Brown and white dog doing canicross on a woodland track.
Gemma and her black and tan dog Luna standing on a hill by the sea

If you are thinking about having a go at canicross but aren’t sure where to start, this blog is for you!

Gemma, a Community Engagement Ranger for Hampshire County Council, is a canicross coach for the Andover-based running club Muddy Canicross Runners. She completed her coaching qualification last year and enjoys regular runs with her dog, Luna, a four-year-old crossbreed rescue from Croatia. Luna loves the social side of running (and the treats at the end of course).

Here, Gemma answers some frequently asked questions about canicross.

Why is it good for me?

It is good for both me and my dog Luna. Firstly, it strengthens the bond between human and dog immensely. You are sharing enjoyment together, and I think that is very special. I have been running for many years (I started canicross 3 years ago) and I can honestly say I have met some fantastic friends through the sport and the running club that I coach within. It is a big part of my life – socially as well as personally. I feel fit and healthy, and it encourages me to explore our countryside more. I love finding new trails to run when I am coaching a canicross session, and I also find it so satisfying when I see my fellow runners and their dogs enjoying themselves.

Muddy Runners Canicross club standing with their dogs.

Is it a good way to see the countryside?

Absolutely! In Hampshire we are incredibly lucky to have some stunning countryside around us. I work for Hampshire County Council’s Rights of Way team, and I am forever telling people that we are all a short walk away from some green space. I use the OS map app on my phone to plot new routes to explore – I would recommend using this as it gives you the confidence to explore knowing you won’t get lost and that you are sticking to the Rights of Way.

Who should try Canicross?

Running isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I am a firm believer in always giving something a go before saying it isn’t for you – you might surprise yourself! We have a huge range of abilities and ages within the club, and everyone has their own personal goal. Whether this is getting fit after having a baby, taking some time to do something for yourself, or completing a half marathon, the people you run with will help you achieve your goal.

Your dog will gain a huge amount from canicross, and we have dogs of all temperaments join us. We find that after a few sessions nervous dogs really start to thrive – the managed social interaction mixed with the physical exercise seems to strike a good balance with our nervous dogs, and their owners are constantly impressed with the progress they make. The dogs all get a wonderful dose of socialisation and physical stimulation, and you will find your dog has never slept better than when you get home!

What if I don’t have a husky?!

The majority of dog breeds can give canicross a go, but there are some exceptions. Brachycephalic dogs such as boxers, pugs and French bulldogs would not be suitable due to their compromised airways. Puppies must wait until they are at least one and a half years old to start anything like canicross as their bones are still maturing. And obviously, the older the dog the more likely they may be experiencing age related illnesses like arthritis, which would be exacerbated by running.

Size shouldn’t matter – the smallest dog we have in the club is a Jack Russell terrier called Roadie (he will be running his first marathon this year as he absolutely loves it, you can’t stop him!) and the largest dog is a Bernese Mountain dog called Nellie (she only runs in the winter months when the temperature is cooler for her).

Will it make my dog pull more?

We use different equipment when running with our dogs to when we’re taking them for walks, so this will help the dog differentiate between activities. The aim during canicross is to encourage your dog to pull forward (not all dogs do, and this is perfectly fine as long as the dog is enjoying themselves). Your dog will understand when you put your running clothing on, tie your trainers up and get their running harness on that they are about to run. When you head out with your walking boots on, your raincoat and just their collar and lead they won’t think they’re off for a run. It is all about ensuring that the different activities are kept separate in your dog’s mind.

A group of women enjoying canicross in a woodland with their dogs

How do I get into it?

Canicross is gradually becoming more popular as a sport, although we are still few and far between when it comes to clubs. This will change, though, especially as more running events now have canicross entries on offer too. I recommended investigating what is close by and attending a trial – it is important you are able to trial out something before committing! If you are in/around the Andover area, please do get in contact with Muddy Canicross Runners – this is the club I coach at, and you’d be most welcome to attend a free trial run. The club we are part of, Muddy Runners, also hosts a whole array of runs during the week for non-dog runners. We are a very welcoming community.

Two canicross runners who have stopped for a rest with their dogs

What do I need for Canicross?

It is important to have the correct kit to ensure both human and dog are safe and secure whilst running. Humans need a harness (similar to a climbing harness) as this helps protect your lower back when the dog pulls forward. For dogs, a harness that does not impede their shoulder movement is must. Also, the harness is important to ensure that the pulling force is equally distributed down the dog’s back.

Another vital piece of kit is the bungee lead – this connects dog to human via a quick release karabiner clip. The bungee lead also helps to distribute the pulling force, but also allows you to run with your dog in a hands-free manner. It is not advisable to run whilst holding your dog’s lead for many reasons, including the potential to injure yourself (not having your hands available if you fall, or if your dog pulls your wrist there are concerns regarding sprains/breaks) but also for dog security reasons. If you were to fall you would let go of the lead, and your dog would therefore be loose and potentially out of control. The beauty of canicross is that your dog is under control at all times, which is especially important if you’re still working on recall!

The final bit of kit which I would highly recommended is a dickie bag. We are strict about clearing up after our dogs whilst out running – there is no such thing as a dog poo fairy after all! Dickie bags can be connected onto your running harness (or your dogs if the dog is large enough), so dog waste can be bagged up and stored in the dickie bag until you come across a bin. We must leave all Rights of Way in a clean state for everyone to enjoy.

Visit our blog page to find more blogs on all things doggy, from rescue stories to seasonal walking advice.