Is Canicross the Ultimate Workout for Dogs?

Article by Will Trench: 

Looking for a fun and exciting way to keep fit and bond with your dog? Well, look no further than Canicross, the ultimate cross-country dog race. Originating in Europe where it’s used as an off-season training sport for sled dogs, it’s now starting to sweep the U.S. and is perfect for anyone looking for adventurous ways to stay active with their dog. Today we’re going to dive into exactly what Canicross is and its benefits, which dogs are best suited to Canicross racing, some important tips for starting Canicross, and exactly what gear you will need to dip your toes into this electrifying sport. 

What is Canicross?

Canicross (“canine” + “cross”) is as the name suggests, cross-country running with your dog. It’s a relatively new human-dog team sport that originated in Europe as a way to keep sled dogs fit in the summer months but has since evolved into a high-energy popular activity for all kinds of dogs and their owners. Besides being great exercise for dogs, it’s also a blast and can help you bond with your dog. 
Canicross involves hooking yourself up to your dog with a hands-free bungee leash. This provides a different experience to simply running with a standard leash as whenever your feet leave the ground you get pulled forward by your dog similar to that of sledding. This adds a team-sport element to running with your dog and will generally make you run a bit faster than your usual pace.
As it’s hands-free, you’ll need to train your dog with some important verbal cues to change pace and turn left or right, with the best Canicross runners often having the closest bond and chemistry with their furry companions. Canicross races usually vary between 2.5 – 10 miles in distance, making it a perfect sport for runners and dogs of all levels wanting to test their fitness and bond.

What Are the Benefits of Canicross?

There are so many wonderful benefits of participating in Canicross! 
Here are some of our favorites:
  • Improves the Health and Fitness of Your Dog: It’s estimated that 59% of American dogs were obese in 2022. Obesity is detrimental to your dog’s quality of life and longevity and is the leading cause of dog diabetes. Canicross provides essential exercise for your dog which reduces the risk of them developing obesity and associated health complications.
  • Improves Your Own Health and Fitness: It’s not just our dogs that suffer from obesity. Obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death according to the CDC. Running is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise, which helps to maintain a healthy weight and strong heart.
  • Strengthens Your Bond With Your Dog: Canicross is a team sport, and investing your time into practicing obedience with your dog as well as training for race day will help strengthen your connection and bond with your furry companion.
  • Prevents Destructive Behaviors in Dogs: Dogs need exercise, and when they don’t get their recommended daily levels, destructive behaviors due to boredom such as digging holes and chewing the corner of your new leather sofa become much more common. Exercise also helps to manage your dog’s mental health as well as curb separation anxiety and stress.
  • You Get to Explore the Great Outdoors: Cross-country running with your dog is a great way to breathe in some fresh air and get off the beaten track. Explore those trails you’ve been putting off for a while, or even go on a Canicross vacation to a different state or country to add some excitement and adventure to this intoxicating sport!

Man running Canicross on a road with his dog on a leash attached around the man's waist

Which Dog Breeds Are Best Suited to Canicross?

As Canicross was started to keep sled dogs fit in the summer months, it’s an ever-popular sport with dog breeds such as Huskies and Malamutes who have strong instincts and skills in pulling and running. However, all dogs who love to run can participate in this diverse sport, from German Shepherds and Border Collies to Jack Russell Terriers and Spaniels!
Canicross is a team sport after all, so the chemistry and bond between human and dog is much more important than the breed. For example, if your dog pulls too hard you’ll tire too quickly or get dragged, on the other hand, if they don’t pull hard enough or get distracted easily, there will be too much slack in the leash. The tension needs to be just right for a successful cross-country race.

Can Dogs of All Ages Compete in Canicross?

As a general rule of thumb, your dog should be fully-grown before starting Canicross. This age will depend on the breed and size of your dog but is usually somewhere between 12 and 24 months. Puppies should avoid Canicross until they’re mature as it’s important not to over-exercise them until their bones and muscles are fully formed. If you’re unsure if your dog is fully-grown or fit to start Canicross, check with your local vet to be safe.
Very senior or injured dogs should also avoid Canicross, particularly if they’re showing any signs of pain such as limping or if they’ve been diagnosed with any health conditions that would affect their ability to run longer distances cross-country. Again, check with your vet if you have any questions or concerns before starting Canicross.

Training Tips For Starting Canicross:

As we know, the best Canicross teams are the ones with the most chemistry and the strongest bond. It's best to start your Canicross training with basic obedience and leash training. Start with walking, then once comfortable pick the pace up into a light jog. Once leash-trained, start practicing with a hands-free dog leash or bungee leash in preparation for race day.
Once you and your dog are comfortable running hands-free, you’ll want to teach your pooch some Canicross commands.
Canicross commands are the same as those used for dog-sledding and include:
  • Hike/Go: Get moving/go
  • Line Out: run at leash length
  • Gee: Go right (remember, "Gee, I'm right.")
  • Haw: Go left
  • On by: Pass another team/ignore the distraction or obstacle
  • Slow: Slow down
  • Whoa: Stop
Once your dog’s mastered the Canicross lingo, you can then get stuck into building up your cross-country running distance or pace and enter your first race!

What Gear Do I Need to Start Canicross?

It’s important to pick yourself up a dog harness specially designed for pulling if you’re wanting to get stuck into Canicross. These harnesses are specially shaped to be easy on your dog’s joints and prevent breathing difficulties and injuries.
A bungee leash that sits low on your hips is also essential for running hands-free as well as preventing painful jarring of your dog’s joints. Although any equipment can be used, it’s best to get the proper gear to ensure optimal comfort and performance for you and your dog.

Final Thoughts:

Canicross is an excellent way to stay in shape and bond with your dog. With the right gear and a bit of training, almost any dog can participate in this fun and challenging sport. Just remember to take things slowly at first, listen to your dog's body language, and always put safety first. Whether you're an experienced runner or just starting out, Canicross can be a great way to enjoy the great outdoors, improve your health and fitness, and spend quality time with your dog, and get your dog the exercise they need. So, grab your harness and bungee cord and hit the trails today!


Will Trench is a passionate freelance copywriter who specializes in writing for pet brands. With a deep love for animals and a knack for storytelling, Will brings a unique blend of creativity and experience to his content. Whether it's sharing tips on pet care or advertising pet products, Will’s writing captivates readers and keeps them coming back for another bite. For more information about Will and his copywriting services, head on over to

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