Cross Country with Your Dogs: How to Get Started in Canicross

Written by Gail Baker Nelson
Published: November 28, 2023
Share on:


Love running alongside your dog? What if your dog could help you run faster, even uphill? If that sounds like fun, consider getting started in canicross. This dog sport can tire out even the most active huskies. 

What is Canicross?

Canicross began in Europe with mushers as a way to practice with sled dogs when there was no snow for a sled. It grew rapidly from there. The word is a combination of cross country and canine — a mashup that gives you a hint about a rapidly growing dog sport. 

While you may think you have a Velcro dog, canicross ensures they aren’t leaving your side. Or, more accurately, without leaving you in the dust. Using a specially designed pulling harness attached to a bungee leash that connects to you via a waist or hip belt, runners get a speed boost from their dogs as they run.

The speed boost is especially helpful when you’re headed uphill. 

Canicross Benefits

This dog sport’s benefits are extensive. In addition to mental training for you and your dog, the physical benefits include everything that comes with running. You’ll have better cardiovascular health with all the running you’ll be doing and if you join a club, making new friends. 

Besides all that, you’ll have a happy, tired dog. You’ll be happy knowing you’re building a better bond with them.

Do You Need Special Equipment?

Canicross doesn’t need much equipment. You can start with a standard harness and leash attached to a waist belt. However, if you decide you like this unique sport, having proper equipment can mean the difference between running happily and getting yanked along. 

Your dog will need a harness designed for pulling. A properly fitted pulling harness distributes the force evenly across your dog’s body — reducing the risk of injury. Additionally, pulling harnesses allow full range of motion in the elbows and shoulders, and let your dog breathe freely. 

Also important is the leash — a standard leash will cause problems. You and your dog will feel every jolt as you run along the trail. For canicross, a six to ten-foot-long bungee leash is ideal.

Last, but not least, a joring belt for you! This specially designed belt is lightweight with leg straps to keep it in place during a run.

If you also live in a snowy winter location, you can use this equipment to give skijoring with your pooch a try — it’s perfect for the job!

Dog and its owner taking part in a popular canicross race. Canicross dog mushing race

German shorthaired pointers’ natural athleticism makes them great canicross partners.


Which Skills Does Your Dog Need to Get Started in Canicross?

Having verbal control over your dog is just as important as it is in an off-leash sport like agility. Because dogs pull runners, some cues won’t appear in other sports.

To get started in canicross, your dog needs basic obedience and leash manners. Also important is the ability to pass by people without needing to greet them and ignore squirrels! 

Note: Do at least some of the verbal training before you hook yourself up to an over-excited dog. 

If your dog is obsessed with squirrels and bunnies, you’ll need to do more work in that area. However, a solid “leave it” cue is a versatile tool to have in your arsenal. 

A few directional and speed-based cues are also important:

  • Faster
  • Slower
  • Left 
  • Right
  • Stop
  • Go

The words you use for those can be anything you want. If you already train your dogs for sledding or skijoring, use the same cues! There’s no reason to change something that already works.

Is Canicross Appropriate for All Dogs?

Most athletic dogs love running. That said, before you go running a canicross race, make sure everybody is healthy.

Since canicross originated as an off-season sled dog activity, the spitz-types and other snow-loving sled dog breeds are ideal. However, any dog that loves running can enjoy canicross — the sport is open to purebred and mixed-breed dogs alike. 

Yet, not all breeds of dogs are suited to the sport. 

Brachycephalic (short-snouted) dogs like bulldogs or pugs likely cannot run canicross safely. Likewise, toy breeds that lack the stamina and pulling capabilities or giant breeds that weren’t built for running aren’t good fits.

Check with your veterinarian before starting canicross.

How Long is a Canicross Race?

Just like marathons and 5k races for people, canicross races vary in length and terrain. 

Short-distance races are typically less than three miles. Their smaller distances make short-distance canicross races terrific beginner races. While still a challenge, they’re not as intimidating as longer races.

In a medium-distance canicross race, you and your dog will run five to 10 miles. They’re a bigger challenge than short-distance races and will stretch your skills and endurance.

The biggest challenge in canicross is a long-distance race. They are usually over 10 miles long and some hit full marathon length at 26.2 miles.  

Of course, if a competitive race doesn’t sound like fun, trail running hooked up to your dog is just as good.

Where to Play Canicross — Clubs and Organizations

Given its origins, most of the sledding organizations have some guidance for canicross.

Other Dog Sports You and Your Dog Can Try

Canicross is new and exciting, but certainly isn’t the only dog sport! Here are a few more available:

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Pavel1964/

Ready to discover the top 10 cutest dog breeds in the entire world?

How about the fastest dogs, the largest dogs and those that are -- quite frankly -- just the kindest dogs on the planet? Each day, AZ Animals sends out lists just like this to our thousands of email subscribers. And the best part? It's FREE. Join today by entering your email below.

What's the right dog for you?

Dogs are our best friends but which breed is your perfect match?


If you have kids or existing dogs select:

Other Dogs

Should they be Hypoallergenic?

How important is health?
Which dog groups do you like?
How much exercise should your dog require?
What climate?
How much seperation anxiety?
How much yappiness/barking?

How much energy should they have?

The lower energy the better.
I want a cuddle buddy!
About average energy.
I want a dog that I have to chase after constantly!
All energy levels are great -- I just love dogs!
How much should they shed?
How trainable/obedient does the dog need to be?
How intelligent does the dog need to be?
How much chewing will allow?

Share on:
About the Author

Gail Baker Nelson is a writer at A-Z Animals where she focuses on reptiles and dogs. Gail has been writing for over a decade and uses her experience training her dogs and keeping toads, lizards, and snakes in her work. A resident of Texas, Gail loves working with her three dogs and caring for her cat, and pet ball python.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.