Are you a keen trail runner looking to try Canicross with your dog?
If the answer is yes, it’s very important not to assume your dog can simply run the same distances you are used to (even if they already do off-lead) and transfer over to pulling into a harness without any impact. Even if your dog is particularly fit, Canicross is a different physical stress and challenge, and it’s therefore important that they are introduced to it gradually.
At DogFit, we often run taster sessions for people and dogs who fit the description above because it’s important to get the right advice about the equipment but also to be guided on how to run safely and efficiently. Take the BBC news presenter Sophie Raworth for example – she has taken on the London Marathon multiple times as well as the epic Marathon de Sable but when it comes to running with her dog, despite being a young and energetic cavapoo, she has sensibly dropped back her distances – not only is it kinder to her dog physically but it ensures her dog enjoys it without being pushed to do too much too soon.
We’ve compiled a list of tips to ensure both you and your dog have the best start to Canicross and can ultimately build up to enjoying regular and longer runs together.
1. Get the right kit
First things first, make sure you select the best kit for your dog…the most expensive harness doesn’t necessarily mean it is the most appropriate. Either speak to one of our DogFit Trainers who have a vast amount of knowledge of the different harnesses or complete our harness consultation form. And once you have chosen the harness for your dog, do make sure it is the right fit – you can find sizing guides on our website and harness demos over on our YouTube channel.
2. Start with a short run
Even if your dog is very fit and active, it’s advisable to start with a shorter run than you may be used to and possibly include periods of walking to (i) ensure the two of you are comfortable using the equipment and (ii) ensure your dog is enjoying the experience. If your dog is an instant puller and clearly wants to keep going, just bear in mind that they are exerting more energy pulling into the harness than if they were free-running and may tire out sooner than you realise.
Also, be mindful of what your dog can handle distance-wise, even once they are running regularly. A younger, stronger dog can take on more miles than an older, less athletic dog. Do consult your vet if in any doubts as it isn’t a simple case of one rules fits all.
3. Focus on having fun
It may seem obvious to say this, but simply getting out with your dog, having fun and strengthening the bond between you is what’s most important. Don’t put your dog (or yourself) under unnecessary stress – enjoy being out on the trails together. The longer runs, and even races, will come and you will both be ready!
4. Work on some simple commands
It’s never too soon to incorporate commands into your running. This not only improves the way you communicate with your dog, especially when they are pulling out in front so can’t see any visual cues, but it helps strengthen the bond between you and will make your runs so much easier.
Some commands are easy to teach (such as left and right) whilst others may take a bit more time (such as getting your dog to run by your side on the downhills) but they key thing, like any dog training, is consistency and frequency. We’ve written a helpful blog on commands and also have some videos over on our YouTube channel that we highly recommend you watch.
5. Work on running in a straight line
Some dogs are super focussed on pulling out in front in a straight line whilst others may need some encouragement to get this right – for example, they may get distracted by smells. If your dog is a ‘weaver’ or ‘sniffer’ find narrow paths with limited distractions or run with other Canicrossers to help your dog fall in line with the pack. It’s also good to try a command such as ‘leave it’ or ‘on by’ and reward them verbally when they are running correctly. Remember, practice makes perfect and it’s all part of the fun so don’t get frustrated.
6. Get faster or go further
Once you and your dog are running regularly, you can start building up the distances and pace. You may even want to enter a race together – there are many out there and you can choose from 5k right up to marathon distance. We list countrywide Canicross-friendly events on our website. Whatever you decide to do, have a broad plan in place and keep it fun. Racing in an event is extremely fun and adds a different dimension to the sport – there are some best practices to competing in a Canicross race which we recommend you read about first.
We hope you have found this article helpful. Do let us know how you get on.
Happy Canicrossing 🙂