Pic: Emily Thomas/Animal News Agency

A couple of canicross enthusiasts are bringing excellence and safety to the sport, by launching the first ever training canicross qualification in the country.

Emily Thomas, who runs the K9 Trail Time online store from Brockworth, Gloucestershire, and Dawn Crook-Richards who runs the longstanding CaniX UK race series, were struck by the questions they were receiving about the sport from customers.

And with the number of pet dogs now larger than ever, and people looking for new ways to exercise with them, the pair realised that there was an urgent need for correct information, in order people and their pets to stay safe.

Canicross is running cross-country (on trails and paths, rather than roads) with your dog and the sport is growing in popularity in the UK.

Emily began taking part in canicross 13 years ago with her first dog, a husky-collie cross called Tegan.

“Tegan was very pretty, but very active, and I really struggled with her at first. I couldn’t let her off the lead because of her prey drive and she also suffered from severe separation anxiety, ripping up my house whenever I left!

“I needed a way to channel her energy, and a friend said, ‘Why don’t you run?’ Almost instantly, I noticed a massive change in her, and I have taken part in canicross events ever since with my dogs,” said Emily.

Emily with Yogi (pic: Emily Thomas/Animal News Agency)

Emily’s online store sells everything that someone starting out in the sport would need, such as the correct harnesses, belts and bungee leads.

But with a massive upsurge in popularity over the last five years, Emily and Dawn realised that with more people than ever taking part, having correct information and guidance out there had never been more important.

So the pair got together to create Canicross Coach and contacted the Awarding Organisation iPET Network, which specifies in creating qualifications in the animal-care sector. iPET Network supported them in writing the UK’s first ever qualification course in Canicross Coaching, so that more people can benefit from best practice and the experience of others.

Emily said, “With the course, it means that there is now a standard for all teaching, which means that in the UK we get the best sport possible.

“The course is designed to give people the in-depth knowledge that they need before they start, and includes elements such as risk assessing for events and canine first-aid.

“All of these things I wish I had known when I began, and it’s wonderful to be able to pass on the knowledge,” said Emily, who currently lives with four dogs: collie Judo, Springer Spaniel Donnie, husky-Greyhound crossbreed Yogi and spaniel Delta.

When creating the course, it was important to both Emily and Dawn, and iPET Network that the welfare of the dogs involved was at the heart of the qualification.

Emily added, “We have taken everything from a dog-centered approach, welfare of the dogs comes first and foremost in everything that we teach, and keeping the dogs safe at all times.”

Sarah Mackay and Fern Gresty founded the award-winning iPET Network, which creates high-quality Ofqual regulated qualification for people working with animals.

They said, “iPET Network is delighted to have worked with Emily and Dawn to offer this excellent course.

“As well as our pet professionals, it is important to consider the welfare and safety of animals taking part in sports or exercise. So to have best practice available in this way is wonderful for the sport of canicross.”

To find out more about the course, go to www.ipetnetwork.co.uk

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