How to start canicross with your dog?

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You want to start canicross with your dog? You have many questions about canicross equipment, canicross races, how to start canicross, or when to start? Here is how to start canicross with your dog! I have been practicing canicross and canine pulling sports for more than 15 years. With my dogs, we are French and World canicross champions. I will bring you answers to your questions to start canicross with your own dog!

What is canicross?

Canicross is a sport that combines a dog and a human in the same running effort: the human is pulled by his dog through a canicross bungee leash. Specific equipment is used to ensure the comfort of both athletes. This sport is based on sharing with your partner and respecting your dog. You want to start canicross? Here is an overview.

Start canicross: how to do canicross?

There are certain parameters to consider when practicing canicross, for your own safety, the safety of your dog and the people and dogs around. The equipment must be adapted, the dog must be physically fit, and the weather and terrain must be appropriate. It is out of the question to have your dog run in too high temperatures. Indeed, dogs cool down only through their tongue and paw pads, which reduces their abilities to lower their body temperature. It is therefore necessary to be particularly vigilant about heat stroke, which can happen quickly, especially during intense and prolonged exercise. It is best to avoid running a dog in temperatures above 15°C, knowing that each dog has a different sensitivity to heat. The hygrometry rate is also to be taken into account: a high hygrometry increases the risk.
Also, the dog should never run on a full stomach, as it may cause stomach dilatation, which can be fatal. Do not feed your dog in the 3 hours before an effort! After exercise, wait about 1 hour before feeding him. You can of course give him something to drink during this time, but be careful that he doesn’t fill up with water by emptying the water bowl at once.

Beginning canicross: how to learn canicross?

Wondering how to teach your dog to canicross? Maybe you haven’t tried it yet because you don’t know where to start. In that case, after acquiring the proper canicross equipment to ensure safety and comfort for both of you, I suggest that you simply give it a try! Go to a quiet place in nature with your dog and see how he reacts when you start to run together while connected. You will see what issues you are facing and what you will need to work on!

If you have already tried, and your dog does not pull, find how to teach pulling to your dog for canicross, here.

Beginning canicross: which distance?

How many miles should I run with my dog? That depends on many factors! Canicross events generally take place on races of 3 to 10 km. Beyond that distance, the discipline is called canitrail. Dogs are capable of running long distances. On snow, skijoering or sledding on mid-distance or long-distance races, dogs swallow several tens of kilometers per day, on several consecutive days! Of course, the dog must be prepared properly. If you are new to the discipline, keep it short at first! You and your dog must acquire the necessary physical condition, and this is done gradually. Progressiveness is key in all learning with your dog, but also in sport!
If you are going for a long run, don’t forget to bring water for you and your dog. Offer your dog water if necessary on the course. Don’t let your dog drink too much at once, as running on a full stomach is risky for your dog.

Where to do canicross?

Canicross can be practiced anywhere, in nature. We should avoid tarmac or concrete surfaces that damage the dog’s paws. They can also cause joint damage because their hardness increases the impacts while running.
If you want to run in a group, there is surely a canicross club near you! Running in a club allows you to get advice, but also to meet training partners for you and your dog. If you want to start canicross, running with other dogs can motivate your dog. Often, the emulation of the group can trigger pulling in some dogs that have not yet understood what is expected of them. You can also work on sociability, overtaking, simulated race starts, etc.

How does a canicross session go?

Faire du canicross avec son chien
Canicross race

You want to start canicross and you wonder how to make a good canicross session with your dog? Of course, you’ll have to start by warming up your dog and yourself. In training, if you can, warm up your dog on your own. Trot with him to warm up both of you together. It is not always possible to have your dog unleashed before doing canicross. Indeed, on competitions, the dogs must be on lead most of the time. In this case, go for a trot with your dog on a leash. It is part of your dog’s training to differentiate between walking on a leash without pulling, and canicross where he can pull. During this warm-up time, your dog will be able to relieve himself before the canicross session.
Once the session is over, don’t forget to recover, for you and your dog! Trot with your dog, on leash or free running, depending on the conditions. Only once your dog has cooled down a bit, offer him a drink. Don’t let him drink too much at once, but offer him water regularly.
Your dog should be well hydrated in general, as part of his daily routine. This will help his metabolism function optimally during exercise. You can hydrate your dog specifically about 1 to 1.5 hours before exercise with a hydration drink.

Starting canicross : when to start canicross?

What age to start canicross? To start canicross, you must make sure that your dog’s growth is complete, so that he is able to pull. Indeed, the effort and the shocks caused by the intensity of the effort could cause damage to his joints if they have not finished to form. Generally, we tend to say that a dog has finished his growth around 1 year. However, this varies greatly depending on the breed, the size of the dog, and even between individuals of the same breed!
A useful test to check if your dog is ready to start canicross is the knee x-ray. This allows to check the ossification of the cartilages. The closure of the growth plates gives the green light to start serious traction training. Visit your veterinarian to have this examination done and make sure you start with confidence and safety for your dog’s health.
Of course, before you begin serious training, it is possible (and desirable!) to prepare your dog in other ways. How? There are many things you can teach your dog to become a perfect canicross dog, and especially so that you can have a maximum of fun during your outings!
First of all, just because you can’t start pulling training yet, doesn’t mean you can’t train your dog free running. This will help your dog gain endurance. Of course, you should always adapt the duration and intensity of the outings to his age and physical condition!

How to choose a canicross harness?

The canicross harness must be perfectly adapted to your dog in order not to injure him. Various injuries can be caused by an unadapted harness: skin injuries due to rubbing of the harness, but also anatomical damage due to compression by the harness of various sensitive points of the dog’s anatomy.
Choose a harness specifically designed for pulling. There are several brands available. The most common is the x-back type, or short harness, but there are many different models. The harness should not interfere with the dog’s movement. It should fit around his neck, without obstructing his shoulders, or pressing on his windpipe.
Caution: avoid absolutely the Julius type harness which hinders the dog’s shoulders and its natural mobility. By hindering the dog’s movement, these harnesses cause osteopathic problems, especially because they alter the dog’s natural gait.

Starting canicross: how to put on a canicross harness?

The canicross harness does not usually have a buckle or a clip. It must be put on as is. The easiest way is to fold the harness on itself and put the collar around the dog’s neck, then put each of its legs in the harness, and finally stretch it on its back. Remember to release the collar from the harness if the dog is wearing one. Here is a demonstration of how to put on a canicross harness:

Beginning canicross: how to put on a canicross belt?

The canicross belt is the specific equipment for humans, which allows them to be pulled by their dog in complete safety and comfort. A simpler canicross belt can also be used, but it will be more appropriate with a dog that pulls little or not very hard. The simple belt is also less stable when running.
The canicross belt is put on like a climbing harness: each leg must be passed through the belt and the strap around the thigh. You can usually find detailed information with visuals on the manufacturers’ websites.
Here is an example of how to put on the Djoring canicross belt:

How to start canicross: useful training

Beginning canicross: directions in canicross

Among the most interesting things to learn in canicross, there are of course the directions! It goes without saying that your dog is in front of you and with his back to you during the effort, so you will have to tell him by voice the direction to take for more fluidity. To do this, you can teach him in a simple way from a young age, while walking. Just before turning right or left, give your dog a verbal signal, turn and then praise and reward him!

Starting canicross: putting the harness on your dog

Another useful skill to learn is… putting on and wearing the harness. Again, you can start with your puppy in his baby harness. This will desensitize him to the contact of the harness on his back, and get him used to putting on the harness without difficulty. Start by introducing your dog to the harness and rewarding him for any interaction with the harness. Gradually, praise and reward him for putting his head through the harness.

Learn the “stop” for canicross

Teaching your dog to stop when practicing canicross is also useful. This will allow you to ask him to stop if necessary, but also to warn him when you are going to stop: you can use a signal to slow down and a signal for a total stop. This prevents you and the dog to be surprised by a sudden stop. It also allows you to avoid shocks in your dog’s and your own back. This is something you can teach your dog even before you start canicross.

Calm start in canicross

Working on calmness at the start is also essential. A dog that gets excited at the start of a canicross race or training session will waste a lot of energy barking, howling and jumping around. At the same time, he will get even warmer. The excitement, even the frustration of not being able to start, can also lead some dogs to have unexpected reactions. It is therefore preferable to have a rather calm dog at the start. This will save you energy too: holding an excited dog at a start is not easy, and you may end up with arms as sore as legs! If you want to train your dog be calm at the start of canicross sessions, I wrote a specific article on the topic.

Securing canicross downhills

Teaching your dog to come up behind you can also be very useful, especially to avoid falling downhill! With this training, your dog will be able to come and stand behind you on demand, and stay there until you tell him that he can go back to pulling. If you want to know how to teach your dog “behind”, this is the place to go (french version only).

Sociability of the canicross dog

Socializing your dog is essential for his everyday life. It is also essential to practice canicross, because the competitions gather many dog and people. During the competitions, you will overtake other competitors, and be overtaken. Your dog must remain unperturbed so as not to disturb the others. Before starting canicross, if your dog is still too young, socialize him and set you both up for future success!

Which type of dog for canicross?

All types of dogs can practice canicross, as long as they are in good health and have completed their growth. Of course, some types of dogs perform better than others, and some breeds have been selected for traction for many years, such as the Siberian husky. Crossbreeds are also created specifically for canicross, bikejoering or other traction sports such as sledding, dog scooter, and sledding in general. It is the case for example of the greyster, or of the ESD or the Eurohound.

Greyster dog portrait drawing
Greyster dog running – Pastel portrait – ©Mélissa WACHS – Animal artist

If you want to start canicross, bring your favorite companion. He will certainly enjoy the run!

Besides, practicing a sport like canicross with your dog has many benefits both for the dog and for the human!

To go further in canicross

If you want to get into this discipline, you may want to train yourself for running, to relieve your partner, or try new disciplines to vary your dog’s training, such as dog scooter, bikejoering or hiking. Are you looking for a canicross training program? You can contact coaches in the field.

If you are looking for quality equipment

My dogs and I use Djoring equipment for its quality, comfort and design that respects the biodynamics of dogs and humans.


Who am I ?

Canine behaviourist, dog trainer and animal artist, I practice canicross since more than 15 years. My dogs and I compete in international events.

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