Dog-Gone Fun

Af­ter gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in Que­bec in re­cent years, cani­cross is catch­ing on in the rest of Canada

Canadian Running - - OFF THE BEATEN PATH - By Diana Foxall Diana Foxall ran for UBC. She cur­rently works on the pro­duc­tion team at CBC Ra­dio in Toronto.

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.”

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