Dogs and people have a couple of important things in common. Both of us need to stay physically active to be healthy, and both of us need to be socially active too for our emotional wellbeing. The relatively new sport of canicross ticks all the boxes for people and pups. It’s a fantastic way to get out and get active with your dog that’s also very social. And many of those who enjoy say it makes running easier and more relaxing because it focuses their attention on their dog instead of their own running. A dog’s personal best is measured in fun, not in minutes and seconds.
Canicross began as an activity to keep sled dogs and their owners in shape in the off season, and it has now spread across Europe. Ireland and the UK have embraced the sport over the last ten or so years. Enthusiasts can find a stream of friendly, welcoming canicross events around Ireland. While it began with sled dogs, any type of dog can participate, even toy breeds, as long as they are healthy and fit enough to safely run five kilometres. The same applies to humans who want to try it.
What is canicross? It is simply cross-country running with your dog attached to you. It’s not quite the same as taking your dog for a jog, however, because the dogs wear a special harness and are attached to a belt worn around their human’s waist with an elastic cord. The equipment is designed to absorb the shock of the dog pulling. And they do pull! It prevents dogs from pulling their humans over, and it also prevents injuries to dogs’ necks by distributing the weight he’s pulling throughout his body. Most dogs naturally love to run, and canicross runners have compared the experience to running on a trampoline.
What Can Canicross Do for You & Your Dog?
Exercise is good for us, and many studies have documented the various ways dogs boost our physical and emotional well-being. So it is hardly surprising that canicross offers many benefits, but let’s break them down.
- Running improves cardiovascular fitness for both humans and dogs. It strengthens our muscles. Canicross is never done on pavement or hard surfaces, so it doesn’t have the same risk of damaging knees or other joints that jogging in urban areas does.
- Canicross is social. Sure you can get the equipment and head out with only your dog, but the heart of the sport is social. People go out training in groups and the events are very social and friendly.
- Dogs are pack animals, but they aren’t always great outside their familiar pack. Canicross events are a fun way to socialise your dog. Because they are in unfamiliar territory, dogs are less likely to be defensive. All dogs benefit from learning to be relaxed around strange dogs, and a fun day out running is a great way to teach them.
- The secret of training your dog is to teach him to look to you for instructions. Running canicross together will give him plenty of practice and reinforce the idea that you are his pack leader. He is literally attached to you, so he can’t just go do his own thing. This is a great bonding activity for you and your dog.
- A bored dog without enough exercise is a barky, destructive dog. All breeds need physical and mental activity to stave off boredom, and canicross provides loads of both. The ideal life for a dog involves a mix of rigorous physical activity, socialising and snoozing near his human. Get the balance right, and you are much less likely to have to deal with chewing, digging or excessive barking.
- It’s fun! We all need more healthy fun in our lives, and if you like running this is a fantastic way to enjoy life more with your dog. Too often we dog owners have to choose between time with our dogs and time doing our favourite activities. An activity that we enjoy that also includes our best friends is hard to beat.
Getting Started in Canicross
If you’re interested in trying canicross, you can find activities all over Ireland. Canicross Ireland holds novice events where interested humans and dogs can try out the equipment and learn the ropes before purchasing anything. Some of the runs have fun themes such as their Howloween and Santa Runs. Fitness clubs focused on canicross can be found in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, and these clubs hold classes and events.
Of course, canicross can be intense, hard work. If you and your dog get serious about it, it is important to ensure your dog has the right nutrition to fuel this work. Connolly’s Red Mills Leader Dog Food range is perfect for the casual weekend warrior dog, whether a pup, adult or senior. But if you start training intensely and are doing long runs with your dog a few times a week, your dog might benefit from the Engage line of food for working dogs. It provides the nutrition they need for sustained energy to keep them in top form over longer distances. Engage gives them the protein they need to recover after a hard run, and the glucosamine and chondroitin to protect their joints.
Canicross is a demanding sport. If either you or your dog have been leading a more leisurely, sedentary life, start slowly and check with your doctor and / or vet first. You could gradually increase the distance and pace of your daily walk until you are both comfortable jogging for five kilometres. Remember, it’s about having fun and improving your fitness together!