The dryland season might be over for another year, but that doesn’t mean you and your dog have to hibernate till Spring! In fact there are a lot of other fun activities to do with your dog during the winter months: skijoring, kickledding, snowshoeing, and especially canicross. The cool winter weather can be ideal for canicross.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here’s what you need to know to make sure you and your dog can maximize your winter canicross adventure!
Pause for Paws
Trim the Floof!
There’s a bit more prep that goes into getting your dog ready for a run during the winter season. For dogs with furry toes, it’s a good idea to clip the fur to avoid forming snowballs, which can be really painful and annoying for your dog.
No Salt, No Problem
Also, try to avoid trails where salt has been applied to the surface. If you can, consider investing in winter booties for your dog.
Another option is to apply a waxy balm, such as Musher’s Secret, on their pads and in-between their toes. This helps to create a barrier to protect their sensitive paws from the cold, snow buildup, and salty conditions. Just make sure to wipe their paws clean to avoid any salty residue, and to keep your floors clean.
Dogs in Coats
On frigid days, you might want to consider putting a coat on your dog - just be careful they don’t overheat. You can check this by placing your hand on your dog’s chest under their coat. You should do this before your run as well, so when you check during your run, you have a baseline comparison.
Most dogs will not require a coat during their run, but it is generally a good idea to use a coat on short-haired dogs to help them warm-up before you get going in earnest on extremely cold days.
Dress for success
Despite the cold weather, it’s surprising how fast you warm up during a run. Plan to dress as if it is at least 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. The key is to keep sweat away from your body with a moisture wicking base layer. For truly frigid days, wind-proof, fleece-lined leggings or pants will keep your legs toasty warm. Make sure to cover your neck. A buff is useful to pull over your mouth as well. Mitts are also a great way to keep your fingers warm.
When it comes to shoes, consider a good pair of trail shoes with deep traction lugs. These are great for snow covered trails. For maximum traction, especially when there are icy spots on the trail, you might want to consider investing in shoes with built-in spikes.
Alternatively, you can use small hexagon screws on any running shoes or crampons that slip on over your shoes. Note, if you use crampons, you'll want some that stay on tight!
Hello Darkness, my old friend…
Oh the dreaded darkness of winter…. If you’re lucky enough to be able to run during the daylight hours, please do so. Our club canicross runs on the weekend are also a great option! However, if you'll be running in the dark, here are our best tips!
Get a Headlamp
For night-time adventures, you want to invest in a bright headlamp that lights up the trail as much as possible!
You not only want to SEE, but also to BE SEEN, so don’t forget to use reflective gear for both you and your dog. Most quality harnesses have some reflective stripping, but there are many cool options for adding extra lighting to your gear, including armbands, dog collars & lights, tags, and reflective tape.
Go ahead and light up your team like a Christmas tree!
Just not literally Fido!!
Trails and Tribulations
Choose your trails wisely!
Your best option is to run on snowless and iceless dirt trails, but let’s be real, those are hard to come by this time of year, especially if you live in Atlantic Canada. Stick to multi-use trails and aim for relatively packed down snowy trails where possible. The groomed ski trails at local parks might look perfect for canicross, but these trails are typically off-limits and restricted to skiing only. Respect the trail etiquette rules. When you are planning a run, it’s a good idea to go for a walk (or a dogless run) to scout out the trail beforehand. It’s a great way to warm up and if you find it hard to walk, it’s going to be worse for canicross.
With the added power and speed of your dog companion, things can get ugly very quickly. Speaking of which, stay away from ice!! It doesn’t take much to slip on a tiny patch of ice in the middle of January in the backwoods of Irishtown Nature Park. Believe me, I’ve been there! Two broken bones, surgery, and a cast for 7 weeks definitely put a damper on my canicross training. Slippery conditions can also be a bad idea for your dog, causing them to overstretch and tear muscle or damage ligaments.
Remember, if canicross is not an option, then you can always go hiking, snowshoeing, skijoring or kicksledding. Be smart!
Take your Phone
When out for a solo training run, always leave the house with your cell phone. Winter poses so many more hazards for running than spring, summer, and autumn. You just don’t know when things can get hairy. Tell a friend or partner of your planned running route. If it’s particularly frigid and your phone might die in the cold, pack your pocket with a little hand warmer packet. They are great for keeping your phone alive for when you need it the most. An extra mitten or a fleece “case” to tuck your phone inside can also be extremely helpful (as long as you don’t stop to take too many pictures!)!
Check the weather & pre-set your route
Pre-determine the distance, time & intensity of your run in relation to the weather. Records and PBs are usually not broken in the winter. Just getting out for a run with your dog in the dead of winter is a great accomplishment! Be sure to check weather conditions in advance, so you don’t get stuck out in the cold.
Have Realistic Expectations
Humans are suckers for punishment and some will venture out on 30km runs in a snowstorm. If that’s your thing, go for it! But, you’ll likely want to leave your dog at home. Winter Canicross should be fun and should never put your dog’s health at risk. Our dogs will instinctively go along with their human teammate, so you need to have a plan that takes their conditioning into mind.
Stay in Motion
It’s important for dogs to be constantly in motion in the cold weather. If they stand around too long, their core temperature will start to drop too quickly. It’s best to keep your breaks short.
Hydration for you and your dog is key. This might not be less intuitive in the winter, but is very important. A good way to entice your dog to drink is to give them a mixture of water and bone broth, which has amazing benefits for post-run recovery. A few drops of Omega-3 in their water also works.
Prep your Poop Bags!
I can’t stress enough how thankful you’ll be if you pre-open a few bags before you shove them in your pockets on cold days. You may be thinking “it only takes me a few seconds to open the bags - why worry?” but you’ll be cursing that thought when you spend a full minute trying to get one open on the trail and your un-mittened fingers are freezing!
Most Important: HAVE FUN!
I know this seems crazy to those of you who are new to winter running, but it’s so much fun! As long as you have the right mindset, dress and prepare accordingly, then winter in Atlantic Canada is a great time! There’s nothing quite like feeling that cool fresh air while you’re sweating buckets on a good run. Your dog is unlikely to overheat, so they are focused, happy and full of energy and their enthusiasm is contagious! PLUS, we promise you’ll warm up quick, particularly if you select a trail out of the wind (we highly recommend Mapleton Park for this reason).
The hardest part of winter running is simply getting out the door, but the benefits of getting out there far outweigh any hibernating tendencies we may have. If you're struggling to get out there, grab your teammate & join us for a weekend group training! If you can't wait to do more, scroll down for more info about our first event of 2019 at Fundy National Park!
Dog Day of Winter
January 27, 2019 @ Fundy National Park
What better way to experience winter with your dog than to attend the upcoming Dog Day of Winter Event at Fundy National Park on January 27th, 2019?!! This will be the first event of its kind at Fundy National Park & there will be something for every experience level!
Canicrossers are able to sign up for our morning Canicross Fun Run and beginners are encouraged to come out for our demo day and info booth.
There will be skijoring, bikejoring, kicksled and canicross demos. There'll even be a chance to "Try-a-Trail" on the specially groomed trails for those with harness dog sport experience.
Pop inside the Chignecto Pavillion to warm up with a cup of Buddha Bear Cafe coffee and to speak to our knowledgeable volunteers and staff from Fundy National Park, the Moncton Dog Runners, and the Maritime Association of Harness Dog Sports. Join us after the event in Alma for a social at the Holy Whale Brewing Co!