We are often asked, “At what age can my dog start canicross?” This is a very important question, as starting a dog too early can affect their bone development and cause serious injuries.
Put simply, the minimum age that a dog can start canicross training is 12 months old. However, this should be seen as a general guide only – ask your vet for more specific advice with regards to the breed and size of your dog as in some cases, it is prudent to wait until they are older than that. Larger dogs breeds, will need to wait until they are at least 18 months old. In all cases, when you do start, training should be very gradual and build up slowly.
It can be very tempting to start thinking about canicross early, especially if your puppy has lots of energy and going through a ‘teenage’ stage. Clearly, puppies and dogs love exercise and it can be very good for them when done correctly and in an age-appropriate way. The biggest risk posed to energetic puppies who exercise too much is to their skeletal system and growth plates, which are still developing and can be easily damaged.
A puppy’s growth plates, or areas of soft cartilage tissue that sit at the end of their longer bones, are very soft at first. These soft areas are where the bones extend further as the dog’s body grows bigger. As the dog matures, they calcify, harden and turn into denser bone material. The growth plates are the last section of the skeletal system to harden in this way.
Injury can result in permanent damage and highly compromised mobility. If just one area of the growth plates is injured, the damage cells in that area will stop growing. The cells everywhere else will carry on their normal development, leading to the bone becoming deformed or the limbs ending up too short. A common area for deformity of this kind to develop is in the forearm area, around the ulna and radius bones. An affected puppy will show pain and discomfort, which should be seen to by a vet straight away.
Most development of the growth plates takes place between the ages of four and eight months, however, by one year of age, most growth plates have fused together and are no longer visible on x-rays. That said, as mentioned above, some larger breeds can take up to 18 or even 20 months for this process to be fully completed. Keep an eye on how your young dog’s bones are growing to check that they are all the same length and are sturdy and straight.
Ready to canicross?
Once your dog is old enough to start taking part, introduce them slowly. Light training to start with, getting them used to the canicross harness and running with a group. Build up gradually and have fun! We have a beginners guide here, with hints and tips to help get you started.