Discover canicross in Kent
- Credit: Archant
Love running and have an energetic dog that needs exercising? Then why not combine the two and take up canicross, the fastest growing dog sport in the UK
The sight of a jogger plodding around a park with a furry friend bounding along on a lead beside them is not unusual.
However, thanks to a fairly new sport called canicross, it’s now possible for keen cross-country runners to take their pets with them.
Originally used as off-season training for sled dogs, canicross has become a stand-alone sport and has drawn so much interest that it’s been included as one of the events at Crufts since 2008.
It’s the fastest growing dog sport in the UK and Canicross groups and races are springing up all over the county.
Kent’s own Paws In The Park event, held annually at the Kent County Showground, has been showcasing the sport to the county’s dog lovers for several years.
Canicrossing can be done with any fit and active dog, with specialist equipment available from a number of companies and online, and it’s a great way of getting exercise and having fun for both runner and dog.
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Cranbrook resident Jenny Lee runs a dog walking and running service in the Weald. A keen runner herself, she discovered canicross six years ago when a company selling the sport’s special harnesses invited her to have a go at Paws In The Park.
Not only did she and her exuberant young labrador enjoy the experience, she also found herself running much faster than usual – pulled onward by her dog.
“I did some research and found a group called CaniX who organised races,” says Jenny. “So I entered the 2km beginners’ race and started to train in Bedgebury Forest.”
Jenny hasn’t looked back and since then has branched out to offer canicross fitness sessions to those just starting out in the sport. “Canicross involves running with your harnessed dog connected to your waist belt via a bungee line,” she explains.
“The dog pulls into their chest and shoulders, assisting the runner, but there is no pressure on the dog’s neck. This allows the dog to breathe freely and run more comfortably.
“It’s a great way to enhance the bond between you and your dog. Two of mine are high-energy rescue dogs who came to me with anxiety and behavioural issues.
“Canicross has been instrumental in their rehabilitation and provided an outlet for their excess energy.”
Jenny’s personal training sessions involve working on general fitness and getting to grips with specific commands and canicross drill exercises, before moving on to group runs and off-lead fun for the four-legged team members.
“The advice I would give to anyone considering canicross is to get involved,” she says. “Don’t let self-doubt deprive you and your dog of a fun, sociable sport that will get you outdoors and keep you fit and healthy.
“For those that want to compete, there are races across the country but many just enjoy canicrossing for the sheer pleasure of it. Give it a try and let your dog decide.”
Meet The Canicrossers
Caroline Turner from Maidstone
“For me it all started when I signed up for the Race For Life in 2009. I was 49 and I had never run in my life. I was overweight and unfit and far too embarrassed to be seen attempting even the slowest jog.
This is where Bindy, my two-year-old beagle came in. I just went out for a walk with her in my usual dog-walking attire and, when I was happy there was no one to see us, I’d run to a tree or telegraph pole with Bindy trotting alongside me on her lead.
Gradually the running sections got longer and I invested in a decent pair of trainers, which helped, but I found that holding the lead was stopping me from using my arms properly.
I remembered seeing something on TV a few years ago about running with dogs in a harness attached to a waste belt. A quick search on the internet and I was soon kitted out with a belt and stretchy line, and Bindy was already wearing a harness as she escapes from collars.
Since those early days I have invested in the much more comfortable ‘non-stop’ belt, a custom-made line, and Bindy has several DC Zero Short harnesses in an assortment of colours.
I am not a very strong nor a fast runner but I do my best to keep up with my little beagle, who pulls her heart out for me during races. That could be a canicross race, a human trail race that allows canicrossers, one of the many park runs we do or just a social run with Kent Canicross, a group of local friends who just love running with their four-legged friends.
Who enjoys canicrossing the most? I think Bindy likes racing the best; she loves the excitement and the encouragement from everyone as we near the finish line.
I prefer the slightly more relaxed atmosphere and pace of a social run, especially the ones that finish at a pub!”
Jenny Brown from Leybourne
“My canicross adventures started after a car accident ended my international athletics career and I believe it is never too late to start something new.
I was given a beagle pup for my 50th birthday and Tiga happened to have more energy than any of my previous dogs. So the challenge was on to find an activity to replace my track and field career and to involve a beagle that could not be let off the lead.
I saw an event advertised called canicross and I decided to give it a go. After my first event I was selected for the Great Britain team to take part in the European Championships in Belgium five years ago. I was hooked!
The sport of canicross is now very easy to get into and is a very fast-growing sport, both in the UK and across Europe. Most of the information is learnt from joining a group and learning from the experienced.
The sport has opened up in the last 12 months and so many more people are aware of it and want to be part of it, particularly if you need to train and you have a dog but are limited with time.
I would advise anyone wishing to take up the sport to join a group or a club and get advice before purchasing any equipment as the welfare of the dog is a priority and it is important to get a good fitting harness.”
CaniX UK, the official membership organisation for canicross in the UK, is the best place for advice and information about the sport.
Their advice includes:
• Wear good running shoes with plenty of traction
• Research and buy the correct equipment for both you and your dog – and make sure it is properly fitted to avoid injury
• Check with your vet that canicrossing is right for your dog
• Carry a mobile phone in case of emergencies
• Plan your route and include some green spaces – minimise running on hard surfaces
• Dogs learn to canicross quicker when running with company – run with a friend (with or without a dog) and take turns passing and leading
• When they are in the harness, never correct your dog for pulling
• Keep the first runs short so your dog is still pulling by the end
• Always take water with you and watch out for signs of your dog overheating
?For more information about canicross, visit www.canix.co.uk and www.canicross.org.uk. .To join Jenny Lee’s canicross fitness group, visit www.joggydoggy.co.uk.