Canicross is a sport that involves trail running with your dog and is becoming hugely popular in the UK and the rest of the world.

Canicross is a sport that involves trail running with your dog and is becoming hugely popular in the UK and the rest of the world. The dog wears a specially designed harness that allows them to move freely and pull in front of the owner, the owner wears a waist belt that connects to the dog via a bungee lead. The dog and owner must work as a team to negotiate the trails together while the dog runs in front. The sport originated as a way for mushers to keep their sled dogs fit during the summer months. In fact, some of the harnesses that the dogs wear during Canicross are the same as the ones that sled dogs wear while pulling sleds.

Dogs not only need to have a suitable amount of exercise but they also need adequate mental stimulation and Canicross is a brilliant way of supplying both as it is physically demanding and it requires focus from them and dogs love having a job to do, a 15 minute Canicross run is just as tiring as an hour of off lead running for them.

Benefits of Canicross

  • Your dog is attached to you so you do not have to worry about where they are or what they are doing – perfect for dogs that cannot be let off lead.
  • Suitable for any breed of dog no matter their size.
  • Great for weight loss and building strength and endurance in both you and your dog. Obesity is on the rise in dogs in the UK, Canicross will help to keep your dog fit and healthy

  • It is well known that running is good for your physical health and mental health – the same is true for dogs – they also experience the ‘runners high’ that you experience after a run.

  • Perfect way of exercising dogs that cannot be let off lead or are reactive on lead.

  • Canicross is perfect for high energy dogs, not only will it physically tire them out but it will be mentally enriching for them, which is equally important.

  • Build a strong bond with your dog as you work together as a team to negotiate the trails.
  • Meet new people and make new friends by training as part of a group – this is a great way to be able to safely exercise dogs in the winter.

  • Canicross is best done in the colder winter months, the cooler temperatures and lower humidity make it much easier and more comfortable for the dogs, and so long as the owner is wearing suitable high viz and a head torch it can still be done in the dark.

  • Canicross is fun, not just for the owner but dogs really enjoy it too.

“Canicross is perfect for high energy dogs, not only will it physically tire them out but it will be mentally enriching for them, which is equally important.”

How to get started with Canicross

If you would like to try out Canicross I highly recommend finding a local club or class to start with as they will have a selection of kit available for you to borrow and they will be able to teach all you need to know about Canicross to get started. Your dog will also benefit and learn from watching others and being able to follow other dogs on the trails. You do not need to be a runner or be super fit to start Canicross, your fitness will improve very rapidly once you start running with your dog regularly, as will your dogs.

Some dogs can find Canicross a little confusing as first as we often spend our whole lives asking them for loose lead walking and suddenly we want the opposite from them, but once they understand what we want from them soon learn to love it.

Canicross equipment

If you cannot find a group close to you and want to have a go by yourself then you will need the right equipment. You will need a harness for the dog, a bungee line and a running belt that goes around your waist; there is equipment out there to suit all budgets and breeds of dog.

Running belt

When shopping for a running belt for yourself it is important to choose a belt that sits around your hips rather than your waist to avoid hurting your back.

Bungee line

Is designed to connect you and your dog together and make your run more enjoyable by absorbing any jolts.

Dog's harness

When it comes to a harness for your dog it is important to use a harness that is different from their ‘every day’ harness so that they can learn the difference between when it is time to run and when it is time to walk, it is also important that your dog’s harness does not restrict their movement in any way and that their shoulder can move freely.

Trail running shoes

Consider the type of surface you will be running on when choosing shoes, if you need further help with purchasing suitable shoes have a chat with the staff in your local running shop.

How to start running together

During Canicross your dog should run in front of you with the bungee line taut so that it helps you to run forward and you won’t get caught up in the line and trip. Your dog might find it a bit confusing to start with and might not understand that they are allowed to pull, if this is the case you might find it easier to get a family member or friend to jog or cycle in front of you which will encourage your dog onwards. It is important to give your dog clear instructions; they will need a clear ‘Start/Go’ command as well as a ‘left/right’ command, you will also need a steady/stop command as well. Teach the directional queues can be tricky – some dogs learn it quickly others it takes a bit longer – but be sure to persevere with it.

Misconceptions about Canicross

  • Will it teach my dog to pull?

You will need to use a different harness for Canicross, this way your dog will associate their Canicross Harness with pulling and hopefully only pull in this harness.

  • Do I need to be fit to start?

No, you don’t need to be fit or a runner to start, but you will see big gains in your fitness levels once you start. If you are new to running or fitness it is important that you increase the distance and speed slowly as you do not want to risk injury to yourself or your dog. I highly recommend a programme that alternates between walking and running to start with or try ‘Couch to 5K’ which is a free programme available as an app or podcast.

  • I have a small dog; can I still take part?

Yes, absolutely! Small dogs love to run and as long as you can find a suitable harness then you can still get involved

  • My dog is nervous around other dogs, Is Canicross suitable?

Yes, it can be a great confidence giver to dogs. But you need to take in to account the needs of your dog, as an owner, you should not put your dog into situations, they are not comfortable with, so do consider your dog’s individual needs, it might be that group classes would be too much for them, but maybe a 1-2-1 or individual training package would be great for them? If you do decide to take a nervous or reactive dog to classes, then make sure you let your instructor know and ensure you do not put your dogs in situations that will cause them to become too highly aroused or stressed.

Our Expert

One & All Dog Fitness has been created by a dog trainer with a love of fitness and a fitness instructor with a love of dogs. We run Canicross classes and 1:1’s in Cornwall and plan to add Dog Parkour and Dog Fitness classes to our class timetable later this year.