Whilst canicross is very accessible – it can be enjoyed by most people and dogs – there’s more to it than simply hands-free running.
It’s a sport in its own right with both physical and technical demands and, irrespective of your ability or personal expectations (be it to enjoy easy, social runs or to compete in competitions), everyone can benefit from a little shared knowledge to make their canicross experience that much more enjoyable.
In the few years that I’ve been canicrossing I’ve picked up a number of tips that have helped me get the most out of the sport and which I thought I’d share with you all in this blog.
• Incorporate commands
Introducing just a few basic commands (such as ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘with me’) will make a huge difference to both your enjoyment of canicross and the bond you will have with your dog.
It’s also handy for negotiating a technical course no matter what level runner you are.
Check out our guide to canicross commands here.
• Anticipate terrain
Running off-road takes practice, and even more so when you have a 30+ kg dog pulling out in front!
Stay relaxed and look slightly ahead (about 6 strides in front of you) but be vigilante of what’s around you and the surface you are running on. If you tend to shuffle when you run, make a conscious effort to pick up your feet.
Anticipate any potential obstacles or changes in terrain by adjusting your pace, stride pattern and position.
• Wear the right kit
There is special equipment for canicross that is designed for you and your dog’s safety and comfort and for maximum efficiency so it’s worth the investment to ensure you avoid unnecessary injuries.
Also consider your clothing, such as appropriate trail shoes for the terrain and light, comfortable, breathable clothing that wicks away moisture.
• Run in the middle or back of the canicross pack if your dog isn’t pulling
Most dogs will pull but if they aren’t picking it up straight away try this top tip.
Another option is to switch dogs with a friend and let them run behind you with your dog; your dog will soon pull to keep up with you!
Some people find that running their non-pulling dog alongside a pulling dog via the use of a special double line or splitter also helps.
• Mix up your runs
It’s much more fun when you vary the location, distance, terrain and tempo of your runs. For instance, why not incorporate some hill training or some intervals to keep your training fresh and interesting?
It’s also a great way to improve your performance.
If you are a complete beginner you may want to consider doing a Couch to 5K course.
• Build up your training gradually and sensibly
To avoid unnecessary injury and to ensure your long term enjoyment of canicross (as well as that of your dog’s) start off with an easy training session and build up from there.
For instance, walk or lightly jog to get a feel for the kit, then gradually increase the mileage and intensity.
Even if you are an experienced runner, it’s sensible to get used to the feel of your dog pulling and be mindful that you may have to adjust your running style when canicrossing.
• Recognise when your dog needs to cut back
Your dog must always come first so learn to recognise when they need an easier run or a complete rest. If in any doubt about your dog’s health and fitness seek guidance from your vet.
• Take good care of yourself too
Likewise, recognise when your body is telling you to ease back. You are no good to your dog with an injury!
• Carry water on the warmer/longer runs
Over the Summer in particular it’s good to run with a small rucksack so you can carry provisions such as water for both you and your dog. It’s also worth considering carrying a small first aid pack.
• Tailor your runs for warmer days
For example, pick routes where there is plenty of shade and natural water stops for the dogs to bathe in as well as drink from.
Consider heading out early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are cooler.
Plan ahead and be prepared to cut your run short if needs be.
• Keep your dog warm after a winter run
I highly recommend investing in a decent coat for your dog to wear after a run in the winter. Some may also benefit from a cooling coat in the summer.
• Warm down after a run
Don’t just put your dog straight into the car after a hard run – allow time for them to bring their heart rate down. I find that walking the last few metres of a run is the best way to do this.
• Invest in a decent head torch over the winter
Running in the dark evenings is great fun so there’s no need to miss out! Just pick nice wide trails that you already know and use a good head torch.
• Canicross equipment is great for power walking too!
You don’t have to run to enjoy hands-free exercise with your dog.
If you don’t enjoy running then why not try power walking instead.
I also use my kit when I go walking anywhere where there is livestock – it’s much more comfortable than having to control a dog on a lead.
• Have fun
Don’t take it too seriously and remember why you got into canicross in the first place.
Canicross is fun, social and a fantastic way to get fit along with your dog! ☺
These are my personal top tips but I’d love to hear what people think; whether you have any advice of your own you’d like to share with the canicross community? Please add any comments at the bottom of this article.