Canicross, CaniX or cani cross is a dog sport that involves cross-country running with your dog, and is great for the fitness of both dog and owner! Canicross originated as a way of training and maintaining the fitness of sled dogs (“mushing”) in Europe, and is most commonly undertaken with endurance running dogs and sled dogs such as the Siberian Husky, but as the sport is becoming more and more popular, lots of other breeds can be seen taking part in it today too.
The 2008 Crufts dog show saw the first formal UK canicross (CaniX) event, with over 100 competitors taking part. The event has grown in popularity every year since then, as the profile of the sport has risen with the general public.
Canicross is quickly growing in popularity within the UK, particularly among active dog owners with energetic dogs who like to spend lots of time outdoors and on the move. Canicross can be undertaken with either one or two dogs per human runner, and the dog or dogs are always attached to the runner, usually by means of a waist belt with leads and bungee cords attached to offer control of the dogs without pulling on either the runner’s waist or the dog or dogs’ necks.
Any person over the age of ten can take part in canicross, and it is of course important to tailor your training and progression to match your fitness levels. Don’t try and run before you can walk! If you are very unfit, it is wise to work on your basic fitness first and start by walking and then jogging and beginner cross-country running until you have developed a reasonable degree of fitness before looking to involve your dog or dogs.
Canicross was traditionally the preserve of Spitz-type dogs, such as the Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky, but there are no restrictions on the breeds or types of dog that can take part. Any fit, healthy and active dog of any age over one year old can have a go, and as well as the traditional Spitz-type dogs, today it is common to see dogs of all breeds and sizes such as the Poodle, Jack Russell and German Shepherd taking part. Very sedentary or unfit dogs, or those who are simply very heavy and slow (such as the Bulldog) generally do not suit canicross very well.
Canicross is run over a set and timed course, with dogs and owners setting off at staggered intervals. The length of courses can vary from just a mile, to 25 miles or more, depending upon the event. The course itself is set over mixed, cross-country terrain and will usually involve running on a range of different surfaces and inclines, and sometimes over small streams and muddy ground. Canicross is not a sport for people who don’t like getting their hands (and dogs) dirty!
First of all, you should be relatively fit or at least ready to start getting fitter, and the same should be true for your dog. Your dog should be responsive and obedient, and able to run alongside of you both on and off the lead, before you begin introducing them to the waist harness and range-running equipment used for the sport. Get your dog used to the idea of the waist harness gradually, and take care to ensure that you train your dog properly. If you are attached by your waist to one or two large dogs and they lunge off after something unexpectedly, you can soon be pulled off your feet, so control and good manners in your dog are paramount.
There are many cross-country dog running clubs and canicross organisations within the UK, who run group training and social events and usually welcome beginners and newcomers. Look for a local club in your area and go along for a trial session and some advice, and you will soon be able to establish if canicross is something that you and your dog might enjoy taking part in.
Canicross offers a whole range of benefits for both dog and owner, assuming that you both enjoy it and don’t push yourselves too hard during the early stages.
Canicross can strengthen the bond between you and your dog, and improve the communication and trust between you in a way that few other canine sports can accomplish. It can also of course improve the fitness levels and endurance of both you and your dog, and so, can offer a wide range of health benefits. Spending time outdoors is also highly beneficial for both dog and owner, and canicross group events and competitions are usually excellent opportunities for both dog and owner to socialise as well.