Top tips on running with a dog
15th September 2015
Ahead of the Human Race Off-Road Series we asked Gail Walker, keen trail runner and author of the Canicross Diaries blog, to share some of her top tips for those who are thinking about starting to run with their dog.
If you’ve been to any of the Human Race Off-Road Series events in the past you may have noticed a group of people taking part with their dogs – and if you haven’t seen us, you’ll most definitely have heard us!
Well, this is a sport that’s really taking off in the UK. It’s called Canicross and it’s a fantastic way to combine your love of running with exercising your dog.
Canicross is essentially cross country running with your dog. It developed from the origins of skijoring, where people ski with their dog pulling out in front of them. Basically, the owner wears a waist belt, the dog wears a harness and the two of you are attached to each other via a bungee line. It’s that simple and, I promise you, it’s a lot of fun.
So here are my top 10 tips for getting started…
1. Select your weapon
I would recommend starting off with one dog (two’s fine if they are easily manageable) – it just means you can concentrate on your dog and on getting used to running with the canicross kit. You don’t need to run with a specific breed or size of dog (anything goes!) – So as long as both of you are willing participants you are good to go, but always put the needs of your dog first.
2. Track down other canicrossers
Find a local group or individuals that can take you out on a practice run. For example, I run with the Northdowns Canicrossers (Guildford & surrounding areas) and we regularly get together for social runs – visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/northdownscanicross/. Otherwise, post a message on the Canicross Trailrunners page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/82005099733/) and someone will put you in touch with your nearest group. The good thing about running with other canicrossers is that your dog will pick up the sport much more quickly as, being pack animals they will simply follow the lead of the others.
3. Try before you buy!
All you need to get going are three items; a waist belt for you, a harness for your dog(s) and a bungee line. There are a few brands and styles out there that all do a great job, so the best thing to do is get hold of some and try them out for yourself. Other Canicrossers are normally more than happy to loan out some of their kit.
4. Buy your own kit
Once you’ve decided on the kit you need, where do you get hold of it? Well there are a few companies that sell canicross gear. It’s important to get the right fit so, if you are in any doubt about sizes or which product to choose just give the company a call.
5. Follow the instructions
It goes without saying but always put the needs of your dog first. It’s basic common sense really; don’t run them immediately after food, don’t push them if they are lethargic or struggle with the warmer temperatures and make sure they are hydrated (it’s worth carrying water especially over the summer months and longer distances). A lot depends on your dog’s age, fitness and general health – if ever in any doubt you should get them checked over by your vet. Even when you get more competitive and start to enter races, your dog’s welfare should always come first!
6. Throw in a few commands
Once you and your dog are comfortable running with the kit, why not introduce some basic commands, such as ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘with me/by me’ etc? I’ve found this invaluable when I run some of the more technical courses out there, plus it’s a good bonding exercise for you and your best pal.
7. Enter a race
More and more events are accepting canicrossers, including the fantastic Human Race Off-Road Series. You have to experience it yourself to really appreciate the atmosphere at the start of a canicross race, but trust me, it’s electric and you and your dog will love it!
8. Try out night running
A great thing about Canicross is that it isn’t just a daytime sport (in fact, my dogs run better at night time) – the only additional accessory you need is a head torch, though it’s well worth investing in a decent one. Just pick some good routes you already know and that aren’t too bad underfoot.
9. Organise your own social runs
Depending on how active canicross is in your area there’s no reason why you can’t organise your own runs – perhaps get some friends involved and start a Facebook page?
10. Have fun!
Canicross is really simple to pick up and it’s a very sociable sport. My dogs love it and I have made so many great friends as a result. Races are great but it’s the experiences that matter and I wouldn’t have had them if it wasn’t for this truly amazing sport.
You can read Gail Walker’s blog here.