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To race or not to race ? by Chiara Moscardini

I’m not sure how running your first cani-cross race usually is for other people but for me it was genuinely one of those unforgettable moments. That might sound a bit dramatic but to me it wasn’t just about running the race- being there in the first place was a huge deal for me and my dog, Lacey. To understand why it’s probably best to give a bit of background on Lacey:

We rehomed Lacey from a rescue after she had been found as a stray wandering the streets. She had eye infections and was underweight and it was thought she’d been abused at some point. She was terrified of everything- noises, people, cars. The first night we had her my husband dropped a teaspoon on the floor and the rattle of it sent her behind the sofa for an hour. The one thing she wasn’t scared of from the start was other dogs, so we were gutted when this changed after she was attacked by a dog in the park. After this, she couldn’t handle being anywhere near dogs and would go for any dog in sight. We got in dog behaviourists and trainers but every time we thought we were making the tiniest bit of progress something would happen that would set us right back to the start again. We started walking Lacey really early in the morning or late at night just to avoid dogs. It kept her away from them but it didn’t help to address her fears and we knew that she wasn’t getting the exercise she needed because it was hard to walk her for long enough at the times we had her out.
I saw flyers for Cani-fit and ummed and ahhed over whether or not we should go. On one hand I though she might have good experiences with other dogs who are on-lead while getting some exercise, but on the other I wondered if it would be too much for her to handle. Eventually, after a phone call to Lindsay, I thought I would try out a one-to-one session and see how we got on.
We both loved it! Hilary took us out with her beautiful dog, Lolly, who was so mellow that Lacey was quickly at-ease running alongside her. Soon after we went to our first group session and I ordered Lacey her own harness and bungee because I knew this was something we would keep doing.

I explained to our group leader, Fiona, about Lacey’s issues and she would ask everyone to try to give us space, which they always did. As we continued to go to classes I could see Lacey’s confidence building. I started to realise that when we were running she wasn’t in the slightest bit phased by the other dogs, no matter how near they were. This just kept getting better and better to the point where other group runners would be surprised when I told them about her issues. They had never seen her react in the slightest to any of the other dogs, in fact she seemed more confident and relaxed the closer she was to them. One night, when we had stopped for a breather during a run, I looked down and realised that Lacey was standing in a tight pack with 8 other dogs around her, looking the happiest I’d ever seen her. This gave me the confidence to sign up for our first race and so we signed up for the Cani-fit eXperience.

Although I’d felt brave enough to register, I was still incredibly nervous about actually running the course. Every session we had done had been in the dark with just our group. I knew that in the past Lacey could be more reactive during the day when she can see more around her (and so see more things that are scary). I also knew that there would be hundreds of dogs around and I didn’t know if there would be many cars, farm animals or anything else that might set her off. On the drive in to the race I started to worry that I had done the wrong thing and might be pushing my luck. When we got into the car park and Lacey saw dogs walking by the car she started having a slight meltdown so I took her a walk through the fields to calm her down before it was our time to run. She stopped barking as soon as she was out of the car but she was still obviously full of energy so we kept our distance from the start line until about 10-15 minutes before we were due to run. To be honest I actually don’t think I needed to make such an effort to keep her away. When we got to the start line there were already a load of runners with their dogs waiting for their turn to go and once we were standing in beside them Lacey was happy as Larry.

We set off and Lacey did her best job of pulling me as hard as she could though I definitely slowed her down. We overtook and were overtaken by others and she couldn’t have cared less, she was just focused on going forward. There were a couple of muddy sections but these didn’t phase her. She hesitated a bit when it came to running through the stream but it didn’t take much encouragement to get her through and she was back on her way. Coming up to the finish line I could hear shouts of encouragement from the spectators and volunteers which spurred me to to get one quick sprint in to the end.

The first thing that my sister said to me when we crossed the finish line was, “I can see why you like this so much. I’ve never seen Lacey like this.” My husband agreed and I was so glad that they had the chance to see this side of her, what I’d been seeing every week at Cani-fit. After the race we casually walked through the crowd, past numerous dogs who sniffed Lacey, stopping to talk to people while Lacey and their dog said ‘hi’. It was the first time since we got her that I have felt like a regular dog owner. It was so amazing to not feel stressed about how she might react to something or apologise for her snapping or having to explain to people that “no, my dog isn’t hurt but that shrieking/screeching noise is what she does when she’s scared”. Other than the brief moment in the car when we first arrived (which I put down to barrier frustration) she was perfect the whole time. I’m so glad that I didn’t chicken out because taking part in the race has shown me what Lacey is capable of and it has given me so much more confidence in both her and me. I know now that she has the capacity to trust other dogs again, and not just ones she sees at class, but new dogs that she has never met before, loads of them, while surrounded by cars and cows at a busy race. This race was a test for both of us and I think we passed. Now that we’ve done it, we will definitely be signing up to another race except next time the focus won’t be on how Lacey will behave, it will be on me. I need to speed my time up!
Chiara and Lacey