Canicross

A Beginner’s Guide to Canicross: Getting Started with the Sport

There are a variety of different sports and activities you can enjoy with your dog, including fetch, agility contests and Schutzhund, among others. However, one canine activity that is becoming more and more popular is Canicross. Good for you and your dog, Canicross gives you a great way for you and your dog to get some exercise and have fun while doing so.

Read on to learn more about this relatively new sport, and find out everything you need to get started.

What Is Canicross?

Canicross is essentially cross-country running with your canine. It is somewhat similar to bikejoring and skijoring, which involve bicycling or skiing alongside your dog while traveling across the countryside.

Essentially, Canicross requires you to strap yourself to your dog via a hands-free leash (which often features a bungee cord to provide a little bit of “give,” which will help prevent your dog from pulling you around), before heading off for a run. Sometimes, owners like to run with two dogs at a time, but this can be more difficult, as the dogs may tangle the leashes.

You and your dog can participate in Canicross by yourselves, or you can do so as part of organized Canicross activities. The distances run, and the terrain crossed will vary based on the abilities and physical condition of the participants; some owner-dog teams will run for 5 miles or more at a time, while others may only run a mile or so.

Is Your Dog Well-Suited for Canicross?

Just about any dog can enjoy Canicross, and this even includes dogs who have mild to moderate health problems. Your dog needn’t be a specific breed or have had any special training to get started with the activity.

However, if you are interested in competing in organized Canicross activities, you’ll be best served by adopting or purchasing a dog that is athletic and well-suited for running long distances. This means that some of the best breeds for the sport include:

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    Dalmatian
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    Siberian husky
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    Alaskan malamute
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    Australian cattle dog
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    Australian shepherd
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    Border Collie
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    Labrador retriever (and most other retrievers)
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    Pit bulls / American Staffordshire terrier
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    Rhodesian ridgeback
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    Vizsla
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    Most hounds
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    Most Spaniels
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    Most pointers

Mixed breed dogs can also excel at Canicross, but the best will usually be descendants of some of the breeds listed above.

No matter what type of dog you intend to participate with, be sure to visit your vet before beginning a training regimen. Only proceed with your vet’s blessing and be sure to follow any advice given regarding limitations or special precautions.

Canicross Gear and Equipment

You don’t need a ton of equipment to get started with Canicross, but there are a few key items you’ll need to get started. Some of the most important things include:

Hands-Free Leash

A good hands-free leash system is imperative for Canicross, as it will keep your dog attached to your body, without requiring you to hold the leash with your hand. This will not only prevent accidents in which the leash slips from your hand, it will also allow you to run with a normal, arm-swinging motion.

The Sparkly Pets Hands-Free Dog Leash is a popular, high-quality leash that should work well for you and your dog. Suitable for medium to large breeds, this hands-free leash features elastic straps and stainless-steel clips to help keep your dog from pulling you around, while still keeping your dog securely attached.

Good Running Shoes (for You and Your Dog)

You’ll have a better time running with your dog (and you’ll feel better after completing your run) if you have a good pair of running shoes. You needn’t spend a fortune to get a good pair; just look for shoes that are well-made, provide adequate arch and ankle support, and feel good on your feet.

It is also wise to consider a good pair of booties for your dog. Your dog will gladly run barefoot across soft ground in good weather, but if you are forced to cross cement, gravel or thorn-covered grounds, your dog will certainly appreciate a good pair of booties. They’ll also help your dog’s feet stay warm and dry when running across snow or ice.

My Busy Dog Water-Resistant Shoes are a great option, as they are well-built, easy to put on and secure, so they won’t slip off your dog’s feet during your run.

Collar or Harness for Your Dog

It is always important to have a collar or harness (with ID tags) for your dog, but it is absolutely imperative for those who wish to participate in Canicross. Although you can attach the leash from your running harness to a collar, it is generally preferable to fit your dog with a harness, which will present fewer safety concerns and provide better comfort for your dog.

There are a number of good harnesses on the market (and we’ve written about them extensively), but if you are looking for one of the best models available, check out the Julius K9 IDC Powerharness. It is not only built to last, it seems to fit most dogs very comfortably.

GPS-Tracking Device

Although you’ll be attached to your dog via a harness, accidents can happen, and leashes can break. Therefore, you’ll want to fix a GPS tracking device to your dog’s collar, so that you can find him if he slips free. The Whistle 3 GPS Pet Tracker & Activity Monitor is a great unit for Canicross, as the transponder is lightweight, and it allows you to track your dog via your smartphone.

Water Bottle and Travel Dish

You need to ensure you and your dog stay hydrated while running, so a good, high-capacity water bottle is a must. You’ll want a water bottle that holds at least 1 liter, but that may not be enough for extended runs. Because Canicross usually takes place in relatively isolated areas, water fountains aren’t common; so, you’ll want to carry as much water with you as you reasonably can.

You’ll also need a travel-friendly water dish unless you want to let your dog drink directly from your water bottle. There are a number of collapsible water dishes on the market, but the PetBonus Collapsible Silicone Water Dishes are one of the best available options. Made from food-grade silicone and backed by a 1-year warranty, these water dishes even feature a carabiner which you can use to clip the dish to your belt.

Canicross Communication

Most owners will find that it is helpful to teach their dog navigational commands when getting started with Canicross. This will help keep your dog running on the trail, and it will also help prevent tangled leashes when you must turn or negotiate a fork in the road.

Although you can teach your dog a variety of different commands that will make your Canicross time easier, some of the most common are listed below:

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    Go Gee -- Go Right
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    Go Haw -- Go Left
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    Forward – Go forward
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    On by – Ignore; keep going (such as when you pass other people or dogs)
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    Hike on – Pull
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    Let’s go – Speeding up or starting to go
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    Steady – Slow down
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    Stand – Stand still

Note that most owners use these commands because they are similar to those used by mushing dogs. Mushing dog owners often engage in Canicross activities during the offseason to help keep their dogs in shape.

The Benefits of Canicross

There are a number of reasons to strap yourself to your dog and run through the countryside, but a few of the most notable benefits of the activity include:

Bonding Time with Your Canine

Like any other game, sport or activity you engage in with your dog, Canicross will give the two of you a chance to hang out together and strengthen your bond.

Exercise for Your Dog

Most dogs need a lot of exercise, and Canicross provides a great way to give them the chance to burn some calories. It is especially helpful for providing sufficient exercise for high-energy breeds, such as huskies and Dalmatians, which are notoriously difficult to tire.

Exercise for You

Relatively few people get enough exercise, but Canicross will get you off your couch and help you break a sweat. Just be sure to consult your doctor before beginning a training regimen.

Mental Stimulation for Your Dog

Many dogs live their lives in relative boredom, so it is always a good idea to let them get out and see, smell and hear the world around them. If you are interested in maximizing the amount of mental stimulation provided, try to visit different locations periodically.

Socialization for Your Dog

While Canicross can occur miles from any other people or dogs, you can also do the activity with other owners and their dogs. This will give your dog a chance to hang out with some other dogs (and people), which will usually help keep him friendlier.

Have you ever participated in Canicross with your canine? We’d love to hear about your experiences with the sport. Let us know what type of dog you ran with, what types of places you visited and how long your runs lasted. Your experiences may spark an interest in other dog owners, and convince them to take up the sport.

You May Also Like:

High-Energy Dogs: 8 Breeds Who Require Lots of Exercise

10 Athletic Dog Breeds Perfect for Outdoor Enthusiasts

The Best Dog Treadmills for Indoor Exercise 

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