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Introduction to Canicross

Canicross is the sport of cross-country running with your dog. It originates from Skijoring, which is a similar sport, but instead of a runner the dog pulls a cross-country skier. It is an easy sport to start from as you don't necessarily need much specialist equipment, and you can do it basically anywhere. Almost any breed of dog can do canicross, although you do of course have to adjust your speed and distance to suit your dog, especially with smaller breeds. It is a great way for both you and your dog to get exercise and spend quality time together - dogs make great, loyal running partners as they are always happy to go out, rain or shine!


EQUIPMENT

You can start canicross with very basic equipment - just running shoes for yourself and a collar and a lead for your dog will get you started. However if you want your dog to pull you along and make the run easier and more enjoyable for both yourself and your dog, you may also want to equip yourself with:

  • A Harness for your dog/s. A harness allows your dog to pull you along safely and without choking or rubbing. A short (shoulder) harness will spread the pulling pressure over the chest and shoulders of the dog.
  • A Lead or Line with a Bungee. The bungee will absorb the shock and reduce the impact of your dog pulling, making running a more enjoyable experience both for yourself and your dog, and reduces the chance of shoulder injuries on your dog.
  • A Canicross or Walking Belt. Attaching your dog via a bungee line onto a belt allows you to have your hands free and enables your dog to pull you along better. When your belt is sitting correctly on your hips and backside, there is no pressure on your spine, and your centre of gravity is in the right place, which makes it easy for you to keep you balance even in case of any sudden pulls. It keeps your dog safely attached to you at all times. There are different designs to fit different needs - many with leg loops which help keeping the belt in the right place.

GETTING STARTED

The most important thing when you are first starting out is that your dog is having fun! Start gently and at first always stop before your dog gets tired to make it a positive experience. You can start by combining intervals of walking and running if your dog is not used to running. Make sure your dog is fit and healthy, and start with short distances increasing them slowly. Monitor your dog during and after exercise, and keep in mind that building fitness and stamina takes time, so don't do too much too soon.

If your dog has already learnt to "heel", the first step is to get him used to running and pulling in front of you. For this, using a harness is a great idea so you can teach your dog the difference between wearing a collar (= Heeling) and wearing a harness (= Pulling). It may take some time to get your dog used to the idea of running in the front if he/she has always been taught to heel, so be patient and give your dog lots of praise and rewards when he/she is doing the right thing.

It may help to have someone your dog knows helping you by running or biking ahead and calling your dog. Start out on a narrow trail or road which is familiar to your dog, so they will know straight away which way to go. Also running with other people and dogs might help encouraging your dog to keep chasing after them.

There are organized canicross events at many Sled Dog Clubs' races and other events, so if you are interested in social runs or racing, contact your local club for more information. Note that a dog harness, belt and a bungee line are mandatory equipment under the racing rules.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

Do not take your dog for a run if it is too hot. Short haired breeds can tolerate slightly higher temperatures, but any breed, especially arctic breeds with double coats (such as Siberian Huskies, Malamutes etc.) can overheat easily if exercised on a warm day - and if it happens once, your dog will be more prone to overheating for the rest of his/her life. Also any breeds with a short muzzle can overheat easily as they cannot cool themselves down as well as longer-muzzled breeds. You should only exercise your dog lightly if the temperature is above 15 degrees - or even less for arctic breeds or in high humidity. The maximum temperature for races is 12 degrees. Avoid taking your dog out at the warmest time of the day and instead go out early morning or late at night when it is cooler. Remember to have water available for your dog if you do longer runs or on warmer days, and to keep him/her well hydrated before and after the run as well.

Do not exercise a young dog too much. You can cause lifelong problems and injuries if you start running your dog too early, before they have finished growing and their growth plates have closed. As a rule of thumb, for medium breeds approximately 12 months is a reasonably safe age to start "proper" running, and 18-24 months for large breeds. You can start with light and short runs approx. 2-3 months earlier to teach commands and how to behave in a harness and line, as long as you make sure you finish well before your dog is tired. For more advice talk to your vet as they should know your dog's individual needs.

If you run two or more dogs together, make sure they are similar size and speed. If one dog is much faster than the other, the slower one may get dragged along, making it a very unpleasant experience for both dogs, and possibly causing injury as well. It can be traumatizing for the dogs and make them reluctant to run. You may still be able to take them out together, but you should always adjust your speed to that of the slower dog. Braking your scooter or bike as you go will give more resistance to the faster dog to pull against (your brake pads will probably require regular changing though!). Do not use a neckline if one dog is slower so that he/she is not pulled by the collar by the faster dog, or if you do, keep a very close eye on it and make sure there is no tension on the neckline.

Choose a safe environment for taking your dog for a run. Running on pavement can damage your dog's joints and paws/pads. A grassy or gravel surface which is firm but soft for your dog's feet is ideal. On harder surfaces you may need booties to protect your dog's feet - but that should ideally only be occasionally and not on a daily basis as it is always better for the dog to run without booties so his feet can naturally "condition" and breath. Also remember that dogs cool themselves down through their feet. When your dog does wear booties it is important to not leave them on for a long period of time, so they won't rub or prevent circulation on the feet.





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