By: Stacie Bowers, CPDT-KA
Learn the basics of the growing sport of running with your dog, including the gear needed, how to prepare, and tips for once you're out there running
*This Canicross 101 article is just a guide. You should consult your veterinarian before starting any exercise plan with your dog. You should also closely monitor your dog while running to make sure he/she enjoys it and is not overheating, overexerting or exhibiting an injury.
What is Canicross?
Your new favorite way to run
Canicross is the sport of running with your dog (think cross-country with your dog leading the way). Canicross started in Europe as a way for mushers to train and exercise with their dogs in the off-season. Now this fun fitness activity is gaining momentum in the U.S. as well - and we are SO glad it is.
There are dog-friendly 5K's and Canicross-specific races popping up in the U.S. (heck we did a Halloween themed dog 5K - photo further below).
Here are a few websites starting to list dog-friendly races and canicross events
Check it out and sign up here.
Now let's get to our top tips for running Canicross with your dog
#1: GEAR UP
What gear you'll need:
Body Harness for Your Dog - we suggest having a separate designated running harness for the safety of your dog. Also, for training purposes, be sure not to use any equipment (like a front-clip or training harness) that you use for loose-leash walking training. Here are a few harness suggestions: Alpine Outfitters' X-Back Harness (pictured), Non-Stop Dogwear's Freemotion Harness, Ruffwear's Omnijore Harness
Bungee Line - an elastic line to attach from your dog's body harness to your running belt Alpine Outfitters Bungee Line (pictured), Non-Stop Dogwear's Touring Bungee, Ruffwear's Omnijore Towline, Kurgo's Springback Leash
Running Shoes - Nike Women's Running Shoes (pictured)
First Aid Kit (human + dog) - ASPCA's article on how to create a pet first aid kit
#2: BUILD UP PHYSICAL STRENGTH
Incorporate short jogs/sprints into your walk. Start with adding in short sprints into your regular walks. You can start with jogging to the next house, tree, street sign, etc. Then build up to longer distances.
Consider walking and hill training. Another option to start out is to walk at a faster pace and include some hills into your regular walks.
Follow a 5K training plan. There are many training plans out there! Kurgo has a Canicross-focused one here. Keep an eye on your dog throughout your fitness training to be sure they are enjoying and comfortable with running.
Consider your dog’s breed. Take precaution with Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Boxers, some Spaniels, Chow Chows, and French Bulldogs, among others, who can have trouble breathing during exertion, especially in the heat. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before starting any fitness plan.
Be realistic about your dog’s fitness. Consider where you and your dog are starting from when it comes to your fitness! Take note of what your dog's daily schedule is for exercise currently and start slowly increased the length and/or intensity.
#3 PRACTICE BASIC CUES
Basic obedience and training skills. Developing basic obedience/manners will make running much more enjoyable and safe. Encourage good behavior positively and take a pause if your dog is weaving, tripping you, biting the leash, and/or practicing any behaviors you do not want them to. Begin with a quieter location to start off before heading to a higher trafficked trail.
Practice Canicross cues, if desired. Training a simple left, right, and ok-GO is really all you need to get started. But here are a few examples of Canicross cues that are used. And remember to train these cues with positive reinforcement on several occasions in preparation before expecting your dog to know them on the trail!
Stop / Whoa. To stop moving.
Hike / Hike On / Let’s Go / Lead / Pull. To get going!
Wait / Stand. To stand still and not move forward.
Hup Hup / Hike Hike / Quick Quick / Pick It Up. To go faster.
Slow. To slow down.
Leave it / Get On. To ignore a distraction and continue moving.
Gee / Right. To move towards the right.
Haw / Left. To move towards the left.
Straight. To continue straight through intersections without turning.
Yield. Move off the trail.
On By. To go around an object. You can use this word along with the gee and haw cue to tell your dog which way to go around an object.
#4 STAY SAFE ON THE TRAIL
Check the temperature before heading out. Avoid running your dog in the heat and be aware of the signs of heatstroke. Running with dogs in the heat can be an unsafe scenario. For additional information regarding heatstroke in dogs, Dr. Jennifer Deming wrote an article on heat exhaustion and heat stroke that can be found through Zuke's blog here.
Bring water. Be sure to provide plenty of fresh water and shade during/after the run. And remember to keep yourself hydrated!
Monitor your dog at all times. Be sure to take a break if your dog is slowing down or excessively panting.
Keep your dog leashed. Use a running belt and bungee line to safely run hands-free with your dog (our go-to gear list is above).
Start after your dog is 1 year old. Always consult your veterinarian regarding your dog's readiness to run with you. It is best to wait until your dog's growth plates are closed, typically at least 1 year of age or older. For some larger breeds, this can be 1.5 to 2 years old.
Choose your trail strategically. Avoid pavement and concrete and try to stick to packaged dirt, grass, hiking trails, and soft forest trails. Be careful of roots and heavily trafficked trails as this can make your run a little more difficult. And double check the trail is dog-friendly!
Be patient. Allow your dog some adjustment time to get used to running Canicross with you. Start out slow and build your fitness and relationship at the same time.
#5 ENJOY THE BENEFITS + HAVE FUN!
Canicross is a great source of exercise. For both you and your dog.
It will build upon your relationship with your dog. Just like other activities and dogs sports, Canicross can be a great way to strengthen the bond with your dog in a positive way working as a team.
Canicross is a fun option to explore and connect. You can run quietly with your dog or socially as a great way to meet other dog-loving runners and make new friends!
It is an easy dog sport to join in on. Some dog sports can get a bit expensive and are only available to learn at certain training facilities; however, Canicross is easy to do anytime, anywhere. For less than $150, you can get a Canicross starter kit and be ready to go!
We would love to see the adventures and trails you discover and enjoy while running, hiking, or walking with your dog! Feel free to tag us on Instagram @TheCuriousCollie and/or use the hashtags #curiouscanines / #enjoymorewithyourdog
By: Stacie Bowers, CPDT-KA
Founder + Head Trainer
Curious Canines, LLC