Dogster is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

What Is Canicross? Info, Advice, & How to Get Started

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by Dogster Team

Dog and its owner taking part in a popular canicross race

What Is Canicross? Info, Advice, & How to Get Started

Canicross is a canine sport whereby a dog and its owner run together. The dog is attached, via harness, to the owner’s waist. The owner gives the dog directions using verbal cues, and the dog pulls against the owner. It originated, in part, as a means for sled dog trainers to give their dogs exercise during the off-season when there is no snow on the ground. But it is becoming increasingly popular with a range of owners and their dogs.

The sport requires minimal equipment although it is best suited for strong, large breeds, and it is important to teach the dog basic commands to ensure that they run in the right direction and at the right pace. Canicrossers can take part independently but there are also canicross classes and competitions.

dogster paw divider

How Does It Work?

In canicross, the dog is harnessed to its owner’s waist via a harness and leash. Both the dog and owner run, typically over country trails and tracks, and the dog is encouraged to pull as it runs. This mimics the action of sled pulling and is where canicross differs from simply running with a dog. The runner guides the dog using verbal commands and cues. Although big, strong breeds, like German Shepherds, do tend to do very well, the sport is open to breeds of all ages and sizes. However, you shouldn’t expect your Jack Russell, no matter how eager it is, to be able to run and pull as well as a larger dog.

Participants do not need to join a club or participate in competitions. All that is needed is a harness, line, and belt. It is also beneficial to ensure that your dog understands and responds to appropriate verbal commands before you head out on your first run.

German Shorthaired Pointer and Musher canicross
Image By: Migle Narbutaite, Shutterstock

What Do you Need for Canicross?

To take part in canicross, you need a harness to attach to your dog, a belt to attach to you, and a bungee line to connect the two of you. It is important that the line is a bungee cord. This prevents you or the dog from being jolted as the dog reaches the full extent of the leash. The harness and belt will usually be padded, too, to prevent burns and injuries to the skin.

You will also need to ensure that your dog understands the required verbal commands, otherwise, they won’t know where you want them or when you want them to slow down or speed up. Training before you start running will give you both confidence that your dog knows what is needed.

You will also need somewhere suitable to practice. A single track in a wooded area is ideal. The ground should be suitably padded for your dog while the environment is free of traffic, other obstacles, and distractions.

When To Start Canicross?

Dogs of all sizes and breeds can take part in canicross, and it provides a great way to exercise your dog, build a bond between you, and also provide you with exercise. However, it is recommended that the dog be allowed to grow to full maturity because the sport can put pressure on the joints and muscles. This means waiting until your dog reaches between 12 and 18 months. It is also advised that you do not take up the sport if your dog is a senior or has mobility issues because it could cause injury.

Similarly, if you have any injuries or mobility issues, canicross might not be the best canine sport for you. If you’re in any doubt, consult a physician and let them know what you are thinking of taking up. They will be able to advise you.

If canicross is not suitable for you or your dog, there are other activities, including other canine sports, that you can participate in.

What Dogs Are Best Suited to Canicross?

Canicross is best suited to large breeds that are strong and athletic. Breeds like German Shepherds, German Pointers, Vizslas, Weimaraners, and Greysters are especially well suited to the activity. These breeds are large enough to be able to pull you and they are energetic and lively, so they will be keen to get out.

With that said, any dog that enjoys running can take part, even small breeds. Jack Russell Terriers, for example, enjoy the exercise. But they aren’t capable of pulling as much weight as larger dogs and they may tire more quickly.

Whatever breed of dog you use, it is important not to push your dog too hard, especially when you are first starting out.

Husky dog canicross
Image By:, Shutterstock

dogster paw divider

Advantages of Canicross

There are benefits to you and your dog, with canicross.

Stimulates your dog – Dogs need mental stimulation, or they get bored, and a bored dog can become anxious and may act out with inappropriate and antisocial behavior. Canicross not only means running but it means listening to commands and being mentally alert. It provides good mental stimulation to all participating dogs.

Gives them exercise – Our four-legged friends also need physical exercise. It keeps them fit and can improve heart health, joint health, immune system, and other essential physiological systems.

Improves your bond – Spending time taking part in an activity that you both enjoy will naturally improve the bond between you and your dog.

Gives you exercise – As well as providing exercise for your dog, canicross can also offer intense physical exercise for you.

Improves mood – Physical exercise has been shown to lift the mood of people and dogs, so canicross can put you both in a better frame of mind.

Minimal equipment required – Compared to some other sports and activities, canicross really doesn’t any more equipment than a harness, belt, and bungee line, although you will also need running equipment if you don’t already have some.

Disadvantages of Canicross

There are some disadvantages to canicross, too.

Not suitable for all dogs – While dogs of any size and breed can take part, it is not considered suitable for young puppies or some senior dogs. If your dog has joint or mobility problems, it isn’t suitable for them, either.

Dogs can become distracted – Once your dog starts to get tired, it may begin to lose attention, and this is when dogs are more likely to become distracted. Distractions in canicross can see you being pulled into areas you don’t want to be, so you need to ensure that your dog’s recall and command responses are excellent.

There is some risk of injuries – Although canicross is generally quite safe once you and your dog have been trained, there is some risk of injuries. Your dog could run on something sharp or trip over obstacles. You face the same perils and are especially at risk of tripping over.

German Shepard and girl Musher canicross
Image Credit: Migle Narbutaite, Shutterstock

dogster face divider

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do you need a special harness for canicross?

A canicross harness is padded to prevent injury to your dog but, other than that, it is basically the same as any dog harness. You will also need a belt to attach to your waist and a bungee line to connect the harness to the belt.

How many days a week should you run with your dog?

With some dogs, it is OK to run every day once they have got the hang of it, but you should start out running three times a week. This will help you both recover and allow your muscles to repair before you run again. It will also be less likely that your dog will tire of the activity too soon after starting out.

Do dogs pull in canicross?

Dogs do pull in canicross. It is meant to mimic the action of sled pulling, which means that every time the runner’s feet are off the floor, they are being pulled forward by the dog.

dogster paw divider


Canicross is a type of canine sport that is similar to just running with your dog, except that the dog is harnessed to the runner by a bungee line and pulls the weight of the runner. It is considered good exercise for both dog and runner, requires fairly minimal equipment, and can be very beneficial for energetic dogs that are eager to get out and burn off energy.

Featured Image Credit: Raquel Pedrosa, Shutterstock

Get Dogster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.
Dogster Editors Choice Badge
Shopping Cart


© Pangolia Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved.