How to get started in canicross

Canicross involves cross-country running as a human and dog team! The canicross season runs from September to May. Races range from 5K to more than 13 miles and times are recorded by age category (yours, not Fido’s). For coaching and classes see Joggy Doggy, Cani-Fit or DogFit. For events, check 
out Canicross Trailrunners or CaniX. CaniX offers
 2K courses for newbies.

GEARING UP

1/ Some events let you use a lead and collar for your first canicross race but a harness is best in terms of your dog’s comfort and safety. ‘A normal collar and lead will restrict the dog’s breathing when he's pulling; a harness allows freer movement of the limbs,’ says Jenny Lee, an experienced canicross racer and coach. Try the Howling Dog Alaska Distance harness, which is £29.99 from K9 Trail Time.

2/ A bungee line (a lead that features an elasticated section and clips to the dog's harness and your waistbelt) helps to soften the jolt of sudden stops or abrupt changes in direction that can occur when you’re on the move over tricky terrain with your four-legged friend. (Bono 2m canicross line with bungee section and grab handle for closer control when needed.)

3/ But for early canicrossing adventures with small lightweight dogs try the Mountain Paws Shock Absorber lead. This waist-mounted lead leaves you hands-free for easier running and can be clipped to the dog's harness (or collar, for walkies). It does feature a bungee section, but it isn’t designed for a dog to pull you along.

4/ Serious canicrossers attach the dog's lead to a waistbelt (which, despite its name, sits around the hips, often featuring leg loops for additional support.)
‘This set-up lifts you up and forward from the hips and prevents you straining your back when the dog is pulling,’ says Lee. (Try Neewa Canicross Waistbelt with removable leg straps and rear pocket).

(Related: How to run a 5K with your dog)

RACE-DAY KNOW-HOW

At amateur events, you’ll probably set off at intervals, but some races operate mass starts. Walk the course first so you know what to expect. And make sure you both warm up. ‘Don’t be too competitive,’ advises Lee. ‘Make the experience positive for your dog: offer encouragement and carry water and a few treats. Never drag your dog along or force him to run.’

BEYOND CANICROSS

Canicross isn’t the only option: Dogfit publishes a list of dog-friendly races and events on its website – and many parkruns welcome runners with dogs. Battersea Dogs Home has a Muddy Dog Challenge series, obstacle races for you and your pooch, while Cani-Fit offers Ruff Dugger mud runs in Scotland.

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