After gaining popularity in Quebec in recent years, canicross is catching on in the rest of Canada
If you’ve ever wanted to take running with your dog to the next level, it might be worth investigating your local canicross scene.
The sport combines cross-country running with techniques and commands from dogsledding, and involves the runner being pulled behind the dog with the two connected by a tight line. It’s often the entry point to other canine-powered events like skijoring and bikejoring, in which the dog pulls its owner who is on cross-country skis or a bike, respectively.
“Going out for a run with your dog usually means that your dog is at your side,” says Halifax canicross coach Sarah Peel. “It’s a little more relaxed than canicross – the communication is still there – but it’s not quite the same.“
Peel has been training dogs and humans to combine their horsepower for two years, and says the sport is a smart way to run faster while improving the bond between pet and owner.
“As a runner, when I wasn’t running with my dog, everything was based on me and my ability to move myself forward,” she says. “The way that our belt system works, it actually pulls you into your running form. While it doesn’t really change your actual stride, it makes it longer because you’re in the air longer because your dog pulls you forward.”
Traditionally, canicross has been most popular in Quebec, where its large community of hound-human teams often participate in winter harness dog sports when weather permits. Today, training groups are popping up all around Canada, from British Columbia
to the Maritimes, with canicross’s rising popularity evident in the increasing number of sanctioned events and time trials open to dogs and their owners. Haligonian Alexandra Conway runs with her dog, Lily, but thinks that taking up canicross would benefit the two of them. “I enjoy running with her, and it’s nice to have company without needing to match another runner’s pace,” Conway says. “If I could run 10 kilometres with her, that would be great – our longest run together was six kilometres, but it took ages because she wasn’t focused on what I was telling her to do.” For anyone interested in bringing their dog into their running life, Peel suggests purchasing a bit of basic equipment and jumping into a clinic to get both parties started on using proper commands. “At the very least, you want to have a harness with a back attachment,” she says. “A specific running harness is better simply because it’s designed to let your dog move forward, and it’s much more comfortable for them.” Communication is paramount, Peel states, and it’s important that the dog is confident in moving forward and responding to cues from the runner. The basics she trains in her elementary clinics are stopping and starting, increasing and decreasing speed and passing other groups on trails. Most of the teams Peel coaches tend to run between five to 10 kilometres together, but if both runner and dog are motivated and in good shape, the sky’s the limit.
“It’s really neat coming from a university cross country background to move into this,” she says, “because it really changes the speed at which you run, and if you like running fast, it’s really cool.”