cross country running with your dog
CaniCross is a dog powered sport where the dog is harnessed and attached to the runner by a bungee. All abilities of humans and most breeds of dogs can participate.
The sport started with mushers training their lead sled dogs when there was no snow. Since then the sport has developed into a recreational and competitive sport.
How to CaniCross
5 top tips for beginners
Learning to CaniCross should be really good fun for you and your dog.
Your dog must be fully grown (at least 12 months old) to start CaniCross but there is no upper age limit as long as your dog is fit and healthy. Care should be taken with brachiocephalic breeds such as Bulldogs but if you have any concerns about whether your dog should participate, please consult with your vet
Your dog's CaniCross experiences should always be positive so before you hit the trails, read our 5 top tips for CaniCross success below.
Ensure your dogs harness fits comfortably
To encourage your dog to pull into harness, it's important the harness fits well and is comfortable for your dog. Harness recommendations are the most common questions we get asked at trailrunners and its a difficult one to answer as there are so many variations of size and shape of dogs just within one breed! We believe there is no such thing as a 'perfect harness' but there is the perfect harness for your dog.
Check out our video below to learn what to look out for when fitting a harness on your dog,
Get to know your equipment
To CaniCross you need a harness for your dog, a belt for you to wear and a bungee line to safely connect you both. Having a bungee or elasticated line is really important as it acts as a shock absorber between you and your dog.
Equipment will wear with use so get to know your equipment so you can check for any damage before heading out on the trails.
For information on the types of lines and types of line connections, check out our video below.
Keep the run short and exciting
Find an exciting trail such as a single track in a wooded area so your dog has a clear defined path to follow. This will encourage them to run in front of you and pull into harness.
Try to avoid hard or gravel pathways which will be less comfortable for your dog to run on. It's important that all of your dog's CaniCross experiences are positive.
When starting any new activity it's important that you and your dog build up your training gradually so your bodies have time to adapt to forces being placed on it. Start with a short interval of 50 -100m to encourage your dog to pull into harness. Then if you can, free run your dog for the rest of your run or walk them on lead.
You can find a free beginners training plan in the CaniCross Clinic Hub which gives you a step by step guide on how to safely build you and your dogs fitness to running 5k continuously. You can also find a whole heap of resources on CaniConditioning such as how to effectively warm up your dog before exercise.
Reward your dog for pulling into harness
Some dogs will naturally run into harness. But if your dog is unsure about being allowed to pull here's some tips on how to encourage them:
> Roll a ball in front and treat reward
> Run with a friend who is running very slightly in front, encouraging the dog to run along. Or have your friend in harness and you run slightly in front
> Run with a CaniCross group. You can search for your nearest group or club on on our community page here>
When your dog is pulling, put a verbal cue in such as 'yes', 'good boy/girl' or 'go go go' so that the dog associates that word with the feeling of pulling in harness.
At the end of the run always reward your dog with verbal praise and attention so it's a positive experience for them.
If you need some more help on how to encourage your dog to pull into harness, check out the tips in our video below.
Teach your dog directional cues
When you're out on the trails it's important to give your dog clear voice cues so they feel confident about which direction they're going in. A lot of CaniCrossers use mushing terms such as:
Gee - right
Haw - left
On by - ignore keep going
Hike on - use more pulling power to carry forward
Lets go - speeding up or starting to go
Steady - slow the pace
Whooa - stop
Stand/line out - stand still facing forward
You can use whatever words you like as long you and your dog both know them! You can start teaching directional cues whilst out on a walk, so when your dog approaches a right turn, say the word 'Gee'. If they look back at you, put your right arm out as a directional cue. As soon as they have taken the corner, reinforce with either an 'ok' or 'good boy'.
You can also reinforce it at home by holding a treat in your hand either side of your dog and rewarding them if they go to the correct hand. Just ensure if you're asking them to 'gee' that it's your dog's right!
5 tips for entering & competing
Finding a race
The CaniCross race season is usually Sept - May when the temperatures are cooler and less humid. Dogs struggle to control their body temperature in warm weather so can overheat very quickly.
You can race with a multitude of breeds, just be sure to check the events race rules for eligibility.
Cutting through the jargon
There are lots of different types of CaniSport events to enter which sometimes makes entering them a bit of a mindfield. You’ll find some events are just for CaniCross whereas others have a multiple of CaniSports including CaniCross, CaniBike, CaniScoot and Rig events so we’ve broken down the jargon for you:
Dryland = events which take place on dry trails and not snow
DC = Dryland CaniCross
DB = Dryland bikejor or CaniBike
DS = Dryland scooter or CaniScoot
If there is a number at the end such as DB2 this signifies it’s for more than one dog so in this example it would be CaniBike with a 2 dog team
DR = Dryland rig events for 4, 6 or 8 dog teams
Freight = Large hauling breeds such as malamutes
RNB = Registered Nordic Breeds. Only recognised nordic sled dog breeds which have a Kennel Club number and paperwork can enter such as huskies
Some races will have age categories which are typically:
Y = Youth 11-13 yrs
J = Junior 14-18 yrs
V = Veteran 40+
Here are some examples of the different classes:
DCMV = Dryland CaniCross men veteran
DBW RNB = Dryland bike female nordic breed
DBWJ = Dryland Bikejor women junior
Whichever event you choose to enter, make sure sure you arrive in plenty of time for the start of your race.
Some events will have race briefings which give competitors important information about the route and in some cases if you miss it you, you might not be allowed to start (as it nullifies their race insurance).
Arrive at the start in good time and give your dog plenty of room from the other competitors as it can be a very exciting, not to mention noisy environment!
In open events it’s a good idea to self seed and start nearer the back if you have a nervous dog to give them more confidence.
Out on the trail
When you are on the trail, if you catch someone up in front of you, call clearly to let them know you are there and that you are going to overtake (for example, “coming by on your left”).
If someone catches you up and calls which side they are going to pass you, pull over slightly to the other side of the trail. If you think your dog may want to go over and say “hello”, hold your line and bring your dog into your side so the other team can pass easily.
You may come across dog walkers or other members of the public who are also using the trail, so always be courteous and call out to them to let them know you are there.
Different races have different styles of markers to direct you around the course.
Here are some examples of the common markers used:
Turns are marked in red and are placed on the side the turn is.
They are then followed by a blue confirmation marker. Blue markers also indicate straight on.
Yellow markers indicate a hazard on the trail.
NO ROW marker means No Right of Way which means when you are coming towards the finish and you can overtake at any point.
Some races use different coloured arrows to show the route so it's important to attend the race briefing so you know what type of markers you are looking for.