Maverick Events canicross race

Top tips to know before starting in Canicross

Did you get a dog during lockdown? Was running a big part of your life during lockdown? You’re not alone. I certainly fell into both these brackets. Admittedly, I’ve always loved running, but over the last year it’s become a bigger part of my life than ever before.

Then, on October 17th 2020 when I got Archie (my dog) I almost immediately thought about running with him. I’d heard a bit about canicross and running with dogs, but my knowledge was limited. So, I began to research this unique sport and find out more about how it works, and what exactly you need.

But what actually is canicross? In short, canicross is cross-country or trail running with your dog (or dogs). Your dog is harnessed out in front of you and it’s momentum pulls you forward, while you the steer the team. Before you know it, you and your canine companion will become the best of fitness partners.

Canicross Equipment: The essentials

As with many sports, there is a ton of different canicross equipment to choose from. Back in October, I was completely new to the sport, but since then I’ve done a lot of homework. Here’s my tips for the three pieces of key canicross equipment, the harness, belt, and bungee line.

Dog Harness

A canicross dog harness

What comes up time and time again, is to make sure that your harness of choice doesn’t restrict your dog’s breathing or natural movements. Comfort is key and the aim of the harness is to capture the dog’s running power so that the dog can pull you along through a bungee line, while feeling as comfortable and natural as possible.

If you can, get to a shop where you can try out a few different harnesses with your dog. The most important thing to remember is that every dog and person is different so you need to find what works best for you.

Recommendation: Norwegian Racing

Waist belt

Canicross waist belt

Your canicross waist belt is as individual to you, as the harness is for your dog. In this case, prioritise your own comfort and try out a few different options to see what is right for you.

The name waist belt is slightly misleading. In reality, these should sit on the hips, rather than up too high around the waist. The main job of the belt is to prevent the force of your dog doing any damage to your lower back.

While comfort is the most important thing, there are also a few practical decisions when making your purchase. Do you need pockets for your keys or phone? Is there enough space for doggy treats? Do you want leg straps? Leg straps definitely prevent the belt from creeping up into the lower back, however they can chafe. Again, it’s worth really seeing what works for you.

Waist belt recommendation: Kurgo RSG Activity Utility Belt

Bungee Line

A canicross bungee line

The bungee line is essentially the dog’s lead. During canicross, this will connect your dog to you via both your own waist belt and the attachment point on the harness. The bungee ensures that both you and your dog have some ‘bounce’ in the line, which will prevent sharp movements that could lead to injury.

The line varies in length, but it’s important to make sure that it’s not too long for risk of tripping and falling during the run, or that it’s too short which risks you and your dog running too closely together. Generally, it’s recommended to be around 2 metres long, when at full stretch.

Bungee recommendation: Ruffwear – Roamer Bungee Leash

What are the rules of canicross?

Largely, you can compete in canicross with any breed of dog – so long as they’re fit and healthy. Age is extremely important, however. It’s not until dogs are at least 12 months old that they should begin to take part in canicross events, but after around 6 months you can begin to do some light training.

  • Dogs should be on their lead throughout the event, including before and after the run
  • Harness, belts, and bungee lines must be in use
  • The dog must be a minimum of 12 months old to enter the event
  • You must clear up after you dog, even when competing in the event

So, feeling ready to enter a canicross event? Check out what’s bookable near you.

How do I train my dog for canicross?

Photo Credit: Maverick Race

To safely and successfully participate in canicross, your dog needs basic obedience skills that mean it is comfortable on the lead. At around 6 months, you can begin to practice with your dog and your equipment. Try to build things up gradually – first by walking nicely together, and then picking up the pace into a jog or run.

It’s extremely important to ensure that your dog is comfortable walking or running past strangers and other dogs. You don’t want it pulling you off course at every distraction, you’ll not only trip yourself or others up, but you won’t win the race!

Finally, it’s helpful to teach your dog movement cues such as “speed up” or “slow down.” The words you choose for the different actions are completely up to you. Generally, the more you practice, the more your teamwork with your dog will improve and – most importantly – the more fun you’ll have during canicross.

So, feeling ready to enter a canicross event? Check out what’s bookable near you.

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Back in 2016, Steph swapped her skis for the bicycle and hasn't looked back since. She then joined a triathlon club in Edinburgh, and only a couple of years later came 21st in 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Champs. Since then, she's taken on a number of ultra running and cycling challenges, most notably the infamous 'everesting' cycling challenge. Steph is currently sponsored by Le Col, 2XU, and SunGod.

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