Owners and their dogs are discovering the delights of canicross.
You own a dog that needs to be regularly exercised. And you know that running will benefit your own health. So put the two together and what do you get? Canicross.
A sporty import from Canada, canicross has been fast gathering fans in Scotland. The basic concept is that people and dogs are leashed together, with the dog at the front running ahead â€“ and pulling along â€“ the owner.
The pace doesnâ€™t need to be fast, but the aim is for owner and dog to enjoy keeping fit together.
If you then want to take the sport to a higher level, itâ€™s possible to compete in a wide range of events, from canicross fun runs of 2.5k to marathon events.
Canicross skills and training
In the west of Scotland, Lindsay Cloughey is one of the most enthusiastic canicross fans youâ€™ll meet. Her story is that she was keen to run with her dog but when she approached local running and jogging groups they werenâ€™t all that keen to have her dog along for training sessions.
So Lindsay, of Kilmaurs, Ayrshire, set up her own dog and owner running sessions and launched a business called Cani-Fit. She now organises numerous sessions each week and has a strong and growing community of canicross participants.
Lindsay, who trains and races with her Â malamute called Suko and Monty, a Scandinavian hound, says: â€œCanicross is an amazing sport and brilliant for people and dogs whatever their fitness level.
â€œGetting out with your dog and jogging or running around the countryside is so much fun â€“ and it has the benefits of keeping both owner and dog fit and healthy.â€
How to get started with canicross
The main piece of equipment is a special dog harness that fits comfortably around the dog and keeps the lead, which is then attached around the ownerâ€™s waist, from becoming entangled in their legs.
The lead is elasticated so that if either person or dog stops suddenly, neither one is jolted uncomfortably.
Apart from the harness, all you require is normal running clothing. A pair of off-road running shoes are a great idea for muddy and rocky terrain but when you first try the sport you could wear normal road running footwear.
One Cani-Fit regular is Sarah, who swapped the gym for Cani-Fit sessions. She says: â€œI found the gym so boring and stuffy, which is probably why Iâ€™ve never stuck to a fitness programme.
â€œBeing outdoors is so different and running with my dog is so enjoyable. I feel as though it gives me a huge mental boost, too. And I donâ€™t even mind the weather because I love the feeling of freedom.â€
Sarah, who is the owner of several Border Collies, adds: â€œI never imagined being a runner but because I am with my dogs and we are leashed together it just feels like fun, rather than exercise.â€
Since launching her Cani-Fit company a couple of years ago, Lindsay has been amazed by the interest in the sport.Â She says: â€œMy classes in and around Glasgow have taken off and I am getting demand from areas further away. I think people like new ways to keep fit and because this also includes their dogs they are doing two things at once.
â€œIt actually seems strange to me that people would take their dog on a short walk, go home and then go out again to exercise themselves at the gym or on a run. With people being so time-poor Canicross is the answer to dog and owner fitness needs.â€
There are canicross races in their own right, as well as races that are included in Sled Dog racing events. Mary Carter, of the Sled Dog Association of Scotland, has seen a huge rise in canicross competitors.
She says: â€œCanicross is easy to get into because you only need a dog and a lead and harness. People find the canicross races fun and all-inclusive.
â€œFrom there some might try bikejoring, which is where your bike is pulled along by the dog, or scootering. After that the next step might be to give sled dog racing a go. This is a rig, three or four-wheeled, that is operated by a person and pulled along by a team of dogs. That is my sport, but I can also see the appeal of canicross.â€
Indeed Lindsay has been one of the most successful Scottish canicross competitors of recent years. Last year she won the SDAS canicross event in the senior womenâ€™s category and she also qualified for the World Championships. She will be competing this month in Italy.
She says: â€œI have been so lucky to discover canicross and it has given me a business, a new fitness and a great way of life. I would encourage anyone who owns a dog, whatever the breed, to give the sport a go.â€
To find out more:
For Cani-Fit see www.cani-fit.com
Also check out Canicross Scotland