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Canicross - exercise for you and your dog in the Lake District

PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 October 2018

Julie, Michelle and Alexia with the dogs

Julie, Michelle and Alexia with the dogs

Irene Rothery

Canicross is one of the fastest growing sports and it has arrived in the Lake District. Irene Rothery reports

Foggy, tired and happy after his runFoggy, tired and happy after his run

Five dogs of varying breeds and sizes emerge from a van. The ‘Joggy Doggy’ logo emblazoned on the side of the vehicle gives a clue as to what is to happen next. Enzo, Foggy, Billy, Dolly and Jayke, tails wagging, are eager to get started on their afternoon run. Jayke, the smallest and liveliest, gives a bark of excitement and enthusiastically leads the way.

These keen canines are ready to take part in a canicross run with Alexia and Julie Taylor who run the West Cumbria branch of Joggy Doggy. They are joined by Michelle Shuttleworth, an enthusiastic athlete and part of their team.

Alexia explains: ‘We offer dog walking, from gentle strolls to fast-paced runs, within a 15 mile radius of Cockermouth. Canicross, a popular option, is the sport of running with your dog where the dog runs ahead while attached via a bungee line and a waist belt. The bungee line absorbs the shock for both human and dog, if needed.’

Alexia, Julie and Michelle, who are based in St Bees, acknowledge that when it comes to finding running routes they are spoilt for choice with truly exceptional places on their doorstep. ‘We run on many different types of terrain; fells, beaches, quiet cycle tracks and forests where the dogs always have access to shade and water. Water is a favourite with most dogs so we often visit the local lakes, although French bulldogs and pugs like to avoid puddles which isn’t always easy around here!’

Michelle with Jayke and DollyMichelle with Jayke and Dolly

Canicross is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Since being launched in 2000 the activity has seen thousands of owners take to the great outdoors to participate with their four-legged friends, becoming healthier and fitter. The dogs are trained to respond to voice and speed-based commands.

A recent study at the University of Arizona has demonstrated that running dogs produce a higher level of endocannabinoid than humans and that, after intense activity, these chemicals trigger the reward sensors in the brain to give feelings of happiness and euphoria.

‘It is exhilarating when running fast and it does give you a buzz,’ says Alexia. ‘Many of our clients tell us how their dogs settle after running and often send us photos of their usually lively pets in front of the telly.’

Five years ago, Jenny Lee, the founder of Joggy Doggy and an international canicross competitor, realised how crucial exercise was to managing the behaviour of her boisterous young Labrador and two active rescue dogs. She found that the exertion of running led to significant improvement in their behaviour at home and her business was born, offering dog walking and running in small groups as well as personal training for weight loss and behavioural issues.

There was clearly a market for the services and a number of branches opened across the country with Joggy Doggy West Cumbria launching in 2016 under the expert guidance of Alexia and Julie. ‘We would love to have a branch in Lancashire so we can offer more dogs the benefit of a structured exercise regime that matches levels of effort to levels of energy!’ says Alexia.

Julie adds: ‘We both have sports backgrounds and experience with dogs so we knew it would suit us – Alexia has coached lacrosse and I’m an England hockey coach. Alongside Michelle, who is responsible for many local running groups, we are all England Athletics qualified.’

The three women clearly enjoy the unique characters and quirks of each dog and there is a lot of camaraderie and laughter as they demonstrate canicross on open ground. They each have a gift for sensing the dogs’ needs although a lot of careful preparation is done before taking on a new client, including a home visit and discussions with the owner.

‘The dogs love the open spaces and benefit both mentally and physically. We probably do nine or ten miles a day which keeps us fit and it’s great having Michelle with us because she has the speed and endurance to run with the faster, more energetic dogs and cover longer distances.

‘Running with other dogs can also play a crucial role in the rehabilitation of rescue dogs. Ollie, a lurcher, joins us once a week and his owner has commented on how he has benefitted from the socialisation and how relaxed and calm he is after his trips out with us.’

For many dogs an average walk is often not enough and a mixed terrain run is a far better match for a dog’s natural energy so canicross may be the answer to keeping both you and your dog fit and healthy. Canicross can be done by individuals or with groups. Meetings and events are held throughout the country, including Keswick and the Manchester area, where humans and dogs can show off their skills and have fun while getting a great work out. u To learn more visit joggydoggy.co.uk.

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