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The rise and rise of Cani-Cross

Written by Fiona November 30 2011

It started with a suggestion from a friend a couple of years back saying that if I had a dog, Cani-Cross would be perfect for me. But I didn’t have a dog! As soon as Wispa the Wonder Whippet became part of our family, several more people left messages on Facebook and Twitter saying that Cani-Cross would indeed be the perfect sport for me. But Wispa was still quite young and I didn’t want to over-run her.

Cani-Cross in action

Cani-Cross in action

Now that Wispa has turned one she is happily capable of running quite a few miles with me and will trot along beside me while on the lead, or run ahead and back to me while off the lead. These days I can’t imagine running without my adoring whippet at my heels, or at least close by.

And again several contacts tweeted me to say that Cani-Cross would be my ideal sport – and to tell me that the number of cross-country running events  for dog and human were on the rise.

Lindsay of Cani-Fit and Suko

Lindsay of Cani-Fit and Suko

Finally, this week I decided to give the sport a wee go after Lindsay of Cani-Fit emailed and said she would lend me the harness equipment for a training run. Cani-Fit is a new Glasgow business that aims to train and encourage dogs and their owners to run together. Lindsay races with her large malamute (think massive husky-style dog) called Suko and does very well. (She won gold at a recent Cani-Cross event on the Black Isle.) She is hugely enthusiastic about the benefits of Cani-Cross for dogs and owners and wants to motivate more people to take part in the sport.

Wispa gives Cani-Cross a go

So we went for a dog run in Mugdock Country Park, north of Glasgow.

The rise and rise of Cani-Cross as an outoors sport

Lindsay became a fan of  Cani-Cross as a way to keep her dog fit and happy, and because she loves running in the great outdoors. She prefers longer distance runs – “I like slower and longer runner,” she says – and is also keen on dog scootering. Suko is learning how to pull Lindsay on a scooter, so that the pair can take part in dog scootering events. “Suko isn’t running to his full capacity yet,” Lindsay tells me, as she runs along seemingly battery-powered by this amazing dog. “He could pull harder up hills and he is capable of going much faster. But then again I would need to keep up with him if he did go faster so it’s a bit of a balancing act!”

Suko models the comfy dog harness

Suko models the comfy dog harness

A padded waist belt for the owner

A padded waist belt for the owner

What to wear for Cani-Cross

Cani-Cross – or dog and human running – is assisted by a special dog harness that fits comfortably around the dog and keeps the lead from becoming entangled in their legs. The owner wears a padded waist harness and an elasticated style lead connects dog and owner so that if either stop suddenly, neither one is jolted uncomfortably.

Apart from the dog and owner harnesses, not much else is required in the way of equipment. Lindsay and I wore running clothing and off-road running shoes (we both had Inov-8 trail shoes).

Wispa was happy in her harness

Wispa was happy in her harness

How did Wispa the Wonder Whippet enjoy Cani-Cross?

Alongside Suko, Wispa looks small, yet lean and muscly.  Off the lead she can run at speeds of up to 40mph but she also likes to trot along with me while I run. She wasn’t so sure about taking the lead when we first headed out on the trails but within about 20 minutes she was following the example of Suko and trotting along at a lead’s length distance in front of me. Encouraging her to take the lead and go a bit faster will take some training but as Lindsay points out “being a fit owner can have its advantages in event, too”.

Come on Wispa, let's go!

Come on Wispa, let’s go!

Lindsay says: “If you are an owner that is good at running then you’ll have a good chance of coming high up the field in Cani-Cross events because the dog’s power can only help if the owner can actually keep up with the dog.” As she said earlier, it’s a balance thing between dog and owner.

What type of dogs suit Cani-Cross?

Suko’s breed, and others like him, require a lot of walking and they are perfectly suited to long-distanced runs with their owners. Most dog breeds are suitable for Cani-Cross although it can require a little training to ensure that dog and human run along happily together. The running distance of each dog will vary but many dogs love being able to lead their owners along countryside trails and up and down hills. Remember that young dogs shouldn’t be run too far because it can affect their bones and joints in later life.

Wispa is probably not the dog for pulling me on a scooter but I expect that with some training and experience she could be a great Cani-Cross companion for me.

Cani-Cross events in the UK

Cani-Cross events run from 2.5ks to 10ks to off-road marathons – and according to Lindsay “Cani-Cross is really taking off in the UK now, having come from Canada where it’s a huge sport”. She added: “I have found has many, many people are asking for information about harnesses and training their dogs, and the numbers of participants at Cani-cross events is rising.

“This is a great way to get fit, and it is also a fantastic workout for the dog. Recently I have started a Jog Scotland Cani-Cross training session in Glasgow and it has proved extremely popular.

“I think that more and more people are keen to find a new keep-fit session, and one that includes their dog. It seems strange to me that people would take their dog on a short walk, go home and then go out again to exercise themselves at the gym or on a run. With people being so time-poor Cani-Cross is the answer to dog and owner fitness needs.”

For details of how to train for Cani-cross, equipment, training and events see a number of websites including:

Thanks to everyone who has contacted me about this sport and encouraged me to give it a go. Wispa and I loved it!

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