Canicross: Everything You Ever Need To Know About Getting Started

running with dog

Canicross is a way to exercise your dog, have fun with your dog, and explore the world!  With canicross you can enjoy the outdoors with your canine companion. It’s great for people who live in rural areas or smaller towns where there are few off-leash trails.  Canicross can be done almost anywhere: on bike paths, parks, cross country foot paths, along beaches — the possibilities are endless!

The beauty of canicross is that it’s easy to learn and anyone from age six to 106 can do it! Okay…maybe not quite that old but pretty darn close. And since Matt Baker gave Canicross a try on Country File a few months ago, more and more people are giving it a go. So what exactly is this sport…?

What is Canicross? Canicross was developed as off-season training for sled dogs in Europe.  It is running attached to your dog via a specific Canicross harness for you and your dog.

Canicross is an activity that is accessible to everyone. As long as you are healthy (do get yourself checked out if you haven’t done any physical exercise for a while).  You don’t have to be a runner; you can walk as well and Cani-trek.   

We spoke to expert Dogfit Canicross Trainer and Runner, Louise Humphrey to get all your Canicross questions answered and how to start taking part in this great activity.

Running With a Dog Safely - All you...
Running With a Dog Safely - All you need to know

Is Canicross Good For My Dog?

Canicross is a great sport for all dogs. 

It’s been proven that anxious, rescue, reactive and prey driven dogs love Canicross and helps create a great bond with their owners.

It’s a safe way to exercise your dog especially if they don’t have great recall or anxious about other dogs.  Getting you both fit.

Dog’s love running in packs too and I often see great results with reactive dogs running side by side with other dogs happily.

What Are The Best Dog Breeds For Canicross?

Any dog who is fit (do check with your Vet if worried) can Canicross.  You will get a totally different experience depending on the size but it’s still fun.

READ NEXT: You might like to read this article about canine conditioning for sporting dogs

If you are wanting to Canicross seriously then larger dogs are better.

The breeds you usually see doing well at Canicross are:

  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • Weimaraner
  • Labrador
  • Border Collie
  • Vizsla
  • German Shepherd

How Old Does A Dog Need To Be For Canicross?

This is important, I have seen and heard too many times puppies being run as their owners say they are full of energy.  They are puppies, they are full of it but also need plenty of sleep too. Time to grow and develop properly.  

Your dog NEEDS to be 1 year to 18 months old before you Canicross.  

What Size Should My Dog Be For Canicross? 

Any size dog can take part in Canicross.  Yes, you get a different Canicross experience between a small and large dog.  But it really depends how much help you want.

The smallest dog I have taught is a Dachshund.  The larger dogs if they are strong pullers will give you an exciting run.  Whichever size dog you have, it’s about creating that bond with your dogs, getting fit, being outside.  

What Dog Breeds Should Avoid Canicross?

The obvious ones are the Brachycephalic breeds, with small heads and short noses like Bulldogs, Boxer’s or Pugs.

Although they might run around normally, sustained running can cause potential problems.

How To Get Started With Canicross?

The best way to get started is to find a Canicross instructor who has the correct kit you can try out.  Check out the DogFit website for a Canicross trainer near you.  Book a taster session and have a go before you invest in all the kit.

What Kit Do You Need For Canicross?

To Canicross safely you and your dog need specific Canicross harnesses.  

These are designed for the comfort of your dog when running, so that the dog harness doesn’t impede the shoulder movement of your dog when running. 

You will also need a good pair of off-road running shoes and normal running attire for the weather.

How to use a snuffle mat by Ruffle Snuffle

Canicross Harness For Your Dog

There are various Canicross harnesses on the market, the right one will depend on how strong your dog is, the shape and size of your dog.  

Booking a taster session with a Canicross instructor will give you the opportunity to try some different harnesses out.

Canicross Harness For You

You might have seen people running with their dogs with a thin belt around their waists.  If they had a strong pulling dog then this would lead to back injuries.  

The Canicross belt harness sits on your pelvis which is one of the strongest parts of the body and can take the force of the pull from your dog not affecting your back at all. 

The bungee leash attaches you to your dog, absorbing any shock from your dog pulling and allowing you to run hands free.

What Do You Need To Know Before You Go Out Running With Your Dog?

You must have control of your dog if it’s a strong puller, they need to respond to your commands when Canicrossing instantly to avoid problems.

As a runner you need to let yourself go with your dog, rather than pulling back, as this will cause problems for both of you and can lead to injuries.  

Strong commands are essential. 

Canicross with Dog
Run across the fields and get some fresh air!

Where Is The Best Place To Run With Your Dog?

Trail running is the best way to run with your dog across fields, farm tracks and bridleways.  

You will be surprised once you start running of all the places you can find to go.  It’s a great way to explore your local area.

A small amount of road running is ok to get to your trails, but only road running is not great. Just think about the impact this has on your body.

Can I Run With More Than One Dog?

You can run with more than one dog. There are various leads on the market you can use for 2 or more dogs.  It makes Canicrossing fun and fast. Command training is essential for this! 

How To Train Your Dog For Canicross

Training your dog should start when they are a puppy whether training for Canicross or not.  This is a great grounding for Canicross training.  There are some basic Canicross commands (see below) which you can use in normal training as well.  Learning them at walking pace ensures when you start running you have that control.

The Verbal Dog Commands For Canicross

The great thing about Canicross commands is that you can use commands your dog already knows.  

Here are some of the basic Canicross commands:

  • Let’s go – way to start your run
  • Turn right/left – enabling your dog to change directions at speed
  • On on/Forward – to keep your dog moving forward
  • Slow – to slow the pace
  • Stop – to stop!

In this blog you can find out more about Canicross commands from Louise.

Getting Yourself In Shape For Canicross

If you are already a runner, then you need to make sure you are adding cross training to your workouts as your pace will be faster.  

Canicross changes your running style as with the force of the dog pulling you and you pushing off as a runner you tend to overstride.  This puts more load through your body and legs.  

Improving your strength will help reduce your risks of injuries.  As part of our Canicross training at Paws 4 Running we offer Pilates for runners’ course and classes which help not only with your strength, balance and flexibility.  You can find out about the next course HERE.

Can I Do Canicross If I Am Not Very Fit?

You can, but like your dog if they are not used to running long distances, you you need to build up distance and duration slowly.  

The C25K course most DogFit trainers do is great for this.  As long as you can walk briskly for 30 minutes you shouldn’t have any problem.  It’s about doing it at your own pace.

Canine Nutrition For Canicross

I’m not a specialist in this area, it goes without saying if you are worried about this speak to your vet.  As a rule, though, if you are going out for a run make sure it’s been 2 hours plus after your dog has eaten as well as making sure your dog is well hydrated.

Canicross Safety Tips

Making sure you have the correct kit for you and your dog is essential for both your safety and comfort when out Canicrossing.  

Also beware of other dogs out of control that run between you and your dog which might mean you have to stop suddenly.  You’d be surprised how often it happens!

Ready To Compete? Here’s How To Find Competitions

Once you have the Canicross bug, racing is the next step!  You might not think it’s for you but it’s great fun and the dogs love it!  

What distances do you run at competitions?

Races vary in distances, from 5K further. Most Canicross events are 5K with some doing 3K novice Canicross race.

How do I find races in my area?

The easiest ways to find Canicross races near you is to google.  There are usually some local ones for e.g. Canicross Midlands.  

Some Park runs welcome Canicross dogs, but do check first.

What to expect at a competition

There are various types of Canicross races and can be part of a regular race.  Canicross only races tend to have a set time for you to go off individually, with other dogs going off at set intervals before and after you.  Great if your dog likes to chase others. 

It’s fast and fun.

Canicross competition

Wrapping up

If you have a dog, and you both need to get out of the house more often, then canicross may be for you! It’s an exciting way for humans and their dogs to explore the world together. You don’t need much equipment, it’s easy to do anywhere with any breed of dog, it gets you fit, make new friends, all whilst having loads of fun in nature – what could be better?

About Louse Humphrey

Louise is a qualified Pilates teacher, PT and a runner.  Having taught Pilates for over 20 years Louise is passionate about keeping people moving and injury free.

Louise started Canicross 2 years ago when it became obvious her black lab Pickle had a high prey drive and had failed gundog school.

Pickle took to Canicrossing straight away, focusing and creating a great bond with Louise.  Last year they started racing together Pickle being held back by Louise!

Louise is bringing her knowledge of Pilates for Runners and Canicross together to offer those new to running a way to get started and reduce the risk of injury with running specific Pilates packages as well. Find out more here

Louise offers taster sessions, C25K, 10K plus in the Leicestershire area.

You can head to Paws 4 Running website to find out more or follow-on Paws_4running on Instragram or Paws4running on Facebook

Louise Humphrey and Pickle
Louise Humphrey and Pickle