Written by Emily Thomas from the Tri Dog Team.
Triathlon for dogs isn’t something that has been done before in the UK, probably because we have a climate which makes it very difficult to get the timing right for all three disciplines to be participated in at the same event.
Traditionally the running and cycling elements of a triathlon are winter sports when dogs are involved so that the dogs are running in cooler temperatures and are not likely to overheat and of course, this doesn’t relate so well to the open water swimming element! This is something we have considered at great length and so, as Tri Dog brings triathlon for dogs to the UK, we have chosen our dates accordingly to balancing these factors.
For our events, mainly based around the Midlands area for this, our first season, Tri Dog took our inspiration from a competition which has been running in Europe for 7 consecutive years now called ‘Iron Dog’. Using their model, we have begun to offer a programme of training and events to develop triathlon for dogs in the UK.
The main elements of a Tri Dog event are:
Running with dogs is now more commonly known as canicross and is defined as cross country running with your dog attached to you. To take part in canicross races, your dog must have a correctly fitting harness and be attached, via a bungee lead, to a waistbelt worn by the person. Canicross is a fast growing sport in the UK and there have been specific races for people to take part in with their dogs for over 10 years now.
Biking with dogs is known as bikejoring and although it originates from the sled dog sports, where people used bikes to keep their dogs fit in the spring and autumn when there was no snow for sledding, is now a sport in it’s own right. Riders usually have a mountain bike with an attachment which helps to keep the bungee line from falling in the wheel if the dog stops suddenly and the dog is in harness, attached to the bike via a bungee lead around the headstock of the bike. Bikejor is much faster than canicross and the top dog and rider combinations are reaching speeds of in excess of 30 mph on some of the trails.
Swimming with dogs hasn’t got a specific name and isn’t yet a recognised sport. For the Tri Dog events being brought to the UK we are requesting that your dog is attached to you via a lead of some description for safety. The idea is to try and get your dog to either swim alongside you in the open water or, if you’ve got a really strong swimmer, they can even pull you if they are wearing a comfortable harness.
The Tri Dog series of training and events got underway at the beginning of October with our first training weekend and we were really pleased with its popularity; it completely sold out. We welcomed a group of owners and their dogs to Croft Farm, near Tewkesbury, where they all had the opportunity to participate in all three disciplines and practice some vital race skills.
The bikejor sessions concentrated on bike skills for the people and then, once some key skills were established and practiced, the dogs were brought into the training sessions. Depending on previous experience, some people tackled a specially designed skills trail, whilst others gained confidence riding with their dog being attached to the bike and running out in front.
Canicrossers were passing each other side by side and then progressing to head on passes, encouraging the dogs to ignore each other and stay calm. Race starts were also practiced and, most importantly, the triathlon transitions were explained and then completed by all those taking part.
For the Tri Dog events we are using stake out lines to attach the dogs to whilst the owner changes their equipment for each phase, this enables the dog to see the owner at all times, but not interfere with any other dog or person, keeping everyone involved separate and safe. For many dogs and owners the stake out line is a new experience and one with which we believe it is important for dogs and owners to be come familiar and comfortable.
The swimming sessions worked on getting the dogs confidently into the water and for some this was the first time they had experienced open water swimming with their dogs. Therefore making the process as calm and enjoyable as possible was vital to ensure the dogs (and their owners) would be happy to do this again. For the swimming element of the triathlon, the welfare of the dogs is paramount and we do not encourage owners to force their dogs to swim. With this in mind there will be a wade option for those whose dogs are struggling with the swim.
The weekend was a resounding success and Tri Dog have already had calls for more training sessions before the main event scheduled to take place at the end of April 2017. This is being considered; schedules allowing.