Unit 1.2 Canicross

A Beginner’s Guide to Running with Your Dog

Canicross is the sport of running with your dog. It is dog powered, which means that the dog pulls in front of you. Usually canicross is considered the most beginner friendly of the dog powered sports and many mushers start their dogs with canicross before graduating to the other pulling sports.

Who Can Do It?

Anyone can! Canicross is a sport for all levels and you can run both recreationally and competitively. Dogs of all sizes and runners (or walkers) of all levels can enjoy the sport! As long as your dog is healthy, old enough to run, and enjoys running then this could be your next sport!


Canicross is the most affordable of the dog powered sports. There are only a few essential pieces of equipment that you need.

  • A Harness: Your dog will need a mushing harness. These are specifically designed to allow a dog to pull safely! They come in many styles including xback, open back, and multi-sport or distance. You want to make sure that your dog feels comfortable in the style you choose and that it fits well. Be sure to measure your dog accurately and follow sizing guidelines from manufacturers. Proper fit ensures they can take deep breaths and move without restriction!
  • A Towline: You also will need a towline to connect your dog’s harness to your running belt. Canicross lines have a bungee integrated into them to allow for shock absorption! This bungee makes the pulling smoother and more comfortable for you and your dog. It does not have to be a towline specifically for canicross, skijor or bikejor lines with built in bungee will also work fine.
  • A Belt: A good canicross or skijor belt for you to wear is important as well. There are a few styles of running belts from lightweight and minimal to extra back padding for that powerhouse puller. Belts are adjustable in many places around the waist and leg straps to help customize your fit. If you have friends or a local club nearby, trying on what others have can be helpful as you decide what you want. You may find a wider selection of belts labelled skijor than canicross, but essentially they are the same thing.
  • Trail Shoes: The last piece of equipment you will need is a good pair of trail shoes! Trails shoes have more grip on the bottom than road shoes to allow you more traction as you run through mud.

That’s it! So simple! Now it’s time to go shopping, here is a list of suppliers we have compiled to help you find what you need.


Before you jump on those trails, your dog will need to learn a few commands so that you can give them directions on the trail and control their speed! A good place to start training is on walks. Bring a bag of treats with you to make it fun! Once your dog responds to the commands when walking, then you can hook up and take your dog running! Once you hit the trails, you can continue to reinforce those directions through praise! You can certainly teach any commands you want.

The commands commonly used in canicross are:

  • “Gee” – Right
  • “Haw” – Left
  • “Gee Over” – Move Right
  • “Haw Over”- Move Left
  • “Hike”- Lets Go Forward
  • “Easy” –Slow Down
  • “Whoa”- Stop
  • “On By”- Ignore and keep going
  • “Line Out”- Put Tension on the Line
  • “Stay”- Remain in Place

We will go over each of these commands and other skills your pup will need in Unit Two: Training.


Now that you have your gear and have trained your commands, you are ready to hit the trails! Off road is best when running with your dog. Just like people, hitting the pavement puts pressure on joints and can hurt your dog’s paw pads. Soft surface walking, running, and hiking trails work best! You can find singletrack trails with roots, rocks, and turns to work on body
awareness and keep things fun! You can also run on wider doubletrack
trails, which can make it easier to pass others.

Listen to Your Dog!

As dog lovers we are always mindful of our dog’s needs. Here are a few helpful reminders.

  • Feed your dog at least two hours before you run with them. This will help avoid digestive complications like bloat.
  • Keep an eye on hydration! Especially during warmer months, it is a great idea to add some water to their meals and to bring water along on your run for your furry friend!
  • Just like training yourself, your dog also needs a steady ramp plan for adding mileage! Watch for signs of discomfort or soreness.

Longevity in this fun sport is dependent on health! Whenever you are in doubt consult your doctor or your veterinarian.

Let’s Get Social!

Canicross is a social sport! Running with your dog will help you build your relationship with your beloved four-footer and help you connect with other dog lovers. We all need a little support on our fitness journey!

Running with friends can also help your dog learn the sport faster! There’s nothing more motivating for your pup than running hard to catch up with their friend in front of them!

Interested in racing? There are a variety of trail races, dog-friendly road races, and virtual races for you and your dog to participate in!

There are many canicross clubs and dog powered clubs across The United States that you can join. Here in Minnesota, we connect with friends from our Facebook group Twin Cities Dog Powered Sports. We always welcome
new members and have lots of information for newcomers no matter
where you live.

What Next?

Unit 1: Intro to Dog Powered Sports