Canicross – Canine Cross Country, or the fun of running through mud!

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Photo courtesy of Endurancelife

We love to run! And what better way to do it than with your human and in the woods, full of deer, rabbits, pheasants and squirrels? Or across fields full of sheep or ducks and geese? And if there is a lake or pond, well, just go through that as well. Hmmm, think we’ve got ourselves a bit of a reputation in the sport of Canicross.

The benefits of running are numerous – fitness, a more natural pace, better sleep, fresh air and more food. And add that the bond you build with your human when they are running with you, letting them think that you are obeying instructions and the associated bragging rights (my dog is so intelligent, he knows left and right…). And if you are little nervous or aggressive, well it can help that too. The sense of responsibility you get from looking after your human takes a lot of beating.

Several of our friends are also show dogs, and some have been doing better in the ring since they started Canicross as it helps to balance your body, define your muscles and improve your movement. And others are rescues, and taking up the sport has helped them put their past behind them and look forward with new energy, and find homes more easily.

If you join a club or attend any of the events, you will find that it is a very social sport, with those who have been doing the sport for a while always willing to offer advice and assistance (and often cake!). And don’t worry how unfit you are – several of our friends could hardly run 100 yards when they started and they are now doing half marathons and marathons. Why not come and join us or one of our friends and give it a go?

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Photo courtesy of Chillpics

So what is Canicross? Canicross, or canine cross-country, is the sport of running cross-country with your dog(s). The dog(s) wear a special harness (to allow / encourage pulling) and this is attached to a waist / hip belt by a bungee lead. The idea is that the dog(s) assist you to run faster, although many dogs will run out in front or at your side without pulling. Even if not pulling, you’ll find you dog will enjoy the faster pace of running / jogging, and you’ll be able to take them to even more places where off lead exercise might not be so suitable.

Canicross is a winter sport in the UK, with the main season running from September to May, through rain, snow and mud! Most dogs find the summer months too hot to run, although you can often continue training in the (very) early mornings.

No dog can race until it is at least a year old (older if a large breed) to allow the bones to develop properly. This early time can be used to teach your dog directional controls (they will need to know left and right, or haw and gee in mushing terms, and to associate the harness with pulling but collar with walking to heel.

The shortest races tend to be 5km, with distances up to half marathon, marathon and beyond. Like with your own distance training, dogs will need to be built up gradually – so why not train together?

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Photo courtesy of AEphotos

There are many Canicross-specific events that take place in the UK, and more ‘human’ races are allowing Canicrossers. Many Park Runs will accept one dog, although check with your particular location before running. There are also events across Europe specifically for Canicrossers, so don’t feel you have to restrict yourself to the UK.

Canicross is still a young sport in the UK, but is growing rapidly. Over the last year a number of clubs have been set up around the country, so if you are thinking of trying the sport then contact your local club. They should have harnesses and belts you can try (every dog is different, so take time to find the right harness before investing in one) and know routes where it is safe to run.

And if you’re feeling a little braver, why not try Bikejoring or scootering?

For more information on Canicross, see Getting Started - Canicross, www.canicross.org.uk or www.cani-cross.co.uk, or search for Canicross on Facebook. A list of clubs can be found here.  Or, for a fun introduction, visit Rogue Dog on YouTube