Canicross: the sport of running cross country trails while being towed by your dog. Pretty much every slow jogger’s dream, including mine. Years after the children’s fun runs ended for me, and my dog, Tybee, trotted defiantly into “senior” status, we finally got the opportunity.
Our first event was what you might call a successful misadventure. My face was redder than an apple, I learned the hard way that I should walk Ty first (running with a baggie full of waste in the heat is less than ideal), and I had to give her most of my pizza to keep her focused and appeased while I socialized afterward. But we had fun.
The truth is, I’m much more of a hiker than a runner. Alternatively, Ty is a jack of all trades and carried our little team of two. Her only weak point is her social anxiety. We loved the trail time and races gave me the structure I needed to stick with the sport so I knew I had to invest the effort in making the entire experience a positive one for Ty. The practices I honed and committed to were instrumental in achieving that. Below you can read about my top five recommendations on how to set your team up for success on race day.
1. Do the Homework
Visit websites such as Canicross USA to familiarize yourself with etiquette and what to expect. Before signing up, do some recon on the event and related factors such as the weather forecast. I like to check Facebook and previous registration pages for an idea on the number of participants, the event’s site to know if we should expect live music, farm animals, etc., and Google Maps to visualize the parking situation. Finally, I have our gear and registration info prepared in advance for a smooth race morning. I found that I gave off a more collected vibe when I had a solid idea of what to expect and that positively affected Ty’s confidence.
2. Shakedown Run
Don’t let race day be the first time you or your dog tries on gear. Make sure that everything fits well with no chafing, constriction, or excess material. Exposure to the concept of structured running (around other dogs if possible) is also advised. That way, there will be a familiar element to a new experience. This helped Ty understand there was a purpose to our run and it was not chasing critters.
3. Treats. Don’t forget the treats!
Let the record show that Tybee insists that bringing treats should be #1 on the list. Brands like Ruffwear and Kurgo make food-toting easy by offering hip belts with storage pockets. With an easily accessible reward system, you can capture all your pup’s good behaviors and redirect them positively when they’re “having a moment.” Bonus: getting to keep your celebratory bagel to yourself. Just kidding, my teammates and I always share with the dogs!
4. Run the Dog’s Run
If you’re a hiker, you’ve likely heard the phrase “hike your own hike.” I’ve often joked with friends that we “hike the dog’s hike.” The concept is readily applicable to canicross as well. Watch your pup for stress signals and offer them breaks and diversions that work for them, such as a short sprint, performing a series of tricks, or a visit to the kiddie pool.
Finish on a high note. If your dog is jazzed after the race and wants to say hello to the vendors with you, awesome! If they say “I’ve run, I’m done” then end it. In the beginning, I missed out on visiting the sponsors’ booths but I had to respect the fact that Ty wasn’t ready. Over the course of the season, I incrementally added steps to the post-race itinerary. By the end, she had built up enough positive associations and trust in my ability to manage her environment that we could stay for the duration of an event if I wished to.
5. Have Fun!
Seriously, there’s so much going on, it can be easy to get caught up in the commotion. Be present, revel in the connection with your dog, and make the experience your own. For me, a pivotal but unexpected aspect of doing so was finding community. We met some amazing people through the Kurgo Running Team and look forward to seeing them again this year.
If a clumsy, asthmatic hiker and a socially awkward senior dog can succeed in canicross, there’s hope for anyone curious about the sport and open to giving it a try. These synergistic practices became second nature and enhanced our experience tremendously. May they do the same for you. Happy trails!
About Krista Rodrigues