If you’re looking for an exercise buddy, look no further than down at your feet. Your dog can be the ideal running companion; most are athletic with good endurance, and are natural runners. They’ll not be bothered by weather or whether they’ve already had a run the day before – you’ll find them always ready and willing to accompany you.
This is why Canicross (or canine cross-country running) is becoming so popular. This sport originated in Europe but is gradually spreading worldwide. It’s a fun activity to share with your dog, and it needn’t cost much to try.
In Canicross, dogs wear a harness and are attached to their pet parent’s belt by a bungee cord. Each runner can handle one or two dogs, and any breed can participate in the sport. Obviously pet parents need to be sensible; not all breeds are athletically built and the brachycephalic (or short nosed) breeds can find that their unique respiratory system can affect their ability to run for long periods.
There are formal Canicross races that are usually on trails or forest roads with distances up to 10km, depending on the age of the pet parent. Even if you don’t want to race, you and your dog can still benefit from just going out for a run. You’ll both enjoy a rush of endocannabinoids and endorphins, which will leave you feeling happy and relaxed. This can be particularly helpful for dogs with anxiety.
How do you get started running with your dog? All you need is some running shoes, a harness and a leash. The running belt and bungee cord are good to have but you can get by without them for a while. Find a beginners running program and follow it closely as you work up to the three-mile, or 5km, distance. Make sure to take rest days when they are scheduled. As you run with your dog, you can start to teach him directional commands, so that he will learn to turn left and turn right when you ask him to. Other Canicross commands include “pull”, “ease off” and “stop” – these are also useful to teach your dog. Again, you don’t need to teach commands if you don’t want to, but it will make it easier to direct Fido when he is out in front of you and running hard.
There are a few risks in running with your dog that you need to keep in mind. It’s worth having your new running buddy checked by your vet before you start, just to make sure that they’re okay to exercise more. Keep an eye on the temperature. Dogs don’t sweat and need to keep themselves cool by panting. If it’s too hot, they’re not very efficient at doing this and can suffer from heat stroke. As you build up your distance, watch for any trauma to their foot pads. As you run more, their pads will naturally harden up but doing too much too soon can cause abrasions and pain.
If you’re looking for a reason to exercise, let your dog be that reason. They’ll love to run with you, and it’s great for their physical and mental well-being. Yours, too!