From street dogs to canicross dogs – Bert and Vic’s unique and touching story

Running with your dog can be great for your own mental health, wellbeing and physical fitness. But canicross can be just as beneficial for dogs too, as this touching story explains. If you’re new to the canicross, we have a previous blog that helps you get started

In this blog, provided by DogFit, Alexis Fisher shares her story about how canicross has helped her rescue dogs transition from living rough on the streets of Spain to gaining confidence, socialisation skills and ultimately a closer bond.

You can get a 5% discount in the DogFit shop as a Run Mummy Run community member with the code RMR at checkout.

Introducing Bert and Vic

My name is Alexis and I had my first canicross intro in October 2018 with my local DogFit Trainer in Richmond Park with my dog Bert. We loved it! I then booked another intro session and brought along Bert’s brother Vic to get fitted for a harness and try a splitter lead for the two dogs. Since then, we have been running with DogFit as often as we can, fitting in sessions around my shift work as a Paramedic.

Bert and Vic are rescue mixed breed dogs that were strays in Spain, believed to be almost three years old. They are litter brothers and are thought to have been born to street dogs. They were then found and taken to the municipal dog pound when they were approximately four months old.

My husband and I wanted a rescue. I spotted Bert (was Alberto) on the Spanish Stray Dogs UK website. We went through the adoption process and Bert arrived with us in December 2016, aged around eight or nine months.

After a couple of weeks, I received an email from the rescue centre asking if there was any chance we would consider adopting Bert’s brother Vic (was Victor). He was being attacked by the other dogs since Bert had left and had become so withdrawn and anxious they were worried about his safety in the pound. Vic arrived with us four weeks later in an awful state; terrified of everything and covered in battle scars.

From street dogs to domestic pets

We invested in animal behaviourists and positive reinforcement trainers to try to help Bert and Vic. It was a very slow process, as they had no previous experience of being domestic pets and had pretty much been left to their own devices. They needed toilet training, and Vic was frightened of my husband Matt and would bark every time he moved.

They were both very reactive. I used to dread walking them, as I would be pulled down the street with them lunging and barking at people. Initially, we had no relationship with them outside of the house. They had such high prey drives and would not make eye contact with us, and therefore could not go off lead due to their lack of reliable recall.

As the months passed, we improved a lot, but still had issues with reactivity towards joggers and cyclists.

I discovered canicross after reading on a reactive dogs website that using a hands-free harness might help me manage my two dogs better when walking them together. I googled harnesses and came across the DogFit website and saw that there are actually Personal Trainer led running groups for dogs and their owners – perfect!

Giving canicross a try

I’m an active person and could run a slow 5k, but I would not describe myself as a runner. I sent an email to my local group and Sarah soon replied with dates for her up and coming introductory sessions.

I was apprehensive about our first canicross session for all sorts of reasons.  Would my dogs take a dislike to someone else’s dog?  Would they run next to each other or mess about play fighting as they often do? Will they react to others in the park?  Will they pull me over?

Sarah was friendly and welcoming. She brought various harnesses so we could find a good fit and taught me the basic commands. We started on a nice slow run in a small group with Bert and Vic absolutely loving running in a pack with other dogs.

We had one incident where we ended up too close to a cyclist and my dogs reacted to him; unfortunately the cyclist wanted to have a go at me for having out of control dogs. Sarah came to my aid, calmly defusing the situation. I felt very embarrassed about having ‘problem’ dogs and wondered if I ought to continue, but Sarah explained that canicross is actually perfect for nervous dogs like Bert and Vic as they get to socialise and have frequent safe exposure to the things that make them nervous instead of avoiding them completely.

DogFit and rescue canicross dogs
The whole group is excellent as they shout out if there is an oncoming cyclist so I can be prepared. I really feel like everyone understands Bert and Vic’s needs and wants to help us.

I can generally make one or two of Sarah’s classes per week. I did most of Sarah’s Couch to 10k plan and we are now regularly running between 5 and 10 miles per session.

DogFit classes

The DogFit classes really work for me as I can’t commit to regular days due to my shift patterns. Most training classes ask for regular attendance, but I can drop in to these sessions as and when I am available. I also like the fact that you pay a set fee for a class regardless of how many dogs you have – usually two dogs means double the price!

Since joining the DogFit canicross classes, we have seen a real change in Bert and Vic’s behaviour. They are generally more relaxed and affectionate at home, and are now able to tolerate joggers and cyclists passing by. I still need to bring them close to me and reassure them, but they are not lunging at every single one they see which is such a welcome improvement!

I feel that it has enhanced my relationship with the dogs and helped us to bond even more. I have started to let them off lead in safe areas in my local park as they are more attentive and less frustrated.

Along with the socialisation for the dogs, I also really enjoy the exercise and company of group running and meeting like-minded dog lovers.

This article has been written and supplied as part of a paid promotion with DogFit.

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