By Cat Le Chevalier, Puppy School Tutor, tells us about the growing sport of Canicross. This fun and exciting way to exercise both you and your dog can really help to build a strong bond, and is suitable for all owners and dogs, from the most urban, city dwelling spaniel, to the rural countryside collie.

Canicross is the all-inclusive sport of cross-country trail running with your dog. Canicross originated with sled dogs needing training in the summer months. With the snow dried up sleds couldn’t be used in summer so along came ‘dryland sports’, where mushers took to running their dogs. Canicross has developed into a new modern-day community of dog powered runners, joggers (and even hikers/walkers), where you take to the trails together with specialist kit and work as a team to explore the glorious countryside. Canicross isn’t just for your typical sled pulling husky, a wide range of dogs now take part in the sport and many have reported on the multiple canine benefits of canicross including, calmer quieter temperament, reduced anxiety, lower levels of frustration, improved focus and stronger training bonds.

Cat

The Kit
To train safely you will require three key pieces of good quality kit

1. A well fitted sports harness for your dog.
2. An elasticated bungee line.
3. A human running waistbelt for you.

This kit provides the best hands-free running for you and your dog and takes strain and pressure off both of you so you can run comfortably and enjoyably.

Speak to a specialist canicross retailer to get you both kitted up, they have the right experience and will be able to provide suitable kit for you and your dog based on breed, shape, budget, pull strength etc. Just like finding the perfect pair of trainers, there is no dog and human pairing the same shape and size, so kit fitting needs expert attention. Speaking of which, a pair of trail trainers would be a good investment too.

The Training

When you have your kit and are ready to start canicrossing, the first few months of training need to be about short fun sessions, running only one dog at a time, and using positive reinforcement training. This means providing your dog with the most fun experience that they possibly could have. Your first few runs, you are looking for your dog to be out in front of you, independently running at the end of the line. A good tip to encourage your dog out in front of you is to run on a very shallow downhill on a narrow soft grassy trail, ideally somewhere they wouldn’t go very often so they can start to build up an association with this exciting location. If they need a bit more encouragement, get their best friend (dog or human) to run in front of them and get your dog to run after them with you attached, this plays on their natural prey drive to chase.

Build up slowly, your training should follow a typical human couch to 5km programme, but may take a little longer as you are training your dog and yourself at the same time. As you start to build up, you can then teach your dog more skills such as directions, start cues and slowing down cues.

Things to consider for beginners

Age - 18 months and no sooner is a great age to start canicross as the dog is coming out of adolescence and joints are finished forming – you should seek your vets advice on this.

Feeding - You shouldn’t feed your dog a meal for two-three hours before or after running. A dog’s digestive system is much slower than humans, and running on a full stomach is dangerous for dogs. They also require plenty of time to cool down to avoid bloat and being sick after running.

Breed and medical issues. Any dog can canicross, however consider if your dog is appropriate and would enjoy the sport. For example, brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs may struggle to breathe properly if too hot and overexerted, while others may have health issues that may not suit the sport, such as hip dysplasia.

Reactive and rescue dogs. If you own a reactive dog, this sport provides a great outlet for his energy to be used and gives him a job that they love. You have the added benefit that dogs are on lead and you get no face to face interaction as they are all going in the same direction.

Human Safety - Tell someone where you are going, and how long you will be out for – or even better go with friends! Carry a fully charged mobile phone, vital for safety and essential for a selfie back at the car!

A great way for you and your dog to start is to find your local experienced trainer or a well-established social group. If you are going to a social group, don’t forget to check how long the group has been running for and what experience the run leaders have. If you are choosing a trainer don’t be afraid to ask what experience they have – you should be looking for a trainer with a minimum of two years canicrossing experience and some dog and human training qualifications. Don’t forget to ask if your trainer is insured too; just like dog walkers and doggy day care, it is vital canicross trainers have insurance to keep you safe on the trails.

Lastly, welcome to this inclusive sport, enjoy it, make sure your dog is enjoying it to, it’s all about the dogs whilst out canicrossing". 

Written by Cat Le Chevalier, Puppy School Tutor. For further details on canicross training, Cat's social media pages can be found on Instagram and Facebook at @cmcanicross.