So Mozi is almost 19 months, he just completed his first 5km canicross race and has had a few different race experiences now. He is doing amazingly well and he has just about got to where we want him to be in terms of concentration and enjoyment. However he has not been a natural at harness sports at all and so we thought we would share our experiences of training our first greysther. Obviously the ‘breed’ varies hugely and so we are well aware what we have experienced could be very different to what others experience.
So we started training Mozi in harness at 9 months old. We had a few reasons for this and we did want him to be able to race a few days after he turned a year old. We wanted him to experience being in a race (he had been at plenty of races) early if possible because Mozi is not the most confident dog. His breeder did a fantastic job when he was a puppy and so his recovery from being startled is amazing and actually he copes amazingly well with novel items, people and locations. Saying that he is what we call a ‘thinky’ dog and because he thinks so much he tends to scare himself over silly little things. Mozi needs a good reason to do something and running in a harness just didn’t seem worth doing for him. He was used to the harness, he had been wearing one since a puppy and as he grew we also randomly put the longer running harnesses on him so he was used to how they fitted and felt. So we trained that from the beginning. From about 6 months he went free running on short runs (no more then 3km) with Paul and Dill, both canicrossing and bikejoring until he got too confident and went off hunting instead! Luckily his recall has always been pretty amazing!
Mozi had been walked in a harness from a puppy for a few reasons, one to get him used to wearing a harness and two, to let him learn pulling was okay. Mozi wasn’t a puller. In fact he very rarely ever pulled to go anywhere! Too busy on lead thinking and taking in everything. He has unfortuantely been attached on several different occassions by small dogs and so he has been a bit nervous of them. Thankfully due to some awesome friends and their awesome dogs we are getting over that now.
We have been super lucky to have some amazing friends so we could set up our own puppy training group, the pups included Mozi’s two sisters and a friends pointer cross pup. This has meant that we can do group runs with them, getting them used to running alongside other dogs, learn to pass, be passed, learn that scooters, bikes and rigs could come past or you need to pass them. It has been an amazing environment to teach the pups and the excitement from the other dogs helped give Mozi the encouragement needed to run and start pulling into harness.
However though Mozi was showing real improvements in the groups, he really struggled to find focus when it was just Paul and him. So they would do runs sometimes 1km, sometimes shorter, just to make sure they stopped before Mozi lost focus. This worked really well, until he decided he didn’t want to run back to the car because that meant going home! However running through the car park and out the other side a few times has helped with this! So running on his own has been built up very slowly.
At Easter Mozi entered his first race, it was a 4 day event and you needed 3 days to place, so we entered two with rest days between. We wanted the race to be purely training and confidence building. Mozi was great, none of us were sure he was going to even start running on the start line, he was so calm but he went and he did amazingly! He was a little unsure of the marshalls and he gave the photographer a look and slowed a little but he kept going. The second day he raced, he was much more excited, he remembered it was fun – that was amazing. All we have ever wanted is for him to enjoy running in harness.
A few weeks later, we entered him into the Magic Mile event, which was a bit of a last minute entry as we had been a little unsure as to whether it was worth entering him. The best thing about this event is that they are happy to set up the start list so that you have the best chance of getting your fastest mile. So we got a friend of ours to run Dill out first, Mozi adores Dill, so we thought watching him run off would help keep his motivation up. It worked really well and he really ran well, even when he could no longer see Dill! You can see the difference in the two race photos that the second one Mozi has so much more focus!
Unfortuantely we then had a really hot summer – which Mozi loved! He is clearly solar powered as he spent all time laying in the sun and then when it would go down he would be ready to play, run, do anything, even if it was still too hot! However we did find that he was loosing his motivation to pull into harness again, the boys had been having hydro in the treadmill, pulling into their harnesses but Mozi lost all motivation, he didn’t want to do it anymore, so we moved him to the pool. When we did get a cool day Paul found that he really had lost his motivation again and so he did very little harness work over the summer, gave him a big break and started again in September.
When September came around again and it cooled a little we were able to start our group training sessions again and slowly Mozi’s motivation came back again. Possibly the fact he was a bit older and the fact he had a break meant that his motivation came back and with it so did some focus. Paul was able to increase how far he ran him on his own to 3km without him getting distracted by the smells of rabbits and hares. By this point he was 18 months and old enough to compete on the bike. He wasn’t ready for a 5km canicross race though let alone a bike race and so unlike we originally planned we didn’t race in September apart from Tri Dog, for Dill. Mozi was lent to a friend of ours to run the 2.5km leg of their team triathlon though and he coped with that amazingly, he ran out well once he got over the confusion of it all and came in strong. We did however realise at this race that he had changed shape so much he needed a new harness!
As he was doing so well we decided it was time that he looks at running 5km, we had planned his first 5km race to be in November but he is doing well, he is focused and he is happy running in his new harness so we wanted to see how it went.
We took him and lent Dill to a friend, which just happened to end up going out straight after Paul and Mozi, which meant after about 1km they over took them but Mozi didn’t even look at Dill, just kept on going straight. He didn’t pay any attention the marshalls, didn’t even notice the photographer. He just kept on going. We honestly couldn’t have been happier with how he ran, from the dog that really didn’t see the point in running in harness (after all he could speed around off lead!) to the dog that ran at Hicks…. it just shows that training and perseverance pays off. Even a purpose bred dog needs to be trained for the job!
So without a doubt we still have work to do. As you can see from the start, he was so happy to start that he didn’t actually hear Paul say go! Can’t complain really, he is still very much a baby and he was pretty calm considering. It took us ages to teach Dill to line out properly, and he still barks his head off whilst lined out! I think Mozi will be much calmer and more focused on the start line in time. At the moment everything is about giving him a good experience, making sure that he has fun and teaching him about racing. We can’t rush him because he is a dog that if you try and rush, won’t work for you. He is a sensitive soul who needs a lot of encouragement. He is also a dog with a ton of potential.
We love our boy, he is a constant source of amusement but he has been very different to Dill, he doesn’t have the working brain that Dill does. He has needed a lot of time and nurturing to get him to where he is and he still has so much to give. We are incredibly lucky to have some amazing friends and a training group that we go to, turn up, talk about what we want to achieve and teach the dogs and then get on with it. Our little group has done Mozi the world of good!
So here is to more training, more fun and a long future of running!