Canicross

Taiga at her first canicross race | © Tiina Topoleva

Taiga at her first canicross race | © Tiina Topoleva

Canicross is the sport of cross country running with dogs. Originating in Europe as off-season training for the mushing (sledding) community, it has become popular as a stand-alone sport all over Europe. Canicross is closely related to bikejoring, where participants cycle with their dog and skijoring, where participants ski rather than run.

Canicross can be run with one or two dogs, always attached to the runner. The runner  wears a waist belt, the dog – a harness, and the two are joined by a bungee cord or elastic line that reduces shock to both human and dog when the dog pulls.

Originally canicross dogs were of sledding or spitz types such as the Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute but now almost all breeds have begun taking part. Not only can all breeds run but people of all ages and abilities can take part, including children and  disabled persons. Some breeds, Malamutes among them, are very well suited to not only running and pulling but running at steady pace over a long distance. It encourages people and their dogs to take part in outdoor activity and meet other like minded individuals, as well as to increase endurance and body condition of both dogs and their owners.

Equipment

You will need: a canicross belt, proper harness (half size, or X-Back) and an elastic line. Press here for more information about the equipment. And good all-terrain running shoes for the owner.

Training

Training a Malamute for canicross can be started after it’s over 9 months old – starting at very short distances and gradually increasing it to a few miles at 12 months. Afterwards, the distances can be safely prolonged, but in a gradual manner. Malamutes are allowed to participate in official canicross races from the age of 12 months. Canicross, as well as any other running activity, should never take place on an asphalt, pavement and rocky/edgy terrains, as the dog’s feet will get injured.

For a better control during this activity, it is recommended to teach a few basic mushing commands while starting to get used to walking or jogging with your dog in a harness and leash. These are ‘haw’ (left), ‘gee’ (right), ‘hike’ (run/go/faster) and ‘whoah’ (slow down/stop). Of course, the commands can be whatever you like and feel comfortable using and what is natural for the you and your dog. Other commands, such as ‘leave it!’, will help if your dog gets too interested in some object at the side of the road, a nearby animal, or another dog. Further information on mushing terminology can be found at the Iditarod website.

Once your dog begins to recognise these commands you can introduce encouragement to pull by running a few strides with your dog and inevitably they will run ahead of you and pull into the harness. Praise & reward the times when the dog pulls into the harness and reinforce your ‘hike’ command as the signal to pull on.

If your dog doesn’t seem to understand being taught to pull, make sure the differences are obvious when you clip a leash to the collar and when you clip the line to the harness. Using a higher pitched tone in your voice and upping your own energy can help increase the dog’s motivation.

Once your dog has grasped the concept of pulling in harness there will be no more learning left – just run!

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