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Do you and your dog enjoy running fast together? Are you both healthy and like to be out and about in nature and off-road? Then Canicross could become your sport together.

What is Canicross?

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Canicross (Cani = dog, Cross = cross country running) is a dog-human sport. A sport for cross-country running with a dog. Today’s draft dog sports canicross, bikejoring, skijoring, dog scooting and dog trekking originally comes from the sled dog sport. In canicross, the dog runs in front of the human and keeps the leash tight. The person at the end of the leash steers the dog with commands over the route and thus sets the course. The runner is pulled by the dog using a special hip belt to which a flexible line is attached, which in turn is connected to the dog’s running harness. Humans and dogs achieve a high running speed. Unlike many other booming dog sports, Canicross is neither from the USA nor from England. In 1988, the French veterinarian Gilles Pernoud from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region came up with the idea “to demonstrate the fitness and speed of dogs and their people”. Together with students of veterinary medicine, he developed Canicross based on the draft dog sport.

Canicross is an off-road running and pulling dog sport. Man and dog are connected with a shock absorber leash.

How does Canicross work?

In canicross, the handler runs behind his dog. The dog runs ahead, supporting and accelerating its human. So the human follows the dog – a slightly different distribution of roles. Because unlike on normal walks, the dog can really pull on the leash. The handler also tries to support and relieve his dog in every situation, whether uphill or downhill, so that it can run at its own pace at an average speed of around 16 km/h. A real team sport.

Canicross as a competition

At canicross events you can start with two draft dogs on your belt at the same time. The human-dog teams start individually at intervals, in relays, in mass or pursuit races. A distinction is made between different route lengths:

Sprint distance up to 1,000 meters

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The short distance between 1,000 and 3,000 meters
Long-distance between 3,000 and 10,000 meters (maximum)
The most well-known events for hobby draft dog athletes are the Strongdog events. The disciplines canicross, bikejoring, dog scooting and dog trekking usually start there.

What does Canicross do to dogs?

The physical workload for the dog is enormous in all draft dog sports. It is therefore extremely important that the dog is fed high-quality food and has regular physiotherapy sessions. The usual dog food is not enough. For active draft dogs there is special food that is tailored to this extreme sport.

Canicross is a temperature dependent sport. Basically, dogs are very sensitive to higher temperatures. Running fast in high temperatures endangers your health and life. With an outside temperature of 15 degrees Celsius, no dog should be physically active. And especially not in drag sports, where high speeds of up to 30 km/h are reached quickly and over a longer period of time, such as bikejoring. Competitions in this dog sport are usually only held at temperatures of up to 20 degrees Celsius.

As with all dog sports, the dog’s concentration is encouraged and required. The joint activity of the human-dog team and learning to be able to rely on each other also strengthens the bond between human and dog.

Which harness for Canicross?

There are two different harnesses in dog pulling sport – a pulling harness and a lead harness. Which one is more suitable depends on the dog’s body and the well-being of the dog.

Which dogs are suitable for Canicross?

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Whether it’s a poodle, setter or mongrel, basically any dog ​​that doesn’t have cardiovascular problems or other health restrictions can take part in Canicross. A willingness to run, a strong urge to move forward and full of energy are good prerequisites for the draft dog sport. The race doesn’t really matter. Martina Schmid, one of the most successful Canicross runners, also runs with a Cocker Spaniel, for example.

But as in other dog sports, canicross also shows that some dog breeds are particularly well suited for this sport due to their genetic characteristics.

Which dog breeds are particularly suitable?

Just as Border Collies, Australian Shepherds and similar herding dogs show themselves to be particularly talented in the higher tournament classes in agility sport, the “hounds” stand out as successful draft dogs in canicross. Hounds can be German Shorthaired Pointers or English Pointers. In the draft dog scene, however, deliberate crosses of these breeds are also mated with Greyhounds and Alaskan Huskies. The aim of these crossings is to breed passionate, fast, enduring and strong hounds with good lead dog characteristics. As a breed, these crossbreeds are not recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), the worldwide umbrella organization for dog breeding and dog sport, nor by the German Kennel Club (VDH). Thus, there is no control organization that keeps an eye on the breeders of these dogs. But in the professional draft dog scene, one knows very well who breeds good and above all, and most importantly, healthy draft dogs.

When can you start Canicross with your dog?

First of all, the dog must be healthy and enjoy running. That’s the most important thing of all. Therefore, the sport can be practiced with a small, light dog as well as with a large, heavy dog. However, some professional competitions require a minimum weight of 20 kg. However, this should not prevent you from practicing Canicross privately with a lighter dog. The dog must be at least 15 months old. For running distances that are more than 5,000 meters, it is even 18 months. Before starting training, a check-up at the veterinarian is definitely a good idea.

Requirements: What do I have to fulfill as a dog handler?

Whether you are a beginner in this sport or have been doing it for a long time, the physical fitness of humans and dogs is very important at Canicross. Canicross is to be understood as an athletics sport with a dog. Cardiovascular or orthopedic problems should be ruled out in both humans and dogs. And before you start letting the dog pull you, you should already be in good physical condition. Because the most important thing is that as a dog handler you are also responsible for the dog’s health. Falls or stumbles by the runner can also affect the dog.

Tips to get you started: How to learn Canicross with your dog

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As with any dog ​​sport, you should start the training without stress and relaxed. Any tension in humans is immediately transferred to the dog. The new and unfamiliar thing for the dog in Canicross will be that, unlike usual, he should now pull on the leash and run ahead. There are also certain calling commands that he must obey properly without looking at his human or responding to hand signals.

The commands in Canicross

command                  meaning

Go                            The dog is running

Stop                          The dog stops

Left                           The dog runs to the left

Right                         The dog runs to the right

Straight                     The dog is running straight

Over                          The dog walks around an obstacle

Slow/easy                   The dog slows down

Line out                      The dog holds the leash while standing and pulling

Canicross is athletics with a dog. You can certainly read a lot and teach yourself. But you have more fun and joy if you let a professional guide you together with like-minded people. Also in terms of dog health, it is better if an experienced canicross runner accompanies the entry into this demanding dog sport.

Dog sports clubs with a draft dog division are not yet represented that often. But this area is growing. Even the classic dog schools rarely offer this sport. Trainers for the draft dog sport with their own schools and courses can be found quickly on the internet. This is how you find a professional introduction to the draft dog sport and can also be properly prepared for competitions.

Which dogs are suitable for Canicross?

Only healthy dogs that like to run are suitable for Canicross. Size or race is initially of secondary importance.

Canicross equipment for the perfect start

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A high-quality canicross equipment is very important in addition to the fitness of humans and dogs. The equipment consists of a running belt, also known as runner pants, which people put on or climb into and which is connected to the dog by a shock absorber line. A maximum of two meters of line can be used for training. In the competition, the length of 1.90 meters is usually prescribed. The dog is put on a special Caniross harness similar to that used on sled dogs. You can choose between a harness and a harness, depending on which fits better on the dog’s body. The special harness sits on the dog’s body in such a way that the dog’s lungs are not strained and there are no pressure points. The harness must not impede the dog or limit its performance and certainly not lie on the “dip”, a sensitive area on the dog’s spine. With regular training, the dog builds muscle mass, so the fit of the harness should be checked regularly. When choosing the right harness, you should take your time and get advice from specialists in the draft dog sport.

So that neither man nor dog injure themselves while running, you should only run with a hip belt that has a so-called panic hook. With this panic hook you can immediately disconnect from the dog and minimize injuries to both runners should you trip or even fall. In official races, a panic hook is mandatory anyway. Due to the pull of the dog, high speeds can be achieved when running together. The average speed for an experienced canicross runner is 16 km/h. When running downhill, even faster speeds are achieved.

Canicross is mostly run on uneven forest ground, so a running shoe with a speedcross profile is required for the two-legged runner. But also for the four-legged runner there are dog booties for training, which are also called dog shoes, which protect against injuries on split, scree or ice. As a responsible canicross runner, you should have the four small booties for your fur partner with you in your backpack for every run.

Conclusion: Is my dog suitable for Canicross?

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It doesn’t matter whether it’s big or small, a pedigree dog or a mixed breed – a healthy dog that likes to run will have fun with Canicross. It is also a great advantage if the dog does not show any hunting behavior. Because suddenly being pulled away while running because the dog suddenly has to follow a rabbit instead of staying on the track can result in unpleasant injuries. And if you want to take part in canicross events with your dog, it should also be bulletproof. Each start takes place with one shot.