What Is Canicross – How To Get Started

Natalie Cecconi
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What is canicross

Canicross is a sport in which an athlete runs while attached to a dog that is harnessed and may be tethered to either a belt or waistband. As you are running, your dog is running with you. It’s like running with your dog but there is some room for improvement.

Usually it’s the dog running in front of the person, however, there are also variations where some dogs will run on the side of the racer or behind the canicross athlete. It’s not just about running while accompanied by your canine running buddy, it’s more about efficiency. This makes it a great sport for both you and your dog.

The dog that is running with you is always in front and above you. This is to allow you to take advantage of their energy and to train the dog and improve their endurance.

So let’s take a closer look at canicross and find out what it is all about.

Canicross is a relatively new sport in the United States and is quickly gaining in popularity. It is a very exciting and fun way to get your dog running and in shape, and it can also save you on pet care costs. Depending on where you live, canicross can either be done indoors on a treadmill or outside on any surface where your four-legged friend can run.


The sport of canicross has evolved over the years from using leashes and harnesses to tug the human and dog along the course to using specially designed carts. But the idea of a simple, fun sport with you and your dog competing together while working as a team remains the same.

The basic idea of the sport is to get you and your dog from point A to point B, as fast as possible. Most canicross races are either sprints or just under one mile in length. You can compete as an individual or in a team or as a family.

The human and dog start together at the start line and must reach the finish line together. The dog must obey the commands or cues given by the trainer or handler. This lets the canicross team know when to engage the sled and when to walk.

The canicross sport originated in the United States and has been growing in popularity worldwide. It has now spread to other parts of the world including the UK and Europe. In the United States, it is most popular in the West and Midwest.

If you’re interested in getting started in canicross, you will need several key items, starting with a cart.


Canicross allows you to spend quality time with your dog as you get some exercise, benefit from the great outdoors and have a great time racing each other across the field.

And if you are older person or you are just looking for a little less impact type of exercise, you may also do it together in tandem.

There is a system called a sled system. You can pull your dog like a team with a sled system. That’s for a little more intense version of canicross and I am not going to get into that here. The focus of this blog post is on the free system.

Canicross has a few important benefits:

You get a high-quality workout, especially if you’re training with your dog. It’s probably the most productive workout you can do with your dog because it uses so many muscle groups in your body such as your shoulders, chest, upper back, core, legs, glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves.

It also strengthens your upper body, especially the arms and shoulders. Basically, everything that is not a leg is involved in this sport.

If you are looking to lose some weight, you can expect to burn around 600 calories during a canicross workout.

What breeds are good for canicross?

While most breeds are suitable for canicross, it is important to note that certain breeds are better suited for this sport than others due to their build, athletic ability and temperament. For instance, if you want to run with your Irish Wolfhound, you will need a very long line.

And if you want to run with your smaller dog, you will want to follow them at a slower, more controlled pace.

In addition, if you plan on competing, you will need to check that the breed of your dog is allowed to compete. If your dog is the right breed for the sport and you are still interested in canicross, you can:

Ad Find a hiking trail in your area that allows dog owners to bring their dogs.

Ad Search online for canicross races in your area.

Depending on your location, if you want to run with others, you may also want to contact your local dog park or humane society to see if they organize any.

What gear do I need?

To run with your dog, all you need is a dog harness and a belt (or “runner ring”), and a standard six-foot leash. Both of these can be purchased at any pet store, and most pet stores will have knowledgeable employees to help you.

Depending on where you run with your dog, you may also want to wear padded gloves for protection against branches and brush.

Since working canines are generally larger than the average dog, check sizing charts before purchasing a harness and adjust the harness straps accordingly.

Side effects of canicross running can be just as rewarding as the results. Running and working with your dog on a leash can make training and getting exercise much easier.


A harness system on a canicross dog is essentially a backpack for your dog. The main purpose of the harness is to balance the weight of the dog as you run. It will also help you better control your dog when running.

Some harnesses are padded and have extra storage space for toys or other items. These harnesses will not only aid you with the weight distribution but also help the dog on longer distance runs by giving them a bit of energy to play with and release them from just carrying the weight of the harness.

As you are working out with your dog, you will not have a lot of stuff to carry with you. People may tell you that it is impossible to travel without a water bottle. This may be so depended on where you are and what season you are running in. If so, having a water bottle pocket in your harness is a great option. There are plenty of storage options in different sizes and colors to fit your personal preference.

Bungee line

The dog sledding equipment was built in a way that allows humans to join the fun in the winter months. If you’re interested in doing canicross – the cross country movement of humans by means of their dogs – there are three main ways to get started.

Racer Harness: If you want to go full-on racing harness setup, you need some common necessities. To begin with, you’ll need a quality harness specially made for canicross. This will be designed for all-day support, so it should be a bit on the heavy-duty side. You’ll also need the bungee line, the line on the back of the harness that will allow you to adjust the length.

Next you’ll need your trusty canine friend. He needs to be big enough to carry you, but still energetic enough to lead the movement. Most jumping benches fit dogs with shoulders up to 30 inches and weigh between 45 and 90 pounds.

Of course, you are also going to need the right snow-type gear. This is where the snowflake system makes it all happen!

Waist/hip belt

A waist or hip belt and a vest or harness are common choices. The harness is the simplest design and will suffice for short distances, but it can be tricky with a bigger dog. The belt should fit snugly around you and the dog’s waist or hips. Some manufacturers have a range of sizes so that children and adults of different weights can use the same belt. Since the dog must also be able to comfortably trot or sprint wearing the belt, it needs to be well-made. There are many styles available; the “Y” shaped belt and the “sled loops” are popular as they distribute the weight of the dog on both hips. Some, like the Singletrak, also have connector straps that let you run with your dog.

With harnesses, some manufacturers recommend the dog’s chest measurement for a comfortable fit. Others provide detailed step-by-step instructions to measure the dog for a good harness fit. On most harnesses, the straps are adjustable. So, if you get the right measurement, you can snug the harness so it fits snugly, but not too tightly, which makes running difficult. The standard measurement is the chest measurement, but manufacturers often provide alternative measurements for slightly slimmer or larger dogs.

How to give your dog directions

Dogs can be unpredictable at times, especially when distracted. To avoid accidents while out dog-walking, learn to use a few simple commands and give your dog directions.

If he is too distracted to listen to you, just get his attention in the way that works best for him.

If you use a clicker you can click and then give a treat or issue a command. Consider different types of treats, too – it could be a food he likes or a game.

If your dog is not responding to a verbal command by putting his attention back on you, try moving towards a distraction he loves – a squirrel for example or the door leading to the park or his favourite doggie play friend. In this case, the squirrel might get more of his attention than the command.

If he looks at you and continues to refuse to follow your command, you might have to just ignore any unwanted actions and divert his attention back to you. You may have to repeat the command a few times before he actually listens.

After a few successes you can start putting commands together, for example: telling him to sit, and then go around a corner.

This can help you when you are out in the park and he sees something. A dog whistle can make a dog come in the direction of the sound.

Common commands

There are a number of commands and cues people use:

How to teach your dog to pull

Canicross is an amazing activity that allows your dog to get plenty of exercise and be social with you at the same time. It is cross-country running with your favorite pet!

The key to canicross success is getting your dog comfortable wearing a pulling harness. And the first time you put the harness on your dog, you’ll start by taking your dog on a walk around the block.

The first walk is about acclimation. Your dog will not be pulling anything, so you should use a harness that’s light and soft.

You should also use a dog harness that doesn’t restrict your dog from stepping under things. Once your dog is ready, you should increase the intensity and duration on successive walks.

This will take a while, but if you are patient and work slowly, your dog will not develop any pulling behaviors. If you start with a regular leash you will be able to correct him or her if they start to pull.

There is no rush – build a positive association with the harness and canicross in general. Dogs have a much better chance of positive associations with a harness that is comfortable and that is made with quality leather on the straps and buckles.

Are there canicross races?

Yes, and they are a lot of fun. Canicross is really taking off in the UK but it's something a lot of people are familiar with in the USA and in Europe.

I used to run cross country races for the dogs too so I'm not surprised to see it on the rise in the UK.

At some point, I'll create a separate Canicross Page on this site with a list of events and a directory of clubs. But it will have to wait for now.

To see the rules and regulations of the various events check out this page.


Is Canicross a Good Idea?

Canicross is one of those niche sports that has yet to fully break through to the mainstream. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t growing. Clubs are springing up all over the country, and some even have their own local race series. If you live in a rural area, you may even be able to find a race or two to enter in your area. If you’re a trail runner, we highly recommend giving canicross a try.

Of course, this is a competitive sport, so don’t expect to take the title of best dog runner unless you have a speedy canine companion. But with some dedication, you and your furry friend can have a whole new, fun way to get fit. You may not win any medals, but you’ll be having a great time with your pup.

And if you care about the environment, you can be proud that running with your dog is not only good for you, it’s good for the planet … and all of the other critters that call it home!