Canicross means running cross country (on trails) with your dog.
Sounds straightforward enough, right?
You could just grab some shoes (and a harness & leash) and head out the door with your hound. But just like with regular running, starting without preparation or wearing badly fitting kit can quickly lead to injuries and spoil your fun. Worse still, it can turn your dog off the idea altogether.
I’ve been canicrossing with my own dogs for over ten years now, and along the way I’ve qualified as a professional dog trainer, community running coach, remedial human & canine massage therapist and more.
Here’s some of my top tips on what to think about BEFORE you dash onto the trails:
1. Assess your fitness levels, and those of your dog. What kind of condition are you both in right now? Do either of you need a health check? Remember that running at human speed, in a harness and at a constant pace can be much harder for our dogs than you might expect. Consider starting with a simple couch or pooch to 5k programme to avoid injury.
2. Get fitted for proper kit. Don’t look for cheapo options to get started with especially if your dog is a strong puller. You want a supportive waistbelt (or you risk lower back injury) that won’t ride up and put pressure on your kidneys. You’ll also want decent running shoes with good grip – essential for slowing down on steep descents! Take the time to visit a proper running shop for gait analysis and avoid early injury.
3. Choose the right harness. We spend a lot of time teaching our dogs not to pull – but now we want them to pull hard and consistently! Choosing a running harness that feels very different to any other equipment helps your dog learn the difference. There are so many different harness options around now, we might need to try a few styles to find the best fit – allows free shoulder movement, doesn’t slide around and no restriction on breathing or rib cage expansion.
4. Choose a quiet narrow trail to get started on if you can. The narrower paths help your dog get up front in a straight line rather than circling back to look at you in bemusement. If your dog is keen on rabbits or squirrels then take advantage of their interest in pulling ahead. Avoid hard surfaces and tarmac especially early on.
5. Do some short practice sessions with a trainer or helper who can run or bike ahead to encourage your dog up front. Odd though it sounds, lots of dogs need to learn it’s ok to pull up ahead so keeping a gentle tension through the bungee line and moderating your pace to suit your dog is essential.
We’re not just asking our dogs to run with us or near us, we’re asking them to learn a whole new set of skills and behaviours. So it makes sense to train these carefully, and not just concentrate on getting fit and running!
More technical skills to help you descend tricky slopes, accelerate up hills and take corners all come in later. Again this is as much about training you in good biomechanics and posture as it is about training your dog.
North Yorkshire folks - can’t wait for our autumn classes and want to book a kit fitting + intro lesson now? You can share your session with up to one other person + dog!
Email Morag to book your session