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What is canicross – and how do I get started?

Cani-cross for trail runners
Cani-cross is a fun activity for humans and dogs (Image credit: Getty)

If you like trail running and you have a dog, canicross could be your perfect activity. Canicross is a hands-free running-based activity that sees humans and dogs leashed together for extra power and enjoyment. 

It is a fast-growing sport and the chances are there will be a canicross club somewhere near where you live. In addition, the number and range of canicross races has been increasing. 

But how do you get started with canicross – and how do you know if it's the right activity for you and your dog?

Where did canicross start?

Canicross is  believed to have originated as a way to train in the "off season" for mushing (dog sledding). It is similar to skijoring, where people ski with their dog pulling them, and bikejoring, where people cycle off-road with their dog pulling  at the front. 

Today, canicross is a sport in its own right. People canicross as a way to keep themselves and their dogs fit, as well as competing in races. It's also a fun activity for humans and their pets.

Canicross for trail runners

Canicross is for humans and dogs and is best enjoyed off-road (Image credit: Getty)

What is canicross?

Cani-cross is a human-and-dog team sport. The dog is leashed to the human with the dog at the front running ahead – and pulling along – the human.

It is a hands-free activity because the canicross leash is fixed around your waist and attached to the dog on a harness.  Canicross usually takes place on off-roads trails and paths 

Cani-cross can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels. Although, you do need to be able to keep up with your dog, or have the power of command or the strength to pull the dog back to your speed.

Cani-cross for trail runners

Cani-cross is a fast growing sport worldwide (Image credit: Getty)

Is canicross for me?

There is a fast growing community of canicrossers in many countries worldwide. In Scotland, Lindsay Johnson has been involved in canicross for almost 15 years. 

She is a three times British National Canicross Champion and has represented Team GB at European and world championship level.

She said: “I first saw the sport at a dog-sledding event in the south of Scotland. I thought it would be great for a young Alaskan malamute [one of the best dogs for runners] that I owned.

“Canicross just made sense to me because it was an obvious way to give both owner and dog exercise. Instead of going to the gym and walking my dog at another time, I combined the two things and started running with my dog.”

When Lindsay couldn’t find a club or a way to train with others locally, she set up her own business,  Cani-Fit, offering  canicross training sessions, coaching and advice.

The sessions allow people to come together to learn about canicross techniques and also how to become faster and stronger as an owner-and-dog team. 

These days, Lindsay has a big family of dogs, which she trains and races. She says: “I guess you could say that canicross has changed my life. I have a new career thanks to the sport and I am a lot fitter thanks to canicross.

“I have also been lucky enough to compete for Scotland at British, European and world levels. Plus it’s great to see how much other people enjoy training and racing with their dogs.”

How to get started at canicross

Canicross requires some basic equipment. First you need a special dog harness that fits around the dog and stops the canicross lead, which is attached around the owner’s waist, from becoming entangled in their legs.

The lead is elasticated, like a bungee line, so that if either the person or the dog stops suddenly, neither one is jolted uncomfortably.

Canicross participants wear their favourite trail running clothing, including running tights and running jacket,  and trail running footwear.

Most breeds of dog enjoy canicross although some flat-faced (brachycephalic), such as pugs or bulldogs, may have breathing difficulties if the running is too hard or fast. Some of the most popular canicross breeds include Weimaraner, Germain shorthaired pointer and Border collie.

Dogs must be at least 12 months old before they are allowed to take part in organised events.

Lindsay said: “It’s important that dogs are fit and mature enough to enjoy running up to five kilometres at a time. Like people, dogs will need time and exercise to improve their strength and cardiovascular fitness.”

Owners and dogs can run on their own or, for motivation and tips, they can join a canicross meet-up group or a more structured training session. Racing or taking part in challenges is the next step for many cani-crossers.

Find out more at: Canicross UK, Cani Cross Trail Runners, International Canicross Federation and Cani Runners.

Cani-cross for trail runners

Canicross can be a form of trail running training or for racing, too (Image credit: Getty)

The benefits of canicross for runners

Canicross has obvious benefits such as improved fitness for both human and dog. Running faster with a dog improves stamina, endurance and strength, too. 

It is a good use of time, too, because canicrossers can exercise their dogs as well as exercising themselves. Dogs need regular exercise to stay fit and healthy, just like their owners, so canicross is a great solution. 

Canicross is also a great way to strengthen the bond between human and dog. In addition, many canicross participants become friends and there is a community aspect to the sport.

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.