How do you teach your dog to maintain its speed all the way across the finish line? In sports like canicross, bikejoring, skijoring and dog mushing, some might experience their dog slowing down, or stopping completely, before crossing the finish line. In competitions this could mean losing valuable seconds, and it might be a good idea to practice finishing.
Practice with distractions
The finishing area might be filled with fluttering barrier tape, sponsor banners, spectators, and a lot of noise. Maybe other participants are standing by with their dogs. This might cause insecurity in your dog, causing him/her to slow down. Therefore, you should practice dealing with distractions. If you haven’t practiced running under a finish line banner, or past a cheering crowd, you can’t expect your dog to master it. It is your job to make your dog feel invincible!
Seek out or create distractions during training that are similar to those you will encounter in competitions, and reward your dog for passing them. Having one or more helpers is recommended.
For more tips on how to accustom your dog to distractions, listen to this podcast-episode with trainer Steve Walsh.
Run past the finish line
Lena Boysen Hillestad has won 25 World Cup medals in Nordic style, sled, and dryland. She deliberately practices crossing the finish line with her dogs.
- Dogs are smart. When they realize where the finish line is, they tend to stop a bit earlier.
To avoid this, Lena makes it less obvious for the dogs where the finish line is, so that they don’t associate a line on the ground, or a banner, with stopping.
-We always run past the finish line in our training grounds, past the car, or past the starting area.
Reward your dog
If your dog associates crossing the finish line with something positive, there is a good chance that it will maintain its speed all the way to reach the reward that lies ahead. The best reward will vary from dog to dog. Some prefer a toy or a treat, while others prefer praise and petting. Experiment to find out what your dog likes the most. To make the reward extra special, you should only give it when your dog crosses the finish line, not on an everyday basis or in other settings.
If your dog prefers treats you should be careful not to reward too much immediately after a race, or you could risk him/her getting a stomach torsion.
Take a break
Another trick to make crossing the line a rewarding experience for your dog, is to take a break roughly one kilometer before the finish line.
- Then we can cross the line at full speed, says Lena.
Preparation in training
If you want your dog to cross the finish line with confidence and at a high speed, a prerequisite is that you have prepared him/her properly for the competition.
- Good and thorough training in advance is important, so that the dog doesn’t get exhausted, says Lena.