Canicross can be enjoyed by any dog that likes to go for a walk – from Min-Pin to Malamute. All you need is a good fitting harness for your dog, a belt for you, and a line to connect you to your dog. A good pair of running shoes is a plus.
What is Canicross?
The term canicross essentially means cross country running with dogs. It is a fun activity, an effective way for both the person and the dog to stay fit and healthy. And of course, it is an excellent way to bond with your dog. Canicross has evolved to be a competitive international sport, but the average pet dog owner can also enjoy using the same gear to be outdoors with their best friend. You can walk around a city block, head out on a country road, or go on a backcountry trail. Although your dog does not have to pull, it’s amazing how much distance you can cover with a dog helping you out.
Training — How to Begin
To begin the training, you can encourage your dog to pull out in front of you by giving it something to chase – like a friend with a dog. Before you know it, your dog will think this is great fun. Teach your dog verbal cues (“Alright!”, “Let’s go!” , “Hike!”, “Get up!”, or whatever comes to mind) at the start and encourage your dog with the same phrase throughout the run. Give plenty of praise along the way for doing the right thing. Some other standard commands are “gee” to turn right, “haw” to turn left, “easy” to slow down, and “whoa” to stop. The “easy” command comes in especially handy running downhill. You can use any command you like as long as you are consistent. At the end of the run or walk, even more well-deserved praise and maybe a treat can be given to the dog. If your dog is more inclined to run or walk beside you, that is okay, too. Start out running only a short distance (about a mile). Slowly increase the distance over time as you and your dog get in shape. We highly recommend the book SKIJOR WITH YOUR DOG for more in-depth training techniques and dog care.
Heat — The Limiting Factor
The limiting factor for this summertime sport is heat. Your dog will have a harder time keeping cool while working in harness than just running free. A warm day with high humidity, full sun, no wind, and no access to water is a good day to stay at home. All dogs have different heat tolerances based on their internal thermometer – even more than their coat length or color. The rule of thumb when it comes to our canines here at Howling Dog Kennel is that we do not run with them unless it is cooler than 60F (15C). We walk them in the harness up to about 72F (22C). Keep in mind, our dogs are hard pulling canines bred for mushing (they are called Eurohounds). If you do not have a hard-pulling dog, you can walk with your dog even in a slightly warmer temperature. However, never go out for a walk/hike if it gets above 80F (26C). You must be careful not to push your dog past her/his tolerance level because heat exhaustion can affect a dog for the rest of their life. A heat stroke can be fatal.
I’ve always felt my dogs make me a better person. They motivate me. People talk about training their dogs for the activities they are interested in. My theory is that it goes both ways – my dogs train me as much as I train them. There’s the old saying, “A tired dog is a happy dog.” I think the people who participate with their dog in any canicross activity to achieve that end become a happier and healthier version of themselves.
The first thing you need to do is be sure your dog gets well hydrated about two hours before going on a run. Offer your dog one to two cups of baited water. You can bait water with something yummy to encourage your dog to drink – such as a few pieces of kibble, little bit of canned food, ground beef or canned tuna. On a warmer day be sure there are water sources nearby during your run and take a break to give your dog time to get wet up to the belly. For those of you competing in events where you cannot choose the weather or take a break, we do sell an electrolyte product that helps dogs recover after working in the heat (see ELECTROCHARGE). Of course, hydration after the run is critical for any dog, not just a race dog. A clear or lightly baited water should be offered after the dog calms down a bit.
Choosing equipment can be confusing to someone just starting out with so many choices out there. The most important piece of equipment is a well-fitting, comfortable harness for your dog. A short half-harness style can accommodate many different dog body types and is designed for the upward pull of the line coming off a person’s waist. This article will help you decide which harness is best for your dog: READ HERE.
Most runners prefer using a shorter line (leash) for more control over the dog (comparing to skijorers – people who ski with their dog). This line should have a built-in bungee to reduce shock to both human and dog. See our LEASH WITH BUNGEE.
A belt with leg straps is ideal for keeping the belt in place when running or hiking in rough terrain. A belt with leg straps is also preferred for the use with a hard-pulling dog. Our CANISKI BELT is the type of belt you need in such a situation. A beginner canicrosser (yes, that is what you will be called) may prefer a simpler belt without leg straps. Our TREKKING BELT with a built-in back support will be an ideal choice. You can find all the equipment to get started here: CANICROSS
Have fun out there!
I have been using this harness for about 4 years now for canicross and hiking and it is still going strong. My dog seems very comfortable in it on. The harness is very solid. I like that the back webbing can rotate around the belly strap a bit, so it doesn’t torque the neck and chest piece when we take sharp corners or if my dog wants to pull to the side.
This has been the best harness yet for my lurcher. We walk /jog 4-5 miles daily with it and he pulls hard for almost the entire walk. Other harnesses we have tried would constantly choke him when he pulls, but not this one. He can pull to his heart’s content without any choking at all. This harness fits him perfectly!
I tried three belts before finally finding this one! This belt is so super comfortable. It has nice padding and reflective piping so great for roads and trails. It has the perfect amount of padding, too. Plus the pocket is huge! I can fit my phone, poop bags, keys, and treats! Love, love, love this belt.