Guide to Getting Started in Canicross: Tips for Beginners!

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Canicross with Dogs
Caption: Canicross with a dog

If you are interested in getting started with running with your dog but want to be a little different from the typical runs around your neighborhood, then canicross might be the choice for you!

Canicross is a growing sport and is an excellent option for those who love dogs, want to be active outdoors, and are looking for a more intense workout they can do with their furry family members.

This type of running is done on dirt roads or trails, allowing both human and canine participants to exercise while enjoying a beautiful day together. With the right gear, including your trusty canine companion, of course, you’re one step closer to being ready for your first trail run!

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What is Canicross?

Canicross is a type of cross-country running that allows both people and their canine companions to run together. The term canicross was coined as a portmanteau of “canine” and “cross-country.”

The general idea behind canicross is simple. The human runner wears a waist or hip belt while the dog wears a special harness designed for pulling. The two are connected by a hands-free bungee line and run as a team. And the leashed dog will be running ahead to pull the runner while running together, just like how a sled dog would pull a sled.

While this sport is growing in popularity, it’s not exactly new. The idea of canicross got started in Europe, and the purpose was to help mushers keep their sled dogs in shape during the off-season. Since then, it has evolved into a sport that runners with any dog can participate in.

The sport really took off around 2005 when many people were looking for an alternative to regular dog sledding and mushing. And today, canicross has become especially popular in Europe and the UK.

Why Canicross is a Good Choice?

Canicross presents you with a unique opportunity to experience an entirely different running routine with your dog that will help you both get out in the fresh air and strengthen the bond between you two! It can also provide your dog with much-needed mental stimulation.

And sometimes it’s hard to get motivated when exercising without someone else there, but having your dog run with you will make the time fly by, and before you know it, you’ll be setting new records for speed!

In addition to being a fun and bonding experience that gets you out and active, canicross is also an excellent choice for those looking to get a good workout in than the typical dog park or neighborhood run. How so?

Well, again, canicross is typically done on trails and dirt roads, which can be a lot more physically demanding than the paved streets of your neighborhood. Plus, your dog will be pulling you during the run, which means you have to push yourself a little more to keep up with your dog’s pace.

How to Get Started With Canicross?

Cross Country Run with Dogs
Caption: A dog is running in a cross-country race

To get started with canicross, first, you have to be healthy, of course. It’s not a good idea to get started with canicross if you have any major health issues or are recovering from an injury.

Canicross is also most commonly done in warmer weather, so check what the weather will be like where you plan on running. And make sure the temperature outside is not too hot as it can affect not only you but also your dog, especially long-haired breeds, since they don’t do well when it gets too hot outside.

You’ll also need to be sure that your dog is fit enough for canicross. If this is something new and different, it may take some time for you both to get used to working together as a team, so start slow.

And while any canine can learn cross-country running, certain dog breeds make a better running partner than others, for instance, German Shorthaired Pointers, Border Collies, and Dalmatians. These working breeds tend to be more successful because they are smart and have tremendous stamina and endurance.

Short-snout dog breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs won’t do well in the heat and surely will struggle during the run. So, they won’t be a good fit. Also, giant breeds and toy breeds won’t make a good canicrosser either.

I would also advise you to join a local club. They are invaluable when it comes to learning more about canicross. You can learn from people who are more experienced and ask questions about anything related to this sport. Not only that, but you can also find runs and races that you can participate in from these chapters.

Canicross Gear You'll Need to Cross-Country Running With Your Dog

Beyond your physical health, your dog’s fitness level, and everything I’ve mentioned earlier, you need to make sure that both you and your adventurous pup have the right equipment before you get started with canicross.

1. Harness Designed for Pulling

Begin by finding the right dog harness for your canine. This is extremely important since it needs to be comfortable enough that your dog won’t mind wearing it for long periods while out on a trail running with you. One thing to note, though, this harness has to be specially designed for pulling, like the Neewa Sled Pro Mushing Harness, not the standard dog harnesses for running. It also needs to be strong enough so you won’t have any issues with your dog pulling you during your workout.

2. Hands-Free Dog Leash

Another gear you will need is a high-quality hands-free leash. This is important because you need to be able to control your dog at all times, and having your hands free will make it easier for you to run. Make sure to choose the one that contains a bungee cord to help absorb shock. Otherwise, you might get injured if there’s a sudden jolt or pull.

3. Canicross Belt

The next essential item you need is a canicross belt. You will need a proper fitting one, and it has to be wide! The wider, the better because it can help distribute the pulling force more evenly. And it should wrap around your hips, not your waist. That is to ensure less pressure on your lower back, hence a more comfortable run. The one that I’ve tested and found comfortable to wear is the Neewa Canicross Belt.

4. The Right Running Shoes for Canicrossing

You’ll need the right pair of shoes if you want to be successful with canicrossing. If you don’t have any proper trail running shoes yet, I recommend choosing the Inov-8 brand, especially if running in a muddy area. They are known for their quality, durability, and superior traction and are very popular among many trail runners, although they can be a bit pricey.

5. Dog Booties

Dog booties are also needed, especially for those who do a lot of canicrossing. While dogs are not always fond of having boots put on their feet, they act as a shield and padding to protect their paws from getting cut up. Plus, the grass and dirt will stay outside of their boots during the run.

6. Water Bottle

Another thing that is an absolute must-have during canicross with dogs is a water bottle since canicross is usually done on trails in the great outdoors, which means that there are no water stations along the way for your dog and yourself! Not to mention, the temperatures can get really hot during the summer months.

Read More: How to Bring Water for Your Dog While Running

Training and Preparing for a Canicross Race or Competition

Canicross Race
Caption: A runner is running in a canicross race with her dog

Now that we’ve gone over all the details to get started with canicross, let’s talk about canicross training to help you become a better cross-country runner. Even if you are only planning on doing it for fun or exercise with your dog, this is still important information.

1. Teach Your Dog Canicross Commands

Before you head out on your first run, make sure that you teach your dog voice commands. This way, you’ll be able to communicate easily with them and direct their movements while on trails or fields. Below are the basic commands your canine needs to learn:

  • Hike/ Hike On/ Let’s Go. This means to start running.
  • Forward/ Straight. This is to tell your dog to continue straight when coming to an intersection.
  • Gee/ Right. This means to turn right.
  • Haw/ Left. This means to turn left.
  • On By. This is to tell your dog to ignore something, stay focused, and keep running.
  • Easy/ Steady. This means to slow down.
  • With Me/ Heel. This is to tell your dog to run alongside you, which is especially useful when running downhill.
  • Whoa/ Stop. This means stop running.
  • Stand/ Line-Out. This means to stand still and don’t move.

Just as you would teach basic obedience or other verbal commands, you have to make sure that you’re consistent with your cues so that your dog can pick up the training quickly. Be firm, clear, and confident when teaching them during the training session because a confused or uncertain dog is likely to disobey. And remember to use treats as rewards for good behavior so they will learn faster.

2. Build Your Dog's Stamina and Endurance

While I’m sure that your dog loves going outdoors and enjoys hiking or running, you have to understand that they are not naturally built for distance running. That also means you need to have a training plan.

Like how you would prepare your four-legged friend for other dog sports, including 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or marathon runs, take it slow at first and build up their stamina gradually. You can do that by starting out running 2-3 miles during the first week with a slow to moderate pace, then try adding on 0.5 miles every week with an increased pace. That’s how I train my dog, but you can also start with a basic, structured plan, like a couch to 5k training program.

Regardless if you are following my way of training my dog or other training programs, remember that the key here is to take it slow and steady.

3. Teach Your Dog to Pull

As I mentioned before, canicross is about dogs pulling their owners while running. So, you have to teach them how to do so. I know this won’t be easy since they’ve been taught for years not to pull on a leash, but it’s possible with a little bit of persistence and patience.

Ask a friend to walk ahead of you and have them try encouraging your dog to pull using a treat, ball, sticks, or any objects that will excite your pup. If you can’t find anyone to help you, you can hook your dog’s harness to a post, tree, or fence instead. Then, when they pull, give them plenty of praise! And make sure to incorporate treats into the training process as well since most dogs love rewards.

And don’t worry, as long as you help your dog distinguish the difference between canicross and regular running or other outdoor activities by letting them wear different types of harnesses, they will know when to pull and when they are not allowed.

4. Run with a Friend, Group, or Other Canicrossers

One of the best ways to prepare for your first race is to do it with someone else. Not only will having another person around give you the motivation you need, but it will also allow you both to encourage each other and help push yourselves even further. Plus, working out together makes it much more fun!

Common Mistakes Newbies Make When Getting into Canicross

1. Not Warming Up or Cooling Down Appropriately Before and After a Run

You shouldn’t start running if you haven’t warmed up! The reason is that you are more likely to get injured (pulled or strained muscles, for example) if you try to run when your body isn’t ready. And a warm-up should consist of at least 10 minutes of light jogging, walking, or stretching your muscles. And make sure to take another 5-10 minutes to do more stretching and light exercises for cooling down after you’re finished.

2. Not Doing the Right Amount of Prep Work Before the Race

Ensure to read the event rules and check how many days you have left until the scheduled date so that you can better prepare both you and your dog accordingly. This includes things I’ve mentioned earlier, like creating a training plan and building up stamina. And before your actual race day, keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water, preparing a healthy meal beforehand, and mentally prepare yourself for the event by reminding yourself why you’re doing this and what your goals are.

3. Not Getting Proper Medical Clearance

It is vital to get medical clearance before joining a competitive run. The reason is that these events tend to be done over long distances where there might not be any emergency care facilities nearby. Therefore, you need to be sure that you are medically fit to participate in canicross. And the same goes for your furry running partner!

4. Going for the Wrong Distance

Some people may be tempted to follow the lead of their running buddies and run much farther than they should or can, especially novice runners. However, pushing yourself too hard can often result in injuries, and you’ll end up losing interest in canicross pretty quickly if it becomes too difficult for you!


Canicross is an excellent sport for people who want to be active outdoors and enjoy the company of their canine companion. With the tips from this article, you should be well-prepared to try it out.

And I can’t stress it enough. Don’t forget about warming up properly before starting a run, and don’t push yourself too hard. You’ll have more fun if it doesn’t feel like work. And finally, keep in mind that canicross is not like traditional running or other outdoor activities, so make sure both you and your furkid wear appropriate clothing!

I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this guide on how to get started in canicross and stay safe!