Canicross: I took up running with my dogs, and have never looked back

Emily with Yogi

Emily with Yogi - Credit: Rae Prince Photography

Emily Thomas of Brockworth in Gloucestershire extols the many benefits of running with your dog

Canicross has been a part of my life since 2009 when I was struggling with my rescue dog Tegan, who had separation anxiety and was destroying my home. I tried a number of different activities with her until someone suggested running with her, officially known as canicross, a sport I hadn’t heard of prior to this. 

It became apparent very quickly that this was the activity I had been looking for to help channel her excess energy and working drive (she was a collie crossed with a husky) into something positive and it made a noticeable difference to her behaviour at home. In canicross I had found something which met both her physical and mental needs. 

As an added bonus to our new-found hobby, I also lost weight, and within four months I had lost three-and-a-half stone, was much fitter, healthier and happier. 

Emily with Delta, running

Emily with Delta - Credit: Rae Prince Photography

I started running with Tegan using a simple walking harness, bungee lead and belt for me, but quickly looked to investigate the different types of equipment available and purchased more specific dog sports kit for us both within a month of beginning training. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the whole canicross set-up of harness, bungee line and belt could be purchased for around £100, and horrified that a decent pair of trainers would cost me the same amount! 

When we had been running for about six months (I had also rescued another collie) we took ourselves to some group runs nearby with people who had also learned about the benefits of canicross, and this led to attending specific canicross races organised by CaniX UK. The CaniX races fired up my competitiveness; I began to improve my running speeds and ventured into longer distance running. In 2011, I attempted to run the West Highland Way in five days with my dogs, but had to withdraw after 66 miles and three days due to injury. 

In 2016, I completed the Cotswold Way with my (by this point) three dogs, each dog taking different sections over the five days; Tegan finishing triumphantly with me in Chipping Campden. To date, this is still my most memorable achievement and something I will be forever proud of as, for someone who never thought of themselves as a runner, to manage 104 miles in five days and love every minute of it was something I had never considered possible. I can credit this 100% to my dogs because without them I wouldn’t have had the motivation. 

Tegan and Emily at the end of the Cotswold Way, at Chipping Campden, 2016

Tegan and Emily at the end of the Cotswold Way, at Chipping Campden, 2016 - Credit: Rae Prince Photography

           

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For anyone wondering why canicross is such a great activity to take up with your dog, the benefits of running with your dog speak for themselves:

  • Behaviour: Positive changes in dogs’ behaviour as they have an outlet for energy which might otherwise be used for destructive and unwanted behaviours around the home & garden.  
  • Fitness: Canicross provides exercise for a dog who can’t otherwise be let off lead due to (among other things) a high hunting instinct, which is why you will see many different breeds participating, from terriers to malamutes. 
  • Health: It is estimated that as many as one third of dogs nationwide are overweight, with this figure set to rise to over half of all dogs. Obesity is linked with diabetes, orthopaedic disease, heart disease, respiratory distress, high blood pressure, skin diseases and cancer (much the same as in people), so you might even be prolonging your own life as well as your dog’s, with consistent exercise. 
  • Fun: Taking part in dog sports means you and your dog get to socialise with likeminded people, but even if it’s just you and your dog, you will be strengthening your bond with your dog which is very rewarding and great fun, too.
Group running, with Emily in the lead

Group running, with Emily in the lead - Credit: Rae Prince Photography

Things you should know before you start running with your dog: 

  • Get yourself the proper equipment: a harness for your dog, belt for hands-free running, and a bungee lead to connect you to your dog. This will protect you both from any pulling injury. 
  • Your dog should be fully grown and developed before you start any ‘in harness’ running training – ideally 12 months, but potentially older if you own a larger breed. 
  • You can teach voice cues on your walks to help you start training from any age; be consistent and reward your dog often to reinforce the cues. 
  • Don’t feed your dog too close to before or after exercise  
  • Make use of off-road trails and paths for running, being polite and considerate of other trail users who may not have come across a canicrosser before. 
  • Keep your sessions short and fun for both you and your dog; like any new sport you will be using muscles in a different way for canicrossing, and by taking things steady you will help avoid injury for yourself and your dog. 
  • If you’re looking to get started, having the right equipment is important for your comfort and safety. 

My love for canicross led to me setting up my business in 2012, and K9 Trail Time has helped hundreds of people experience the benefits of running with their dogs by not only offering a wide range of products selected from the best brands worldwide, but also by providing all the information and advice you need to safely start canicross. If you would like any guidance, contact emilyt@k9trailtime.com or visit k9trailtime.com