Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Canicross for Dummies, Part 1

This is the beginning of a series of posts on teaching your dog to Canicross with you. 

Canicross is approached in a different way than simply grabbing a leash and running with your dog along side. Many of the basic obedience commands don't apply here. There is no heeling, no sitting when you stop, no down-stays. My dogs know these commands, but once the Canicross harness goes on, they know exactly what's going on! Sounds like a dog's dream doesn't it?! Well, sort of. No heeling, but your dog does need to listen to commands from a distance and learn how to think for themselves a bit too. You don't want an unruly, undisciplined dog dragging you down the trail!

I think it's important to note your dog can be taught when it's time to pull and when it's time to go for a more structured/heeling walk. The biggest indicator will be the gear you use. If you are consistent with keeping the pulling harness only for the times you want your dog to pull, he or she will learn the difference. When I put the harness on Romeo, he's all running business. In fact, he can get impatient with me if we are walking too far before starting our run!

A word on commands: Every Canicrosser/Skijorer seems to have their own little versions of the commands used, they aren't as 'strict' or consistent between dog owners as obedience commands. In these posts I'm suggesting the most common commands or the ones that are generally accepted for the sport. If your dog already responds to a certain phrase for a particular action, go ahead and use it, just be consistent.

This lesson's commands:

Start/Go forward = "Let's Go!" or "Hike!"
"Let's Go, Romeo!"

It is best to start in an area where your dog will have few distractions. Find an empty parking lot or field where there isn't anything to sniff or pee on. Make sure he or she has had plenty of opportunity to pee before starting. It also helps to burn off a bit of energy first so your dog can focus, especially if you have a high energy dog. Work with this kind of setting until you get the dog comfortable being out on the end of the line ahead of you. Once he or she is going ahead of you for even a very short distance, you can move to a trail or sidewalk.

The first thing to teach your dog is that it's ok to go to the end of the line. If your dog is already familiar with walking at the end of a retractable leash, this will be an easy step for you. It can be harder some dogs if the heel command is well engrained in their walk sessions, but be patient, he or she will learn. It's helpful if they are already use to this, but if you are having trouble getting him or her moving ahead of you, enlist the help of another person with a leash on your dog's flat collar at his or her side for encouragement. It is important for you to be giving your dog the commands from behind, the helper should be there to just tug a little to get your dog moving ahead of you, not to be giving commands. Be excited, use a command that you would to get them going with you like " let's go!" or "hike!". Keep the lessons short in the beginning, 15-20 minutes long. Make it fun for your dog, quit before he or she gets frustrated or bored, and always end on a high note. Your dog will thank you later with better responsiveness on the next session!

Stay tuned for more in this series of posts! I'm excited to have more Canicrossers out there with me!

Let's hear your Canicross training adventures! Any funny or challenging training stories?


  1. "You don't want an unruly, undisciplined dog dragging you down the trail!" So important to tell beginners! Really great article.

    1. Thank you! Running with my dogs is my passion, I'm hoping I can get others to try it too!

  2. I am a cyclist. That was reaffirmed the first time we ran. I am sure I looked like a cartoon. The dogs are trained to pull a sled and when I said hike I was the sled. Never will I do that again with 3 dogs. I have ridden 300 km on a bike and I was okay, but that 5 km run almost killed me. Great article.

    1. 3 dogs is a lot of power! My 2 dogs can be a handful sometimes. Cycling with one dog makes me nervous. Thank you for your kind words!


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