Top Dog Breeds for Canicross: What Makes a Good Cross-Country Running Dog?

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A lot of people have been asking what makes a good canicross dog breed. As someone who has been running with dogs for the better part of a decade now and has spent countless hours training and taking on 5K and 10K races with my pup many times, I think I’ve got it down to a science.

I can say that there are a few key traits that I always look for. And while some may think this list is not exhaustive, it’s a great place to start when narrowing down your search for a new cross-country running partner!

Dogs that make my list of best breeds for canicross are:

  • Weimaraners
  • Border Collies
  • Vizslas
  • Dalmatians
  • German Shorthaired Pointers
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks
  • Airedale Terriers
  • German Shepherds or Australian Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers
  • Siberian Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes

Now let’s take a look at what key traits make the best cross-country running dogs!

Top Canicross Dog Breeds
Caption: Huskies are one of the top canicross dog breeds

1. A Love for Running

This one may sound silly, but it really is everything. You absolutely cannot take a dog out onto the trails if they don’t want to be there. They must enjoy being outdoors and have an innate desire to run.

So don’t look for breeds that are known for being lazy, such as Pugs and Bulldogs. These dogs are better suited for a sedentary life in the city where they can nap and watch TV with you all day.

If you can, find a breed with a “workaholic” in its genes, such as Border Collies and German Shepherds!

2. High Energy Level

A dog with a low energy level will not stand the test of time with you on the trails. So, you’re not going to want to take a couch potato out on runs as you will inevitably tire them out, and they won’t stick around very long because there’s just no reason for them to do so.

You want to find a breed that is full of pep! There are certain breeds where this is an obvious trait. For instance, if you find one from the herding group like Border Collies or German Shepherds, then chances are that they will have more than enough stamina to go cross-country running with you!

The same can be said for the hunting group breeds, like Retrievers, Setters, and Pointers. These guys have lots of energy and need to burn it off daily!

3. A Decent Endurance

You’re going to get out on the trail for extended periods. Remember, this is not a 1 or 2K run. A typical canicross race can range from 5K to more than 10 miles, which means you will spend hours upon hours with your dog every time you lace up those boots and hit the dirt road. Therefore, any canine athlete that you seek out must have decent endurance for this sport.

Keep in mind, though, just because some breeds have a high energy level doesn’t mean that they can run for long periods without getting tired! Greyhounds are an excellent example of this, in which they are built for short bursts of speed instead of long-distance running.

So, your new furry sidekick should have boundless energy and the ability to go the distance without tiring too quickly. For instance, Vizslas, Weimaraners, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

4. Good Physical Traits

Just as important as the above traits is a dog’s body structure. You will need a dog with a strong core and good strength to tow you for extended periods. So try and find breeds with a well-built structure as opposed to those that are thin-framed.

And you would want to avoid those with short-snout, for example, Bulldogs or Pugs. The reason being is that these dogs are more prone to breathing problems, which is a huge no-no if you’re going to be running outside for long periods, and especially on a hot day.

5. Proper Size

This is another crucial factor. Ask any dog owner who has taken their little fur friends out on trails and then had to carry them home because they couldn’t keep up or are simply too tired to run anymore.

I did that when I was a newbie, and after running two miles down the trail with my Chihuahua, he was unable to walk anymore, so he ended up being carried in my backpack the remaining distance of three miles. That was a good five years ago, and I’ve learned my lesson and been running with big dogs ever since.

Does that mean small dogs can’t do canicross? No. Any breed can do it in all fairness, but it’s just that some breeds are better suited. And if you want the best canines for cross-country running, look for bigger dogs, although you want to avoid giant breeds.

6. Good Age Range

Yes, age does matter! Puppies are too young to participate in canicross because their bones are not yet fully developed, and it’s a bad idea to put stress on their joints while your pup is still growing. They, first, need to reach maturity, which is about one year of age, depending on the breed.

On the other hand, older dogs generally have decreased strength and stamina and may not make ideal cross-country runners. They might also have deteriorated joints or have developed joint problems like arthritis and hip dysplasia, making running difficult, especially on uneven ground.

So I would say the best age range for dogs to run with you is between 1 and 8 years of age. Any dogs who are older than that may not be able to handle the physicality required for canicross.

That said, I’ve seen 13- 14-year-old dogs that can still run. So, don’t let what I’ve said discourage you from taking your senior canine citizen on runs as long as they are still keen to run with you and that your vet gives them the go-ahead.

7. Great Temperament

Since your pooch will spend a lot of time with you on both long runs and short outings throughout the year, it’s crucial that they are relaxed and get along well with other people, dogs, and pets.

Why? Because an aggressive dog, for instance, is more likely to put unnecessary pressure on other trail users and canines and may potentially get into fights.

So, your pup has to be well-mannered and friendly to everyone you meet on the trail, and that’s especially important if you’re going to be doing canicross in an area where there are lots of other runners and dogs.

8. Easy to Train

It’s important to teach your dog basic canicross commands like Gee, Haw, Hike On, On By, and Whoa. These are all needed when you’re going for runs because you don’t want your canine companion running off after all the squirrels or trying to chase down another runner’s dog and drag you along in their pursuit.

That also means you want to choose breeds known for their trainability or are easy to train so that they can quickly pick up all the necessary skills. That’s not to say that you have to 100% avoid stubborn and hard-headed breeds. But just keep in mind that those dogs will take you more time and effort to train them.

Conclusion

The above are some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a dog for canicross. As long as you keep these eight points in mind, you should be able to find a canine athlete who will run with you for many years to come.

Whatever breed you get to be your canicross sidekick, make sure they’re a good fit for your lifestyle. I’ve brought home several dogs when I was younger without thinking things through properly (I was more impulsive back then). It didn’t always work out as planned, so just be careful!