How to start running with your dog

Bonding with your dog, Canicross, Dogs, Running, Staying Healthy -

How to start running with your dog

We’ve written quite a lot recently about how Covid-19 has affected both our lives and those of our pets. Now that we are beginning to return to work, some of us are looking at how we can do things differently in the future to improve our health and maintain the bonds we have developed with our animals after spending lots of time together in lockdown. 

As a nation we have begun to appreciate our new-found quality time with our pets and recognise the emotional benefits we get from spending more time outside together. Some of us may have had a health scare or a wake-up call to become fitter and stronger in the wake of the virus and want to start doing things differently now. This week we’re taking a look at one way you can keep this momentum going and boost your health and wellbeing - by running with your dog, either for fun or competitively - with the growing sport of Canicross.

Canicross is a relatively new sport that involves running whilst attached to your dog via a special harness. It originated in Europe as an off-season activity for the sledding community and the first Canicross championships in the UK were held in 2000. Since then – like running - it has really grown in popularity and more and more people are taking up this fun, adventurous sport.

Running dog Photo by Sherise on UnsplashRunning dog Photo by Sherise on Unsplash

Can my dog hack the pace? 

Not all breeds are suitable for long distance running but if you simply want to run and have fun with your dog then you probably already know their limitations and can base you running routine around those. When you’re running together make sure you watch your dog to make sure they are enjoying it and aren’t finding it difficult - particularly if you have an older dog, or one with shorter legs. 

The best breeds to run with if you’re thinking of taking up Canicross competitively are Huskies, Pointers and Dalmatians. Most pro runners team up with purpose-bred ‘Greysters’ which are a cross between a German Pointer, Greyhound and Alaskan Husky. These dogs are specifically bred for their combination of strength, speed and stamina.

If you’re keen to compete or have a fun run with a dog you already own then Border Collies. Labradors, Springer Spaniels, Weimaraners and Jack Russells make good running companions too. But if you have a small flat-faced dog like a Pug or one with little legs like a Chihuahua or Dachshund or a big heavy dog like a Mastiff, then you’re probably better off leaving them at home and borrowing a more suitable dog from a friend.

Dog Photo by Gustavo Fring on PexelsDog Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels

What equipment do I need? 

Although you can enjoy running with your dog off the lead, serious Canicross runners wear a special belt attached to a harness on their dog, so that the dog is literally pulling them along. But why do you need this equipment rather than using a regular collar and lead?

Speaking to GQ magazine, World Canicross Champion Ben Robinson explained that he can run much faster with a dog attached. For example if he runs a Parkrun running event without a dog he can complete the 5k course in just under 15 minutes – but when he is attached to his dog with a belt, leash and harness, he has run the course in a personal best of 12 minutes and 24 seconds – which is over a minute quicker than the fastest ever recorded Parkrun time (13 minutes and 48 seconds at time of writing).

Ben explains why using a harness is important for running safely and effectively:

“A standard lead and collar mean the dog will be pulling on its neck. You also won’t get as much of the power. With a purpose-built all-length harness you will get the power from their shoulders through to their back legs and quads. Health-wise they will be pulling from the right point as well so they’ll be unlikely to get as many issues and you will feel a big difference in the pull you’ll get from the dog.”

If you’re running without a harness and your dog is running free with you then it is important to make sure they are well trained and come back when called. You will need to keep an eye on them as well as looking where you are going. 

Ben also recommends a good pair of trail shoes (spiked running shoes are banned from Canicross events), You may find yourself running cross country so it is important to get some decent footwear that does not rub.

Dog Photo by Sherise on UnsplashDog Photo by Sherise on Unsplash

Staying healthy

If you’re thinking of starting Canicross or just running for fun with your dog then it is important to wait until they are fully-grown before you start training. Too much running as a puppy can permanently damage their joints and leg bones. A string of low-intensity impacts can accumulate over time – and your dog won’t generally exhibit any symptoms until it is too late. If you’re not sure how much running or exercise your puppy should be doing then consult with your vet to help you work out when you can start training more rigorously.

Always make sure your dog is well hydrated and don’t run in really hot weather. Try to run on softer surfaces like grass or off-road trails rather than pounding the pavements and keep an eye on their paws – checking them before and after each run. Also keep an eye on their gait whilst they are running to ensure they have not picked up any injuries en route as most dogs will rather push on and ignore the pain if they are enjoying themselves – and this could be harmful.

Don’t force your dog to run if they do not want to, there may be an underlying issue that needs addressing – and make sure you are feeding them well, with a balanced and nutritious diet. 

Remember to listen to your own body when you are training too - warm up and warm down with stretches to prevent injury. Being pulled by a strong dog such as a purpose-bred ‘Greyster’ can put quite a strain on your body. Ben only runs with the dogs on a leash twice a week and trains with them off the lead the rest of the time. 

Dog on the beach Photo by Leon Liu on UnsplashDog on the beach Photo by Leon Liu on Unsplash

The benefits of Canicross

Apart form helping you to develop an impressive turn of speed, Canicross is a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your dog, as Ben Robinson explains: 

“It’s also a case of knowing the dog well and trusting them. The bond with the dog is important. Some of my dogs have run with other people but I tend to get more out of my own dogs due to the bond I have with them.”

And if running isn’t your thing – maybe you’d like to try Canibike (cycling with your dog) or Caniscoot (Being pulled by your dog on a scooter). You can find out more about these on the Trailrunners website – they also have a picture of Westie enjoying the sport – so it looks like you don’t necessarily need to have a dog with long legs and a background in sled-pulling to get out there and enjoy yourself. Whether you want to run competitively or just spend more time outdoors with your dog, this sport looks like a great combination of fitness and fun.

Do you compete in Canicross? Maybe you participate in another sport with your pet – we’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Main Photo by Sergio Rodriguez - Portugues del Olmo on Unsplash 


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