Canicross is the practice of running with your dog (aka canine cross country).
Canicross got started in Europe, where mushers began the practice to exercise with their dogs during the mushing off-season. Like other varieties of urban mushing, canicross has since grown to be a popular sport in its own right.
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. A wide waist belt helps disperse the force of the dog’s pulling so that it’s comfy for the runner.
It’s basically an extreme version of running with your dog. Technically this sport requires the dogs to pull, but you absolutely can get started by simply jogging with your dogs and then move into the pulling aspect later.
Take a look at what canicross looks like in action!
Canicross races are generally 5k, but may be longer at 10k. This makes them quite a bit shorter than a traditional sled dog race (which is often 70 miles or more).
Nowadays, the most elite racing dogs seen in canicross are generally German Shorthaired Pointers and a mixed breed called a Eurohound.
These deep-chested, thin-coated dogs have the legs and lung capacity to run fast for 5k, 10k, or even further races. With long legs and thinner coats, they do better in the fast and warm races than Huskies, which are bred for multi-day endurance.
Eurohounds are most commonly mixed between Huskies and German Shorthaired Pointers, but racing dogs often have a bit of Greyhound thrown in. With such mixed heritage, it’s no surprise that Eurohounds don’t all look alike – each one is a bit different.
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, while large dogs will provide some serious assistance in giving you a bit of extra power .
Some dogs are just built to run longer distances than others. Simply make sure you understand what your dog is capable of, and stay within the limits of what makes sense for them.
Want to learn more about which dogs are best built for going the extra mile? Check out our list of the best dog breeds for running!
Keep in mind that ultra-small dogs, ultra-large dogs, and short-nosed (brachycephalic) dogs are all ill-suited to canicross.
Super small toy breeds simply won’t be able to keep up, and running is flat-out dangerous for short-nosed dogs like Boxers and Pugs. Giant breeds can damage their joints on runs.
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. Don’t make your dog do something that they hate!
If you really want a jogging pal but own a couch potato dog, consider running with another owner’s dog through a dog walking app like Rover or Wag – you’ll get a running partner and earn some extra cash!
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.
Of course, canicross is about more than just bringing home the right dog. In order to get started with canicross, you need to:
We’ll go over the best gear to grab further down. Let’s start off talking about what you should do before you pick up the leash.
One of the best ways to get started in canicross is to find a local club. Many traditional running clubs don’t allow dogs, and even if they do, full-on canicross is a bit of a hassle if you’re trying to run with friends.
Canicross is much more common in Europe than in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved with a club stateside! The Canicross USA Facebook page is a great resource with a very responsive messenger. You can also check their website at canicrossusa.com.
When I was looking for a race in San Diego but couldn’t find evidence of a club, I just messaged the Facebook page, not expecting much. I got a message back within an hour or two, and am now signed up for a 5k in two weeks!
The Learn Canicross Facebook Group is a very helpful group to get started and learn canicross if you’re not near a club.
Since canicross is still a bit new across much of the world, you might not find the [your city] Canicross Club. However, you can likely still find local dog-friendly races and connect with other dog-joggers at the events.
Simply google “dog friendly races in [your city]” and you’re likely to find plenty of 5k races that allow dogs. Many are even fundraisers for local rescue groups!
The International Federation of Sleddog Sports is a great resource for international canicross races. That said, you can pretty much always just use the google method for finding clubs and races!
Now that we know what we need to get started and how to find clubs, let’s go over the basics of how to get started with canicross.
You might want to start out with a basic “couch to 5k” plan for you and your dog. For most medium-sized dogs in good health (provided they’re not brachycephalic), a joint couch-to-5k plan will be perfect for getting your dog in shape.
If your dog is older or out of shape while you’re in decent shape, you can try just taking your dog on part of your runs at first. You can always do run-walk combo outings together!
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!
While canicross doesn’t require ultra-specialized training, you’ll get the most out of it with some basic training practice.
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.
A quick note — you don’t even need all of these commands. I competed in my first canicross race with my own dog with just Hold Up (my version of stop), Easy (my version of slow), Hike, Wait, Left, Right, Leave It, and Straight.
We’ve found you can combine Leave It and On By pretty easily. We’ve never used Yield, but maybe that says something about my trail manners!
A big thanks to BikeJor.com for providing information on many of these commands. Check them out for more bonus commands.
When I started training for canicross and skijoring, I started teaching my dog Barley his commands during our daily walks.
Right before we turned left at a junction, I said “Haw.” When we paused at a crosswalk, I said “Wait.” If we were crossing a busy street, I practiced “Hup hup.”
When we started training to run together, Barley already knew the basic gist of the commands. He’d learned that the words predicted me moving in a given way, so he anticipated my movements by obeying the cues. It made everything much easier!
You can also teach your dog the commands using treats or toys by saying the cue, then tossing a treat in a given direction. This method might be faster at first, but can create an over-reliance on treats.
I almost always use treats for everything I do, but canicross skills were one exception where I mostly left the treats at home!
While pulling isn’t required for canicross, it is common, and is considered a major aspect of what differentiates canicross from simply running with your dog.
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 make sure your dog understands the difference between walking and canicross by teaching them that different equipment calls for different attitudes.
photo from Ferran, flickr
Show your dog that pulling should only be OK when he’s wearing the pulling harness and you’re wearing the hands-free leash – collars and traditional leashes are for walking only.
These special canicross harnesses are actually designed to help your dog pull, as they allow your dog to use the force of their chest to pull. A good pulling harness will also distribute the dog’s weight down his back and to his hips.
I walk my dog using a normal harness, and he doesn’t pull on that. He knows that the special pulling harness, plus my voice cues, are when it’s time to go fast!
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.
If you don’t have a dedicated training buddy, you can use this method I found really useful. I hooked Barley’s harness up to a fence and then stepped just out of reach. I held a couple treats and waited for Barley to lean into the harness. When he put enough pressure onto the harness, I fed a treat.
Gradually, I increased how hard and how long he had to pull in order to get the treat. I added a cue (Hike) and then started cuing him to Hike while I stood to his side.
Eventually, I moved behind him so that he was moving away from me (hard for many dogs) rather than towards me.
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!
You’ll definitely want to make sure you’re equipped with the right canicross gear.
Letting your dog pull on a neck collar is dangerous for him, and let me tell you — running with an enthusiastic dog and a narrow waist leash hurts your back!
Do yourself and your dog a favor and get the right gear for the job. I personally use the Ruffwear Omnijore System and love it. You can also piece together a canicross starter kit using other products, but the Ruffwear Omnijore has it all in one easy kit.
Just make sure you don’t run down to your nearest pet shop and buy the first harness and waist leash you see. A good canicross starter kit will include a comfy canicross belt that will protect your hip and a harness that’s specially designed to help your dog pull in comfort.
Whether you go with the Ruffwear Omnijore System above, or choose to put together your own canicross starter kit (we know the Ruffwear Omnijore kit is pricey and won’t work for everyone’s budgets), there are a few things to keep in mind. Be sure to get a setup that includes:
Let’s dig into why we need this specialized equipment a bit more because I know canicross starter kits aren’t cheap.
Canicross really can’t be performed with a regular leash and harness combo – it’s recommended that you get a dog joring system with a dog harness and human waist belt. Here’s why:
Though you absolutely can get started with canicross using just the Omnijore system, I pack a few other things when I’m heading out with my dog.
Some other good equipment to have in your trunk or in your pockets includes:
It sounds like a lot of gear, but it all fits nicely into most belts. Don’t forget your water and your poop bags!
photo from Rubén Ortega Vega, flickr
Canicross is hugely beneficial for you and your dog. Here are some reasons why.
It seems like many people start canicross for the exercise, but they stay because of the bond it builds with their dog. There’s nothing like a wagging tail and a lolling tongue to make running more fun!
Before you hit the trails, there are a few things to keep in mind. It’s important to be safe and have fun on your runs. Here are a few pieces of advice to remember with canicross.
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!
I love running — I just ran my second marathon and run almost every day. But sometimes, the weather or my knees just aren’t up for it. Other times, it’s fun to really see my dog run as fast as he wants, not lugging behind my slow two feet.
Last winter, Barley and I really took a deep dive into the different varieties of urban mushing.
We tried skijoring, scootering, and bikejoring. Whether you’re in a snowy winter wonderland or a warmer part of the country, you don’t have to stick to canicross if you like adventuring with your dog.
Most other sports that involve teaching your dog to pull you also involve wheels. This means they’re faster and, in my opinion, a bit scarier. Each subset of urban mushing involves your dog pulling you using a specialized harness. What changes is what you’re using to hold the human!
That said, you might not just want to try different pulling sports. What if you just love training and adventuring with your dog?
If you like canicross but aren’t ready for a scary wheeled pulling sport, you might want to try:
Of course, there are many more ways to get out and exercise with your dog. Check out our list of 22 games to play with your dog to see a list of our favorites.
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!
Last update on 2018-12-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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!