, much longer, up to 5k distance. My 5k time is probably equivalent to about my 800 meter time without him, a flat out 2 minutes. He keeps me doing it for 12-13 minutes. JEANETTE: You and Blake have the fastest 5k time ever. Can you tell us about that day? BEN: Yeah. We weren’t really sure what we could do. I knew we could run under 13 minutes, but I wasn’t really sure how much. Just really fancied an attempt at going at the 5k distance hard. Obviously, we picked a good fast course for it and just really had a go, just went out hard. He was in really good shape, and I was just really pleased. Around 12:24 in the end. Interestingly, I think there’s a little bit more to cut, maybe, even in the last kilometer. We had to go back past some of the early starters, and I had to go quite wide with him, off the track, onto grass. So I’d like another go in the near future. He’s in good shape this year. He’s really matured well now. He’s coming up to 4 in January. So I think if I can get my shape in a good place for next season, then maybe we’ll have another attempt. JEANETTE: What’s the best age for a canicross dog? BEN: I don’t think I really know the answer yet. Blake is, as I said, coming up to 4 in January, and I would say he’s improved the whole time to date. I think he’s the fittest he’s been at the moment. He’s really matured. He’s stronger. I’ve been able to do more training with him this year than I have before, keeping him in excellent condition. So I’m just really excited to find out if there is any more from him. I think next year can be as strong if not stronger. Hopefully he can even improve from there. But I would say he’s approaching peak, so I think 3 to 4, and then it’s just a case of obviously holding that fitness for as long as possible, so hopefully a good few years left of Blake at top performance. JEANETTE: Are you thinking of getting another dog to get ready for when he’s retired? BEN: Yeah. Obviously we’ve got a team at the moment. My other large European sled dog, Nero, has been coming on really well. In preparation this year, I’ve prepared them mostly on scooter, as I’ve said. A lot of their training sessions, they’ve been neck and neck. In the end, I trusted Blake just for what he’d do in the championship, but canicross, I’m very similar with Nero, so he’s a good backup. I’ve got my smaller girls who I can’t run quite as fast in the short distance sprint because they’re a lot smaller. They’re 20 and 24 kilos, and Sophie is 26, 27. But we have now got two sons of Blake. We bred Blake and Sophie ourselves at home, and both myself and my father have kept a pup, so we’ve got two of Blake’s sons. They’re just 6 months old, so we’re hoping that they’ll follow in his footsteps as well. JEANETTE: How do you work with a puppy and a young dog to prepare them for this sport? BEN: To date, for the first 6 months, I’ve just really let him be a puppy. He’s just at home. As our others, he’s with the family. The most he’s done in terms of preparation is just come with the team to the odd training session, so he’s used to traveling with us in the van, he’s used to seeing them get excited, seeing them have the harness on, seeing them run. But he’s done no specific preparation; he’s just obviously done some short walks and a short amount of free running with them. But after this preparation, I’ll go home and by the end of this year I’ll just start some very short runs with him. I like to do his first run just to assess where he’s at, just him on his own, so I won’t take him with any of the team. I’ll take him on his own, try just 100-200 meters, and see what he does. Then I’ll vary his sessions. Some he’ll see the others, some he’ll follow the others, some he’ll go on his own. I like the dogs to be able to do anything – prepped Blake in the same way – and just gradually build the distance up so that hopefully beginning of next season, after a summer of light preparation, he can debut in canicross. JEANETTE: Do you ever train longer distances than what you run in competitions, or do you stay around 5k? BEN: Yeah, I’ll always go a little bit over. As with my own prep, I don’t like the 5 kilometer to be the maximum as I think it leaves a little bit of a weakness toward the end of the trail, particularly if it’s been a challenging trail. So Blake would’ve certainly prepped some sessions up to 6k or just beyond. But the other dogs, my smaller dogs, do a lot further. My girls I’ve run as far as 13-14k in harness, and hopefully in the future I’d like to run a half marathon with them and maybe even look at events such as the TDM where it’s multiple events across the week. So they will do a lot further. But yeah, Blake’s certainly above distance, but not too much. JEANETTE: When Blake is running, it’s full speed from the start, but he cannot go for that pace for like 14 kilometers or something. Do you have a command or something to tell him that “this time you can slow down a little bit”? BEN: I think it’s certainly possible. Obviously I’ve got friends in the sport that have done that. Certainly I’ve mentioned TDM, and I know a lot do call their dog off for downhills and that. It’s not something I’ve tried to do with Blake. I’m quite happy that that 6k+ preparation keeps him in a good place for the 5k racing that we’ll do. He’s all or nothing. He’s all out. With the girls, you can control them a little bit easier, yeah. The way they’ve trained and that, their mindset’s a bit calmer. Nova, our smallest hound, she’s from the middle distance kennel. She’s always pulling, she’s always working well, but her mindset is for the long haul. She’s in it for the long run. She’ll run all day. But she’s not necessarily really, really pushing everything she’s got in the early stages. She’s just happy to get out there, get running, and keep running. JEANETTE: How is it to run with such a big and such a fast dog? You seem to be flying up the hills, and downhill it looks quite scary. BEN: Actually, with Blake I feel in unison quite well with him. Blake in great shape is only about 28 kilos, so actually, versus a lot of the other top teams, he’s a little bit smaller. I think that helps me quite a lot. I’ve been able to see the differences running him versus say Nero at 34 kilos. Corners, downhills, I can make a lot of time with Blake because I’m able to run flat-out. As we talked about earlier, I don’t attempt to slow him on the downhill, and I can still make the downhills quite well. But it certainly feels like a sprint when we get to those technical sections. JEANETTE: Running technique is quite important when it comes to canicross. How do you train this, and what’s important to keep in mind? BEN: Yeah, running technique is massively important. I’ve always been a firm believer with canicross that core stability work is hugely important as well, because the dogs are always pulling us away from that ideal core setup and position we’d be normally in. So I do a lot of core work just to be able to hold good running form, and just a lot of running-based drills in training, in warmup and that for main sessions. I’ve been running since a teenager, so I’ve put a lot of emphasis on that to be able to run well, and then a really good core stability preparation to stay in that form when the dog starts to really pull you. JEANETTE: Can you give us some specific exercises, some examples? BEN: For core stability exercises, anything you want to look at doing limb to torso-based exercises. Things like leg raises can be really good, or rollouts, things like that, and also planks, any static core stability where you hold the position. Trying to avoid common exercises like sit-ups and crunches, because actually they’re not so good for the core. There’s a lot of spinal flexion there, which is something that actually we want to avoid. So try to focus on the limb to torso movements and the static isometric hold exercises. JEANETTE: Have you ever had any injuries? BEN: I have, yeah. I’ve been fairly lucky since starting canicross, but as a youngster I had various injuries. But when I look back, they’re probably more down to growing pains and things like that. Since coming into canicross, nothing really specific to canicross. Just been unlucky 2 years. One year a break in the foot, but it was just literally hitting a stone, unlucky timing on the trail. And a tendon issue in the foot as well, possibly which is related to tightness in the lower limb from a lot of trail running. But not anything canicross specific, luckily. JEANETTE: Now you have been running in the World Championship, and that’s a big competition. Everybody has expectations that you are going to win. Do you ever get nervous? BEN: Yeah, I do get nervous. I’m okay with that. Nerves are good. I couldn’t run what I ran at the championship in training because of the lack of adrenaline and nerves. But I’ve always as well been good at controlling those nerves and know that the race is down to me and Blake. No one can affect me and Blake on the day. So when I get nervous, I just remember that. I think I’m here and people think that for a reason, and I’ve just got to get on the trail with Blake and do what we both do – deliver. JEANETTE: I would like to know a bit about your race prep. How do you prepare the days before the competition and the day of a competition? BEN: The days before, obviously I’ll taper down. A lot of the time my running will be less, Blake’s running will be less. A couple of days before a major competition, Blake will do very little. I will literally keep him quiet, keep him calm. Keep him with me, again, so he’s happy in the environment, but just keep him very quiet. Short walks only. For myself, always just a little bit of a jog the day before, a few fast strides just to get the legs moving. And then on the morning, just try and keep calm, really. Try to keep as much as normal as I can. Hydrate massively. A lot of hydration, a lot of good nutrition. Good meal the night before, big breakfast, and then a good warmup for myself and the dog. Nice walk around in the morning together, and then a more intense warmup for myself probably about half an hour before. A little bit more of a jog, faster run, and some drills. And then just get out and get ready to go. JEANETTE: Do you warm up together with Blake or do you warm up separately? BEN: I’ll warm up separately. I’ll give Blake a walk initially, say maybe 40 minutes before, get him out, give him a good walk, and then he’ll pop back away to rest a little bit longer. I’ll warm up myself, and then again, a good 10 minutes before the race, then I’ll be together with Blake, walking, waiting, and just getting ready to go. JEANETTE: How important is the warmup? BEN: The warmup is massively important. Even more so for canicross I think than running in general, because obviously that max effort thing, the dogs don’t know pacing. The dogs don’t know starting slow, building into anything, so you can never do that. The dog’s going to go flat-out from the start, and they’re going to force you to go flat-out from the start. So both from an injury risk perspective and also from a performance perspective, to not warm up would just feel horrendous. You probably wouldn’t hit the same pace at all that we do, and there’d obviously be a huge, huge injury risk to both myself and the dog. JEANETTE: Also after the competition, I guess you do a cooldown? BEN: Yeah, I’ll stay with Blake initially, make sure Blake walks around again for a similar period of time to before. So 10 minutes, 15 minutes afterwards, I’m with Blake, making sure Blake’s okay. Keep him moving so he doesn’t stiffen up at all. Make sure he’s had water and is happy. Then when I’m comfortable with that, he can go away and rest and I’ll get my own cooldown done, which would be a couple of kilometers jogging, just very, very easy, and trying to stop the legs being too sore for the next day. Especially when there’s 2-day competitions. JEANETTE: Yeah, like here at the World Championship, there are 2 days in a row. That must be quite hard. BEN: Yeah, that’s been extremely challenging, especially this time round because we came straight from Belgium as well. We were at Belgium for the European Championships. We had 2 days of racing, and on the second day we had a second race as well in the relay. Then we had about 3 days between including traveling from Belgium to Sweden, and then we’ve raced 2 more days. Had a day off yesterday, luckily, and then we’re back for the relay today. Got one last show. JEANETTE: What do you do the day in between? BEN: Yesterday, in between that, it was just a case of a light jog. Obviously overall I wanted to enjoy the rest day, watch the rest of the competition, and really try and clear the legs a little bit. But I did get out for a little jog. We had a little look at the relay trail, actually, just so we were familiar with that and used that to try and loosen the legs a little bit and get ready for today. JEANETTE: You’re running the relay in a couple of hours. Are you excited? BEN: Yeah, I’m massively excited for the relay. I’ve always loved the relay. It’s really exciting. It’s great team spirit. We can come together and actually compete together. Obviously a lot of athletes have finished their competition as well, and they’re on the sidelines just supporting their nation. The buzz is normally the biggest you’ve seen all weekend. This year especially, we’ve got some really, really fast teams in there. Everybody seems to have focused on the relay and put strong teams out, so I think it’s going to be a really good race. JEANETTE: And it’s a mass start. Usually you start one by one; now it’s a mass start. What are the challenges or the good things about a mass start? BEN: The excitement. It’s really exciting. Obviously for spectators, it’s great. They love mass start. For us, it’s about safety. We’ve got to try and get away safely. Hopefully we can find good space. Hopefully they give us good space on the start line. Then for me personally, it’s just about getting a quick start. I’ll always start fairly fast with Blake anyway, and I just want to try and get a quick start, get out of the way of any potential danger tangles, anything like that, and try and control the race from the front. We’ve got three of the top four from canicross elite men. We’ll take the start in relay today, so I think it will be hotly contested to get out in front. JEANETTE: You are going home with some medals this year as well. You have won the World Championship twice and also the European Championships twice. What’s your next goal? BEN: My immediate next goal at home will be the British Championship. We go straight back and we’ve got the first race of that in 4 weeks’ time. That’s a series of races, three series over the rest of the season now, so just stretching into the new year as well. We have to compete at least two out of the three of those weekends to score in the British Championship. I’ll be going for my sixth consecutive British title, and that will be Blake’s third as well, attempt at third. So that’s the immediate goal. JEANETTE: Could you tell us how the British tryouts work for the World Championships? Because you have a lot of good runners. BEN: Yeah, those races it’ll be three weekend races, 2-day races, so six races in total. Your best four from six scores will count, and that will rank you within each of the classes. Then if the subscription level is high for the next European and World Championships next autumn, that ranking will be used to select the British team. JEANETTE: You’ve been a part of the team for some years now, and as the sport develops, what do you think canicross will look like in 5 years, 10 years? BEN: I think it will be a huge sport. It’s getting massively more popular. The ease of the sport obviously is appealing to people. One dog, yourself, and some good equipment and you’re there. People love to run with a dog. I think people find it exciting. I think it motivates people to get out there. So I think we’ll see a lot of people. We’re seeing a huge growth in the UK, and you can see it worldwide as well. I think there’ll be a lot of people and I think it will be very competitive as well. JEANETTE: Yeah, the level seems to be quite hard. You guys at the top of the result list, you train really seriously. BEN: Absolutely. We approach it really seriously. We’ve got massive goals. It’s really competitive at the moment, like you said, in UK and abroad. I think that’s only going in one direction, so I think that will get stronger. I think we’ll get more guys at the top and we’ll see some really exciting racing in the next few years. JEANETTE: What does canicross mean to you? And having a dog, of course. BEN: Canicross means everything to me now. It’s my goal to try and be the best I can, try and be the best ever. My goals don’t stop at one championship; I want to try and run all the dogs successfully across all distances, all terrains. I wouldn’t be without a dog at home, either. All the dogs are family dogs, pets at home with us and the children, and that’s important to us. We love them as pets first and sport dogs after that. JEANETTE: Everybody has something they can improve to get even better. You seem to have reached quite a high level now, but are there any specific areas you would like to be even better at? BEN: Yeah, I think I can still improve. Certainly on maybe short distance or track. A couple of the injuries I mentioned earlier put me out of some track seasons, so although I got good preparation nearer the championship, I didn’t get the track season that I want. So I think I could work on my speed on the track on short distance and hopefully help me in those early stages be a bit more comfortable at that max speed. I still believe we can go faster, and I’ll be working hard to try and prove that’s right. JEANETTE: As far as I know, you’re also coaching others. BEN: Yeah, that’s been really nice. I started that about 2 years ago, following the World Championships in Poland. Started getting athletes on board and helping them achieve goals as well. I’ve coached on and off around about 20 athletes, mainly with online support, online programming so they can structure their own training and make progress, as well as one-to-one chat advice in terms of the dog preparation and mental preparation as well, approaching the championships. Everybody’s got on with that really well. We’ve seen a lot of people make personal bests and achieve things they set out to, and we’ve even started to see some medals now at an international level from some of the guys I coach. I’m really proud of all of them, from top to bottom, just for getting out there and putting their effort in and achieving what they wanted to achieve. JEANETTE: Is this something you would like to do more of and develop even further in the future? BEN: Absolutely. I’d love to work more with athletes, coach more athletes. Training camps is something, although we haven’t done yet, that we are considering and looking at, both in the UK and abroad. Yeah, it’s definitely something I’d want to move more into and work more. JEANETTE: Do you get many questions on social media and in person? BEN: Yeah, I always get a lot of questions. Always highlighted at championships. People messaging you just wanting to know a lot of what we’ve talked about today – your preparation, your motivation, and how you approach these things. Everybody wants to talk. It’s really good. It’s a good opportunity to speak to people across the world and help and try to grow the sport. JEANETTE: When we talk about motivation, do you ever get sick and tired of doing this? Or is it always fun? BEN: I’m never tired of it. I’ll reach a point where I’ll want a break and just want a little bit of time with the family. Obviously, this preparation, the weeks leading up to this, I had to prioritize preparing to be at this level. I’ve been away now 2 weeks. So it’ll be a chance to go home and just spend some time with the family, have a few weeks where I don’t put training first. But the motivation will return and I’ll be ready to come back and do it another year. JEANETTE: There is one question we ask everybody on this podcast, and that is: if you had to do another sport with your dog, what would it be and why? BEN: That is a good question. Am I allowed to say scooter? JEANETTE: No. [laughs] Something without the harness, if possible. BEN: You’ve got me there. There’s not too many other things I think Blake would take too well. I don’t think he’d do obedience or agility or anything like that. So I’d probably still have to involve running. I’d probably go with scooter. I’m not too good on the scooter myself, but he still takes to it pretty well, so I’d go with that. JEANETTE: Thank you so much for taking the time to join us on this podcast. BEN: Thank you very much. It’s been great to be here. I’m looking forward to – let’s get out and finish this show at the World Championships and the relay now. JEANETTE: Good luck. BEN: Thank you.
JEANETTE: These days are putting our mental strength to the test. We need some motivation and inspiration. Today’s guest might be able to help with that. Through 25 years at the top of his sport, the “King of Biathlon” has impressed the world with his abilities to handle challenges and pressure. Ole Einar Bjørndalen won 13 medals in the Olympics, 45 medals in World Championships, and had 95 individual World Cup wins before he retired a couple of years ago. One incident in particular at the very start of his career set a standard. OLE EINAR: That was quite many years ago. It was in 1998 in Japan, in Nagano. I was very well-prepared for this competition. It was a 10 kilometer sprint. The race went really well. Around 2 kilometers before the finish, they cancelled this race because it was too much wind and too much bad weather, so they felt it was not a fair competition. I was in the lead. I got a message from my staff people. They said I was 15 seconds in front, so that was my first gold medal, I thought. But as you remember, directly before I finished, they cancelled the race. I got really angry up in the mountain there and smashed my skis and poles on the track, for sure. But then I understood that this race was not finished after a few minutes. I needed to come back to the stadium. So I skied slowly down to the stadium again, and then I saw a lot of media and journalists and I knew exactly what they would ask me about. I thought, “Why should I speak to them? This race is not finished. I used 4 years for this competition; I don’t want to miss this competition again.” So I went straight forward, didn’t speak with anyone, no media, nothing, because I had no reason because the race was not finished. I would make this race finished before I spoke with anyone. Then I went into my wax cabin, and in my wax cabin, my waxer was sitting in a corner there and he was more sad than me. He was sitting and crying because he lost also one gold medal. I remember the words I said to him. “I have fantastic skis these days,” and I said, “Thank you for the skis. Make the skis the same tomorrow, because it was really great.” Then I took the bus down to the hotel. I needed to think about the next day. For sure I was feeling a bit sad, but I went to the hotel, took some food, and then I called my mental coach. This mental coach, Øyvind Hammer, I’d worked with him since two years before. We went through this competition the day before this race, and for sure I had to call him and explain what had happened. He took the phone and he was a little bit different coach than others, because he was not interested in biathlons. He was more interested in what I am doing. I’m not sure if he was looking at this competition because he had a big business and he worked like hell, so I’m not sure if he looked at this on TV. His first question was, “How was the race?” I explained it. “Skiing was fantastic. First round was also good. I shot four, and on the last shot I missed one and I put my rifle – but still I went in front because I was fast skier this time. Shot clean standing, so everything was good.” Then I explained they stopped the race. Then it was quiet a little bit from him, and he said to me, “You’re quite lucky that you have a chance to make this race again, because we had an agreement yesterday” – because he prepared every race an agreement. I prepared on the paper, I wrote everything down what I had to do, and I signed it. When you sign the paper, then you need to hold what you write on the paper. This time I didn’t hold my prone shooting. I was not on the place. I had the rifle on my back before I shot the last shot, almost. So he said to me, “We’ll do exactly the same preparation for the next race the day after, and you should do a single shot, prone, single shot standing, and don’t leave the stadium before you have done this job because you did not do this job before.” I did that. I made my best race ever, shoot 10 from 10 and win more than 1 minute. I didn’t speak with anyone, almost, because it was in Japan. I didn’t speak with any media. I was focused on myself. I had the right person around me and not people who were sorry about that happening. That is really a challenge when you make a bad race, because everyone is sorry to you. You don’t need that because you have a chance to wake up again and make the race better than what you have done before. JEANETTE: But how do you protect yourself from negative energy? Because it’s all around. OLE EINAR: It’s all around, but you don’t need to meet them. Go around. For sure, you’d be shorter in the dinner, shorter in all – because the main point is the meal. All others, you stay in the room and I go running in the evening, so I don’t see any people. You need to be in your vacuum and think about yourself, especially when there’s a championship like that. Then you’re a little bit shy from people. JEANETTE: But everybody wants a piece of you. Is it difficult to stay in your bubble? OLE EINAR: For me, it’s normal. You need to give a lot for the media and people, but you need to give that with that you get energy. If you lose energy – which is really easy to do when you are a good athlete because everyone wants a piece of you – the moment you start to lose energy, you need to stop. Then you need to explain it to people around you, if you have somebody who can help you with that to inform, or you inform them yourself to say that you need time for yourself. I think that is important when you are in a challenging time. If not, there’s only one man who loses, and that is yourself. So you need to take control about your time, your balance in your life. Competition is to stay focused – everyone stays enough focused on the sport, I think. The problem is they don’t take control of their life. If you don’t have balance in the rest of your life, you have no chance to make a good race. When I started to work with mental coaches, my colleagues worked 90% with the sport and 10% with the private. I do the opposite. I work 90% with my life and 10% with sport. JEANETTE: Why did you decide to start with the mental training? Was it normal at that time to do it, or was it something new? OLE EINAR: Today, it’s totally normal. In 1996, it was definitely not normal. This man, Øyvind Hammer, he doesn’t get any chance to come to our hotel. All coaches don’t like him. He was dressed in a suit and coming with different cars than usual normal people. He had no experience in sport. He thought different, and always when people are different, they feel threatening to people, so they get always afraid. It happened also this time, but he definitely was the most important guy for me to come through, to be World champion the first time and definitely my Olympic gold the first time. When you make it one time, it’s much easier to make it again. JEANETTE: What was the biggest difference you could notice before you started doing mental training and after? OLE EINAR: As you’re a professional in your sport, you know plenty enough about the sport. Different what I did, I put everything in a system. When I should think in the right way after each other, because you know plenty about everything. You don’t need to have more information, but you need to make a system. That was a big difference. Plus I fixed my private life. JEANETTE: Do you do some kind of mental training every day? Or did you do it only before competitions or championships? OLE EINAR: I did it every day. Sometimes I did a lot, other times I did not so much. But you can definitely be overtrained in that. I did that too. It’s easy to get overtraining mental training because you need to have balance in everything. Physical training, mental training, private life, and then you have a chance to make a good race. JEANETTE: When it comes to the sport you have been doing, biathlon, it’s much like agility, for example. If you miss the target, you get a penalty. That’s precisely what happens when our dogs knock a bar, for instance. When something like this happens, it’s easy to lose focus, but you are really good at fighting till the end. What were you telling yourself in these situations? OLE EINAR: First of all, you should never give up. I’m training the Chinese team now, and that is the first rule. Never give up. That is first. Second is the mental stability. You have happiness, you have depression, and you have aggression. Many emotional things can happen with you. If there’s some sport that you’re doing shooting or like with animals, you need to have balance in your life. If you are more stable yourself, I think your animals or your stuff around you will also be more stable. So you should not go too high and not too low. When you have a good result, you should be a little bit calmer, and when you have a bad result, you should not go to hell, too low. If you have a bad result, my rule is 30 minutes you can be in a bad mood, but after that it doesn’t help anything. I think it’s also really important to be analytical, not so much emotional. Analytic, how I can fix it, stay positive, and fix it and use energy in the right way. JEANETTE: Your mental strength also shows in competitions where you are really pushing yourself to the limit of what’s physically possible. How did you use your mind to work through all the pain? OLE EINAR: It’s quite a long time since I made a really hard competition. If I make competition today, it’s painful, but when I was a professional it was not painful because I trained every second day. So that was more a habit. I was prepared for that. I can maybe remember one race was painful, many, many years ago. But really pain – when you’re in bad shape, you remember pain, but when you’re in normal shape, you have so many things you need to think about and techniques you need to think about, everything. I was quite professional. I was quite prepared for what I had to do, so I didn’t think that was pain. It pushed me a lot, but really it will be a little bit same as when you brush your teeth. You have to do it. For me, it was fun. I live for my sport and I do it every day, and that was my life. JEANETTE: Through 25 years in the national team, you have done a lot of competitions. Some were big, some were not that big. But have you ever been nervous? OLE EINAR: Well, I was really nervous for a small race in Norway. Some relays in the World Cup I could be nervous for. In the first years, for sure, I was really nervous. I could not sleep the whole night until I started to be good at mental preparation. When I started to be good at mental preparation, then I did all nervousness the day before and then I was calm for the race. The Olympics, I was less nervous for all races because I had trained for this race 4 years. That was like to brush teeth again. I only had to do the job. Everything had to be okay with all the equipment. You need to stay fit, right weight, right food. Your health had to be working well. So there’s many things you need to fix, but nervous, I was not so in an important race. JEANETTE: What differs the best athletes from the second best? OLE EINAR: For sure, you need to have extreme talent. If you don’t have talent to be in the national team, you have no chance. If you’re on the national team, I think you’re good enough to be quite good to win medals. But to be constantly on the top, there’s really few people who have this quality. There’s something with talent, but also about mental – not health, but mental strength that you can handle success, handle bad races. You need to do not always the right choice, but you need to do 95% the right choice. You need to stay healthy. If you are not healthy – I made 25 years World Championship. I was healthy in each World Championship. That is quite good. You cannot stay unhealthy. If you are sick, you lose too much to your opponent. JEANETTE: How did you manage to stay healthy all the time? OLE EINAR: You can get bacteria, you can get virus from a lot of people. I get that also. Everyone gets that. Then you need to handle it and fight against it with your immune system. Sometimes you have it; some other times you do not have this immune system and you need to use something to be able to cope. But most of the time, if you’re mentally tired from mentally negative stress, that is the worst case and you can have bacteria and virus. That’s my opinion. It’s not proven, but I say that each time I get sick is because I am mentally tired from mentally negative stress. From huge working stress or huge hours of training, I never get sick and I get overtrained about that. It’s more about balance in your life. If you have a lot of negative people around you and mentally negative stress, then you can get everything if you want. JEANETTE: How important is it to have a good team around you that’s giving you that energy instead of draining you? OLE EINAR: This is about this 90%, what I spoke about before. You have no chance to do all this job alone. You need a crazy strong team. You need really smart people around you and you need to fix them. If they’re not so good, you need to make them good. I don’t want to say a name, but one of the best coaches in Norway came to us many years ago. He was educated from the Norwegian sports university and was okay, but when he left the job, he was in the highest level ever. He got good from the athletes, not from other coaches. Athletes can make the coach great. You need to make people around you really good. If not, you have no chance because our sport is a little bit like business. You can survive in business, but in sport, you are on the podium or you are – not a loser, but you are – JEANETTE: You’re just out. OLE EINAR: You take part in the race. But in Norway it’s a really high level of what is acceptable from results. It’s really heavy to be top level at Norway because everyone has to win if you start for Norway. JEANETTE: You made a comeback as a 40-year-old in Sochi, and then people said you were too old to do this now, but you still won the gold medal. How did it feel to prove them wrong? OLE EINAR: That was more about the media. The closest people, they trust me. As I said before, I worked crazy hard with this 90% in this period because I had some challenges and also some back problems. A lot of my health was not good. Then the year before the Olympics in Sochi, I was good. I was really well-prepared. And then I was back in my best age. For sure I don’t recover as fast as before, but I can make some good races, and it was attitude. I was really well-prepared for these races. So it’s been fantastic. I’m really happy for that. It’s my second most important race in my life. The first Nagano race, and these were maybe the two best races I ever did in my life. JEANETTE: One of the reasons why you succeeded might have been that you dare to do things differently. How did you find the right way, and was it ever difficult to make your own path? OLE EINAR: It’s not so difficult if you like a sport, if you want to develop yourself. Before the first time I won, I was afraid to win, because what should I do when I win the race? Because then you are the world’s best; what is next? But the first victory I got, then you saw so many other specs about the sport. You saw many other ways to develop yourself, your team, and everything. I was at my best when I won races because I work much harder when I win races. I did it opposite. I worked crazy hard when I won races, and when I was bad, I didn’t work so hard because then I needed to rest. So when I won races, I was crazy afraid to make a bad race after, so I worked really hard. JEANETTE: That brings us to a topic that many have some questions about. You’ve been doing this for so many years, and being a top athlete is hard work. It’s basically like training, eating, resting all the time. How did you stay motivated through all these years? OLE EINAR: I love my sport. Nothing else. Of course, you love what you do. It was heavy to stop my sport, but life goes on and I’ve got a family. That’s the only reason why I stopped my sport. If not, I will guaranteed continue, one more Olympics. JEANETTE: Could you tell us a bit more about what you’re doing now? You are a coach? OLE EINAR: Now I’m a coach for the Chinese team. I felt I think I have the best job I can get. It’s really interesting to develop such kind of athletes who are motivated. The nation are crazy motivated. They are willing to train hard. So I am a little bit back in the game. I feel not so tired because I can work a lot. I am motivated too. From outside, it’s totally unrealistic, what they wish to do in two and a half years, but I think it’s possible. But we’ll see. It’s a really hard job. JEANETTE: A nice challenge. OLE EINAR: Yeah, it’s maybe one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had before in my – to win the first victory in World Championships or Olympics is a hard challenge, but to the next one, what I’m doing now is much harder. JEANETTE: One question we ask everybody on this podcast is if you had to do another sport with your dog, what would it be? You don’t do any dog sports right now, so the question for you could be: if you had to do a sport with a dog, what would it be? Would it be skijoring? I know you’ve tried it before. OLE EINAR: Ski touring is okay. No, I think I will do mountain biking. Professional mountain biking. I like that. I think I could have some talent for it. JEANETTE: Thank you so much for taking the time to join us on this podcast. OLE EINAR: You’re welcome.
JEANETTE: Ski mountaineering with a dog is getting more and more popular, and one of the influencers you can see doing this is Elisa Deutschmann from Germany and her husky, Finn. Welcome. ELISA: Thank you. Nice to be here. JEANETTE: You get a lot of questions about ski mountaineering with dogs. First of all, what equipment do you need for yourself and your dog? ELISA: Finn and me are always out in the mountains, and it’s quite important that the dog use the right equipment to go out there. For that, I use the Freemotion Harness. I’ve used it now since 6 years, when I started to ski with my dog. I also use the running line because I think it’s super nice, and it has a flexible part in it. I always attach the line to my backpack so he’s not pulling that hard, the flexible part, and it’s nice for my back. These two are I think the most important things I use for Finn, and he feels really good in it. JEANETTE: A question I guess you get a lot is, what kind of skis do you use when ski mountaineering with a dog? Because you see these horrible pictures of steel edges causing some bad injuries. ELISA: Yeah, it’s true. I still use normal ski mountaineering skis, but I trained with Finn from the very beginning when we were going down that he’s always 5 meters away from my skis. It’s really important that you don’t crash into it. I think that’s a point which you have to train really in the beginning, and I did it. I ski up with my dog, and Finn is normally always on the leash in front. Sometimes if it’s a nice area, he’s loose. When we are up on the top, then he gets unleashed, and then I say the training word. It’s called “hinter”. Then he knows he has to go behind me. Then we start to ski. If you want to train with your dog so that he’s not going into your skis, I always use my ski poles. I put them in the back and I always make sure he’s far away. Of course, I look that I don’t touch him and that everything is fine. I think that’s a nice way that he gets used to it. JEANETTE: So you put some effort into this in the beginning so that he learns from the start that this is how it works. ELISA: Yeah. That’s super important that he knows the basics. When you ski up, it’s important that he not push one time like crazy and then he’s loose, so it’s nice that he always goes the same speed. If you go ski touring, you also have “spitzkehren”, It’s the crossing points when the hill is getting really steep. He also has to get used to that. I trained it with him before. On the normal ground, I make stops and then I say what he has to do. Train with your dog, because otherwise you can get in trouble on the mountain. JEANETTE: What dangers are there when you’re bringing a dog to the mountain? ELISA: I think there are so many points. Of course, first, it’s amazing to bring your best partner to the mountain and to share this experience. But I think you have to be really good and think about avalanches. That’s a really good point, that you go up first. Before I brought Finn to all my ski mountaineering stuff, I trained a lot on avalanche risks. I’m really used to all the mountains, all the snow conditions. After that I brought Finn. Because he has no avalanche thing with him, so it’s really important that he’s safe. I think I’m a good skier, and I always look around and he’s safe. That’s important. So a lot of things. And of course, weather conditions. And then it depends on which dog you have. I have a Siberian husky and he is really used to rough conditions. It doesn’t matter if a snowstorm is coming or not. He doesn’t need any booties for his paws, so he does really well. But if you have a different breed like a chihuahua or anything, any dog can go on a mountain, but it’s important that you know your dog really well and that you also bring the right equipment for him. JEANETTE: But Finn doesn’t need a jacket, I guess. ELISA: No, he’s super warm and he doesn’t care about anything. [laughs] When I wear three jackets, he’s still happy and enjoys the snow and the cold weather conditions. JEANETTE: Is the heavy snow ever any trouble to you? ELISA: I only had once that he stopped walking in the mountains because we had like one and a half meters of powder, and he was over his nose in the snow, so it was crazy. But I think all the other times, he was always fine and doing well. But I think that’s the thing I already said: you have to know your dog really good, and I think then it works with every dog. JEANETTE: How do you know that he’s doing okay or if you should break a bit more? ELISA: As I said, I know Finn really good. When I ski down, for example, I always make breaks. Of course I would love to ski the whole way, or if it’s nice powder, to ski the whole way down, but you always have to think about your dog. It’s like if you would run the whole way down the whole mountain, so it’s crazy. So I made every 200 meters a stop, and he has to wait and has to breathe, and then we go for the next. It’s important, but for that you also have to know your dog. JEANETTE: When you’re going down, do you have your dog on the leash, or is he running free? ELISA: He’s running free. I think for me, it’s a safe way to go because I don’t like to go with the leash down. But as I said, he always runs behind me and 5-10 meters away from me so that nothing happens. If I know the area, I also let him run in front of me, but it depends where I am and how everything is. JEANETTE: Why don’t you want him to run in front of you? ELISA: He’s a Siberian husky, so sometimes it happens that he sees something and then he runs away. [laughs] It’s quite important for me that I always know where he is. Normally he’s not running away, but you never know, and I don’t want to search for him for hours, so that’s why. [laughs] JEANETTE: Do you see many others with dogs in the mountains? ELISA: I think in Germany, it became more and more, but I think a lot of people don’t know how to handle it and how to do it and which equipment to use. So I think it gets more and more. I would love to see more dogs up in the mountains because I think it’s so nice to share this experience with your dog. JEANETTE: As far as I know, you’re going to have some seminars about this topic. ELISA: Yeah, that’s true. As I said, I get a lot of questions about how to do this, and to explain it is fine, but I think it’s better to show people how to do it. I think it’s nice to meet so many people who are also loving their dog and want to go out ski mountaineering. That’s why I did these ski mountaineering camps, and I think it’s really cool and the people get to know it. There are so many people who have a dog and also would like to go out in nature, but don’t know how to handle it. That’s nice, and I think it’s nice that there are so many people out there that want to do some activities with their dog. JEANETTE: What’s your best memory from doing this with Finn? ELISA: The best memory is – I’ve had Finn now for 6 years, and we’ve made a million nice memories. But right now, last week I had been to Dachstein, the glacier in Austria. It was a tough expedition. We made like 64 kilometers and 14,600 meters high, and I was not sure if I could make it and also if Finn could make it because I had last year an accident with my leg and it’s still not good. We had really rough conditions. The first day was a crazy storm, ice, and I could not see anything, and Finn I think also. We still kept on walking. The second day was really good, but the last part of Dachstein is you have to climb up, and I could not bring Finn up there. So I had to leash him down on the rock and he had to wait there. It was a crazy, horrible feeling for me because I heard Finn when I was on the top. He was crying because of where I am. But skiing down on the second day, there was a really rough, crazy storm up in the mountains with snow. But both Finn and me were working so good together, so it was really nice. I think right now this is one of the nicest experiences I did. JEANETTE: For next year, you have a lot of other plans as well, and you’ll include Finn in this? ELISA: Yeah. Not only next year, I think also in the spring I want to do paragliding with Finn together. I dream that we’ll ski up with the skis and then I’ll bring a paraglider and fly together with him down. That’s something I really want to do. But to do paragliding is also not that easy, and also with a dog, so we have to train a lot. But I think there’s a lot of fun expeditions and other stuff awaiting me and Finn and it’s very nice. JEANETTE: You’re really pushing the limits of both of you. ELISA: Yeah. I don’t want to do anything without Finn because it’s horrible for me when he has to stay at home and I’m in the mountains. Before, we did everything together, like skiing, climbing. Also, he’s climbing a little bit, so it’s super nice. But the point of flying, dogs are not able to do it normally, so that’s a thing I really want to do with him. But we’ll have to train a lot for him before I really take him out in the air. I already bought a harness for him which fits for flying, and we will see how we will do it. JEANETTE: So people are actually flying with their dogs, even the big ones, already? ELISA: Yeah, there are some people out there who are flying. But a husky is not really small, so we really have to see how it will work. Finn is always, when he’s with me, he’s super chill and doing well, so I think he will also do it. But we will only do it if he really enjoys it. I will not push him. JEANETTE: What does it mean for you to bring your dog to all these activities? ELISA: For me, Finn is not only a dog; he’s my partner in crime, you can say. He’s always with me, and we’re a really good team. It’s really nice for me to bring him, and it’s also really good for me that he’s doing everything so well still, because he turned 6, so he’s not that young. He’s in a really good age and he’s still so eager to run and so happy, so it’s so nice to bring him everywhere. JEANETTE: There is one question we ask everybody on this podcast, and that is: if you had to do another sport or activity with your dog, what would it be? You and Finn are doing almost everything, but is there something else you would like to try? ELISA: I think we already did everything together. He’s been paddleboarding with me, he’s running, driving in the car for hours with me. [laughs] There’s nothing he doesn’t like. I think the flying thing is something I would love to do with him. JEANETTE: You will also be back for another episode in the summer about trail running with a dog, and I guess when you start flying, you’ll have to come back and talk about that as well. ELISA: Yeah, of course, and I can share all the experience I have with you about flying with a dog. [laughs] JEANETTE: Super. Thank you so much for joining us on this podcast. ELISA: Thank you. It was super cool.
JEANETTE: I did not grow up with a dog myself, but had animals around me all the time, and I know it had a good effect on many aspects of my life. Therefore, I wanted to find out more about the human-animal relation. I have talked to one parent and one professor. Let’s start with the parent. Claudia Zenner from Germany has been doing agility for more than 20 years. Claudia did not grow up with dogs herself, but got a Staffordshire Bull Terrier as soon as she moved out from home. They started doing agility and qualified for national teams and world championships. They even won a gold medal with the team, and she has been at the top level with several dogs ever since. One of the Zenner family’s dogs is a 7-year-old Kelpie. He is the former competition dog of Claudia’s husband Jörg, but now he’s running with their 7-year-old daughter. CLAUDIA: They grew up together, and since my daughter was 5 years old, they started to do some agility. Now she’s 7 and is ready for competition, and yes, they are doing pretty good. JEANETTE: Who wanted to start with agility? Was it your daughter, or was it you as parents that thought it would be nice for her to try? CLAUDIA: If your kid is sharing the same interest and the same hobby, of course you like this very much. But it was not us to tell her, “Okay, get the dog and start agility.” It was just her, because we are an agility-addicted family. We are crazy about the sport, and we are on the training field very often. We do a competition almost every weekend. Since she was a baby, she’s with us all the time and she grew up with it. One day she said, “Okay, I want to do agility too. Can I just join the training?” So it all started. And she was really talented and got better and better and better. JEANETTE: I guess it’s either/or because some kids growing up with agility get sick and tired of it. Do you have any tips and tricks for other parents with kids to avoid this? CLAUDIA: You never can tell how it will develop, but I think it’s very important not to tell the kid “you have to do this and that.” Let it go and see what will happen. I guess it’s very important to tell the kid this is an animal and how to treat the animal and how to take care of the dog, and don’t be so stressful and strict. They need to have fun, and it’s not important to be good at the sport; it’s important just to have fun with your dog as a team partner. Then they understand that it is not about winning, it is about being a team and having a good time. JEANETTE: Doing this sport, does it affect your kid in any way, positive or negative? CLAUDIA: I think my kid has become much more self-confident. She is proud of what she is able to do together with the dog. She’s very talented with the dog and has a special sense of how to handle the dog in agility. In my opinion, agility affects all kinds of development, like more focus, more concentration, better learning, socialization, movement, and even body control. She’s very eager to learn more of what she’s doing, not only in agility. JEANETTE: Do you see any changes from before she started compared to now? CLAUDIA: Oh yes. Like I said, since she was a baby, she has been to the agility class regularly with us. Because we are on the field and in training so often, she joined our trainings and competition and she started very early with agility – she was 5 years old, and she was very eager to learn more and more. Now, after 2 years of training, she was ready for competition. Her development was huge. In even 6 months from her first start till now, she is gaining so much more self-confidence. Yes, the development is really, really huge. She has gained so many agility skills in such a short period. This is just amazing. Of course, this affects her daily life. Usually, she would rather back off as situations get more complicated, and now she’s able to handle daily life situations more easily. She’s very open-minded now towards other people and cares for others. She has learned to deal with failures. If you work with an animal, things very often go not always as planned. We teach her, don’t be mad at the dog. It is always your fault. Rethink your handling. This is an important lesson for the kids. JEANETTE: And the handling is how you move to show the dog the way on the course. CLAUDIA: Yes, that’s true. In agility, you guide the dog only with your voice and your body movement. The dog doesn’t know the course because the course is always different. It’s up to you to show the right way. If the dog takes the wrong way, like a wrong obstacle or wrong tunnel, it’s your fault because you’re not showing the right way for the dog. JEANETTE: Your daughter seems to be a natural at this, maybe because she grew up with it, but she’s adjusting very nicely to the dog and everything. I saw her running at the B.A.C.K. That’s a big competition in Germany. She was running the finals, and they had a great run. It was a fault on the contacts, as far as I can remember, but the rest was flawless. How was it for her to have that experience, to compete with some of the best handlers in the world in front of a big, big audience? CLAUDIA: This was a great experience. Like 6 months earlier, she wouldn’t do it, and now she was qualified for the final, because in Germany the kids are invited to run the final course. It’s a very good support for the kids. She was so excited. I was thinking this course is way too much for her and the dog. I was a little bit worried. She answered me, “Oh Mom, don’t worry. We can do it.” This was very cute. She has a very special feeling for the dog, and the dog is also very, very nice and very kind to her. He is watching the kid very good. They are already a perfect team. So this is very good to see. Of course she was very excited to run in this final at this international competition, but she was doing so perfect. She was showing off so much, it was just very impressive. She started; from Jump #1 to the end, it was just – she had a plan, and she was running it, and she was sure the dog would follow, and she nailed it. It was just amazing. JEANETTE: Now she just qualified for Grade 3. That’s like the elite class in agility. Now she’s competing against adults and some of the best ones in the world as well. How do you think this will be for her? CLAUDIA: Oh, yes. [laughs] JEANETTE: It looked only easy because maybe she’s used to winning and everything until now, but now she gets some serious competition. CLAUDIA: Yes, it’s true. She started in Class 1 and did all the qualifications for Class 2, and now the qualifications for Class 3. To be honest, we didn’t imagine she would even do it so fast, in such a short time. Now she’s, yes, in Class 3, running with the adults. Of course, it’s now our job to teach her it is not about winning. It is to be a perfect team, to have a very nice teammate with you. She needs to learn this. We need to explain every time. Now it’s getting more complicated, and maybe she will not win even if she has a clean run. It is all about the feeling. If she is having fun with the dog and if she is enjoying the run, then that’s all that counts. JEANETTE: How is the relationship between your child and the dog outside the agility course? CLAUDIA: They are, even outside agility, a perfect team. They have daily life together and they take care of each other. JEANETTE: Do you see any difference in how the dog is behaving around your daughter compared to you guys as adults? CLAUDIA: He is adjusting to the kid. When the kid slows down in the course, he will adjust perfectly and slow down too, and he even waits for her. He’s very nice. In one course, she fell down, and he stopped immediately, watching her, being sure she was okay, and then he started to run again. It was so nice. JEANETTE: Would he do the same if it was your husband falling? CLAUDIA: No, of course not. When he was running with my husband, he was a totally different dog. He’s not an easy dog. As a Kelpie, of course he’s very, very big. It was not easy to run with him in the agility course. But now he’s a totally different dog with my kid. This is really amazing. JEANETTE: What do you think the future will hold for your daughter and her Kelpie? CLAUDIA: They just started to compete in agility, but in Germany we have some junior championships, and maybe she will go for that. Maybe next year or in some months. We will see. Next year there is even the Junior European Open, but this is a little bit too much for her right now. We want her just to grow as a team and to get even more self-confidence, and maybe they’re ready for this big event a little bit later. It’s very important not to overdo it. JEANETTE: You did not grow up with a dog yourself, but now you’ve seen your daughter growing up with this amazing dog. Do you think every kid ideally should grow up with a dog or a pet in general? CLAUDIA: In my opinion, every kid needs a pet for its own development. If your kid can have a dog, then it’s better. They can learn for life social behavior and special needs of the animal, respect and kindness, and of course, responsibility. And they learn patience and how to train an animal. I think the combination of a pet and sport is perfect. Of course, agility is our life. If our kids love dogs as much as we do, everybody’s happy. JEANETTE: Then the question is, can this be backed up with science? I called Gail Melson, Professor Emerita at Purdue University in the USA, to find out. She has a PhD in developmental psychology with a focus on children. When she started doing research in the 1980s, there was hardly any information to find about the relationship between kids and animals. She has changed that and collected some of her findings in the book, Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children. GAIL: The field of psychology, until recently, really focused on relationships that children had with other human beings. I became interested in the relationships that children have outside of the human species. Of course, that takes me to an interest in animals, and particularly knowing that in not only Norway, but through much of the world, pets are very much a part of the household, of the home that children are growing up in. So it would be natural that this would be a relationship that could be very important. JEANETTE: Did you grow up with any animals yourself? GAIL: I did grow up with a dog named Trixie. She was of course very much part of our family. But I think my professional interest really began in a little bit of a different way in the sense that as I was studying social and emotional relationships in children, one of the relationships that I was really interested in was the idea of nurturing. We very much think of that as something that adults do for children, and of course, they do. But I was interested as a person who focuses on child development, what happens in childhood that maybe might make an adult a better nurturer, a better caregiver, a more compassionate and more nurturing person? Is this something that develops at childhood? This was really an academic question, but I discovered, just as I did when I was interested in non-human relationships, I discovered there was very, very little research. So I began a research program with a colleague on the idea. We called it the development of nurturance. What goes on in childhood? We never thought about pets and we never thought about animals because we just thought about maybe kids who are around babies, that might be something. We weren’t sure, but we never thought about it. We did studies of children, both observing them and videotaping them and interviewing them, about nurturing others. When “others,” we thought of other human beings, mainly little babies. What we found in that research was by the age of 5, children had a very firm gender bias, which was kind of shocking to us. Girls were very interested in nurturing and caring for little ones, and boys not at all. We interviewed young children and one said to me, “Taking care of a baby, that’s a mommy thing.” This is a little boy. [laughs] “I’m a big man.” It didn’t seem to matter that his dad was there taking care of – he had plenty of models, plenty of examples. We were kind of distressed by that because we felt that in our society, and in fact in the world, we need everyone to be a nurturer, a caregiver, somebody who is attuned to helping others. I remember vividly talking with colleagues about our results, our findings, and how disturbed we were. One of them said to us, “Well, what do you think about taking care of pets? They must be in so many homes, and obviously you’ve got to take care of them if you don’t want them to suffer and die. I wonder if you’ll find this gender problem with that. Certainly it would be an opportunity to learn about nurturing.” A big light went off in our head, and we said, “Oh my goodness, yeah, that’s so interesting. I wonder about that.” In the days before Google, we actually went to libraries to do what a researcher always does first, which is look at the existing research, and we discovered not a single research study on this question. Not one. I was very surprised because I soon discovered that, my goodness, children are growing up with pets – of course, mostly dogs and cats, but other pets too – in the majority of households in the United States. So we’re talking about millions upon millions of children. How could this be that everyone is ignoring this? So this was a great stimulus to beginning this research. At the beginning, of course, we were interested in this idea of this nurturance. We started not looking at animals, but then this stimulated us – one of our first discoveries I think still is something very important for people to think about: that gender effect that we found when it came to taking care of human babies was completely absent when it came to taking care of pets. Boys and girls didn’t see it as a mommy thing, a daddy thing, a girl thing, a boy thing. You just could take care of your dog or your cat or whatever the animal was, and it had nothing to do with being masculine or feminine. We called it a gender neutral area of learning about nurturance – and frankly, the only one we could identify. That means it’s potentially very significant in childhood, especially to boys. They don’t have a lot of opportunity to be involved with nurturing and caregiving. JEANETTE: What differences did you see between the kids growing up with pets compared to the ones that did not have any pets? GAIL: One of the things that’s very interesting there is that children who were growing up with pets, their understanding of not only their own animal that they’re growing up with, but more generally – even pets that belong to other people – I would say is more sophisticated. We did interviews with children, asking them about the thoughts and emotions, the feelings, that a dog might have. Not their own dog, but a friendly dog that they had a chance to play with and get to know. If they had a pet at home, they were more likely to attribute to this dog that they were just getting to know more psychology, more emotion. In other words, they saw this animal as a more complex being than a child who did not have an experience growing up with pets. The other thing which I think is very important is we asked children questions about what we called the moral standing of the dog. By moral standing, I mean, what are your views about what is morally and ethically okay in terms of treatment of this animal? We found that children who were growing up with animals had a stronger view of the ethical and moral obligations. JEANETTE: Are there any other benefits from growing up with a dog? GAIL: I do think that we saw that at least potentially, growing up with a pet can have an effect on your views on animal welfare issues. JEANETTE: And these skills and emotions also transfer to other humans? GAIL: We don’t really have the research that would allow us to conclude, “oh yes, that happens all the time or most of the time.” But I think it’s a very, very important question. We found another important benefit: the idea of emotional support, especially when a child might be feeling some stress. The idea here is that in the home, of course human family members, but also non-human pets, are available, they’re in the home. Especially with dogs, they’re very, very happy to see you. When you need a feeling that someone is there that cares for you, you can often derive that feeling from a pet. I would say dogs are especially good because of their evolved bond with the human family. So we have found in our research that children do remarkably often turn to their pets when they are feeling emotions of sadness or anger or needing some support, and they do feel as though, even though the animals cannot tell them “I’m there for you” – there is a very big research literature on the importance of human social support for people. Not only children, but adults all through the lifespan. We know that one of the most effective say medications for people is social support, and one of the greatest threats to health is social isolation. This is, again, an area where non-human relationships was ignored completely until recently. Nobody thought to look at social support coming from something that’s not another human being, and yet we now know that grownups, too, adults and children, derive very often feelings of emotional support from the pets that they have in their household. JEANETTE: Service dogs are getting more and more common. GAIL: Yeah, emotional support animals. That’s in a way making that kind of relationship “official.” You could say that in many ways, the animals that are pets in children’s homes are functioning as emotional support animals in an everyday way for many, many children. JEANETTE: In some schools you also have classroom pets. GAIL: Yes, exactly. We’re seeing this whole idea moving into other areas, into visiting children at hospitals, having animals in classrooms, animal-assisted therapy, which has a component of that feeling of emotional support – so the idea has spread and has a lot of applications now. JEANETTE: Is there any difference between dogs and other types of pets? Is there something special about dogs, or is it only the dog owners that like to think so? GAIL: [laughs] I think the answer is yes and no. We know that dogs are, in a way, uniquely responsive, uniquely attuned to other humans in the family. That’s their pack. In that sense, they’re highly interactive in a way that even cats – I know cat lovers will maybe not like this statement – are usually not. And of course, children have other pets. They have turtles and birds and snakes and guinea pigs and a great variety, and sometimes – often – more than one species in the same household. One thing we found in terms of the emotional attachment or the feelings of support is children are really able to get that from a wide variety of species. Even though you might think the dog would be really good because he can sense when you’re sad and come over and lick your hand and make you feel better, children can pour out their heart to their guinea pig, who maybe is not listening and doesn’t understand, but you can have a feeling that they’re a creature that is there, accepting you and listening to you. So I think the benefits of pets are very broad across species. JEANETTE: Pets can also teach you some important lessons of life, can’t they? GAIL: 80% of all children – and this is in many countries – have their first experience of death with the death of an animal, a pet because of course, the lifespan of almost all animals is shorter. We know this is an important at least opportunity in the family for understanding and dealing with death, and with illness, for that matter. I would say that what the research is showing is that how children either benefit from this or don’t benefit has everything to do with the other human beings in the house, especially parents. We say in English it’s “a teachable moment.” If an animal is sick or an animal has died, there’s an opportunity for discussion. There’s an opportunity to talk about feelings. But not every parent will use this opportunity. Some parents may try to hide the experience from their children. They think it’s going to be too upsetting. It really does depend, I would say even in general – I often try to emphasize that the significance of the animal in a child’s life depends a lot on the parents. The adults who parent the child help to make it successful or not, help to interpret, to give opportunities. It’s not something that the child in isolation experiences. It’s part of a complicated network of humans and animals together. Very often, parents don’t mean to do this, but they will say to a young child, “We went to the veterinarian and we had to put the dog to sleep.” That’s an expression in English, “put the dog to sleep.” You can imagine if you’re 3 or 4 or 5 years old, you don’t want to go to bed because the child understands it very literally – meaning you go to sleep and you never wake up. The way we talk about death is also important, thinking about how the child understands the words you’re saying. There are a few topics I think parents have a lot of trouble with: talking about sex and talking about death. Being very careful to be accurate and truthful – that’s hard sometimes, because you want to protect children from negative emotions. That’s a feeling that’s very natural for a parent to have. The other thing is we often say meet the child where the child is. Rather than giving a child too much information, waiting for the child to ask questions and then answering that question, but not going beyond it, because maybe that child’s not ready for it. The dog may die and then the child may say, “When is (whatever the dog’s name is) Fluffy coming back?” That’s when the response is, “Fluffy is not coming back because Fluffy died. When a dog or a person dies, they don’t come back, but we remember them. Let’s look at some pictures and some videos of Fluffy to remember Fluffy.” This could be a transition. But Fluffy is not going to physically come back. Just addressing what the child is asking, and then maybe weeks will go by and the child may ask another question, and then you can follow that up. I think that’s true for any kind of difficult conversation. The last thing I will say is that I’m a parent and a grandparent, and I know how hard it is to watch a child be sad and watch a child be upset. But it’s important for parents to realize that sometimes we all have to experience – it’s natural to experience sadness. If a beloved human dies, of course we’re sad. Of course we cry. The idea that you don’t – well, others will think you’re very unfeeling. So being okay with a child’s sadness or negative emotions, and even joining with it – “of course we feel sad about Fluffy” – is something that I think parents sometimes have to work on. But it’s a good thing to remember. JEANETTE: That’s some really good advice. Luckily, dogs also give us many good moments and a lot of joy. GAIL: Absolutely. JEANETTE: Dogs need to be exercised, and sometimes parents let their kids take part in this. It could also benefit the child. GAIL: Yeah. That’s an area of current research. We know childhood obesity is a big problem in many developed countries, and if dogs can help children become more physically active – and adults too – that’s a very good thing. There’s some research now looking at that. I think we don’t fully know – it’s a bit complicated. It may depend on lifestyle, the type of dog, the kind of relationships in the family. Right now, it’s hard to say “here’s a child who needs exercise; give this child a dog, the child will get more exercise and lose weight.” We can’t say that yet, or we can’t say it now, because it’s also more complicated. But at least potentially – I would say the word potentially – dogs can be a help in creating more physical activities for family members. JEANETTE: And some kids are growing up to share their parents’ interest for some kind of dog sports. I know a lot of our listeners are active in some kind of dog sport, whether it’s canicross, agility, or whatever. Also, the kids gradually start competing. What do you think about that? Is there anything the parents should be aware of? GAIL: I haven’t really looked at that as a scientist, as a researcher, so I’m really not sure. I think anything that is competitive that parents are involved in and then children become interested in, any of those things probably depend on how the family deals with that. It should never be something that a child feels pressure. It should not be something in which they feel that their self-esteem depends on winning a prize. But that’s true of any kind of competition. Very often when a parent is extremely enthusiastic about some kind of sport or competition, it feels very natural for them to encourage their child, but sometimes it becomes pressure. But the adult doesn’t feel like it’s pressure because this is something they love. It’s just something in general to think about and to be aware of how the child is feeling about what they’re doing.
JEANETTE: According to ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States, and there are millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. For some, it’s a bit harder to find new families than others. There could be many reasons for that, but a common reason is that they are too demanding. You guys often end up with these dogs. Why?NICK: We got into dog powered sports because as a kid, I always wanted a malamute. We ended up getting a malamute that had been returned because he was too high energy. The family couldn’t handle him. So it was my opportunity for us to get a malamute. We got him, and he was going to destroy our house. We had to find something to keep him from destroying our house. We were not going to give up on him.I started in canicross for that reason. I just started running with him to burn off energy so that he could get the exercise he needed to be a good dog. That just let us see that there was really a need for high energy rescue dogs to have a place that – they need a family where they can burn off that energy and be the good dogs that they really are deep down inside.JEANETTE: But it can be quite hard to find that good dog sometimes. Do you have some tips and tricks to share?NICK: The biggest tip, really, is exercise. In the U.S., we have a saying, “a tired dog is a good dog,” and that’s really it. It’s about getting them the exercise that they need to find that inner calmness that they all have.JEANETTE: Is this often underestimated when somebody gets, for example, a malamute or a husky or a border collie, the level of activity these dogs need?NICK: Absolutely. In fact, almost all of our dogs have had homes before us where someone got them and underestimated how much work they were going to get.For example, the dog that Joy ran with in the first World Championships that we competed in was a dog that someone applied to a husky rescue. The rescue said, “Your life is not right for a husky.” They said, “Too bad, I want a husky anyway.” They went out to a different shelter, adopted one. Called this rescue back and said, “Hey, you were right. We can’t handle a husky, but we adopted one, so here. Please take him.”People really need to understand that huskies and malamutes and many other breeds out there require a certain lifestyle. You have to make a commitment to that lifestyle. If you’re not an active person, don’t get an active breed.JEANETTE: And you are quite active with your dogs. You’re doing canicross with them, and you have done quite good. We are at the World Championships in Sweden right now, and you have been running with one of your rescue dogs.JOY: Yes. His name is Oso and he is a husky mix. We adopted him several years ago from a shelter in Oklahoma City, and he’d just had this third birthday.When we adopted him, no one wanted him. All of the people who had come to look at him and see if he was right for their family took one look at him and said “absolutely not,” and walked out the door. He would destroy wire crates. He had had a couple surgeries with stitches and had ripped those out and tore up his cone, had to have a muzzle. He was just sort of a mess, and people thought they really couldn’t handle him.We came across him and we talked about it and talked about it, and we decided he’s the perfect fit for our family. We have never had one problem with him because from the moment we brought him home, we started running with him.NICK: We find it a little funny in that when we walked in to meet him, we picked up a leash and he started screaming at the top of his lungs. The rescue said, “That’s why everyone is scared of him.” We said, “He’s perfect for us.”JEANETTE: Was he screaming because he was eager to do something?NICK: He was just so excited. He knew that the leash meant he got to go for a walk, and all he wanted to do was get out there and burn energy off.JEANETTE: Do you think these signals are often misunderstood?NICK: I think they’re misunderstood. I also think that a lot of people just ignore them. They see something like that and don’t really comprehend what’s behind it. With Oso, Oso needs a lot of exercise. He can go for miles and miles and miles and miles. Just taking him for a walk was never going to be enough for him. He was born to run.JOY: I think people also think their screeches and their howls for a leash, that they’re cute. They come and look at a dog and they see them do that, and they’re jumping and they’re excited, and they think, “That’s just so adorable. I can’t wait to have that at home.” And they bring that dog home and realize that it’s so much more than just needing that walk. It’s beyond cute. They really need to go for a run. People see that in the shelter and they just don’t understand what it’s really going to take.JEANETTE: As far as I know, you guys are really eager to get more people to be more active with their dogs.NICK: We live in Missouri, which is not a huge place for dog powered sports, but we’ve been pretty active in encouraging people to get involved in canicross. We have a big running community where we live, especially trail running. We actually host – it used to be a road 5K. We’ve since expanded that to trail running races. This year we’re adding a trail mountain bike race. A couple years back we added a canicross race.In addition to that, we’ve also started Canicross Missouri, which is just a Facebook group for people to get on for helping find canicross type races. We don’t really have a lot of canicross official races, but dog-friendly 5Ks and that sort of stuff in Missouri, and then training tips, etc.JEANETTE: The people you meet, what kind of state are their dogs in? Do you see a change after they start doing dog powered sports?JOY: We see a lot of different breeds of dogs, and a lot of people who are in different places with their physical fitness who are looking to get into a dog powered sport. There are a lot of people who like to do ultra-running, who are already running with their dogs, and their dogs are very fit, and they already understand taking care of their paws and proper harness fit and things like that.Then there are people who are just looking to really start. Maybe they just want to start running; they’ve never run with their dog before. We have seen a difference. We’ve had a lot of people who, once they start in the sport, then they’re looking for more gear and they’re looking to see what they can do to get better with their dog and asking more questions and really getting excited about it.For us, that’s what’s exciting, to see people really enjoying it and getting more excited about doing things with their dogs.JEANETTE: But getting started can be quite hard, especially if you’re not very fit. How do you solve it if you have a dog that’s super energetic and needs a lot of exercise, but you’re not a proven runner yourself?NICK: The first step is literally just that. Just take the first step. Go out and start – go to a trail, do a mile or so walk. Just start that way, and then build up. You can do that. After a couple weeks, maybe throw in a little bit of jogging with your dog, and then before you know it, you’re going to be doing canicross or whatever sport you want to do.JEANETTE: As far as I know, you have quite a few dogs. Is it nine?NICK: That’s correct, nine dogs.JEANETTE: You have to tell us a bit more about them. How many are rescues, how many are not?NICK: Two are not rescues. Six officially came from rescue groups. The seventh one, he’s not a true rescue dog, but he was one that someone had bought from a breeder and returned because they couldn’t handle his energy level.JEANETTE: Did the rescues have any extra baggage, so to speak? Any problems?NICK: Each dog is different. Some of the dogs were more problems for the rescue groups than the others. Actually, three of our dogs have come from the same rescue group that’s based out of Oklahoma City. It’s Heartland Husky Rescue.Oso, for example, came from there. He was a handful for them, because like Joy had mentioned, he would destroy wire crates. He had had to have surgery because when he came in, he had a lesion on his leg, and they had to stitch it up multiple times, and he continually ripped his stitches out.In fact, it’s a little funny; we have a picture of him from back at the rescue. The only way they could get him to leave his stitches alone was to put a cone on him and the muzzle on him at the same time. We have a picture. It’s absolutely hilarious, because he looks like some sort of serial killer. But you can see underneath the muzzle, he’s just smiling and his tongue’s hanging out.Every dog that we adopt, whenever we talk with rescue groups about them, we say, “Tell us their problems. We’re not scared of the problems; we just want to know what they are so that we know how to address them.” That’s really the big thing for us.JEANETTE: But getting a rescue can be a lot of trouble. Why don’t you just get a puppy instead?NICK: There’s a lot of dogs in shelters. They all need homes. A puppy can have just as many problems as a rescue can. In fact, all these rescues were puppies at one point, and their problems most likely originated from people not taking care of the puppy as they should’ve in the first place.JOY: I think, too, being able to work with a rescue and helping them overcome some of their problems is very rewarding, just as it is to raise a puppy and watch them grow. We have a rescue, the one that I took several years ago that Nick mentioned early on, and his name is Prudhoe. Prudhoe has a lot of anxiety issues, and Prudhoe also does not trust women. He gets very scared if a female touches his paws or his head or if he feels like he might be a little bit cornered with a woman in the room.It’s been very enjoyable and rewarding for me to be able to work with Prudhoe, because for quite some time, I could not even put a harness on him, and now I’m able to harness him and pet him, and he trusts me. To me, that’s so rewarding and so wonderful. I just remember when we first got him, I couldn’t touch his feet. Sometimes he wouldn’t even come to me.JEANETTE: But how did you address this problem, and how gradually did you progress?NICK: The big way to address not only that problem, but any problem, is first you have to earn the dog’s trust. It takes baby steps. It’s making sure they get the food they need, making sure they get the exercise they need, making sure that you never ask them to do something that you don’t already know they can do and setting them up to succeed.Over time, you build that trust, and as you build that trust the dog will – like in Joy’s case, Prudhoe slowly over time realized, “hey, it’s okay if I sit beside her.” Then it became “it’s okay if she touches my forearm,” and it just gradually went from “no, you can’t touch me at all” to “hey, we’re best friends and I trust you completely with everything.”JEANETTE: So patience is the key word.NICK: That’s exactly right.JEANETTE: If I have a problem dog but I’m new to dog training, what should I do if I cannot solve this problem myself?NICK: We got into dog powered sports all because we had a problem that we didn’t know how to solve. That was that we had a very high energy malamute that was going to destroy our house. We just got online and started looking for ideas of how to burn energy off of him. We were both already runners, so it started off running with him.Got a little tired of having my arm be sore after every run, so it’s like, there’s got to be a better way. We just did research and research and research. Any problem you have, someone else has already encountered that problem, so look online. Try to find the resources.In the U.S. there’s a lot of dog training blogs and webpages where you can go and get tips. In saying that, don’t read everything as gospel. You know your dog. Just because it works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will or it won’t work for you, but be open to trying new ideas.JEANETTE: It can be quite hard to figure out what information I can trust and what not.NICK: The most trusted resource for us is your dog. You can see very quickly if something’s working or not if you just pay attention to the subtle cues that they give. There’s lots of training things that we try that, after a week or two, we say “No, that’s not working. We need to get rid of that.” So just follow your dog. Let him tell you what’s working and what’s not, and if it’s not working, don’t be afraid to change up what you’re doing.JEANETTE: What are the most useful lessons you guys have learned, either by experience or from others throughout the years?NICK: The most useful tip that I’ve ever received for training dogs – it actually came from a book – was never ask your dog to do something that you do not know they can do. As long as a dog does not know their limits, they believe they have no limits, and they will do anything and everything that you ask.If you ask them to do too much, they learn they have limits and they know exactly where that limit is, and they don’t want to come close to that limit. So you can accomplish so much more in training by you knowing the limit and never asking them to cross it and if you push them to their breaking point.JEANETTE: It’s your job to protect their confidence and to build it.NICK: Exactly.JEANETTE: You have to tell us a bit more about your dogs and the championships you’ve just been doing.NICK: The dog that I brought to the championships, his name is Anarchy. He is a Greyster. He’s 14 months old, very young. He’s actually only been racing for 3 weeks. This was his third race – his first large race where there was crowds. Our first two were smaller races where he didn’t really have to deal with a whole lot of people or anything. He’s still very much a puppy. He’s very excited. He very much lives up to his name of Anarchy. [laughs]JOY: Yes, that was maybe a mistake. Maybe never name a puppy “Anarchy.” [laughs]The dog that I brought, his name is Oso, and he is the rescue that we’ve been talking about. He celebrated his third birthday here in Sweden this week. He has raced quite a bit before. He’s done some rig racing and some canicross racing. But this week he really just was not himself, was not feeling well. He usually gets so excited to see the belt and the line and he starts squealing and he’s just so thrilled because he knows he’s going to get to run, and I think that goes back to the piece about trusting your dog and knowing them.I did run with him on Thursday, and he did not have a very good run. It was not him at all. We just watched him. On Friday, he did not want to come out of the van. He wanted to stay inside and he wanted to sleep. He wasn’t excited at all. So we made the decision to scratch him, because that’s what was right for him.Sometimes that kind of stinks, but that’s what he needed, and he relies on Nick and I for his care. So that’s the decision we made, to do what was best for him.JEANETTE: That’s a tough decision, because you have been traveling from the USA to Sweden.NICK: Yeah, Joy really struggled with that decision. In fact, the morning of the second day of racing, I actually got up early to take him out just for a very short run, just to judge how he was doing, and I came back and I told her, “He’s better than he was yesterday, but he’s still not himself.” I was trying not to dictate to Joy what she needed to do, but I let her know that he’s not himself.We talked about it for hours, just because Oso loves to run so much. Under normal circumstances, not running him is a punishment for him. So it’s a fine line that we had to walk. Do we not run him and risk him getting more down because he didn’t run? Or do we give him the day off and let him recover? He did tweak his paw in the first day.It was very tough for Joy’s ego, but we ultimately made the decision that Oso needed the day off, and it didn’t matter how hard it was a pill for us to swallow. Oso came first, not our egos.JEANETTE: There will be more competitions. While we’re talking about that, what are your next goals?NICK: Now our focus – I guess we have a couple more races this dryland season for Fall Dryland in the U.S. We’ll do a couple races in the spring. But our big race that we’re turning our eyes to is going to be ICF in 2020. In the U.S., a lot of the bigger races are quite a drive from us, so pretty much if one of us does it, we both do it.JEANETTE: It’s much easier that way.JOY: It is. Most of the drives for us, just because of where we live, are 10-12 hours. So it’s a whole weekend – which is wonderful, but it takes both of us. [laughs]JEANETTE: You have to tell us how you got into this sport.NICK: We both ran in high school. After high school, Joy decided that she needed a break from competitive running. I went on and ran in college. In college, I suffered a pretty significant hip injury and damaged some of the cartilage in my hip.JEANETTE: And you were a talented runner.NICK: Some people might say that. I’m a little hard on myself, and I would say not quite so talented. But anyway, I was hurt. I had to take 18 months off from running. When I was finally able to run again, I was just very frustrated with my fitness level. I knew in my head I would never run PRs again, and that was very tough for me to accept. I went through years of no motivation. I would run, but it wasn’t very often or very consistently.Luckily for me, we got Ruger, the malamute I was talking about, and he needed someone to run him. So I started running him and we started doing canicross. Then Joy saw how much fun I was having with Ruger and saw that I actually had my motivation back to get up and start working and running and improve my fitness. So we ended up getting Denali, who was a husky rescue. So we had Ruger and Denali that we were doing canicross with.Then we decided, we have two; maybe we should go for three. Did that. Started doing a little bit of other dryland mushing, a little bit of sled racing, etc. It’s just snowballed from there, and now we have nine dogs.JEANETTE: And the big question is, will there be more dogs?NICK: Eventually there will be more dogs, but recently we’ve upgraded how we travel with the dogs and everything like that. Our travel arrangements right now are pretty full. The trailer we use has nine crates in it. There’s not a tenth one. There’s not room for a tenth one. So it would take some pretty serious reconfiguring of everything that we have around our house to handle another one at this point.JEANETTE: How is life with nine dogs?JOY: It’s a lot of fun. It really is. Our dogs are outside in the yard when we’re at work, but when we’re home, they get to be inside with us. They’re not allowed on our furniture, but they do have their own beds. So they come in at night and they have to get to their own bed before someone else goes and takes it.Yes, it’s a lot. If you’re used to having one dog or two, nine seems like so many. But to us, I guess nine is normal. [laughs] But they make life a lot of fun.NICK: We live out in the country. We don’t have a ton of neighbors, but we do have one neighbor that is relatively close to us. Luckily, they don’t mind dogs barking, because otherwise we might be in trouble.INTERVIEWER: Many that start with one dog are wondering, when do you really feel the difference? Is it between one and two dogs, between two and three, between four and six?NICK: If you go slow, you never feel the difference.JEANETTE: Really? [laughter]JOY: No, I think the difference came when we added the two Greyster puppies at the same time. That’s when I think I felt the difference.NICK: Yeah. They were actually born 3 months apart, but because one came from Australia, one came from Canada – the Australian one is older, and due to Australia’s laws, we actually could not get him until he was 4 months old instead of 2 months old like you typically get a puppy. So we got both of the Greyster puppies within about a month of each other.JEANETTE: And what are the pros and cons of that?NICK: I’m not sure there’s any pros of that. [laughter] The cons of that are everything that you have with one puppy – destroying shoes, potty training, they like that – you have two. The food bill.JEANETTE: Double trouble.NICK: Exactly. One puppy going around your house playing can be a little challenging at times. Two puppies, especially as they’re growing into large dogs, going around being rambunctious and playing, it can be interesting. They have each other to play with, and most of our huskies are very playful also, so it’s not uncommon to see three, four, five, six of them chasing each other around the yard, just in a big dog pile, wrestling.JEANETTE: Having two puppies at the same time, does it affect the relationship they build to you when they have each other?NICK: I don’t think so. Both of them are very focused on us. We are definitely their people. Yeah, they like to play with each other and they like the other dogs, but you give them the opportunity to hang out with us or hang out with the other dogs, probably 7 or 8 out of 10 times, they’re going to choose to hang out with us.JEANETTE: The first day, when you’re getting either a puppy or a rescue, how does the first day for them look?JOY: It’s scary for them. And it’s a little scary I think for us, and for the other dogs. We sort of joke sometimes – Ruger was our first, and when we bring a new dog home, does Ruger say, “Oh my gosh, you’re doing it again”? [laughs] But it’s a lot, and it’s overwhelming to come into a new home and not know any of the other animals there.So we try to introduce them each one at a time and give them some time to get to know each dog individually. We have a dog that we start with because she is the pack leader, and if she is accepting and likes them, then usually the rest of the dogs are like “that’s great, welcome home.”But it can be scary for particularly a rescue dog, who has maybe had some other issues in their life. A puppy, eh, they’re a puppy. But some of the rescues have struggled a little bit just because they don’t know what to expect.NICK: And that is something good to think about with getting a rescue dog. Ask for as much information as you can get. We try to learn everything we can about the dog. That way, when we’re planning that first introduction, we know “okay, this dog has had issue with male dogs before, so therefore, let’s introduce him to all the females first, and then after that we’ll introduce the males slowly” or something. Just however the plan needs to be adapted for whatever that particularly dog needs. Just get as much information as you can.INTERVIEWER: Do the shelters or centers get even better at sharing this information as a standard?NICK: That’s one thing that we’ve struggled with, with a lot of shelters. Most of them are scared to tell you the problems because they want to find homes for the dogs. The one shelter that we’ve gotten three of our dogs from recognize now that when we say “tell us the problems,” we really mean tell us the problems. It’s not going to scare us away. Whereas a lot of shelters will tell you the problems, but they’re going to…JEANETTE: Sugarcoat it?NICK: Yeah, they’ll sugarcoat it. Exactly. I do think that is one place that a lot of shelters could work on: letting people know the dirty little secrets of every dog. Every dog has them, and as long as you know those, you can plan for them. You can research. You can figure out a way to deal with them.JEANETTE: Yeah, I think that’s really important, because if they give a dog with a problem to somebody that doesn’t have the experience or the knowledge to handle it, then the problem just continues.NICK: Yeah. We’ve volunteered for shelters in the past, and in fairness to them, they do have a tough job in trying to match the right dog with the right family. You go to get a dog, you know your family; you don’t know the dog that well. They know the dog really well; they don’t know your family well, and they’re having to go through the same thing. “This dog needs someone that doesn’t have a male in the household, or someone that has an active lifestyle,” or “this dog could go to an older couple,” etc. They’re trying to pick the right family for the dog, and sometimes that can be hard on their part also.JEANETTE: If we go back to the introduction of a new dog to your dog or your pack of dogs – because that’s something that I know quite a few are struggling with – what do you do if the new dog or the other dogs in the pack react to this dog, and you have a fight or something is happening, or they don’t seem to get along?NICK: We have a big backyard. Our backyard is divided into three sections, where we can close off gates so that the dogs can be separate, but together. We actually use that quite a bit.In fact, that’s one problem we’ve had here recently. One of our newer female huskies does not really like – I guess I shouldn’t say “doesn’t like.” She can get scared of our alpha female. She’s got with her 99% of the time, but if – Katahdin is her name – if Katahdin is in a corner and our alpha female walks up to her, she just panics. She lashes out at Denali, our alpha female.So we use those separate pens a lot to keep them separate, so they’re safe, but they can still be together. You’re not isolating anyone. They still smell each other. They still can interact. It’s just there’s something there to keep them safe so that they cannot get hurt or hurt each other.JEANETTE: Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve reconsidered, “was it the right decision to get this dog into the family?”NICK: Every dog.Just to be brutally honest, yes, every dog there is a point where we have said “I think we screwed up.”JOY: That’s true. Denali, our alpha female, you might consider her my dog. She was my first running partner, and she’s my girl. Denali is 8 years old. I started looking for another dog that I could use Denali to help train as she was aging and maybe thinking about retirement for her. That dog was Katahdin.I have often thought to myself, we did all of our research, but the two of them just sometimes don’t get along. I’ve thought, was this the wrong decision to bring Katahdin home? Because my goal with her was to have Denali help train her. But it wasn’t the wrong decision. Katahdin needed us, and she’s taught us a lot too. It’s just figuring out how to manage them together.NICK: Earlier I said that with every dog, there’s a moment – I could go through every story where that moment was with each one of our dogs. Ruger, our first one, I remember clear as day. Joy wasn’t home. I was in the bedroom with him. We were playing. We had a ball, and he started playing with the ball himself, and he threw the ball up and he almost broke some glass that we had in our bedroom.This had been after a rough day for me, a rough day for everything, and I thought, “I really think this dog is going to destroy everything we have in our house.” He was chewing on stuff. I thought, “I wanted a malamute all this time, and I can’t handle it.” But you push through those. You find a way through those moments, and those moments will pass.It’s happened for every one of our dogs. We’ve gotten to that point where it’s “I think we screwed up,” but you give it time. You let yourself relax. You let the dog relax also, because they’re in a new environment as well. You can get through it together with them.JEANETTE: This might be the point where many give up and give the dog to a center or a shelter.NICK: That’s right. In reality, if you’re at that point – this might be a little cliché, but the night’s darkest just before the dawn. If you’re at that point, you’re at the dark part of the night. The dawn is almost there. You just have to push through it.JOY: Nick mentioned Ruger and him nearly tearing up our house. Quite honestly, now Ruger is one of our best-behaved dogs. He’s our best leader. He listens. He’s just such a caring and loving animal. But it took time, and that’s what people don’t always give a dog: time. Particularly when they bring a rescue dog home, it takes months, sometimes years, for them to feel comfortable because of some of the things they may have been through. Don’t give up on them.JEANETTE: It’s reassuring to hear you guys, that have been working with dogs for many years, and that are competing at the high levels, say this. I think many might need to hear that you guys can have problems too.NICK: Yeah, that’s right. With the two Greyster puppies that we’ve most recently gotten, we had the exactly same experience with both of them. Pharaoh, the first puppy, the one from Australia that we got – typical puppy stuff. He was rambunctious. This was before we had received Anarchy. We were going to get him in a couple weeks.I had just gotten to the point where it was like, “I can barely handle one. How am I going to handle two? And I have months of this to go. How am I going to do it?” In hindsight, it wasn’t that bad.JOY: Not now, right? [laughs] When I was younger, growing up, we had a golden retriever at home and would raise a few litters of puppies here and there. I kept thinking to myself, when Nick said, “We’re going to have two puppies at home,” I thought, “Oh…” I remember asking him, “Have you ever had a puppy at home before?” Because our golden, she would have litters of 10 to 12, so she had a lot. Nick was so excited about the puppies, and I just kept thinking to myself, “Oh my goodness, this is going to be a nightmare, having two puppies.”JEANETTE: Reality check.JOY: And you know what? It wasn’t easy. I think about the times that they were just being puppies, rambunctious puppies. We have a glass table in our living room, and every time I watch them go by it, I just cringe, because I’m quite sure it’s going to be broken almost every day.But it’s the same thing. They are worth it, and they just take time. Every time I bring one of them in and I think to myself, “you are so obnoxious” or “you are so rambunctious and I wish you would just calm down,” I have to remember that they need me to teach them to not be that way. So it’s a cycle. If you’re sitting there thinking “my dog is causing all these problems, so I just stick him back outside,” he’s never going to learn. Bring him in and help him learn.NICK: Despite the fact that we went through those points where we thought we had made a decision – we just finished the World Championships, Anarchy and I did, and we placed eleventh. I would go through all that again to have the feeling that he and I have now. Just the last day, you can tell he’s proud of himself, and I’m so proud of him.Pharaoh is the exact same way. I’m a runner; I’m not a cyclist whatsoever, but Pharaoh and I are doing bike touring. The weekend before we came here to the World Championship, he and I had an awesome race together in bike tour. Same thing. I would not trade those hard times – I would go through those hard times 100 times again to have that feeling I had at the end of that bike tour race with Pharaoh, where we hit every corner perfect. Our top speed was faster than we’d ever gone before. All that work, it came together. And that’s only his second race.When you add up all those little moments that you have like that over a lifetime, it’s worth going through those few rock bottom points.One thing that I take really hard with our dogs is on occasion, we have dog fights. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does happen, I take it really personally. You look on Facebook, you look on Instagram, you look on social media, everyone’s dogs are perfect. Whenever we do have those scuffles – because I mean, it happens. People don’t get along all the time. We have our own issues, and dogs are the exact same way.Whenever they would have their fights, I just take it so personally. What you see on social media is not real life. Everyone that has multiple dogs has scuffles, has fights from time to time. It’s realizing just because you think that someone else is perfect with their dog, they’re probably not. No one’s perfect. In fact, I guarantee you they’re not. Everyone has dog fights. Everyone has the case where their dog growls at another dog or something.It’s about not letting that ruin your confidence, because dogs feed off your energy. If your energy becomes negative, they’re going to feed off that. And I will admit, I struggle very hard with that. It’s very hard for me to not take that personally. But Joy has to always remind me, everyone else deals with the exact same stuff that we are. Don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean you failed as a dog trainer. It just means you have more work to do, which everyone does.JOY: I think the other piece of that, too, is just remembering – well, first of all, nobody’s going to post a picture on Instagram of their two dogs that just got in a fight. They’re going to post a beautiful picture on a hike, and “my dogs are wonderful.” And of course they are, but they’re going to get into it sometimes.When those fights or those scuffles do happen, what caused it? What was the issue? We had one, one time, over a toy. It was two males. One was playing with a toy, and the other one took his toy and that caused a problem. So how do we prevent that? How do we work on not stealing from each other and those types of things?So it gives you a little bit of perspective, too, into how your dog is thinking. How did he feel about having his toy taken by this particular dog? Just working through those issues and just remembering, they are animals. They have instincts. Just work through it.NICK: One thing I joke about is it’s a little bit of a pet peeve of mine when people refer to my dogs as “my kids,” because frankly, dogs are better than people in my opinion.[laughs] JEANETTE: Totally agree.NICK: Yeah. It’s like, don’t insult my dogs by calling them people. But that’s a good thing to remember. People have issues too, with other people. Dogs are going to have issues with other dogs. It’s just part of life, and it’s just another thing you have to work through and something to remember.JEANETTE: When you’re going to have your next dog, will it be a rescue or will it be a new puppy?NICK: I would say more than likely, it will probably be a rescue. We haven’t gotten to that point yet, but we’ll just wait and see what we feel is the best fit for us at the time.JEANETTE: A question that we ask everybody on this podcast is: if you had to do another dog sport, what would it be?JOY: Honestly, I would love to do ski touring, but we rarely get any snow, and when we do get snow, we don’t have any place to ski. [laughs] So if I were in a place with some snow, I think that is the sport I would take up.NICK: When I was in high school, I was a lifeguard. So the other dog sport I would take up would be water rescue. I think it would be really fun to have a Newfie or a lab or something and do water rescue.JEANETTE: Thank you so much for joining us on this podcast, and good luck with all of your endeavors.NICK: Thank you for having us.JOY: Yes, thank you so much
Oct 31, 2019
If you like to be active with your dog, canicross is the perfect sport for you! Everyone can do it - both proven runners and people who have never participated in competitions before. In this episode, Multiple World Champion Tessa Philippaerts from Belgium shares her tips on everything from how to get started to what to remember at a competition.JEANETTE: Today’s guest was a Top 5 track and field athlete in Belgium. Now canicross is her main discipline, and today the three-time world champion will share some tips and tricks. Tessa Philippaerts from Belgium, welcome.TESSA: Hi. Welcome.JEANETTE: Thank you. First of all, can you tell us a bit what is canicross?TESSA: Canicross is basically running with your dog, but you’re connected to your dog. The dog is not free-running, and the dog is wearing a special type of harness in which he can pull freely, and he’s connected to the runner by this elastic line. The runner is wearing a special type of belt. Usually they run basically anywhere they want. They can go off-road, they can run a little bit on the road.JEANETTE: So it doesn’t need too much equipment. This is basically something everyone can do.TESSA: Yeah, everybody can do canicross. It’s really easy. You just need basic equipment and a pair of running shoes, and then you’re good to go.JEANETTE: How did you come into the sport?TESSA: I was doing track and field from when I was 7 years old, I think, and I always hated to do the long distance running training that I had to do by myself. I really liked dogs, but after our last dog died, my father said, “No, we do not really want to have a new dog anymore. It’s so much time.” So I kept on nagging and nagging and nagging to get a new dog. My father saw I was struggling with my training and he said, “Yeah, maybe if I can buy you a new dog that can join you on your training runs, will you then go and do it more often?” I was like, “Yeah, of course. Of course I would love to have a dog to join me on my runs.”We basically started to look online for which type of dog fit in with our lifestyle, and we stumbled on the whippet, because they’re pretty calm in the house and they’re active whenever they’re outside. They’re not the typical canicross dog, but by then I didn’t know anything about canicross, so it was okay.After a while my father said he was looking on the internet, surfing, and he found this sport where you can run with your dog. He was like, “That’s something for you, canicross. Would you like to try it?” I said, “Yeah, we can go one day and try it.” So one race somewhere in Belgium –There we started. There was this small stand standing outside where they have all this equipment hanging and you could try it out, or you can buy it. We just bought instantly everything because I thought it was nice for running at home anyway.Then we did the race, and I thought it was so much fun – even though my dog didn’t get anything about what she had to do. But yeah, it was so much fun to run with my dog. I remember I finished last place, but I didn’t care because it was so much fun. After that day, I think we went to every possible race. Then we got really stuck with canicross, and we got better and better during the years, so that was really cool.JEANETTE: You also got more dogs.TESSA: Yeah, because I think after two years of doing canicross, my father said “This is actually so much fun. Can I borrow your dog?” Of course, “No.”Then he was like, “Okay, then maybe we can buy another dog.” So we bought a second whippet. Then he started to race as well with her.From then on, we started to get more dogs after my whippet got injured when she was 4 years old. I was so sad. I remember I was just so sad, because she was actually really good for a whippet running in canicross. She had an injury on her shoulder which was not related to what we were doing. We always threw this ball and a stick, and they run like 60 kilometers an hour and break it once. So she had this arthritis already in her shoulder.I was borrowing for a couple of years some dogs, until I stumbled on a border collie. It was a girl, and she said on Facebook, “Yeah, you can borrow my dog.” It was so much fun because the dog and me, we were such a great team. That girl is called Femke. She is my best friend since then, and we are still best friends from that day.But then after a while, her father got sick, so she couldn’t come to the races anymore. It was a little bit back and forth and borrowing some other dogs, but it was not the same as running with her dog or running with my own dogs, so we started to think about getting a new dog. Then eventually we stumbled on this crossbreed sled dog, and his name was Yukon. It was a guy in France who didn’t want him anymore. He basically said, “You can have him.” I bought him when he was almost one year old. He was just the best ever. He was a natural talent.Only 3 months after we got him, there was a world championship in Bergen, which is only 3 hours from our place where we live. So my father entered me there, and apparently we did really good because we ended up first in the junior category. I think we also ran faster the second day than the senior women, so that was really awesome. Now we are growing with the sport. My first dog got old, so now we have three other dogs at the moment, so four in total.JEANETTE: Together with your dogs you’ve had some great achievements. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve done throughout the years?TESSA: Like we said before, in Bergen was my first time I did a world championship, and we ended up first in junior class. Then the world championship is alternating with the European championship, every other year. Two years after it was another world championship, and I was in the senior category, and we won again. Then two years later, we won for a third time.In between, the European championships, I’m very happy to have finished as a Vice European Champion a couple of times. Belgium also, we won a couple of times the Belgium championship, and also in bike, biking with your dog. There I also won a couple of times the Belgian championship. Sometimes I did double entry on the big championships with the same dog, and we ended up – I think also two times on the world championship – Top 6, I think, with him in bike. That was not too bad either. I think that’s kind of itJEANETTE: How does it feel to win the world championship with your best friend?TESSA: It’s a crazy feeling. I don’t think you can really describe it. You know you’ve worked really hard for it, and if everything falls in place that day and works out, it is like this huge emotional rollercoaster.JEANETTE: Can you tell us a bit more about how you are training to become good in canicross?TESSA: I actually think before I was a little bit lucky because I had this background of track and field. I think many people that were in this race were not track and field runners. It was just people that basically go and run with their dog and they do only that. So I had a little bit of knowledge of how to train before.I think I didn’t train that much before because the competition was, in my eyes, not super high. But now, the sport is growing every year, and now I see that with basic training, I will not get there anymore. Now I’m specializing myself a little bit more.JEANETTE: Do you always run with your dog, or do you train your dog separately and yourself separately?TESSA: Yeah, that’s a big thing. I have pretty big dogs. It’s actually easier to train without your dog. I train my dogs separately with the bike or the scooter. Every now and then I do run with them, because I really like to run with them, but it would not physically be possible to run with a 33- or 35-kilo dog, and I weigh myself around 52. It’s not that healthy for the joints and everything to do with such a big dog on a daily basis.I have one smaller female, around 19 kilograms. If I go training, usually I use her to train with because she’s a really nice size.JEANETTE: Do you do running, or do you do other things as well?TESSA: Like I said, when I train my dogs, it’s usually with the bike or the scooter, and then it depends a little bit on the weather. They also go in summer, a lot of free running whenever it’s possible, or swimming is also a very good alternative. Myself, like I said, I like running a lot. But I do also like biking, and sometimes I also like running without the dogs and going in really high kilometer amounts in one week. Then I sometimes also go biking, mountain biking, or go with my road bike, just to have some alternative training. I think running is hard for the body, but you can do lots of stuff.JEANETTE: Can everybody do canicross? Older people, people that didn’t run before, is it possible for everybody to do this?TESSA: Yes, I think so. I think as long as you respect your own limits and the limits of the type of dog you have – if you do not want to get dragged like me, you can buy a smaller dog that’s not so powerful, and you can basically train with him every day. That’s not a problem. You just have to see, if you’re older, you just have to take it slow and build it up, basically like you do with normal running as well.And the same for your dog. He also has to build up stamina and endurance. Small dogs can do it, big dogs can do it. You just have to respect the type of dog you have. You cannot ask from a French bulldog to do the same as a German short-haired pointer. If you respect that, then everybody can do canicross.JEANETTE: Are there specific breeds that stand out?TESSA: Those mixed breeds, and I think a lot of pointers are also very popular. When I started in canicross, I think border collies were very popular because they’re very smart, and they are very hard workers also. But they are now considered small dogs in this sport, so I think the dogs they use the most are the pure GSP, English pointer, and also some huskies I think. Also some Belgian Malinois. They’re also popular. And then our mixed breed dog types that we have. They are very popular at the moment.JEANETTE: What makes a good canicross dog? What kind of mindset do they need to have, and how do you see that a dog is really good in the sport?TESSA: I think it all depends on the head. You can have a dog that has the best body and the best build, but if he doesn’t have the right head or the right mindset, then you will achieve nothing. My whippet, for example, she was very good in the head. She would pull basically like three-fourths of the race. For a whippet I think that’s really good because it’s a dog that usually chases other things in the field.The dog doesn’t only have to be able to run good; he also has to be smart, because you have to steer your dog. You have to say left and right. They are very self-secure, the dogs. They usually are very good when you’re giving commands. Some dogs are very insecure and then it’s a little bit more difficult because they will hesitate during the race or something.It’s also very good to have a nice dog, a dog that’s very well-socialized with other dogs, before you go racing. Of course, we do not want any dogs biting when they’re overtaking people on the track or biting other people. That has also happened before.It’s also a very good thing that the dog has a hard head – even though he gets tired and uphill, he keeps on pushing a little bit further. That’s basically what you need for having a good canicross dog.JEANETTE: If you have a dog that’s a bit careful, maybe doesn’t pull too much or is a bit careful, are there any tips or tricks to motivate them a bit more?TESSA: Yeah, there’s always some tricks to motivate dogs to go do a little extra during a race or something. I usually use food or some toys that they really like. They only get this during training, for example, so it’s this really special thing that they only get when they go running. I basically give them a goal that they are running for.For some of my dogs it’s a treat. For others it’s a tennis ball. I start with really short distances and make it really fun. Try to do maybe some interval training with them so that they do not always have to go all the way and always feel really tired. I keep them motivated with these shorter training runs, and treats and toys. They usually work.JEANETTE: When do you start training your dogs? Do you start at puppy age?TESSA: I don’t like to call it training my dogs at puppy age, but I call it more like educating them. I’m basically teaching them what they have to do without really doing it. For example, I teach them to, from the start – not from the start, but maybe 3 months, I start to walk them in harness. When they are walking in the harness, they are allowed to pull. When they’re attached to the collar and just go walk like that, then they are not allowed to pull.INTERVIEWER: That’s nice to teach the difference. Otherwise you will just hang in there all the time.TESSA: Yes. It’s some really basic training for them. It makes afterwards the whole process a lot easier. I also teach them, for example, at the race that they are standing in line out, they are stretching the line, standing still, not barking. They are concentrated until I do the countdown. This I also start a really young age, just to learn that they have to stand still, stretch the line. I also work always with treats and toys or whatever. They think it’s really fun to do these exercises. Then I do the countdown, and then I run for 10 meters so that they know, “oh, okay, this is how it’s supposed to be.”I teach them already the commands. When I go walking, I already teach them left and right. I start doing this really early, and it’s so cool because they are so smart. When they’re young, they are so easy to teach this kind of stuff, and it makes them also more self-confident when they get to the part where they are almost one year old and can start really training, or training a little bit more.It’s easy to have a dog that already knows everything before he actually has to do it.JEANETTE: With the commands, is it only left and right, or do you have any other commands as well?TESSA: Yeah, like the line out at the start. I use left, right, straight ahead. Some people don’t say anything when they go straight ahead, but I use it because we have so many difficult trails, just to make sure also that they are running the right way. They also know how to slow down. It doesn’t always work, but they know it in training. In racing it’s a little bit different because of all the excitement. But they also know how to slow down. They also know the word “stop.” Also, for example, when I fall down, I let them do line out again and start, stuff like that.JEANETTE: The “stop” and “slow down” is nice to have downhill because a canicross trail is not only straight. It can be uphill and downhill as well.TESSA: Yeah, that’s true. That’s the reason why I teach them this, because the trails that we use, for example, in Belgium, are very much single track with stones and tree roots going down. So it’s very good to be able to control the dog in a downhill, and slowing down is a very good one to teach them.JEANETTE: If you have a dog that’s a bit reactive to other dogs – you’re talking about dogs that are passing each other and that kind of stuff – how can you handle it if your dog is a bit reactive?TESSA: I think first we can try to fix it in training with other people and with dogs that he knows and maybe trusts. You can try to use a muzzle in the beginning in training if you really do not trust him. But I think it’s very important that he has positive experiences. Maybe the dog got bitten before and doesn’t trust any other dogs anymore.But it’s usually easier to try to fix it in training than to do it in a race, because if you have a reactive dog in a race, there is so much more stress, and you probably want to go as fast as you want, and you’re probably not paying attention as much as you should.But what you can do in a race if you have a reactive dog is when people are passing, you have these words you have to say, obligated. In some countries, they use the word “trail.” So they yell “trail!” and then you know there’s somebody coming. Then you already can take your dog short with you. I always make sure that the dog is the furthest away from the other person that is passing. You can hold him really tight.Also, when you have to overtake somebody with a reactive dog, you can also say “trail!” way in advance, and while you’re running, you can also take your dog short next to you, overtake the person, and then let them go again. It’s something you can always do. It’s easier to try to fix the problem before in training and then go racing than to do the opposite way.JEANETTE: The starting area can be a challenge as well, I guess, with a reactive dog, because it’s a lot of dogs and a lot of people in a small space. How do you solve that?TESSA: It depends. In Belgium we have I think only maybe two or three times a year a mass start race. All the other races are held with single starts, where you’re starting every 30 seconds. Then it’s very much easier to control the dogs at the start. But when you have these mass starts and you have a reactive dog, just go behind everybody. You can wait a few seconds until everybody has gone and then start behind. Then it’s much easier to steer the dog or to control the dog than in this massive pack of people and barking dogs that are standing there. I think that’s just the best thing to do if you really want to start in a mass start.JEANETTE: How big are the competitions? How many people join?TESSA: In Belgium it’s pretty big. I think we have around maybe even more than 20 races in a year. I guess around 120 to 350 people starting there every time. Some races are a little bit more popular than the others. In our own race last year, I think we had around 350 people starting. That’s huge.JEANETTE: Do you have any favorite race, a race that you would really recommend people to go to?TESSA: Yeah, the one from our own club is a lot of fun because it’s a lot of single trails, and the dogs usually really love it because it’s almost like they are hunting something. They just are so much more energetic when they run on these single trails and they cannot see where the next corner is going. They really love it. This trail is like that. It’s a little bit up and down and single tracks. It’s a really fun trail. It’s also completely in the forest, so it’s almost completely in the shadow. That’s a really fun one. That’s ours.JEANETTE: When you go to a competition, how do you prepare the day before? Do you have any special routines?TESSA: I usually don’t feed my dogs after 5:00-6:00 in the evening. I try to feed them a little bit earlier than usual. I also make sure even two days before that they drink a lot before the race. If your dog is not usually a good drinker, you can just put extra water in his dry food or meat when you’re feeding him. We also have these special products with electrolytes which you can use that are made specially for dogs, and they also help to hydrate your dog better before you start.I feed them pretty early because the day before the race also, the only thing they get is a special product. The one which I give is from MAMUT. It’s called Pre-Run, and it has some electrolytes, some energy in there, everything he needs. It is also to avoid stomach turns for a dog. I usually water them 2 hours before training or racing with this product instead of feeding them.The feeding early the day before, it is very good to do this because I notice that my dogs don’t take a shit at the trail anymore when you do that. [laughs] They actually run on an empty stomach.Then right after the race, they get this recovery drink, which they really love. It’s a treat for them all in itself. It’s also to rehydrate the dog again, and to get some extra proteins. It’s like a protein shake for people, basically. Then within half an hour, one hour, I usually give them their first portion of their daily food, and then in the evening after they get home, they get the second portion.JEANETTE: Is there anything special you have to bring? You have to remember the harness, your running belt, the line… anything else?TESSA: Yes, you always need your dog’s passport. The dogs also need the right vaccines. In Belgium I think it’s all of the vaccines, basically. Rabies is obligated, also bordetella, influenza, leptospirosis, and kennel cough. People who don’t have these vaccines will not be allowed to start at the race because there’s too high a risk for so many dogs in such a small place to get sick or to make other dogs sick.JEANETTE: How does a competition happen? When you arrive in the morning, what do you do? What happens? How is the routine?TESSA: Usually I first go to the entry, because we can only enter on the spot. I think now it’s changing and they’re starting with this program, but usually you just enter on the spot.Then right after, I go and check out the trail. I think it’s very important to see the trail before I go. With my previous dog I didn’t need to do this because he is totally crazy when it comes to a new place. He really loves it. But my other dogs get a little bit insecure if they do not know the trail, so I always take them and check out the trail before. Then on the race, they know a little bit of where they have to go, and then they are running much more confident than they would if I didn’t do this. So we check out the trail.I warm them up a little bit. It depends on which type of dog you have. My oldest dog that retired now is totally crazy and he’s jumping for 5 minutes before the start. With him, I do not do a warmup because the start is a warmup for himself. The females, I usually take them jogging maybe 5 minutes before I need to go to the start, and I warm them up a little bit. That’s usually enough. It works for them.After the race, I also never let them drink straight after. I also go walking with them a little bit, just to do some cool-down. When I get to the car, then they usually get their drink a little bit after, because if I give it right after the race, they’re breathing so heavily and they’re taking in so much water and so much air at the same time, that I had one time that my dog almost got his stomach turned from drinking too fast after a race. He just started to bloat all the way in the back. So I stopped doing that. Now I let them calm down a little bit, and then they get water and they also drink much more calmly and don’t gasp so much air at the same time.JEANETTE: At competitions, do you ever get nervous?TESSA: For normal races I do not really get nervous because I see – the whole year for me is basically training. The only time I get nervous is for a big championship. Then I’m stressed. [laughs]JEANETTE: How do you handle it? And do your dogs know this?TESSA: My oldest dog is very sensitive in that way. If I’m stressed, he’s stressed. But he’s stressed in that he starts to bark even more and then stresses me out even more, and I’m stressing him because I’m yelling at him. But the other two, the two females that I have are pretty calm. Maybe because they’re calm, I can stay calm myself also, better.But I usually try to listen maybe to a little bit of music or something before the race, or I just stay a little bit longer in my car and listen to some music or go for a walk or jog by myself, just to clear the mind a little bit.JEANETTE: How many competitions do you have throughout the year? Is it every weekend? When is the season, and how does the year look?TESSA: In Belgium we usually race half beginning, half December. Then we have some small winter stop till the end of February, and then it starts again. Then we have a summer stop also from June till August. But in between I think we have so many races that there’s almost every weekend a race in between.JEANETTE: Why do you have a break in summer? It’s a nice time.TESSA: Yeah, it’s a nice time, but in Belgium the humidity is very high and the heat is also very bad, so it’s just to protect the dogs. They would run if we let them run, probably, but it’s not healthy for them.JEANETTE: Can you tell us a bit about training in warm weather? How do you handle it?TESSA: Like I said before, I always try to hydrate them before. I never go training if I didn’t manage to give them water before the training.I usually keep it really short in summer and I do these interval trainings from maybe 1 kilometer. Three times, 1 kilometer, and then I always make sure I have a water stop somewhere, or just run 1 kilometer up to the water, 1 kilometer back, 1 kilometer back up to the water, with some small break in between. That usually helps. They have done something without really training super hard, and it’s also to keep them happier in summer. If they don’t do any pulling activities in summer, they are a little bit getting frustrated, almost, because they’re used to doing it as well.But I also take them many times free running or just jogging with me on the leash. They can do that as well. When I attach them to the collar, they know that they are not allowed to pull, so then they are jogging.Swimming is actually the thing we usually do the most in summer. They go swimming a lot, and we have this kayak and we go in the middle of the lake and let them swim.JEANETTE: Do you have any special training plan you follow during the winter?TESSA: I basically always see how the dogs are doing after summer. Some years they are in super shape after summer. Some years, because of the weather, maybe they didn’t do that much and then they need some more time in winter to get to the level that I want them to be. I basically always look at the dog, every training.Some trainings, when I’m building up the distance – I always use this type of interval training to build it up, and if I see that they’re not able to do this training, I will go back down in distance or in speed or whatever I need to do to make it work. Then we just keep building up like that, because they’re pretty much the same as us. We go through ups and downs as well in our own training.So I always look at the dog, how they are doing that day. If it’s too much, you can always stop in the middle of the training and let them free and just go easy back to the car. There’s no use in always pushing them to their limits, because first of all, they do not know how far you’re going to train, so they are just trusting you. You have to look a little bit at them and control them a little bit more.JEANETTE: That’s important when you’re training for races as well, I guess, that you prepare the dog for the distance they are going to run.TESSA: Yes, because I see sometimes people are training their dogs for maybe 3-4 kilometers, and then there’s this 6 kilometers race. If the dog is always used to running 3-4 kilometers, he knows the distance and the time they’re running, what they’re used to. If you go then on a race for 6 kilometers, he will run like he’s running for a 4, and in some cases that makes a huge difference, and they can just kill themselves, basically.So I always try to prepare my dogs for the distance. Even the type of trail that we’re going to do, I try to prepare them for that as well.JEANETTE: What are the distances normally?TESSA: In Belgium we have this canicross short distance between 2.5 and 3.5 kilometers. We also have long distance, and that’s between 4 and 8 kilometers. Usually the same length as the long distance canicross. But you can run both in Belgium with the same dog. For example, long distance is in the morning; then you can use that same dog to run in the afternoon the short distance. But that’s the maximum they’re allowed to do in one day.JEANETTE: What’s the prime age of a canicross dog? Is there such a thing?TESSA: I think at the age between 3 and 5, they’re in their strongest. Also, after 3 to 5 years, they are very confident because they know what they have to do. For me that’s the best time.JEANETTE: When a dog gets older, like you talked about your oldest dog, he’s retired now – when do you decide that now it’s time to retire?TESSA: I already thought for him, for example last year, that it would be his last year to really compete. But then he was in such great shape for Sweden last year that I gave him another shot, and he did really great. But now, suddenly, the last 6 months his health went down, down, down. So now I decided that it’s okay for him to retire. He’s a 33 kilo dog and he’s 9 years old, and he has always run everything he has. I think it was a good time for him to stop.JEANETTE: Do you have a new promising puppy on the way? Can you tell us a bit more about him?TESSA: He is actually from our own breeding. We have this super nice female called Lychee. She is maybe not the strongest dog because she is not the tallest dog either, but we call her the whole package. She has a very nice character, she is so easy to handle, and she runs really good. So we decided to breed her this year, and she is – we call it a hound. It’s a mixed breed sled dog. We bred her to this pure German short-haired pointer, from Norway actually.We kept one of her puppies. His name is Petter. He is getting really big at the moment, but he is also, like his mother, a big sweetheart. He is really easygoing. We never thought we would have a second Lychee, but I think we’re going to have a second one.JEANETTE: Do you have any special ambitions for him? I guess you want him to be a really good canicross dog?TESSA: Yeah, we first chose the puppy that we liked just by looking at his character and how he was interacting with other dogs, because we had three other dogs and had to work with the others as well. We were actually going to take a female from this litter. We were definitely not going to take a male. But eventually he kind of chose us, I think.Yeah, we are of course planning to do canicross with him as well. But my boyfriend really likes the snow season. It looks like he’s going to be a big boy, so we think he might be good also for ski touring. I think he can do everything. We don’t really stick them in a box. I have, for example, some dogs that like more bike than canicross, so we try to do also what they like a little bit more.JEANETTE: Adjusting to the dog. That sounds good.TESSA: Yes.JEANETTE: But if you’re just running with Petter, who will be a big dog, I guess running technique is quite important. Do you have some tips for people on how to run?TESSA: It’s very hard to explain it just by words, but something that they always tell you is that you have to run on the forefoot, the front of the foot, and not land on the heel. That’s very important, because your foot is basically working as some kind of suspension for your body, so you’re taking in the shocks by the front of the foot. If you hit with your heel, then the shock will go in your knees and your hips and your back. It’s very much harder for the body then. So if you have a good running style, it also works proactively for having no injuries and stuff like that.JEANETTE: Have you ever had any injuries yourself?TESSA: Yes, I’ve had many. [laughs] Usually it’s always the muscles are overworked, basically, and then we always try to do these strengthening exercises. The parts of the body that I know are the weakest, I try to work on them the most and do some planking, power training. Everything you can basically do at home without weights, even. It’s very easy to do and it helps a lot for your running style.At track and field we have these special warmup exercises that works with coordination, active stretching, and those also work – it actually makes your brain make a connection to the body, how to move everything better. Those exercises are also always interesting. You can look it up on the internet. You can find plenty of them.JEANETTE: Having the right equipment is also important to prevent injuries for both people and for dogs. What’s important to think of when you choose equipment?TESSA: For people, probably something really important is the type of running shoes that you use. You need trail shoes to run on trails. You need street shoes to run on the street. It’s also very important to know your running style, like if you’re a neutral runner or pronation or supination, I think it’s called. We have these special stores where they can measure your foot and look at how you walk, and that’s I think also good to start with if you want to start running right and have no injuries. That’s something important.For the dogs, for example, it’s very important that you have the right harness. The harness has to fit like a glove, basically. I usually have people that are concerned that the harness is too small, but the biggest thing I always see is that maybe – not most of the people, I’m not going to say that, but many people have a harness that is too big for the dog.It’s actually worse to have a harness that’s too big than a harness that’s slightly on the smaller side, because you can injure the dog’s shoulder, for example, if the neck is not tight enough. While the dog is pulling, the straps of the neck can slip down on the shoulders, and then he cannot make the movement with his legs to the front freely. Then you can get shoulder injuries and stuff like that.Also depends on which type of harness you use. Some dogs need some more support in the back. Other dogs do not need support in the back. Also, the shock absorbing line is important to absorb the shocks – not only for you, but also for your dog. It helps to save your dog’s back. Also, the running belt you buy is also pretty important because if you have a really good one, then the pulling point is not on the back, and the lower the pulling point is, the better. It helps me with having a good running style and it keeps the shocks basically off your back.JEANETTE: What do you do if your dog is having a bad day?TESSA: I try not to push them. One of my dogs is very sensitive, and sometimes she just stops in the middle of a race. She just sits, looks at me. She has a lot of anxiety and stress. But while she is pulling, it helps her to release the stress. But sometimes she just blocks.The last thing I can do at that moment is be angry at her, so I usually just stop, I will pet her a little bit and tell her that everything’s okay, and then usually I try to just do this countdown again, and then she starts barking and being happy again, and then she runs off again.JEANETTE: Then she forgets that she was actually scared.TESSA: Yes, she forgets because she trusts me. So I think whenever your dog doesn’t want to run, you should never punish it, because he is also not asking to do this. The thing you can do at least for him is to make it as fun as possible. If he has a bad day, maybe you just walk back to the finish line. It’s not a problem. Then just train again and try again next time. I think also they will learn more from that than you being angry at him for no reason.JEANETTE: Canicross can be good for many dogs, both when it comes to mental health, but also physical health.TESSA: Yeah, I think it helps a lot of dogs to just get all the excess energy out. It gives them some goal, something that they like to do. I think it can also help for dogs that are having separation anxiety. I’ve had two of them. Whenever they have done something in the morning or in the evening and have been training, they don’t care. They are just nice and sleeping on the sofa, and they don’t do anything wrong.But dogs that have too much energy and don’t know what to do with it, I think it always tries to find some way out. They’re trying out it in some way, so sometimes it’s destroying things, sometimes they will get maybe really scared or get really anxious about a lot of stuff. So I think canicross is a good way for many dogs to get some rest in their head.JEANETTE: If you had to do some other sport than canicross with a dog, what would it be?TESSA: Nothing sled dog related. I think maybe agility or something. I think it’s also a pretty active sport, not only for the dog. I see the person’s always running around like crazy, and they’re pointing where it has to go and jump over, and I see them sweating also after. [laughs] So maybe agility.JEANETTE: And if you had to do something without a dog, would it be back to track and field again?TESSA: Yes, I think so. Or maybe mountain biking. I really like mountain biking as well.JEANETTE: Thank you for sharing all your knowledge and experience with us.TESSA: Thank you very much for having me here.
Oct 24, 2019