How to Get Your Dog Started In Canicross

You have decided that both you and your dog need to get fit. Maybe you have heard something about canicross but you don’t really have all that much information about it. You have decided you want to learn more about Canicross. Hopefully, this can be one of the sports that you and your dog can enjoy together. But how do you get your dog started in canicross and determine if it is right for you both? This article describes the sport of canicross, what is required to get started in the sport, and how to get started in canicross.

What is Canicross?

Canicross (aka Canine Cross Country) originally started in Europe. Its purpose was to keep sled dogs trained and in shape when it is not the sledding season. It has a minimum requirement of gear, so it is not overly expensive. A simplified description of canicross is running on trails with at least one dog. Another difference between canicross and simply running on trails with your dog is how your dog is attached to you.

In canicross, your dog should be fitted with a special harness designed to help your dog pull. In canicross, your dog should be fitted with a special harness designed to help your dog pull. A bungee leash is then attached to your dog’s harness at one end. At the other end, the bungee line will be attached to a hands-free belt worn by you. The belt is wide and sits on your upper hips to prevent back injury to you.

Also, your dog should be running in front of you. Your dog should be pulling you, not all of your weight as you both need to participate. You can also participate in canicross with more than one dog.

The dog or dogs participating should be wearing a special harness that is fitted specially for him.

Canicross Competition With Several Athletes competing -How To Get Your Dog Started in Canicross

How Can I Get My Dog Started With Canicross?

Before getting involved in any vigorous activity with your dog you should have him thoroughly examined by your veterinarian. Also, as with other high-activity sports, puppies should not participate in canicross until their bones and joints are fully formed.

This occurs at different ages depending upon your dog’s breed size. Small and medium-sized dogs usually reach full growth between 9 months and 1 year. Large breed dogs can take as long as long as 2 and one-half years to fully mature. This is another determination that must be made by your vet.

However, you should get a check-up to ensure you don’t have any conditions that would make canicross risky for you.

The best way to get started with canicross is to find a local chapter of Canicross USA. This is the best way to learn about canicross and find out if you really want to be a participant. You can also get help with training your dog to pull if pulling doesn’t come naturally to him.

Another way these experts can help you is in the selection of your equipment. These experts will know how to select the correct type of harness and how it should fit your dog. They will also know where to purchase and how to fit the waist belt and bungee line. Having the right equipment is essential for the safety of both you and your dog.

What Dog Breeds Can Participate in Canicross?

All dog breeds and breed mixes are eligible to participate in canicross. However, there will be differences in the dog’s abilities and desire to run and pull.

Dog and Runner Practicing Canicross

Some breeds such as toy breeds and brachycephalic ( dogs with pushed-in snouts such as pugs) dogs should not compete in this sport. The toy breeds are just too small to be full participants in Canicross. For a brachycephalic dog, it is not safe for these dogs to run long distances at any speed. This is due to their inability to get sufficient air through their airways.

Also, if your dog doesn’t like to run then this is most likely not the best sport for him either. The whole purpose of participating in canicross is to do something fun and active with your dog. Canicross also helps to increase the bond you have with your dog. Now you and your dog are a team and really need to have strong communication between you.

How Do We Train For Canicross?

As with most vigorous physical activity, start out slow with short distances and gradually increase your speed and distance. Don’t push your dog make sure he is enjoying himself and really wanting to participate. Be patient with your dog and allow him to progress at his own speed.

Your dog could even want to progress faster than you do with increasing distance and speed. However, just progress at a pace that is comfortable for both of you.

Be sure your dog is fully trained in basic obedience skills before starting any additional training. This is true for all dog sports as those skills are required for any of the dog sports. Many of these sports have further commands your dog will need to learn.

Specific Commands Needed For Canicross

Some of the commands needed for canicross are the same commands used for bikejoring. These commands are necessary for communication with your dog while running, or biking with your dog pulling. They are directional, stop, go, speed up, slow down, and many more. Be sure to train your dog to really understand and respond to these commands.

You should begin introducing these commands during your running/walking training. Don’t try to put too many commands into one session. You should keep the command training portion of your endurance-building walk/run to about 10 minutes. These commands will be very important if you do intend to get serious about canicross.

Teaching Your Dog to Pull

For some dogs, pulling will come naturally as many were bred to pull various objects. However, if pulling doesn’t come naturally to your dog you will need to teach him how to pull.

Only use your dog’s pulling harness when you want him to pull. Otherwise, use a regular collar or harness. The first step of teaching your dog to pull is to get him to lean into the harness. Start at a very short distance with your dog a short distance in front of you.

Reward your dog every time he leans into the pulling harness. Gradually increase the distance your dog is out in front of you. You can do this pulling training by running or walking at a fast pace.

Set your dog up for success when he is first learning to pull so you can praise and reward him. Try to avoid situations in which you have to correct your dog in the beginning. By training him in the commands and how to pull he is learning a lot of new skills.

Give him time to get the commands and the pulling behavior down so he has confidence in his abilities. Some dogs will find the behavior of pulling on the harness contradictory to their prior leash training. You may find your dog suddenly stopping when there is tension on the leash.

If this becomes a problem consider having someone go along with you to keep your dog moving on when he believes he should stop. Once your dog fully understands that when wearing his pulling harness he stays out in front of you and responds to the new commands, this situation will improve.

Don’t Overwhelm Your Dog

Keep the training sessions short and only teach your dog one new command or challenge at a time. Avoid over-training your dog as you don’t want him to feel overwhelmed. Be sure he has one command or challenge down perfectly before moving on to the next one.

Border Collie running in Canicross- how to get your dog started in canicross

If you have training issues with your dog, don’t give up. You can always call a local trainer that is familiar with the canicross and bikejoring commands as well as training dogs to pull. Don’t give up, keep at it. How fast you proceed is only dictated by you and your dog.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to the fun and very active sport of canicross. It is good to have many different sports and activities that you and your dog can enjoy together. This is also very important if you have one of the very energetic breeds such as the Australian Cattle Dog.

These active breeds excel at activities such as dog agility, bikejoring, flyball, and others. So, it is important to have plenty of ways to provide your energetic dog with constructive activities to prevent him from becoming bored.

Another great activity for you and your dog to do together is paddleboarding.

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