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what is canicross

Canicross 101: Info, Gear, and Training Info

What is Canicross?

Canicross is the practice of running with your dog (canine cross country). Canicross got started in Europe, where mushers began the practice to exercise with their dogs during the mushing off-season. However, canicross has since grown to be a popular sport in its own right.

canicross training

Canicross involves a dog (or sometimes two dogs) staying attached to a runner, with the runner wearing a waist belt with a bungee cord that attaches to the dog’s harness. The elastic bungee cord reduces the pulling shock for humans and dogs, allowing them to run more comfortably together.

Take a look at what canicross looks like in action!

What Kinds of Dogs Can Do Canicross?

 Originally canicross was designed for mushing dogs, with huskies and malamutes as popular breeds. However, it’s possible for dogs of all shapes and sizes to participate in canicross.


While all dogs can enjoy canicross, it will work differently depending on your dog’s breed and size. Smaller dogs won’t be able to provide as much pulling power. Some dogs are built to run longer distances than others. Simply make sure you understand what your dog is capable of, and stay within what makes sense for them.

Want to learn more about which dogs are best built for going the extra mile? Check out this great interactive graph from Lovejoys Pet Food to see which breeds pack the most energy punch, or see our own list of the best dog breeds for running!

While all breeds of dogs, from labradors to terriers, can participate in canicross, the dog’s personality plays an important role as well. Some dogs love to run, and they’ll go nuts over canicross. Not all dogs love to run though, and those less inclined to bound about will probably not enjoy canicross.

What’s especially unique about canicross is that a variety of humans can participate as well – children, disabled individuals, and the visually impaired can all enjoy canicross, with proper training and preparation.

Does My Dog Need to Be Fit? Do I Need to Be Fit?

You can start canicross at any level of fitness. Just remember to start out easy and don’t push yourself or your dog too hard. Canicross can be performed while walking, hiking, or running.

photo credit: Harold Meerveld, flickr

Don’t expect your dog to become a champion runner overnight – and in fact, some will never become running pros. Start slow, work your way up, and watch your dog carefully to ensure you’re never pushing them too hard.

If you’re starting with a dog who hasn’t done much running, be sure to check out our guide on how to prep your dog for long-distance running. You definitely don’t want to just start running 10ks with your pooch without some prepping!

Canicross Training: An Introduction

While canicross doesn’t require ultra-specialized training, you’ll get the most out of it with some basic training practice.

1. Voice Commands

Canicross will go much smoother if you have some basic dog training down and if your dog can understand and respond to some verbal cues. These are the same verbal cues found with dog joring.

  • Stop / Whoa. Tells your dog to stop moving.
  • Hike / Hike On / Let’s Go / Lead / Pull. Tells your dog to get going!
  • Wait / Stand. A reminder to your dog to stand still and not move forward.
  • Hup Hup / Hike Hike / Quick Quick / Pick It Up. Tells your dog to go faster.
  • Slow. Tells your dog to slow down.
  • Leave it / Get On. Tells your dog to ignore a distraction and continue moving.
  • Gee / Right. Tells your dog to move towards the right.
  • Haw / Left. Tells your dog to move towards the left.
  • Straight. Tells your dog to continue straight through intersections without turning.
  • Yield. Move off the trail. This command is often used when another musher or individual is intersecting with you.
  • On By. Go around an object. You can use this word along with the gee and haw commands to tell your dog which way to go around an object.

Bonus Commands

  • Cross. Tells your dog to cross to the other side of the path.
  • Abit. A slight turn. Combine with other commands. For example, Gee Abit means take a light right at the fork.
  • Visit. Tells your dogs when it’s OK to interact with other dogs.
  • Take A Break. Tells dogs to relax for a bit and calm down.

A big thanks to BikeJor.com for providing information on many of these commands. Check them out for more bonus commands.

2. Teaching Your Dog to Pull

While pulling isn’t required for canicross, it is common – especially in races with humans and canines working together as a team.

It can be a bit difficult to get your dog to pull, especially when they’ve been taught that pulling is bad.

Don’t worry – we aren’t going to destroy years of dog walking manners! You’ll want to make sure your dog understands the difference between walking and canicross by teaching them that different equipment calls for different attitudes.

Show your dog that pulling should only be OK with the harness and the hands free leash – collars and traditional leashes are for walking.

canicross harness

photo from Ferran, flickr

Harnesses are actually designed to help your dog pull, as they allow your dog to use the force of their chest to pull.

When starting off with canicross, it’s often easiest to have a friend walk ahead of you and encourage your dog to walk and pull ahead of you. When they pull, be sure to give lots of praise and encouragement.

Usually a couple of canicross sessions a week are a good place to start. Once your dog gets the hang of it, the road is yours!

3. Canicross Gear: Harness, Belts, and Tow Lines

You’ll definitely want to make sure you’re equipped with the right canicross gear.

canicross running

photo from Rubén Ortega Vega, flickr

Canicross really can’t be performed with a regular leash – it’s recommended that you get a dog joring system with a dog harness and human waist belt. Here’s why:

  • Using a collar and leash could injure your dog. If your dog pulls hard with a classic throat collar, they could easily hurt themselves. A harness lets your dog pull safely without breathing restriction.
  • A harness helps dogs distinguish when to pull and when to heel. Using a leash and collar for canicross is also very confusing for dogs – they will have a difficult time distinguishing when to pull with canicross and when to heel with regular walking. Harnesses feel very different than collars for dogs, and using them for different activities teaches a dog that a harness is meant for pulling while a collar is meant for walking.
  • The bungee cord absorbs shock. In canicross, the human wears a waist belt that attached to a dog’s harness with a bungee or elastic cord. This pliable cord absorbs pulling shock, helping owner and dog run together without being jolted all over.

For a canicross starter kit, we recommend the Ruffwear Omnijore System. It provides the canicross harness and canicross belt needed to begin your dog running adventures!

Advantages of Canicross

Canicross is hugely beneficial for you and your dog. Here are some reasons why.

  • It’s a great source of exercise. Canicross is a great source of exercise for both humans and canines.
  • It will strengthen your relationship. Canicross helps strengthen the bond between pet and owner, especially when both are working hard together as a team.
  • Canicross can open up a whole new world. Many cities have canicross groups and events where you can meet other dogs and runners. It’s a great way to make new friends!

Last Pieces of Canicross Advice

Here are a few pieces of advice to remember with canicross.

  • No Dogs Under One Year. Canicross shouldn’t be performed with dogs under one year old. Their bodies are still forming and adding physical stress at a young age could hurt them and cause bigger issues as they get older.
  • Consult Your Vet First. It’s always advised to contact your vet before beginning canicross, just to get the OK from them and ensure your dog can safely participate. Better safe than sorry.
  • Don’t Canicross When It’s Hot. Heat can be very dangerous, especially for dogs. Never run in the heat of the day or when it’s excessively hot. When it’s warm, be sure to keep an eye on your dog and watch out for dehydration.
  • Hydrate Before Running. Both you and your dog should always hydrate before canicross. Keep water and Pedialyte on hand in case your dog begins to suffer from dehydration and needs a boost!
  • Be Patient. It may take your dog some time to get adjusted to canicross. Take your time and don’t rush things! Start out slow and build your way up.

Canicross can be a rewarding sport for owners and dogs, but it won’t be for everyone. For one, not owners want to get into the habit of encouraging their dogs to pull – especially if you’ve just broken them of that habit!

For some folks, some sneakers and a good dog harness designed for running is all you really want – you don’t need to dive into the canicross sport to simply enjoy jogging with your four-footed pal!

Have you ever done canicross? What about just regular running with your dog? What has your experience been like? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Credit: top photo was made using a photo by Harold Meerveld from flickr. Text was added by K9 of Mine.

About the Author Meg Marrs

Meg Marrs is the Founder and Senior Editor at K9 of Mine. She is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! She loves iced coffee, hammocks, and puppy-cuddling!

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