In this article, we'll explore what exactly makes an event dog-friendly and the key things you should be aware of before entering an event with your dog, including:
the type of surface
the time of year / predicted temperature
the event's insurance requirements
Canicross and running with your dog are slowly becoming more popular in our region. As a dog-lover, you may be excited by this (we sure are!) and hoping to include your 4-legged training partner in more of your race schedule --- but how do you know if an event is truly dog-friendly?
We know you care about your dog, so you’re probably asking yourself questions like:
“Is it ok for my dog to run on roads?”
“Is it too hot/cold for my dog?”
“Is the distance appropriate for my dog’s current stamina?”
and above all else:
“Will my dog be safe?”
The Important Questions
Is the running surface appropriate for my dog?
Did you know that running on pavement can have a detrimental effect on canine health? Running on pavement can damage a dog’s pads (especially in the summer when pavement is hot) and the impact can cause substantial wear on canine joints.
Is it too hot/cold for my dog?
Did you know dogs can get heat stroke? Or that it only takes a temperature increase of 3 degrees to seriously impact their systems?
International regulatory bodies for dog sports have come up with some helpful guidelines to assist in making a call with respect to temperature and canine exercise:
Dogs should not engage in strenuous exercise when the temperature is above 30 degrees Celsius (" ̊C") or below -30 ̊C.
When the temperature exceeds 15 ̊C, a small swimming pool or a body of water should be available for dogs to cool off near the finish area
Heat & Distance Guidelines (per international standards)
Between 10 and 17°C: maximum 8 km;
18 to 23 ̊C: maximum 3.5 km;
24 ̊C at 28 ̊C: 2 km or less at an easy effort (regulatory bodies do not allow hard-effort racing at this temperature)
Remember, every dog is different and different breeds may be affected more or less by temperature. For example, a thick-coated Bernese Mountain Dog will be more negatively impacted by small increases in temperature than a short-coated Hungarian Vizsla.
A good rule of thumb: if the race starts after 9am during the summer months, it’s probably best to leave your dog at home.
Is the distance appropriate for my dog’s current stamina?
Like people, dogs need to build up mileage gradually over time - usually no more than 1-2km added to the mileage total per week (though this looks different for every dog depending on breed, age, health, weight, etc. and should be discussed with a veterinarian).
What if there are multiple factors going on?
If multiple factors are present (for example a half or full marathon on paved roads in +15 degree weather), the risk to your best friend is substantially higher and could result in serious injury or death.
No race is worth losing your best buddy over. MAHDS STRONGLY recommends leaving your training partner at home during the summer months.
Will my dog be a hindrance to other runners?
Not all races or events are designed to accommodate dogs. As a conscientious owner, it’s important to consider the impact your dog’s presence might have on other runners, volunteers, and/or officials.
Is your dog liable to be reactive? Are they a “good citizen” in crowds? Have they ever been in a crowd before?
If your dog is reactive or not used to crowds, a race likely isn’t the best time to test it. You want to set your dog up for the best possible experience and that means preparing your dog properly and taking into consideration their specific needs. If you’d like to start conditioning your dog to the race setting, we’d highly recommend hooking up with your local harness dog sports club.
Are dogs allowed? Is the event insured for dogs?
Did you know that most insurance companies will not insure events that involve dogs and are not properly affiliated with a canine sports association?
Did you know that most running event insurance does not cover the inclusion of dogs in running events?
Did you know that if someone participates in an event with a dog and special insurance is NOT in place, it can void the policy for the entire event?
If a race is not advertised as dog-friendly, we strongly recommend reaching out to the organizers before showing up with your dog. If it is specifically noted that the event is NOT dog-friendly, be sure to leave your dog at home, as you could be putting his/her safety or that of other participants at risk.
Note: all events sanctioned through MAHDS are properly insured and regulated to ensure the highest standard of care for you and your 4-legged running partner.
Is the event appropriate for my dog’s age?
The following guidelines are typically applied with respect to the age of dogs involved in dog sports:
2 km or less: dogs must be at least 10 months of age
2 - 6 km: dogs must be at least 12 months of age
6 - 10 km: dogs must be at least 15 months of age
10+ km: dogs must be at least 18 months of age
While these age guidelines take into consideration the average growth rate of most dogs, they are a general standard and may not be appropriate for every dog. For example, it may not be in the best interest of a 10 year old large breed dog to run 10+ km. If you’re not sure what’s best for your dog, it’s a good idea to check in with your veterinarian.
Ok, so the event is Dog-Friendly, now what?
Once you’ve determined if the event is likely to be a safe environment for your dog, there are a few more things you can do to ensure their safety & control potential risk factors. We’ve highlighted a few below!
We HIGHLY recommended that runners with dogs start separately from those without in order to decrease the risk of injury to dogs and humans. At a harness dog sports race, mass starts are avoided and teams typically start in smaller groups called “waves” to minimize risk and ensure a safe environment for each team.
Ratio of Dogs to Humans
If you are running in an event that involves runners with and without dogs, there is a LOT going on & your dog will be excited and easily distracted. They may bark, jump or lunge. Given the environment and the number of runners, volunteers, officials, and spectators who will likely be in close proximity to you and your dog, we HIGHLY recommend that runners with dogs maintain a ratio of one dog to one human.
For the safety and welfare of the dog it is NEVER advisable to run with a dog on a neck collar. For the safety of human and canine runners it is NEVER advisable that a dog be run while using a hand-held leash. A collar can easily damage a dog’s trachea - especially if they are excited and jumpy or liable to pull while you run. A hand-held leash can easily be dropped resulting in a loose dog in a scary, stressful crowded setting.
Dogs should be outfitted in a properly fitted harness with back attachment attached to a hands-free leash or canicross belt and bungee line secured around the human participant’s waist. This allows the dog to move more properly & ensures your dog stays where they belong: attached to you!
Maritime Association of Harness Dog Sports MAHDS is the regional governing body for harness dog sports in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. MAHDS is accountable to the Canadian Association of Harness Dog Sports.
Canadian Association of Harness Dog Sports ACSCA/CAHDS is the governing body for harness dog sports in Canada. ACSCA/CAHDS is a member of the International Federation of Sleddog Sports.
International Federation of Sleddog Sports IFSS is the international governing body for harness dog sports. This organization is made up of national federations from across the globe.
International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association ISDVMA promotes the well being, welfare, and safety of sled dogs. The ISDVMA is an associate member of IFSS and advises on acceptable race rules as they apply to the safety and welfare of dogs.
If you have any other questions or would like more information about canicross or running with your dog, please reach out - we’re here to help! You can get in touch with us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by messaging us on Facebook or Instagram.