Beginners Guide to Canicross: What Do You Need to Get Started


One of the easiest and most enjoyed exercises is running. All you need is a good pair of running shoes and a great trail to run. Also, it provides many health benefits for the participant. You get to go out and breathe in some fresh air, and your body is getting the exercise it needs to stay healthy. Now, imagine including your dog in this fun and exciting hobby! That is where canicross comes in. Canicross is a running sport that includes man’s best friend.

How do I get started with canicross? To get started canicross running with your dog, you will need special canicross equipment like a waist belt, dog harness, and an elastic line. Then, you just need to find a good running spot.

Read on to discover the basics of canicross running, as well as some tips to help you and your furry friend get started.

Getting Started: What Is Canicross?

Canicross is also known as caniXC or caniX. The word is a combination of the words “canine” and “cross-country.” It is a team sport made of one person and one dog (or more!) running together at a similar pace. This sport is great for people who enjoy off-road running and want to go out into the world and get fit with their dog.

The sport originated in Europe as a way to train and condition sled dogs during the off-season. It is popular in the sled dog mushing community, and these off-season activities are referred to as “dry land” because there is no snow on the ground. Recently, this sport has grown in popularity, and it is now enjoyed as a stand-alone sport. Competitions were even introduced in the early 2000s for people to run and race with their dogs. And now, many dog breeds outside of the working group are welcome!

While running canicross, the human is the driver. He or she will direct the dog from behind with various voice commands. It is a great activity to get both the dog and the human fit and healthy. Canicross is also known to help train the dog to get in work mode and receive directional commands from his or her owner.

The dog owner will typically wear a waist belt while running. The dog will wear a harness that is specifically designed for the activity. The two teammates are then joined by a short elastic line that reduces shock for both the person and the dog.

Canicross can be a great activity for people and dogs of all skill levels and abilities. It provides benefits for the athlete, as he or she can increase their speed after practicing with the pulling action of their dog.

Learning the Basics of Canicross Running

Pretty much anyone can get involved in canicross if they are physically able. And, because all dogs love to run, there aren’t any strict breed restrictions. Just make sure to consult with your physician and your dog’s veterinarian to make sure you are both healthy and physically able to take on this sport.

This sport is simple and easy to get involved in. You will only need a few pieces of equipment that are made just for canicross, which we’ll discuss a little later in this article.

You can get started learning canicross by practicing walking your dog on the leash. Make sure he or she is comfortable keeping pace with you on the leash first. Then, you can introduce the canicross equipment.

Gradually work your way up to jogging, then running with your dog. You both should be comfortable with the pace, as this is a team activity. Neither of you should run too much faster than the other, as that will cause some dragging or jolting on the line. As you practice, you will both grow your relationship with each other and be able to synchronize your speed and movement.

Good Communication for Canicross

Good communication between you and your dog is crucial to making your canicross run more successful. When your dog is running at his or her full ability (which can be fast and forceful depending on the dog), it is important for you to be able to verbally control your dog’s movements if you need to slow down or change direction for any reason.

To improve this communication between owner and dog, many runners will use mushing terms to direct their dog during a run. It may be a good idea to practice these with your dog or create your own phrases that work for you both. Try some of these out as you practice:

  • “Let’s go” = Start moving or speed up
  • “Steady” = Slow down
  • “Go gee” = Turn right
  • “Go haw” = Turn left
  • “On by” = Ignore and keep going
  • “Hike on” = Pull harder to carry forward
  • “Stand/Line out” = Face forward and stand still

While teaching your dog these commands, repeat the phrase when they go in the right direction, then praise them. The process will be similar to how you teach your dog basic obedience skills.

However, with canicross, you want to be able to praise your dog without treats. You want your dog to stay focused during this activity and remain facing forward. That way, they will learn to listen to your voice without having to turn towards you.

You can also use your body to send directional signals to your dog. If you speed up and pick up the pace, your dog should notice this change and do the same. If you want to slow down, use your body weight to lean back in the waist belt and lengthen your stride without having to grab the line with your hands.

At the end of every running session, make sure you give your dog plenty of praise. Reward him or her with fresh water, a small treat, and lots of “Good dog!” commands. The more praise your dog gets, the more excited he or she will be to run with you in the future.

Where Can We Run for Canicross?

After you gather your equipment, you get to choose where you will run. Canicross is a cross country sport, so off-road running is ideal. Try to find local woodland parks or trails in a forest. These settings require technical work from the running partners, but they tend to be soft and bearable on the feet. Avoid spending too many miles on hard cement, as this can be bad for you and your dog’s joints.

Afraid you’ll get bored quickly? You can choose to mix up a variety of trails each time you run to keep things interesting and protect your body.

Night running is also popular among some canicross runners. If you live in a warm climate, it may be more bearable to do a night run. If you do, all you’ll need is a head torch to help light the way. Pick a route that is already familiar to you and your dog on foot. This can be a great option to get rid of your dog’s extra energy before bedtime.

Now that canicross has become a more widely popular sport, you can even enter a race! Canicross events are popping up worldwide. Thee events have a great atmosphere that you should definitely experience for yourself. They are high-energy, full of friendly people and dogs. You and your dog are sure to love it!

What Do You Need to Get Started with Canicross?

Canicross experts will urge you to avoid getting started with just the traditional leash and collar for your dog. Specific canicross equipment makes the experience more comfortable and safe for both the owner and the dog. You will need three simple items:

Some companies provide a full canicross starter kit, but you can also make these purchases separately. Check out each item and why they are so important to canicross:

Canicross Waist Belt

First, you will need a strong and secure waist belt to wear. This piece of equipment allows you to run with your dog hands-free. It should sit comfortably on your hips on top of your buttocks. It should be snug and comfortable even if you are wearing extra layers. Any pull from your dog will come through the hips, thus, ensuring that there are no harmful effects on your back.

This belt should be comfy enough to protect your hips. It should be wide enough to distribute the force across your back and hips. Many belts also come with an emergency release, so you can quickly free yourself or your dog if necessary. This can come in handy if you fall or trip and get tangled.

A waist belt with pockets can also come in handy for you and your teammate. Pockets on your belt can hold water, dog treats, poop bags, sunscreen, and other necessities for a long jog.

Many canicross belts are designed with leg straps. This is useful when you are running with a dog that has a stronger pull. It can help the runner to remain upright and pull the line from underneath the bum.

Canicross Dog Harness

Allowing your dog to pull on his or her traditional neck collar can be dangerous. That is why having a comfortable canicross harness for your dog is ideal—they are built for your dog’s comfort while he or she runs and pulls. You want to choose a harness that allows your dog to remain comfortable and breathe easily while running.

When selecting a comfortable-fitting harness for your dog, you should be able to run two fingers around their neck, chest, and waist. Choose a harness that is designed specifically for running. Make sure to avoid harnesses that restrict your dog’s breathing, press onto the chest, or dig into your dog’s rib cage. They should distribute weight across your dog’s back and hips, rather than just the dog’s chest.

Canicross Bungee Line

The ideal bungee line for canicross running will be relatively short, between six to nine feet long. If it is too long, the dog can potentially trip over it or be pulled from underneath or get tangled in it.

These bungees are designed to absorb shock for you and your dog. If one of you makes a jolt or a hard pull, the elasticity in the line will absorb it and minimally affect the partner. The elasticity in the bungee is designed to make your dog feel more comfortable while pulling.

Here are some reasons you should avoid the standard leash and collar combo when running canicross:

  • Running and pulling with a traditional leash and neck collar can potentially hurt your dog.
  • A harness trains your dog to distinguish between when it’s time to pull and when it’s time to walk regularly.
  • A traditional leash cannot absorb shock as an elastic line can.

What Dog Breeds Are Best for Canicross?

Although working breeds tend to be more popular for this sport, all dogs can run! As long as your dog is healthy, they should be able to participate in canicross.

Just remember that smaller dogs will have less pulling power than large or working breeds. Also, some dogs are not built to run long distances. Brachycephalic or short-nosed dogs like pugs and bulldogs may have trouble with canicross. Their breathing may become troubled, or they may not be able to keep up with their running owner.

Before taking a run with your dog, make sure you know what he or she is capable of. You don’t want to push them to run for a long amount of time. Your dog’s physical abilities, in addition to his or her personality, can affect the dog’s ability to participate in canicross.

Experts recommend that your dog is at least twelve months old. This way, you have time to train them on the harness and let them get used to wearing it. Also, you can practice some of the commands you will use while running. Remember not to overwork your dog when they are young, as their bones and joints are still forming.

Some people will run canicross with multiple dogs, but when you are just getting started, it is best to start with one dog. Then, you can work up to running with a crew. You want to get the hang of the motion and manage one dog at a time before adding another runner.

More Easy Tips to Start Running Canicross

When getting started with canicross, learn and understand the basics first, then you can add more distance to your run. Here are some more helpful tips when getting the hang of it:

  • Run on natural surfaces. Paved surfaces are okay for shorter jogs, but you must remain aware of how various surfaces can affect your dog’s paw pads.
  • Get some trail shoes to make running even easier on your feet. These provide good traction and foot protection to help you get through mud without slipping around.
  • Listen to your dog as you run. If you hear wheezing, that can be an indicator that something is restricting your dog. Pay attention to how they are moving; if they are off-balance, check to make sure the harness and line are connected correctly.
  • Start slow with your running distance. When you train for a 5K, you don’t run that distance on the first day of training! Starting slow means you are more likely to stick to the sport, you can avoid unnecessary injuries, and you can build up your stamina.
  • Look for canicross running groups. Canicross is a social sport. It can be more fun to do with a group of other participants. This can motivate yourself and your dog, making the dog more enthusiastic about the sport, and allows you to make new friends in the process!
  • Put the needs of your dog first. Avoid running immediately after feeding and watch for signs of your dog being exhausted. In warm temperatures, make sure they stay hydrated by carrying water with you.

Last of all, it is important to have fun! Although this sport is essentially exercise for you and your dog, it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Practice what makes you and your dog feel comfortable, choose routes and locations you love, and remember this is a fun bonding experience that you two can both enjoy.

Get out and Go Running with Man’s Best Friend!

There is nothing more fun than spending an afternoon with your dog. With canicross, you can take walking your dog to the next level. Many dog owners love taking part in this sport—even if they aren’t in the dog sledding community! It’s easy to get started with this active sport, and it provides many health benefits for both you and your pooch.

Grab the equipment, put on some comfortable running shoes, and take a run with your dog! You will find that it’s a great bonding experience to get you even closer to your furry friend. Read more articles like this one to continue learning about canicross and other things you can do with your dog.

Mark

I grew up alongside a Labrador. I've been obsessed with dogs since then and owned several different breeds. My passion is to share my knowledge and start this blog about my furry friends. I hope you enjoy my articles.

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