5 Tips for Canicross Beginners

You may be new to Canicross and not sure where to start, or how to get started in the correct and safest way for both the dog and you.

You may still even be wondering what canicross really is. Canicross is the activity of essentially cross country running while hooked up to your dog with a waist belt, bungee line and harness system.

1. Find a canicross club or organization near you.

There are many organization or clubs in most states that you can join. Joining a club or organization is a great way to meet fellow canicross enthusiasts and learn about any events in your area.

Canicross USA is one of the largest organizations that has clubs throughout the U.S. If there isn’t a club in your area yet Canicross USA would be happy to help you start one too.

The United States Federation of Sled Dog Sports (USFSS) promotes all classes of dog powered sports from canicross, bikejoring, and skijoring to 6-dog rig, and open sled classes. The USFSS is under the International Federation of Sled Dog Sports (IFSS). The IFSS puts on a world championship race every year. Each year alternates between dryland and snow racing.

The International Canicross Federation (ICF) is strictly specific to promoting one-dog events like canicross, bikejor, scooterjor, and skijor. The ICF also puts on a world championship race every year.

2. Get started with the right equipment

You want to make sure you are using proper equipment that doesn’t hurt you or your dog.

First you will need a belt for yourself. The belt goes around your hips and has leg straps to keep it from riding up on your lower back. You want a belt to pull from the hips so as not to hurt your back when being pulled.

Second you will need a bungee line to attach yourself to your dog. You want to use a bungee line so as not to cause any shock and or sudden jerks between you and your dog.

Third your dog will need a well fitted harness so as not to cause any discomfort while he/she pulls. There are many styles of harnesses. The main three are the Freemotion, Xback, and Half Harness. The Freemotion is designed specifically for a higher pulling point from a runner, bike or skier and is adjustable to a perfect fit. The Xback is the most popular general/versatile harness and works for multiple activities. The Half Harness is essentially a replacement for a collar. If you have a dog that only pulls lightly, the Half harness is a good option to reduce strain on the neck.

3. Sizing your dog for a harness

Finding the right equipment is important, but if that equipment doesn’t fit correctly then it won’t help. Sizing the harness to fit your dog correctly is the most important part. Typically you will need to measure your dogs’ back length and neck circumference. To measure the back length you measure from the front of the should blades to the base of the tale. To measure the neck circumference you will do two measurements. One around the base of neck, just below where the collar typically sits. The second will be from the front of the shoulder blades down to the top of the breast/chest bone.

A harness is meant to fit snug through the neck with just enough room for two fingers to slide in between the harness and the dog. The length of the harness should stop right at the base of the dogs’ tale and not be any longer or shorter.

4. Distances, temperatures and commands

You can run anywhere from less than a mile or up to a marathon with your dog. However, you want to make sure your dog is well hydrated (two hours prior to your run and during the run) and that temperatures aren’t too warm or cold. Some breeds of dogs handle warm temperatures and longer distances better (German Shorthaired Pointers, Eurohounds, and Greysters). Wetting down your dog with cool water before running helps too. Don’t run on asphalt as it will hurt/burn your dog’s pads. If you have a short haired dog and are running in the winter be sure to use booties and/or a jacket to keep him/her from getting cold.

You will also want to train your dog to respond to some basic commands. The most common commands are Gee (turn right), Haw (turn left), Hike (go), and On-by (to pass). Learn more about commands in “Popular trail commands for your dog and how to train them“.

5. Events and competition

The most is important part is to just have fun with your dog. For the more casual participant or rookie, there are many local 5Ks that allow dogs. Or there are Canicross specific events where you can work towards the goal of representing the U.S.A. Team at world championship events put on by the ICF and IFSS.

A couple favorite races of ours are the Pineland Trails Running Festival Canicross 5K, Canicross USA’s Virtual Canicross Race, and the Trophee Des Montagnes (TDM). The TDM is one of the world’s largest canicross races and is hosted in the French Alps every year. Though it is a bit of a flight for anyone in the U.S., it is a once in a lifetime event that every passionate canicrosser should experience.

If you want to learn more about canicross or dog powered sports do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have at nonstopdogwearna@gmail.com.