Your dog may be small, but they sure can run! Lately, you’re thinking of harnessing all that rip-raring energy into something useful, such as canicross. Are small dogs ineligible for this sport because of their size?
Dogs of any size can participate in canicross, including smaller canines like yours. What matters most is the dedication, passion, and endurance for running that your dog has. Also, considering some canicross events are only a mile long, your pup is not at risk of overexerting themselves in competition.
If you’re still seriously contemplating entering your dog into a canicross event or simply running with them through your local park, this is the article for you. In it, we’ll go in-depth into the basics of canicross, discuss at which age you should train your small dog in the sport, and provide tips for training. You’re not going to want to miss it!
What Is Canicross?
First, let’s begin with an explanation of canicross. This canine sport was created in Europe so sledding or mushing dogs could stay busy in the spring and summer. Since then, canicross has seriously caught on in other parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom. The rest of the world is beginning to take notice of this sport as well.
Canicross requires the participation of both you and your dog. You use a waist belt you attach to your body. This belt also connects to a harness made just for canicross canines. Then, you two run, run, run!
If you’re running with a single dog, then that’s the extent of the setup. If you have two dogs participating in canicross, which you are allowed to do, then they connect to the first dog via an elastic line or bungee cord. This stretchable cord is designed to lessen the shock to your dog and yourself if the first or second dog veers off track.
You can start doing canicross with your dog in your neighborhood, running through your local park or any other favorite paths of yours. Should you want to, you can also participate in a canicross event. These got their start in 2000 in the UK, and today, the CaniX UK is considered the premier canicross event for dogs and their owners.
Over in Italy, canicross competitions have sanctioning from both the FISC and the Centro Sportivo Educativo Nazionale or CSEN, which is acknowledged by the Italian National Olympic Committee.
Poland has the ICF International Canicross Federation Championships as well.
While how far you’ll travel with your dog in canicross can and does vary, shorter races may be only a mile long while the more advanced contests are 28 miles, sometimes longer.
If you would like to read our Beginner’s guide on canicross here is a link.
Can Small Dogs Do Canicross?
Given that canicross was born from a need to entertain and exercise sled dogs with nothing to do after the winter, it makes sense that the sport started with larger breeds. From malamutes to huskies, the earliest doges participating in canicross were admittedly giants.
What about small dogs? Do they fit in? Absolutely!
As the sport appealed to more and more dog owners, its breadth expanded. While it’s true that certain breeds excel more at distance travel and others at pulling (and some dogs even both), no dog is limited from participating in canicross, both casually and in events.
It’s as Non-Stop Dogwear said in an article on the topic in its online magazine:
“it’s not the length of the legs that matter – it’s the size of the heart!”
The publication spoke to Cani-Fit founder Lindsay Johnson. Her Scotland-based company teaches dogs of all shapes and sizes to excel in canicross. Johnson herself said she’s worked with some lightweight dogs, citing one of her favorites as Nelson, a Jack Russell Terrier who weighs just about 15 pounds. She told Non-Stop Dogwear she quite admired the Terrier’s drive.
Even better is that smaller dogs are proving that anyone can do canicross, from those with visual impairments to the disabled and even children. There are no limits on physical ability if you have the passion for the sport.
That said, you might want to schedule some appointments. For yourself, make sure you’re healthy enough to run great distances at the approval of your doctor. As for your dog, a veterinary checkup should confirm the same.
Certain medications, health conditions, and even the age of the dog (or yourself) could limit your canicross abilities. If you’re told by a doctor or veterinarian outright not to do canicross, it’s for the best to listen.
What Age Should You Start Your Dog on Canicross?
Your vet happily said that your small dog is in great shape for canicross, and you too are in similar good health. Wonderful! Before you leash up your pup to go run around the backyard though, you want to make sure they’re of age to run so much.
Like with the agility training we’ve discussed on our blog, if you start your dog on canicross too early, you could cause them injuries that may later impede their development. Puppies that have not fully grown may have a lot of energy, but they’ll maintain that as they get older and their bodies will be ready for more strenuous activity.
If your small dog isn’t yet nine months old, then it’s too soon for canicross. Even though that’s when a smaller breed is technically considered an adult, many canicross participants give it a few more months until the dog turns a year old to begin training and competing. In some cases, you may stretch out the waiting period even longer to 18 months just to be safe.
While you should use your best discretion here, be sure to ask your vet when your dog can begin canicross during your pup’s checkup.
What Do You Need for Canicross?
Whether you have a big canicross event on your calendar or you just wish for your dog to succeed on a local level, you want to do this right. That means equipping yourself and your pup with all the necessities for canicross training.
What are those necessities? Here is an overview.
This is for you, the person running. While your dog might appreciate a light sweater on those especially cold days, that will depend on the breed. Thicker, fluffier dogs won’t need it, and plus, running with clothes on might be uncomfortable for your dog, prohibiting them from doing their best. Further, it may be hard to attach the harness to a dog in clothing.
I would highly recommend this one, that’s what I’m wearing every time I go on an adventure with my doggy. It’s great quality and reasonably priced.
So yes, we’ll just stick to people clothes for now. If you’ve ever gone jogging or running for exercise, then the same type of clothing works here. You want to wear comfortable, stretchy, breathable fabrics and materials. It’s best if these have moisture-wicking properties. Otherwise, you’ll feel your clothes sticking heavily to your skin within 10 minutes and all you’ll want to do is turn around, go home, and take a shower.
If you’re going to run in colder weather, then layer up, but make sure you can stash those layers elsewhere quickly. For instance, maybe you tie a jacket around your waist if you get too warm. You do have to keep a grip on your dog(s) while doing so though, which is tricky.
You also need running shoes, not regular ol’ sneakers. The difference between running shoes and other shoes is the former tend to come with waffle-patterned outsoles. These provide more traction, as does a carbon rubber bottom.
These are mine.
The midsole is often EVA for lasting longer and providing you greater comfort. The materials on the shoe’s exterior should be reflective so if you’re running in dark or inclement conditions, people can still see you. Also, the upper part of a running shoe is often made of mesh and leather so your feet can breathe, which you’ll certainly appreciate when doing any kind of long-distance running.
An athletic bag, such as one made of a lightweight yet durable fabric with drawstrings is also recommended. You can wear this on your back and keep your smartphone, keys, maybe a bottle of water, some dog treats, and a second jacket in there. Oh, and don’t forget the bags for picking up the dog poop that will inevitably come.
This one is doing me such a good job, I absolutely love it.
As we mentioned in our intro section on canicross, if you have more than one dog running with you, attaching them via bungee line is best. This stretchy rope will resist shocks so you’re not in as much pain after a day of running. Always have some on hand in your bag.
This is ours if you’re interested.
Your dog will wear the harness, which you would attach the bungee line to when running with multiple dogs. Since canicross is intended for dogs of all sizes, you will have to shop around to find a harness that fits your smaller breed.
We like this one. They’re selling them in different sizes, even xxs!
Fit is one of the most important aspects, as if the harness is too loose, your dog can get right out. However, if the harness is too tight, it will be uncomfortable, and your pup won’t feel like running far.
You also have to take comfort into account. Make sure you choose a harness with plush materials, since these will rub against your dog’s body, sometimes for hours.
The running belt is another piece of equipment for you. It attaches at your waist and can sit higher or lower according to your preferences. The proper fit should be lower on the body at your rear and hips, though. This way, the running belt doesn’t accidentally slide off, sending your dog(s) free.
While some running belts have pockets and hidden compartments, these tend to not be very sizable. That’s why we suggested an athletic bag, as you can keep more of your essentials in there.
How to Train a Small Dog at Canicross
You just invested in all the equipment you and your small dog need for canicross. Now you can get started training. What should you expect during the training session? It’s not like your dog doesn’t know how to run, so what are you teaching them exactly?
There’s plenty. Here are some areas to focus on in your training.
Move in Tandem with Your Dog
It’s happened to all of us dog owners before. You ask your pup if they want to go on a walk, they excitedly react, you leash them up and head outside, and they begin pulling and tugging on the leash. You may have a small dog, but on those long walks, your arms and even your neck are left achy from too much tugging.
When you begin running with your dog, they’re going to be thrilled. Their overexuberance might lead to them running way ahead of you and kind of pulling you along like they do on their walks. This is the first behavior you want to change.
While it will take time, you must show your dog to move at the same pace as you, give or take. They should be closer to your side or slightly ahead of you, but not miles ahead. If they fall behind, then you’re likely going too fast for your small dog.
Remember that in this training, it’s not all about your dog changing what they do. You may have to make adjustments to your own actions as well.
Show Your Dog the Right Path
Dogs have roughly 300 million scent receptors, so to say they have a strong sense of smell is an understatement. They’re incredibly adept at sniffing, and when they’re let free outside, they allow their noses to do the leading.
There’s nothing wrong with that on a casual walk, but in canicross, when you have a path to follow, you need to teach your dog the right way to go. By racing along the same path often enough, with time, your tiny pup will get the hang of all its turns and corners.
While bungee cords make tugging dogs less painful on you, you still don’t want your pup pulling on their leash too much. If they do, they’re clearly unhappy. Maybe they don’t like the harness, the leash is too tight, or they want to go the opposite direction you’re headed.
Either way, by getting at the root of what’s making your dog tug on their leash so much, you can begin to control this behavior.
Find the Right Pace for Endurance Running
Your dog’s legs may not be as long as some of their competitors, but they can still travel decent enough distances. However, if your pup starts off as a huge ball of energy, they’ll soon burn through it and have nothing left to give for the second half of the race.
You need to find a pace that promotes endurance in both you and your dog. This will take trial and error, so the more you two enjoy canicross together, the faster you can discover which pace you need to stick to.
Run off Their Leash
The ultimate act of a well-behaved dog is taking their leash off outside. While your dog won’t ever go leash-free in a canicross competition, letting your pup roam without a leash is a fantastic way to gauge whether your dog knows the path and if they can control their running pace. Plus, there’s something so freeing and fun about running leash-less with your dog!
Canicross, a type of running sport you and your dog do together, is a great chance for you both to be active. You can also engage in your competitive side as you sign up for canicross events. Most importantly, you and your dog will have a very strong bond.
You’re not excluded from canicross if your dog is small. The only instance in which you should refrain from running like this is if your vet doesn’t approve of it. Through training, investing in the right equipment, and having fun, your small dog can excel at canicross as well as any big canine!