What do you get when you attach a lively collie – with a top speed of 35mph – to an occasional jogger whose greatest exertion is running for the train? Carnage.
That’s what I am picturing as I take Mac, my four-year-old beardie, to try some urban mushing or canicross – essentially running with your dog. But not just running alongside or behind your dog; being harnessed together and running in sync.
Lindsay Cloughley, 29, from Glasgow, who worked as a make-up artist for 12 years, and two-year-old Suko, an Alaskan Malamute, are experienced canicross runners.
Cloughley set up Cani-Fit in 2011 and last year she and Suko ran the West Highland Way. "We made it to the end but it was a slog," she says. "It was a lot of tears and snotters and missing toenails."
I hope there's no toenail trauma today as Mac and I get into our respective harnesses before being joined together by what appears to be a bungee rope.
My harness goes around my waist and Mac's goes round his shoulders and under his ribs. There is extra give in the rope so that should Mac veer sharply in any direction or stop, I won't be pulled off my feet.
Now with our gear on, it's time to meet Suko, who bounds over like a big white furry whirlwind. When two young male dogs encounter each other paw to paw, anything can happen.
There is a bit of a growl-off and some jostling and I wonder for a second if Suko, who towers above Mac, might actually try to eat him. Ducking and weaving round our legs like Maypole dancers, the pair quickly get their long lines tangled. We decide to get cracking.
Cloughley has adapted training methods learned from working with sled dogs to help owners to improve their fitness and that of their dogs. She teaches group sessions or one-to-one training. Canicross works best for people who are healthy but want to increase their fitness, and dogs with energy to burn.
As soon as we begin to run, and with regard to my own efforts I use the word run in the loosest sense, something amazing happens. The dogs fall into line and run along shoulder to shoulder.
Cloughley has seen it all before. "They are in work mode now," she says. "The best reward you can give to a dog is a job. That's what dogs are born for, to work. That's what they want to do. They don't need a biscuit to do it."
We soon find a pace that suits all four of us. I had feared that I would be dragged round the course by Mac as he strained to go faster, as he does when he is running on the lead. However, with this set-up, he matches my slower pace.
"It's a good way of bonding with your dog because you are working as a team," says Cloughley. "Normally if you take him out for a walk and he is off the lead, that is playtime for him. He is doing his own thing until you tell him to come back. When you are doing something like this with him, the two of you are working together."
There are a couple of times when Mac veers off route to a must-sniff spot but usually this happens when we have slowed to a walk. A timely "no" and he's off again.
Another tip I pick up is not to point in the direction I want to go, but to teach him left and right. This means he doesn't need to look round for direction and gives his brain extra stimulation.
Cloughley declares Mac a natural. "A lot of dogs turn around to look at the harness but he's fine. He's also slowing down and speeding up to match your pace."
Finally, a pursuit that challenges us both. I think we might be hooked.
Mac and Me say: We know from being out and about that dog owners tend to be a sociable bunch who like to stop and talk and are always trading tips and stories. Please treat this blog as a virtual stroll in the park and feel free to chip in with any questions or comments or stories of your own.
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