Exercise Your Primitive Dog with Canicross!

Exercising your primitive dog is easier than you may think. Many owners feel frustrated when they don’t have access to large off-leash areas where their dogs can run safely. But you don’t need an off-leash area to run your dogs. Canicross - the sport of dog powered running - gets you and your dog out enjoying the outdoor and burning a ton of energy in the process.

 Canicross can take you to some pretty amazing places. And make the trip a lot easier too!

Canicross can take you to some pretty amazing places. And make the trip a lot easier too!

It’s all pretty simple. In canicross you run, jog or walk and your dog assists by pulling in front. Think like a sled dog but without snow or wheels. And before you comment, no, this will not ruin your loose leash walking. 

 A nice canicross jog on a late fall day.

A nice canicross jog on a late fall day.

To participate in canicross you need some special equipment. The investment is around $100 but you’ll use the equipment forever. You’ll need a canicross belt. The belt wraps around your waist and lower back and gives you protection and support when your dog pulls. It is also what their equipment attaches to. Canicross belts can be minimal or highly padded depending on your preference. They usually have attachment points for your dog’s equipment, plus some small bags or clips of additional gear. 

Between you and your dog will be a special line/leash usually made of a shock absorbing material. Materials vary but it should be about 2-3 feet of stretchy material that attaches to a 6 foot long line/leash that attaches to your dog. Some leashes even have grip points so you can hold your dog closer when crossing streets or passing people and other dogs. This line should attach to your harness so that pulling is distributed to your hips.

 Mashi enjoying the view in his canicross harness.

Mashi enjoying the view in his canicross harness.

Your dog will need a harness designed for pulling. A normal walking harness will not due. Because we are asking our dogs to pull our weight, they need a harness that properly distributes the load. Sled, joring, and canicross harnesses are widely available on the internet. I recommend one with light padding. The material should make 1-2 X shapes over your dog’s back and taper towards their tail. Some designed for larger dogs don’t have an X back and require connections to the sides of the harness instead (see photo of my Tibetan Mastiff). 

 Shinra got a little wet in the creek during out run. You can see the different shape of his harness. The red coupler is what distrubes the pressure instead of the harness itself.

Shinra got a little wet in the creek during out run. You can see the different shape of his harness. The red coupler is what distrubes the pressure instead of the harness itself.

You and your dog don’t have to be super fit to enjoy canicross. Go by whoever needs the slower pace, but you’ll quickly find that you have more stamina because the movement is easier and your dog will tire out quite effectively so you don’t have to go too far. Be sure to have access to water on you, somewhere part way along the trip, and when you return to your starting point. Pulling is thirsty business!

When you're done, check your dog for any foot injuries if they’re not used to this kind of exercise.  Pawpads can get beaten up when you first start out but they toughen up quickly. Also, nails can chip if they’re too long. Always be aware of the temperature of the surface you are walking/running on that it’s not too hot, slippery, or covered in de-icer. 

 Shinra bares most of the load of little old Haiku.

Shinra bares most of the load of little old Haiku.

So next time your primitive dog is driving you crazy, burn off that excess energy with a mile or two (or more) or canicross. And if you don’t think you’re dog can pull you, bring 2-3! The whole crew can enjoy this exercise together. See you on the trails!