With all the different events we’ve been attending recently, one of the questions I get asked most often is how to get started with canicross. I think most people feel that canicross is something you need to be super fit for, or is something that you need a lot of time for, which is not true, although you do tend to find that you do get fit and you do end up spending lots of time doing it because it is so much fun!
For people who have never run before, I do recommend a fitness programme which I know has worked for a number of people, the Couch to 5K, which can be found here: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/c25k/Pages/get-running-with-couch-to-5k.aspx – it’s worth remembering that your canine friend will benefit from this too if you have never run your dog in harness before. If you have any concerns about the health of your dog or yourself, please consult your vet or doctor before you start any new fitness routine.
The best way to get you started is to join up with some people who are already organising canicross runs. There are a number of groups now (some really large ones too) that are offering membership as well as informal group runs. Many of these clubs have spare kit which you can borrow and can give you some great advice on how to make the most of your canicross runs. Below are a few with websites who may be able to help you, there are many more who operate through Facebook groups.
If you can’t find a group local to you, you can always try and start one up to get people together in your area. It may be a case of ‘the blind leading the blind’ but running with others is a good way to socialise your dog and prepare you both for racing if you decide you’d like to take part in races at some point. You can of course simply take your dog out and go for a run, there’s no need to be part of a group, I’ve just found it’s the best way to teach dogs how to pull out front, as it encourages them to stick with the other dogs.
Although there are many do’s and don’ts you should follow when canicrossing, most of them are common sense and revolve around the safety and comfort of your dog. I’ve listed some of the most important ones below, so if you do decide to get out there this year, make sure you are safe and happy when canicrossing.
Teach your dog basic voice commands to turn and slow down for the safety of yourself and others you may meet on your canicross runs
Try to get a decent fitting harness for your dog as soon as possible, a waistbelt for yourself and a bungee line are highly recommended but the harness is essential: http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/canicross.html
Always build up slowly keeping it short and fun to begin with
Ensure your dogs has access to fresh water
Be considerate of others around you and the environment you run in
Push your dog or yourself beyond what is comfortable
Expect either yourself or your dog to be able to go straight out and run races or cover large distances, canicross is the same as other sports, you will need to train
Run your dog in a choke chain or any muzzle which restricts breathing
Feed your dog too close to a run, before or after
Expect other trail users to move out of your way, they might well do this but be aware that many may not!
Most important of all is to make sure you and your dog enjoy your canicross runs – Fun is what it’s all about – Good luck!