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Mandy Williams  •  Running Training •  22.03.2019 •  4 min read

Canicross: Why nothing beats running with your dog!

“Dogs are a man's best friend” isn't just a saying, it's the honest truth. Dogs have a unique capacity to provide their family members with unconditional love, loyalty and companionship, every day during their lifetime.

If you love spending time with your dog, then why not start sharing a fun and fulfilling activity together: running?!

Running with your dog is a real discipline called Canicross. Spectacular and funny to watch, Mandy has been practicing it for years. Here's what she has to say about it...

What is Canicross?

“Cani” is obviously the dog and “cross” means to move cross country. So essentially canicross is trail running, attached to your dog, where your dog pulls you along! It originated as a means of keeping sled dogs active when there was no snow, but soon developed into its own standalone sport. It’s been popular in Europe for years but over the last decade has seen huge growth in its popularity the UK, with the first UK canicross event staged in 2000. It provides a fun, social and highly effective way for you and your dog to get fit!

What kit do I need?

Canicross equipment is specifically designed for your and your dog’s comfort and safety.

Dogs are fitted with a special canicross harness and the human wears a canicross waist belt (similar in design to a climbing harness) with a 2m bungee line that attaches to the dog’s harness and absorbs any shock from the pull of your dog. The canicross harness is fitted to ensure the dog pulls from the chest, rather than the neck, to prevent possible neck injuries. The canicross waistbelt sits on your hips and helps avoid any strain or pull on your back.

Races and training always take part on trail routes, not tarmac pavements, to protect the dog’s paws and most are over a 5k distance. We highly recommend investing in a pair of trail running shoes, if you only have road shoes in your current armoury.

Is Canicross suitable for all breeds of dog?

Dogs have to be at least 12 months of age to take part in races and depending on the dog’s breed, your vet will give you the best advice as to when you can start training. Whilst some breeds may be more suited to canicross (we get a natural "pull" from spaniels but not from smaller dogs), all breeds are welcome! My partner and I run with schnoodles and spaniels and find smaller dogs are happy to run out front and enjoy the ride, just as much as the pulling dogs.

The dog dictates the pace: they will only do what they enjoy. However, pulling dogs can do some serious speeds – the 5k record for the present World Champion Ben Robison is 12 minutes 24 seconds with his Greyster. So, if you’re serious about competing at a high level, you will need to do your own training on top of the running you do with your dog, so you can keep up with your dog’s speed and fitness and avoid injury!

It’s not all about speed though, it's mainly about teamwork between you and your dog. Commands are vital and your relationship with your canine running partner is key.

Top tips:

  • The most important commands to teach your dog are “left” and “right” at turns, and to “ignore” distractions such as other dogs. You will frequently pass other dogs on the course, so your dog must learn to proceed, not stop and say hi (or have a sniff) mid-race! So getting some practice running with other canicrossers is key ahead of racing.
  • We also teach our dogs a fast start with “3,2,1” used whenever we play fetch and release the ball to simulate an acceleration of pace on a start line.
  • Dogs must pass the finish line ahead of you and not by your side so again we practice a fast finish by using commands such as “finish finish finish” or “let’s go home” but you can make up your own as long as your dog associates this with a finish line ahead.

It’s important to remember that dogs can overheat so we don't run our dogs in harness if it’s over a certain temperature (anything above 20°C – 25°C). The racing season reflects this starting in September and usually ending in April/May.

Where can I race?

Scotland has a huge racing scene now with Cani-Sports Scotland, SDAS and Cani-Fit all based here, offering a packed schedule of events and fixtures for all levels:

If you want to go further afield you can race elsewhere in the UK and abroad.

For instance, each year Euro and World Championships are held, as well as the Trophee de Montangue, a 10-day racing event in the French Alps, which I have competed at for the last 2 years (achieving a top 10 finish in 2018 with my schnoodle!). You get to see some amazing routes and run with your best friend! What’s not to like?!

My 11-year-old spaniel Merlin still runs with me twice a week and has ran his whole life and still loves it! I’m now starting the next race season with his son Max and I can’ t describe the bond you form with your dog when you run together. It truly is an amazing sport!

Canicross provides a fun, social and highly effective way for you and your dog to get fit!

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