Thanks to CrossFit, most of us have been lead to believe that any trendy workout with the word "cross" in it is probably intimidating, intense, and not cute. So, when tags for #canicross started popping up on Instagram, one might expect that it'd be some sort of hardcore weightlifting or cannabis-fueled workout — but that's not the case at all.
Canicross is basically cross-country running with dogs, and it's about to be your new favorite sport. Interestingly, canicross began as a way for sled dogs to cross-train during the warmer weather. Using a waist-leash and harness, people would run on trails with their dogs in front of them, and practice mushing commands. Nowadays, although sled dogs aren't widely used, the sport of canicross is big in Europe and the United Kingdom.
While the premise of canicross is pretty simple (go on a run with your dog) it's actually a complex sport. In canicross, the dog is essentially pulling the runner, as if you were a sled full of cargo. Commands are used to signal to the dog to slow down, turn, or keep going, and — as anyone who has trained a dog knows — that can take a lot of practice. Canicross aficionados use special gear, such as running belts, harnesses, and bungee leashes to ensure that both the dog and human are safe. There are canicross clubs that host classes to teach owners and give dogs an opportunity to run with a pack.
It makes total sense why canicross has taken off, says Danielle Robak, co-founder of DogGo Dash Club, a running club in New York City for dogs and humans. "It's a trend; people are spending time with their pets," she says. "It's not surprising people would want to participate in a sport where their dog can get involved, too." Running with your dog, whether it's using the exact canicross protocol or not, is rewarding and motivating, and often more enjoyable than most human companions, she says. "Dogs are incredibly eager to please, so they make a great running companion," adds Patrick Robak, co-founder of DogGo Dash Club. (A quick scroll through the Instagram posts tagged #canicross will give you a sense of what we're talking about.)
If you've caught the canicross bug, or you want to try your own version of canicross, the first thing you'll need is a good boy or good girl. Most veterinarians would advise that you wait until a dog is between 12 months and 18 months to run, because their bones are still developing at that point. (And unfortunately, some breeds shouldn't run long distances, because the stress can be unhealthy for their cardiovascular system.)
The runners at DogGo Dash Club use hand leashes, because running in the city can present some unpredictable challenges. If you're running in a park or on a trail, and you feel comfortable using a hands-free waist leash, go for it, but hold it taught until you and your dog find a rhythm, Patrick suggests. It's also wise to use a harness instead of a neck collar, because it gives you more control over your dog, Danielle says. Keep in mind that running is a learning process for you and for your dog, Patrick says. Over time, they'll associate you lacing up your sneakers with going on a fun run, so be patient as you work through kinks, he says.
Whether or not you and your dog advance to the canicross level where you're using mushing lingo and crushing trails doesn't really matter. What's more important is that you find a physical activity that truly makes you happy. So, if canicross ends up not being your thing, might we consider the equally adorable and active world of doggy parkour, aka barkour?