So you’ve set yourself the New Year challenge of keeping fit, but then reality sets in. How are you supposed to fit it all in – work, kids, gym AND walk the dog? Well, why not combine exercising yourself with exercising your dog? Take up canicross and see how much fun it is, for both of you.
Canicross involves running with your dog attached to you via a waist harness. The dog learns to take a steady pull and runs ahead of you on a special bungee lead which compensates for any sudden changes of speed. A fit dog, big or small, will happily run several miles across country with you, and a tired dog is a happy dog, as we all know too well!
How do I get started?
In order to really experience the fun of canicross, you need to run using the full set of equipment. This includes a comfortable running harness for your dog (different from a regular walking harness although this would be enough to get you started), a bungee line to attach you to your dog, and a waist harness (not similar to a rock climbing harness) that you wear. Don’t be put off by the harness – they don’t look very comfortable but they really are so well made that you soon forget you are wearing one.
Buying a full kit is quite an investment but there are many canicross clubs setting up across the country where you can borrow the equipment for both you and your dog, and try before you buy. Once you are ready to make the financial leap, there are some really fantastic online stores run by very knowledgeable doggy folk who will help you determine which kit is right for you and your new fitness partner.
I don't want my dog to pull
This is the concern of many owners who are new to canicross. Having spent hours training their four-legged friend to trot at their side, they are concerned about the effects of allowing, and indeed encouraging, their dog to pull. These fears are understandable, but the reality is that the kit used for running is very different to that used for everyday walks. Dogs are very capable of learning the difference between a running harness and bungee line versus a collar and lead. Equally, the owner will respond differently in both situations, encouraging a pull when out for a run, but gently reminding the dog of the need to walk alongside when out on a normal walk. In fact, experience has shown us that dogs who are involved in regular canicross runs actually walk better when it comes to their regular walks – their need to run has been fulfilled and they are happy to oblige to our requirements at other times.
My dog won't pull
This is the next big challenge for some owners – their dog actually doesn’t understand the requirement to pull. This is easily fixed by running with a group of other canicross folk. The urge to run is soon developed when there are dogs galloping ahead. For people starting on their own, you can always recruit a partner or friend to run or cycle ahead of you, encouraging the dog forwards. Once the dog realises that pulling is permitted, and is fun, there is generally no stopping them.
It is worth teaching your dog some basic voice signals soon after starting running. Decide on a cue to slow down, another to speed up and of course, turning left and right are helpful too. These can be practised away from your running sessions but can also be taught on the run itself, by saying the word immediately prior to carrying out the action with the dog. Call ‘left’ just before you head round a left-hand bend, and your dog will soon get the hang of what to expect. Don’t forget to praise your dog as you go – treats will interrupt your flow so use your voice and tell your dog what a great job they are doing (assuming you have the spare breath to do so!)
Finding out more
Canicross is booming all over the country and you shouldn’t need to look too far to find a club where you can get some help getting started. Dogfit.co.uk is a great website to find out more – there are loads of video clips, an online shop and a list of qualified trainers across the country.
The Happy Dog Training Co. in Tewkesbury has recently set up their own club and are offering beginner Couch to 5km programmes starting in Feb 2016.
Go on, give it a go. Your dog will thank you for it!