A Beginners Guide To Canicross

Canicross is a running sport for dogs and their owners. Anyone can do it! You don’t have to be be super fit and you don’t need a big powerful dog. All you need is bags of motivation, patience and willpower! So how do you get started with Canicross? We invited Emily from K9 Trail Time to give us the scoop!

In 2012 Emily set up K9 Trail Time, selling specialist sports equipment and empowering other dog owners to take part in dog sports just like Canicross. Emily was inspired to start K9 Trail Time after she couldn’t easily find advice or appropriate equipment for sports like Canicross, Bikejoring and Dog Scootering.

So, she created a website where people could buy a range of equipment with advice from someone who has experience the products.

Emily takes a keen interest in canine anatomy and physiology. She is a qualified canine hydrotherapist specialising in sports dogs which means that all the equipment sold by K9 Trail Time is appropriate for pulling sports. This is based on a functional approach and backed by knowledge of gait and research on normal canine movement.

Over to the lovely Emily to give you an overview of Canicross and some of her most frequently asked questions!

An Introduction to Canicross

Canicross in its simplest form is running cross country (on trails and paths, rather than roads) with your dog. Many people have been doing this with their dogs without even realising there is a name for it. Or that it is a sport which has its own competitions.

The sport of canicross is rapidly growing in the UK. More and more people are discovering it and the benefits it can bring for both human and canine alike. Running with your dog has seen boosted interest over lockdowns throughout the pandemic. People have been relying on their dogs as exercise companions.

Canicross originated as a sport from the sled dog sports of dryland mushing. A sport in which teams of dogs pull three wheeled rigs across country trails. When the team dogs were getting older and needed a slower pace of life, their owners would attach them by waist belts and bungee leads to run with. This was so that these dogs could still run in harness as they had done for most of their lives. However, now without the pressure of having to pull a sled or cart and at a much slower pace.

Traditionally, these dogs were sled dog breeds such as huskies and malamutes. However, any dog who works in a harness can now be classified as a ‘sled dog’ for the purposes of canicross as a sport.

Who can take part in Canicross?

Anyone! Canicross is accessible for anyone who has a basic level of fitness and wants to improve this. At K9 Trail Time we often hear the words ‘I’m not fit enough to run with my dog’. We want to dispel this myth and turn it into ‘you will get fit ‘if’ you run with your dog’!

We all have to start somewhere. Although you might see plenty of athletic looking people taking part in the sport of canicross, not everyone starts off like this. 

It takes a lot of patience, willpower and determination to get fit. However, once you get involved you realise how good it can be for both of you. In fact many people start off exercising with their dog and go on to enjoy other sports as a result!

What dogs can take part in Canicross?

Again – any!

If your dog is healthy and physically able to run there’s no reason why you can’t try canicross with them. For fun if nothing else.

According to the IFSS (International Federation for Sleddog Sports) definition below, any dog can be classified as a ‘Sled Dog’ for the purposes of competitions run under their regulations.

“SLED DOG”: A sled dog is a dog, irrespective of the breed or type, capable of being harnessed and of competing in one of the classes listed in the IFSS Regulations without a potential, beforehand, to be calculated risk, of harming the dog’s well-being’  – Taken from the IFSS Race Rules

I still think that in the UK the wording of events and organisations using ‘sled dog’ in the title will conjure up images of huskies. As opposed to the broad spectrum of breeds who currently attend the growing numbers of races. I would actually even argue that it puts some people off joining a club or attending an event. Purely on the basis that they feel it might not be for them and their Jack Russell / Labrador / Border Collie.

The reality is that you will find many different breeds and shapes & sizes of dogs at every open event. You will fit right in with whatever dog you have, as long as it has the enthusiasm to run in harness. 

There are of course still breed specific clubs running rallies and races but they are easily recognisable by the use of the breed in the club title, for example SHCGB (the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain). 

The future of Sled Dog sports

The dog powered sports have grown so much in the time I have been involved in them. In the future there will be further classification of events and potentially the dogs too. One term that has already emerged is ‘mono sports’. This refers to the dog powered sports which can be run with one dog, specifically canicross, bikejor and dog scootering. 

As the demand for events grow and the word spreads that the ‘sled dog’ sports can be for everyone, the dog powered sports will gain more publicity and acceptance, which can only be good for the sports as a whole and for the dogs who get to take part in them.

Have You Ever Tried Canicross?

Canicrossing encourages a healthy lifestyle for you and your dog and can be such good fun, so what have you got to lose giving it a go?! The beauty of this sport is that you are not restricted to where you can do it. From gorgeous coastal paths, through to moors and woodland trails, or even your local park!

Have you ever tried it with your pooch? Let us know in the comments below.


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