Canicross or doing sports with your dog

Canicross or doing sports with your dog

Are you looking for a new sport activity that allows you to spend time with your dog? Canicross may be just what you need. Discover this growing sport and all its rules and start a new adventure with your four-legged friend. You’ll improve your fitness, your relationship and enjoy some great times together.

Canicross or doing sports with your dog

Are you looking for a new sport activity that allows you to spend time with your dog? Canicross may be just what you need. Discover this growing sport and all its rules and start a new adventure with your four-legged friend. You’ll improve your fitness, your relationship and enjoy some great times together.

1- What is canicross ?

1-1 Definition

Canicross is a sport practiced in concert by a master and his dog. It is an endurance and speed race whose objective is to cover the maximum distance in the minimum time. The race usually takes place on natural terrain such as country roads, a beach or a wood. To practice canicross, the dog must be connected to its master by a leash and a harness dedicated to this discipline. The master does not need to hold the leash (called in this case a line) because it is attached to a lumbar or subcutaneous belt. Thus, he remains free of his movements and can better follow his dog during the race.

1-2 Canicross rules

Canicross is based on teamwork between the master and his dog. Therefore, it is strictly forbidden to pull the dog by the leash or to force it to accelerate or run. The master must run at the same pace as the dog and respect the animal’s wishes. In the opposite case, the team will simply be disqualified from the competition.

1-3 Objectives of the canicross

The main objective of canicross is to practice an activity with your four-legged companion that you both enjoy. It is important to remember this so that you do not let your competitive spirit get the better of you. The other objective is to learn to excel by gradually improving your mutual physical abilities. Improving your dog’s training is also an important part of this.

1-4 The benefits of canicross

Canicross has the same effect on your physical fitness as running. But the advantage is that you will push your effort further thanks to the traction exerted by your dog. Moreover, running with your faithful four-legged friend will really give you wings and make the time go by faster. You have fun together and almost forget the physical effort required. Your workouts will become more regular and more efficient.

Canicross is not only good for you. Your dog will also appreciate these sports outings and will be able to expend his excess energy, accumulated all day long while waiting for you. This canine sport will also maintain his physical shape and will guarantee him a better health in time. Moreover, his morale will be high thanks to all these privileged moments spent with you.

Let’s not forget that these hours spent in the fresh air will be beneficial to both of you and will make you see something other than the square downstairs.

2- What is a canicross race?

Canicross can also be a competitive sport. Races opposing several dog-handler teams are regularly organized in France. If the training is done alone with your dog against the clock, the competition is a completely different stage which we will describe to you.

2-1 Participating in a canicross race

First of all you have to register for a race. In order to participate, it is advisable to be licensed in order to benefit from an insurance to cover you and your dog in case of injury, but the race is open to everyone.

Of course, participants must meet the following criteria :

Have a recent medical certificate of fitness for physical effort.
Be at least 7 years old.
The dogs are also concerned and must :

* Not be a Category 1 dog.
* Be in good health and not be nursing or pregnant in the case of a bitch.
* Have its vaccines up to date.
* Be vaccinated against kennel cough and rabies.

If the race takes place in a foreign country or a department that requires it, or if the dog comes from abroad, be vaccinated against the square disease, parvovirus and leptospirosis (check this point with the organizers).
Be tattooed or chipped.

2-2 The course of a canicross race

The course of a traditional canicross race is usually 5 to 10 km long. If the ambient temperature exceeds 20°C, the course will be reduced to 5 km. If it is a children’s race, the distance will be shortened to a maximum of 2 km. The terrain varies according to the level of the race.

On the day of the race, you must present yourself and your dog with all the required documents. A veterinary control will be done to validate your dog’s participation. You will then receive your number which you will have to wear throughout the race.

The start can be grouped (all participants start at the same time) or individual (teams start one after the other with an interval of a few minutes), depending on the size of the starting line.

Your final ranking will be defined by the moment your dog’s nose crosses the finish line. A chip time may also determine your position depending on the race. If you are part of the first three teams, you and your dog will be invited to the podium. You will receive a medal and a prize for your dog (food vouchers, kibble, etc.).

2-3 Rules for canicross competitions

There are several rules specific to canicross competitions. The first one concerns the equipment of the dog which must :

* Have the proper equipment (chokers, electric or spiked collars therefore prohibited).
* Have a draft line that does not exceed 2 m once it is stretched.
* To be muzzled if it is a category 2 dog (with a muzzle adapted to this sport).

But the equipment of the master is also regulated :

* The wearing of headphones is prohibited.
* Spiked shoes are forbidden, as they can injure the dogs.
* Other rules concern your behavior with your dog. As we said before, it is forbidden to pull your dog to make him move. You must stay behind him and adapt to his pace, even if he wants to stop. You are also required to give your dog a drink to quench his thirst. Remember that your companion and his well-being must be your main concern.

Your behavior towards the other participants (humans and dogs), the organizing teams and the jurors must also be exemplary. Any lack of respect can lead to disqualification. You must also let the other teams pass you without getting in their way. And yes, fair play has its place in canicross too!

3- How to practice canicross ?

3-1 The equipment

Canicross doesn’t require a big financial investment, count about 100 euros for the equipment. A pair of sneakers and a canicross dog equipment are enough to allow you to start this canine sport. You are then free to join other duos to train and benefit from their experience.

3-2 Being licensed

If you want to take your practice a little further and participate in competitions for example, joining a dog sport federation is an option to consider very seriously. By being licensed, you will benefit from an insurance adapted to your practice, which will cover the damages that could be caused to you and your dog.

The ones that are recognized in France are :

The FFST (French federation of sled sports)
The FSLC (Federation of Canine Sports and Leisure)
The CNEAC (Commission Nationale d’Education et D’activité Cynophile)
These are the federations and organizations that organize most of the canicross competitions on the territory but also in the border countries. If some of them have not made it a priority discipline, some have made it their core activity like the FSLC, which is the most active in this field in France. All types of dogs are accepted.

4- Can all dogs do canicross ?

4-1 Age of the dog

If canicross competitions are open to dogs of 12 months and older, it is of course necessary to train them beforehand. The age recommended by most practitioners is the age at which the dog has reached full growth. This age varies depending on the breed, but is around 6-8 months. Of course, the training should always start gently, whatever the age of the dog.

4-2 The breed of dog

All dogs can practice canicross, but not all will do it at the same level. Bulldog type dogs have physical characteristics that handicap them in the practice, especially at the respiratory level. They can only do canicross at a leisure level.

On the other hand, other dogs such as huskies, braques and greysters will be excellent partners for canicross. The first ones are born tractors, the second ones are powerful, fast and enduring while the last ones were conceived for the practice of this sport at high level.

Here are some other breeds often used in canicross :

Australian shepherd
Belgian shepherd
setter gordon
medium pinscher
flat coat
German shepherd
border collie
irish setter
golden retriever

4-3 The health of the dog

As you can see, your dog’s physical abilities determine the level of canicross that can be practiced. In any case, respect your dog and his rhythm, especially if he is old. If he has joint pain or any other painful handicap, this practice will obviously be prohibited. Do not hesitate to ask your veterinarian for advice.

5- How to train your dog in canicross?

5-1 Starting canicross

It goes without saying that you are not going to run kilometers right away with your companion. Both you and your dog need to get used to the equipment and to develop your endurance little by little. If you have never run with your dog before, there is no need to harness him on the first outing, as you risk losing control of the situation, injuring yourself or even getting angry and thus disgusting your dog.

So start by letting him run freely at your side. This way, he will get used to your active presence at first and to your indications and rhythm at a later stage. Moreover, this also allows him to enjoy a greater freedom of action and thus to let out his excess energy.

Once you have mastered this phase of learning how to run, you can install the harness and the line. Start with just a few minutes of running at first to get everyone used to the feeling. Then come the learning of the directions. You can accompany your indication with a gesture (right arm extended to the side when you say straight) to help your dog understand.

Making your dog go straight can be a little difficult at first if he wants to turn around on you. You can practice canicross with others so that your dog can mimic the attitude of other dogs, or run with a friend in front (on a bike or on foot) so that your dog can follow him.

Once the basics of canicross are acquired, the training phase begins. You will be able to progressively lengthen the distances and increase the number of sessions according to your abilities and those of your dog.

5-2 Make your dog want to do canicross

The practice of canicross must above all remain a pleasure for both teammates. It is out of the question to force your dog to run if he doesn’t want to. You can motivate him by running with others or by encouraging him. Don’t put your dog off your runs by asking too much of him.

The key to success is to go gradually and to give him time for himself at the beginning and end of each session, but also to give him attention by congratulating him for his response.

Also, do not scold your dog if he slows down or stops. We can’t stress this enough: practice should be fun for your dog.

5-3 Warming up your dog for canicross

In order for your dog to be ready to practice canicross with you, he must be warmed up. To do this, start the session by walking your dog a bit so that he can stretch his legs, sniff his environment and do his business.

Then, release him in freedom so that he can let off steam and play. Take advantage of this moment to play with him by throwing a ball for example. This is a moment that your dog will greatly appreciate and that will strengthen your bond. Be careful not to let your dog play too hard or he may get too tired or overexcited.

Once your dog is in good physical and mental condition to begin training, put on his harness and run a few meters in a straight line and then make a few changes of direction. You can then start your course. If you are competing, be sure to keep your dog’s muscles warm by massaging him vigorously during the waiting period.

5-4 Keeping your dog healthy

If you want to take up canicross, there are a few basic rules to follow to keep your dog in shape. First of all, do not feed your dog before a session or wait several hours after his meal before going out. If you do, your dog may get a twisted stomach, which is very dangerous for the animal. Also, do not feed him as soon as you return. Let him calm down and rest for at least an hour before giving him his food.

During the practice, let your dog cool down and quench his thirst regularly. A few laps are sufficient for this purpose while avoiding a twist of the stomach. So remember to take a water bottle with you. If he starts to slow down or get tired, take a break.

Be aware of the terrain and your dog’s paw pads. As the name implies, canicross is practiced on natural, soft and more or less uneven terrain depending on your level. So avoid running long distances on asphalt to protect your dog’s paws, who doesn’t wear sneakers! Also remember to check the condition of your dog’s paw pads after each training session. If one of them is injured, you will have to practice important daily care and leave your dog at home for a while, to avoid infection and guarantee a good healing.

If it is difficult for us to run in high temperatures, it is even more difficult for our four-legged friend who cannot sweat. Above 20°C, prefer shorter distances and early morning or evening training. Also, be aware of the type of ground to avoid burning your dog’s paws. In hot weather, keep your dog cool at home.

Remember that the recovery period is important. Do not practice canicross every day so that your dog can recover. If you notice that your dog is no longer happy when you are outfitted, is getting thinner or is tiring faster than usual, stop the activity.

6- What equipment to choose for canicross ?

It is important, as for any sport, to be well equipped to benefit from a maximum of comfort and to preserve our body and the dog’s.

6-1 Canicross equipment for the dog

Forget the collar or the harness, which can strangle or bother the dog. Canicross requires equipment adapted to the traction exerted by the dog on you. The harness must therefore :

Leave him free to move and therefore be adapted to the way your dog runs.
Ensure your dog has a free rib cage so as not to hinder his breathing.
Avoid friction that could injure him.
Be light and comfortable (ideally padded).
Allow for good distribution of traction.
The Zero DC Faster is the most widely used harness in the world today.

Of course, as with any harness, it must be adapted to your dog’s morphology and adjusted accordingly. The ideal is to have it made to measure by the manufacturer, which is possible with the model mentioned above.

Finally, your dog’s harness must be connected to you by a line. This one is elastic in order to absorb the jolts of the traction and is equipped with a snap hook at each end. Its solidity is also an important criterion to avoid any risk of breakage during the race. If you participate in competitions, this line should not exceed 2 meters when stretched.

6-2 Canicross equipment for the handler

You too must be equipped accordingly. A close-fitting, soft and comfortable outfit such as leggings and a jersey is the most suitable. But the most important element will obviously be the sneakers which must be a model designed for running, or even trail running if you practice canicross in rough terrain.

Finally, the most important piece of your outfit is undoubtedly the belt to which the line is attached on the front. You can also turn to a harness, more enveloping, and which thus distributes the traction better. Both models are wide and padded for more comfort, and are sometimes equipped with a pocket. You can use it to slip in some essentials like your keys, your walkman or tissues, and keep your hands free during the race.

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