Introducing canicross – my top tips on running with your dog

Canicross race at Brutal, Bordon 2014

I wanted to do a write-up for anyone considering taking up canicross with their dog(s).

If you’ve been to any of the Brutal, Human Race, CTS or other canicross friendly off-road events you may have noticed a group of people taking part with their dogs – and if you haven’t seen us, you’ll most definitely have heard us!

Canicrossers at the start of the Brutal 10km run, Bagshot 26th April 2014

Brutal 10k, Bagshot 2014 

Well, this is a sport that’s really taking off in the UK. It’s called canicross and it’s a fantastic way to combine your love of running with exercising your dog.

Canicross is basically cross country running with your dog. It developed from the origins of skijoring, where people ski with their dog pulling out in front of them. The owner wears a waist belt, the dog wears a harness and the two of you are attached to each other via a bungee line. It’s that simple and, I promise you, it’s lots of fun.

So here are my top 10 tips for getting started…

1. Select your weapon 😉                                                                                                        

I would recommend starting off with one dog (two’s fine if they are easily manageable….or even three if you own schnauzers like my friend Jenni) – it just means you can concentrate on your dog and on getting used to running with the canicross kit. You don’t need to run with a specific breed or size of dog (anything goes!) – so long as both of you are willing participants and you always put the needs of your dog first then you are good to go.

running with dogs, schnauzers

Jenni & her three gorgeous Schnauzers

Canicross Brutal Minley 2014

My boy Sidney loves canicross!

2. Go out for a trial run
Join some other canicrossers to get some practice in.  Try enquiring via the Canicross Trailrunners facebook page and someone will put you in touch with your nearest group. There are many across the country and it’s growing all the time!

The good thing about running with other canicrossers is that your dog will pick up the sport much more quickly and it’s much more fun in the process.

Running with other canicrossers for the first time can be daunting. Dogfit offers classes in parts of the country, including Introduction to Canicross sessions catering specially for beginners.

The North Downs Canicross Team at Brutal10 Bagshot 26th April 2014

Northdowns Canicrossers

3. Try before you buy!
All you need to get going are three items; a waist belt for you, a harness for your dog(s) and a bungee line. There are a few brands and styles out there that all do a great job, so the best thing to do is get hold of some and try them out for yourself. Other canicrossers will be more than happy to loan out some of their kit.

4. Buy your own kit
Once you’ve decided on the kit you need, where do you get hold of it? Well there are a few companies that sell canicross gear. Dogfit sell a range of good quality products that are personally recommended by the owners who are experienced canicrossers. It’s important to get the right fit so, if you are in any doubt about sizes or which product to choose, just give them a call.

5. Follow the instructions!
It goes without saying but always put the needs of your dog first. It’s basic common sense really; don’t run them immediately after food, don’t push them if they are lethargic or struggle with the warmer temperatures and make sure they are hydrated (it’s worth carrying water especially over the summer months and longer distances). It’s even worth investing in a fleece/coat for your dog for when you hang around after runs in the winter time.

A lot depends on your dog’s age, fitness and general health – if ever in any doubt, you should get them checked over by your vet. Even when you get more competitive and start to enter races, your dog’s welfare should always come first!

These lovely dog fleeces are great for post canicross runs!

An essential piece of kit for post canicross runs!

6. Throw in a few commands
Once you and your dog are comfortable running with the kit, why not introduce some basic commands, such as left, right, with me/heel etc? I’ve found this invaluable when I’ve run some of the more technical courses out there, plus it’s a good bonding exercise for you and your best pal. Check out these top tips for commands!

7. Enter a race
More and more events are accepting canicross entries which is fantastic. You have to experience it yourself to really appreciate the atmosphere at the start of a canicross race, but trust me, it’s electric and you and your dog will love it!

Check out the Canicross Events page on Facebook for details of canicross friendly races.

Canicross runners at Brual Minley

Plenty of events welcome canicrossers

Canicross finishers at Brutal Bordon 2014

Dogs still pulling…and smiling…at the end of a tough 10km!

8. Try out night running
A great thing about canicross is that it isn’t just a daytime sport (in fact, my dogs run better at night time) – the only additional accessory you need is a head torch, though it’s well worth investing in a decent one. Just pick some good routes you already know and that aren’t too bad underfoot.

9. Organise your own social runs
Depending on how active canicross is in your area there’s no reason why you can’t organise your own runs – perhaps get some friends involved and start your own facebook page?

Canicross running in Surrey

The best runs are social runs with friends!

Social canicross run, river wey, Guildford

10. But most importantly….Have fun!
Canicross is really simple to pick up and it’s a very sociable sport. My dogs love it and I have made so many wonderful friends as a result. Races are great but it’s the experiences that matter and that’s what makes this a truly amazing sport!

Canicross running off-road

Our friends Tanja, Paul & their boy Hank who we met at the very beginning of our canicross adventures 🙂

Canicross running

 *thanks to Anthony Evenden, Tanja Russell, Olivia Ommaney and Jenni Kenyon for use of some of the photos 
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