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A beginner’s guide to Canicross

September 22, 2021

If you’re a dog owner who enjoys running and being outdoors, Canicross could be just the thing for you. Read this guide written by Emily Thomas from K9 Trail Time to learn more about this increasingly popular pastime, discover the benefits for dogs – and their owners – and find out how you and your dog can get involved. 

What is Canicross?

This fast-growing activity is simply running cross-country – on trails and paths, rather than roads – with your dog. It is something many people have been doing for years without even realising there is a name for it. It is also a sport which has its own competitions.

And it’s something which is enjoyed by many different breeds, from terriers to malamutes.

Three benefits of Canicross 

1. It can help with your dog’s behaviour

Many high energy dogs benefit from participating in outdoor pursuits with their owners such as running (Canicross) or biking (Bikejor) or dog scootering, as well as the more established outdoor dog activities of agility or general walking. 

This is because it gives dogs an outlet for their energy which might otherwise be used for destructive and unwanted behaviours around the home and garden. 

It is also a great way to exercise dogs that can’t be let off the lead, for example, because they have a high hunting instinct. 

2. It’s healthy

Recent studies estimate that as many as one-third of dogs nationwide are overweight. Obesity in dogs is a serious health issue and is linked to diabetes, orthopaedic disease, heart disease, respiratory distress, high blood pressure, skin diseases and cancer. By getting your dog engaged in regular exercise, you will be keeping them healthy – and there are many health benefits for you too! 

3. It’s fun!

Taking part in dog sports usually means you and your dog get to socialise with like-minded people. And as well as having lots of fun, even if it’s just you and your dog, activities like Canicross will help to strengthen your bond with your dog.

What equipment do you need?  

The basic kit is a well-fitting harness for your dog, a bungee line to absorb the shock from pulling for both you and your dog and a belt for yourself so you are hands-free when running. 

These three main elements form the basis for a pleasant experience when running with your dog. Without the harness, you risk pulling on your dog’s neck and without the bungee, you can find yourself jerked in the direction of something interesting on your route.  Without the waist belt, you may find that your neck, shoulders and back ache from holding a lead.

Which harness should I buy? 

There is a huge variety of harnesses for all sizes and shapes of dogs, with new products being brought out regularly.  The one you choose will depend on your dogs running style and measurements as well as whether they are comfortable with something going over their head. Read more on how to choose the right harness for your dog

Which line should I buy? 

As long as there is a bungee – which is a reinforced ‘springy’ line – for shock absorption then most lines will be fine. Some are made from webbing and some from stronger polypro braid. Which one you choose comes down to your personal preference. 

The standard Canicross lines are approximately two metres when stretched but many people run with shorter or longer lines based on their own requirements. Some races have rules on line length, so do check first what the rules are if you’re thinking of competing. 

Which belt should I buy? 

The style of the belt you choose is down to what you would like from it and what you find most comfortable. The basic things you need to ask yourself are: 

  • Do I want something padded or lightweight? 
  • Do I want leg straps? 
  • Do I want pockets?

Once you know the answer to these questions then it makes choosing a belt much easier. The purpose of the belt is for your comfort and to ensure that Canicrossing with your dog does not damage your back, shoulders, neck or arms.

How do I get started? 

The best way to get started is to find a group of local people who are already Canicrossing – there are many social groups encouraging new people to join them. 

An established group will most likely have some spare kit that they could loan you to give the activity a go. They will also be able to offer advice about training your dog using voice commands to direct them. 

A few do’s and don’ts 

Always put your dog’s health first and stick to running in cool temperatures. Avoid hot summer days and carry water with you in case your dog needs it. 

Think about the surfaces you are running on and whether they are suitable for your dog. You might prefer running in built-up areas or on flatter, mud-free trails but your dog will love nothing more than getting wet and muddy in the depths of the countryside!

Lastly, but most importantly, make sure your dog is fit and fully developed before you begin Canicrossing. This activity is not suitable for puppies – in fact, most races will not allow a dog under the age of one to compete. 

And finally….canicrossing encourages a healthy lifestyle for you and your dog and can be such good fun, so what have you got to lose? Give it a go!

In 2012 Emily set up K9 Trail Time, an online business selling specialist sports equipment to take part in the dog sports she loves.

She was inspired to start K9 Trail Time after being unable to easily find the advice or equipment for taking part in Canicross, Bikejoring and dog scootering. Emily takes a keen interest in canine anatomy and physiology and is a qualified canine hydrotherapist specialising in sports dogs.

Photo credit: Rae Prince Photography