Running with your dog, known as canicross, can be beneficial for more than your dog’s physical health. It can also be a good form of mental stimulation.
It is natural for dogs to be active. Physical exercise can help address problems, such as separation anxiety, stress, destructive behavior, and boredom.
Canicross can also help avoid becoming overweight, it can strengthen muscles for other dog sports, and it can simply improve your dog’s overall health. In some cases, canicross can also help dogs with a mild form of hip dysplasia by strengthening muscles around the hips.
Canicross is a safe sport for young dogs because the speeds are moderate and the movements are controlled. The movement is quite linear, unlike dog sports such as flyball or agility.
Unless your dog has some severe known health issues, canicross is a fairly safe sport. All types of dogs of all sizes and ages can participate in canicross as long as you respect the limits of your dog.
When can I start training my dog for canicross?
You can start training for canicross when your dog is fully grown and fit for the challenge, usually at 12-18 months of age.
This does not mean you can go straight from the puppy pen to running and pulling. You should prepare your dog for canicross by strengthening its body through activities such as freerunning and hiking. Being active prepares the body for what’s to come later, but if you start specific canicross training too early, it can cause health problems later.
You can help develop the routine of doing things together by teaching your dog to pull for very short distances, but the physical training should not be too hard for a young dog.
There are many other things you can do to prepare your dog for canicross, such as being calm at the start, lining out and overtaking others. You can also teach your dog canicross cues that could be useful later. Left, right, and straight ahead are the most common commands. You can start training directions at a very young age by simply walking with your dog and giving the directions.
When your dog is at least eight months old, you can start training sprint finishes. To do that, let your dog sprint for 100-400 meters one to three times a week. At the end, give your dog a treat or a toy. This will help build drive and confidence for future canicross races.
Can I do canicross with an old dog?
Old dogs can also run canicross, but you can’t expect them to be as fast as the youngsters. Staying active through senior years is positive for your dog’s physical and mental health. Respect your senior’s limits and needs, but continue having fun together!
Which injuries are common in canicross?
For rough surfaces, the Protector bootie is the best option. These booties also protect your dog’s paws from glass, salt and warm asphalt.
We recommend the regular use of paw ointment to prevent dry and cracked paws. File away hard skin regularly to keep the paws soft and strong. Dead skin often causes cracking. A nail file can be used.
Dogs sometimes break their toenails when running. Always keep the nails short, and cut them often.
Shoulder injuries or back problems can be caused by a harness that doesn’t fit or by overtraining.
To prevent injuries and to prepare the dog for running, always remember to warm up before you run and to go for a walk to cool down after.
Also, keep in mind that your dog’s digestion is slow. There is a risk of stomach torsion if you feed your dog before a run. Multiple canicross world champion, Tessa Philippaerts, does not feed her dogs less than five hours prior to a competition.
Take precautions when training in hot weather as dogs are prone to overheating.
If you are unsure about anything regarding your dog’s health, always consult your veterinarian.
Running on gravel or tarmac
Be careful if you are running with your dog on very hard surfaces. In summer, tarmac becomes hot and can burn your dog’s paw pads. Gravel roads are also hard on the paws.
Hard surfaces are not as shock absorbent and are harder on your and your dog’s joints. Nevertheless, it is not always avoidable, and you might need to cross some roads before you are in the forest or park to run. Some days, tarmac is the only option you have! It is okay as long as you do not go running on tarmac every day. It can actually help strengthen the paws!
For training, or even for walks on hot summer days, you can use booties to protect your dog’s paws from hot surfaces or when training on gravel roads.