Canicross: what it is and how to get involved

Own a dog who likes to run? Then canicross could be a new off-season sport and training discipline for you. We explain all you need to know...

What is canicross

Canicross is the sport of trail running harnessed to a dog. It comes from sled dog sports and is classed as a “mono discipline”, meaning one dog team.

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Theoretically canicross will make the runner cover more ground and run quicker times as the dog is pulling and assisting. As the sport is over trails, and natural terrain it can make the faster paces more challenging but a lot of fun. The dog wears a harness designed for pulling and running, the runner wears a hip belt and they are both attached by a bungee line.

Lindsay Johnson from ‘Cani-fit’ bring you all the need-to-know facts for training canicross style. Lindsay has taken podium in 95% of races she has attended and won several championships making her the perfect expert for this quick guide.

Is canicross good for dogs?

Canicross is fantastic for dogs. Dogs must be old enough that is safe for them to be running and pulling, you ideally want growth plates formed, so from 12 months on is an ideal age to start training, but it can vary from breed to breed so check with your veterinary surgeon first. Canicross can be a lot safer than free running with your dog as you can control where they are, keep them out of harm’s way and, more importantly, build up strength and a working bond when running and training together.

What are the key considerations for my dog?

You want to make sure your dog is old enough to start training, so between 11-18 months depending on the breed and size of your dog. You want to make sure they are medically fit and well to undertake a new sport  Flat faced breeds such as pugs would struggle. Temperature is crucial, dogs can easily overheat, so running in cooler temps is advised; windy, rainy or, if you are lucky, snowy days are the best times to be out canicrossing. Your dog should always be well hydrated before and after a run and given time between meals to allow food to digest (allow 3hours post meal before running, and do not feed until 1 hour post run) .

What equipment will I need for canicross?

Kit and trail type is essential in getting It right. Canicross isn’t just running with your dog in fancy gear, its a specific sport that requires specific kit , the right environment and training tools to make the experience safe and enjoyable.

Grippy trail shoes for the runner to keep up right when being pulled is always a good idea. You want to stay off stony/gravel or tarmac surfaces as much as possible and look for soft, natural, defined trails.

How do you get started in canicross?

Make sure you keep mileage low and to a minimum to begin with. Your dog may be fit and want to run all day , but pulling in harness and running consistently is not something you would do with a dog new to the sport.

We advise short, fun intervals, changing your trail loops, gradient and direction to make it fun. Always allow pauses and breaks before your dog is likely to switch off and become bored.

How can I incorporate it into my winter training programme?

If you are needing to up your speed or power to your winter schedule then canicross can help you, so why not add in an undulating 3 mile trail route with your dog. Pause at the bottom of each hill, and power up strong and hard, a fun way to incorporate some hills reps.

Which events do you recommend?

Sadly, there are no key dates at the moment due to the dreaded C word, however the season is normally packed full in the UK from around Sept- April , with canicross specific events, sled dog races and trail races who incorporate and welcome canicross runners.

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Before starting canicross with your dog please seek advice from your veterinary surgeon about your dog’s suitability and fitness levels. Always start training slowly and ensure you dog’s  growth plates are fully  formed. They have  usually formed by the time the dog has reached 12 months 0f age, but it can vary from breed to breed so always consult your veterinary surgeon.