As part of the training I’m doing with my youngest dog (he’s 21 months and really starting his canicross adventures) I’m working on getting the canicross commands nailed before taking us too far and too fast.

Why train the commands? For me, it’s important to ensure I have a solid toolkit of commands whilst canicrossing. Both my dogs are strong pulling dogs and the communication has to come from me in order to work together to get to our common goal, be that a certain route or whilst we are running in an event.

Due to the terrain that I run on, a behind command is essential to teach as I run sections of the South West coastpath and have to ensure I keep myself safe whilst descending some steep sections. To do this, I make sure I start to teach the behind command as soon as the other directional commands have been introduced.

The directional commands come quite easily to most dogs as you can use your body to reinforce the command you are training. With the command to turn right, I slightly lean my body to the right and use my right hand to indicate which way I am wanting to go. The dogs can see the hand signal in their peripheral view and whilst I do so I say “right, right” to connect the verbal and the visual cues.

Obviously, with the behind command I need to be in front and the dog behind. This in itself makes this command training one that will take time for your dog to learn but stick with it, once you’ve mastered it, it becomes invaluable if you are having to descend steep hills, tracks or coastal sections.

The first time you do this you don’t want to take it to a very steep descent, set yourself up for training sessions that are short and achievable, to begin with. I certainly didn’t take my youngest out to a steep coastal path for his first behind training!

Canicross at Sandymouth

Take it step-by-step.

Start by running to your location so that you can both warm-up and will allow your dog to stay focused on canicross and running with you, working as a team. It sets them up to listen but gives them a chance to run off the initial excitement and energy that comes from being out there with you. I tend to put my “training” elements of my sessions into the middle sections of my route.

As you approach your downhill training section, get your dog to steady up and then stop. Manoevre them into a behind position and verbally cue “behind” as you move forward (just walking initially). If your dog creeps forward, stop, get them back to a behind position and verbally cue it, then begin again. Don’t rush this and don’t punish or shout at them when they move ahead, just set them back up in position and continue. It may take a little while for you to descend but it’s far better to be consistent and make it a positive experience for your dog. This will ensure you can return to it next time with incrementally better results.

At the end of the downhill session, praise your dog and allow them to then run out front when safe to do so giving them a fun end to a good training section of the run.

I recommend doing this training when it’s just you and your dog. When running with a pack or another dog, your dog may become too distracted in the initial sessions and want to stay with the pack leader or other dog and become unable to focus fully on the training session.

In lockdown 3.0 I made it my mission to crack the behind command with Reggie and we have come a long way. I was able to run a coastal section recently with him in a solid behind command and felt very happy and confident with his knowledge and his understanding of the behind command. This is the stage you want to get to with your dog too.

Check out our video where Tilly and I take on a steep coastal descent – training the behind command.

I hope this helps you with your training and even though it’s one of the hardest commands I’ve had to train my dogs in canicross, it has been the one that has ensured we get to make the most of the routes we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep.

Enjoy your running together and do let me know if this video has helped you get some training sessions in with your dog.