What is Canicross? A beginner’s guide to the fastest sport on six legs

What is Canicross and what do you need to get started? Find out everything you need to know!

If you are the outdoorsy, sporty type and own a dog with similar tastes, Canicross could be a dream come true for both of you. Here we cover everything you need to know about the sport that originated in Europe and is gaining popularity in the UK.

What is canicross?

Canicross is a sport that is relatively new to the UK, which involves cross-country running with dogs. It is described as being 'dog-powered', as your dog is attached to you via a harness - the idea being that you run together as a team with you as the driver, calling out directions from behind, while your faithful dog leads the way.

Canicross is a great way for both you and your dog to embark on a fun-filled fitness regime. It also offers you the chance to improve communication skills with your dog, as this tends to be a by-product of any team activity.

What are the best dog breeds for Canicross?

Given that this is a sport that requires both agility and endurance, it is worth consulting your vet before taking to the open trails that you plan to tackle. In general, most dog breeds should theoretically be able to participate in the sport, although working dogs have the most natural physiques for distance running. Here are some of the best dog breeds for Canicross:

Border Collie

Border Collies are a highly intelligent dog breed

Border Collies are highly intelligent and incredibly athletic. If you’ve ever seen Collies take part in sheepdog trials then you’ll be able to tell just how well they take to performing tasks and sprinting around. Their double coat of fur also protects them from low temperatures.

Labrador Retriever

The Labrador Retriever is a great all-round breed of dog

Labrador Retrievers are relatively easy to train and are bred to chase. These dogs can be great for Canicross, but their muscular figure can pull you along if you’re not careful.

Weimaraner

Weimaraner's are a great hunting dog

Weimaraner’s are game dogs in more ways than one. Bred for their energy and stamina, these ‘Silver Ghosts’ enjoy plenty of exercise. These are large dogs can be quite strong.

German Shepherd

German Shepherds are a smart and active dog breed

German Shepherds, or Alsatians as they’re often known, are a really smart breed of dog and take quite quickly to learning new things. Many German Shepherds have issues with hip dysplasia, so check with your vet before heading out on a long run.

What do you need to know before going running with your dog?

Do keep in mind that some breeds may find extreme distances unmanageable. Dogs with short noses or flat-faced breeds can find running long-distances difficult and dangerous. Dogs with long or heavy coats may not cool down quite so quickly, so running in hot weather isn’t advisable.

Also keep in mind that even though you are not being pulled along by the dog, they are still leading the way whilst attached to you and therefore some muscular strain is inevitable. Any dog taking part in Canicross should be over 18 months old.

In all cases, physical fitness and the absence of any ailments such as breathing difficulties or being overweight are a prerequisite to taking part in Canicross, so again the consent of your vet is paramount.

What equipment do you need for Canicross?

As with any sport, there is a certain amount of kit you'll need to participate safely and comfortably in Canicross. The equipment you’ll need to take part in Canicross will be:

  • A canicross dog harness
  • A canicross belt
  • Running clothes
  • Trail shoes or running shoes
  • Waterproof jacket (in case it starts raining!)
  • Drinking water for your dog
  • Towels for cleaning up afterwards

The main priority should be a suitable harness for your dog. This needs to be as comfortable a fit as possible with the emphasis on taking care there are no restrictions in the fitting. For example, you should avoid anything that digs in anywhere, particularly the ribs as this will impede your dog’s breathing and you'll also want to ensure there is plenty of freedom for movement around the neck and waist.

The line that the harness is connected to, which also connects to you is another important feature, especially the height and length, which needs to factor in any pull on your dog as you run behind it. You can adjust this by trial and error at the outset, as you will notice issues in their breathing, or a slightly lopsided movement if the harness and line are out of sync.

The line's length should also address your need not to get tangled up or trip over and have a bungee style element built in to absorb any shock if you experience a sudden jolt along the way.

Your own attire needs to fall somewhere between running and jogging with observance more on stamina and flexibility than mere speed. The faster you intend to run, the more secure the belt that attaches to the line needs to be. A moderate pace should find a strong waist belt adequate enough, whilst a hip belt that is additionally secured by straps around the legs may be worth considering for faster runners. Footwear will generally benefit from something along the lines of trail shoes given that most of your running will take place off the road.

Where is the best place to run with your dog?

Remember this is a cross country sport, so with that in mind, you will want to spend as little time on roads as possible. Woodland parks and forest trails mixed in with open fields will be easier on the feet than anything with concrete. But bear in mind that some addition of tougher ground will help to keep a healthy balance of wear and tear for both feet and paws. Mapping out your intended route in advance will help prevent any mishaps.

If you decide to give Canicross a go, do some training together first and above all remember to enjoy the sport for what it is - a great opportunity to get fit and spend quality time with your best friend.


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