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This past Saturday, I attended a canicross training event in Colorado Springs, CO, presented by canicross aficionado Demauri Malin. Canicross is the sport of cross country running with dogs. Runners wear a hands-free leash around their waist which is attached to their dog’s harness for the duration of the race. The sport originates from Europe, but canicross races and communities can be found across the United States. Find one near you on our event calendar.
In this article, I share my top four takeaways from my first-ever canicross training where I was paired with Crimson, a five-year-old neutered English Setter. Although Crimson had much experience running, this was his first time trying out some of the canicross gear. Additionally, some helpful tips for running with your dog are included. See also our article on trail etiquette for dog owners.
If you’re interested in trying canicross, here’s what you need to know to get started:
Choosing a Leash and Harness
Choosing the correct leash and harness is essential to avoid injuries for yourself and your dog. Traditional harness/leash combinations can cause strain to your back when your dog pulls in front of you. This changes your running mechanics and can lead to chronic low-back pain. Harnesses should fit around your dog’s torso in such a way that doesn’t put stress on your dog’s shoulders or impede their natural running form. Make sure you also choose the right length of leash for your dog, which is often determined on the size of your dog and his or her ability to pull. Having a bungee, or elastic section or two on the leash will greatly reduce the torque on your waist and back.
During the canicross training, we tested several canicross-specific leashes and harnesses that reduce injury risks and can improve the experience of running with your dog, including the Omnijore Dog Joring System.
Teach Your Dog to Pull
You will be able to run faster and with less effort if you teach your dog to pull you. For certain dogs like Crimson the Wonder Pup (video below), pulling comes instinctively, while other dogs will need to be trained to pull. Instinctive “pullers” may need to be trained to pull less strongly to accommodate for your own running pace. Find a canicross training event near you — or connect with a dog trainer –and practice running with your dog to master proper technique.
Know Your Dog’s Limits
When running with your dog, you should always be aware of her/his limitations. Dogs, unlike humans, are not naturally inclined to run long distances (10+ miles) without stopping. Even if you feel your body is prepared to safely run long distances, that doesn’t mean the same for your dog. Different breeds of dogs can have vastly different running abilities and sensitivity to things like heat, hydration, running surface and terrain. Surfaces such as pavement or snow can damage your dog’s paws. Check out Musher’s Secret All Season Paw Protection. Carry water for you and your dog for durations longer than 30-45 minutes in the heat or humidity of summer time. Many companies make collapsible nylon “bowls” that you can easily bring with you on the run. Train and race within both your own limits and those of your dog.
Learning Basic Commands
You should be able to control your dog to make sure the two of you can run together safely and without being distracted from the task of racing. The basics of sit, stay, and down should be part of your dog’s vocabulary. Teaching your dog to respond to directional commands is a good first step to avoid collisions with other dogs and to steer your dog while she/he is pulling you. This could include gee/haw or right/left, or simply one word that means “turn” and you, as the handler give cues with the leash and your body movement for your dog to choose the appropriate direction. “Leave it” or an equivalent command is also important to make sure your dog doesn’t chase after wildlife on the trails, or suddenly stop running and cause collisions with yourself or others on the trail.
To learn more about canicross, read Lindsay Johnson’s how-to-guide, “The Cani-Fit Guide to Canicross” and see her website here for canicross training and products. You can also watch our Beginner’s Introduction To Canicross video below for a full canicross show-and-tell!