The Best Dog For Canicross?5 May 2023
written by Canicross expert, Dawn Richards; Reviewed by Dr Jill McMaster BVM&S MBA MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon and in-house expert at BorrowMyDoggy on 25 May 2023
Once the preserve of traditional sled dog breeds, the sport of Canicross, at least in the UK, has evolved during the last 15 years to be enjoyed by a wide range of different breeds and their owners.
As an event organiser I am often asked
What is the best dog for Canicross?
and as an organisation that actively encourages the ethos of “Any Breed, Any Speed” my usual answer is
The dog that you have.
Aside from this rather flippant response there are some important points we might consider as we unpick this question further.
Important considerations for Canicross
My first caveat to the above is that dogs need to be of a suitable age; they need to be fully grown, and whilst there is no upper age limit it is rather dependent on fitness and mobility.
Any dog that has had a significant injury in the past or has a health condition that might impact on their ability to take part should be given an all clear from their veterinary surgeon before taking part.
Likewise brachycephalic breeds, “flat-faced dogs”, have a unique structure to their head which oftentimes results in difficulty regulating their temperature during hot and humid weather, and their struggle to pant can lead to overheating easily. These dogs should not be over-exerted, especially in warm and humid weather.
We have seen these breeds take part, but exercise caution and introduce them slowly, for short distances in cooler temperatures, and gradually build up their fitness and stamina.
Above all remember that this is a sport that is about having fun with your dog, and whilst most dogs enjoy running and exercise, there are some that will not like to run in harness, or with other dogs, or run out in front.
Sled dog breeds for Canicross
However, whilst these breeds retain a strong presence in the sport, the warmer temperatures of the UK, combined with the shorter “sprint” nature of the 5KM race event do not allow these extreme cold endurance specialists to operate at their optimum.
Eurohound and Greyster
The Europeans have combatted this by developing purpose bred mixed breed dogs, or Eurohounds and Greysters. These dogs are superb athletes with a strong running drive, the Eurohound typically being a mix of Alaskan Husky and pointer type breeds, whilst the Greyster includes German Shorthaired Pointer and Greyhound.
These dogs are increasingly popular in the UK with the elite athletes or those who want a competitive edge. Due to their size, strength and speed, they are perhaps not what the recreational runner would be comfortable running with.
This is an important consideration in our quest; the dog and runner operate as a team, and whilst many of us in the sport recognise that the human is almost always the weakest link in the team, the more balanced the team in terms of ability, the greater the enjoyment and less likelihood of injury.
Working dog breeds
There are a myriad of reasons why someone wants to start Canicross:
- improve their own fitness
- enjoy an activity with their dog
- company whilst out running
- challenging their dog
In addition to the traditional sled dog breeds we see a lot of working breeds represented in the sport. From border collies to springer spaniels, German Short Haired Pointers, Labradors, German Shepherds and many mixed breeds.
Some of these owners enter the sport as they feel their dog needs a “job”, something that fulfils them when herding, or retrieving opportunities are not part of their lifestyle. These dogs are often great athletes, bred for their endurance and ability to keep running for extended periods. They are often super Canicross companions.
Should size matter?
Larger dogs, who pull hard into the harness give the runner a real boost and can easily take minutes off their 5KM time.
Some runners however feel uncomfortable with this amount of pull, and certainly good running technique and a strong core are a must.
On downhills or technical sections of a course a medium or small dog might be an advantage as the runner retains control and balance easily. Small terriers can be particularly hardy with amazing work ethic, and with more manufacturers recognising that these dogs do pull, and therefore producing appropriate harnesses in small sizes we are seeing more take part.
So far, we have focused on the breed or type of dog, we should however consider the temperament or attitude of the dog.
Breed alone might not be the answer to the question.
I began Canicross with my two English Springer Spaniels. One was one of the best Canicross dogs I have had; strong work ethic, intelligent, pulled strongly throughout the race. The other pottered along, sniffing every tree and whilst generally having a lovely time, hardly loaded the line!
Training will improve aspects of Canicross, but it is easier to train in a dog that has a strong desire and the confidence to pull ahead into the harness.
Accessing one of the several Canicross clubs or attending sessions with a Canicross coach will help you and your dog to improve your skills, and give your dog the opportunity to run with and learn from other dogs.
Whatever breed of dog you do consider as your next running partner it is important to consider other factors in your life that will impact this choice. You are making a commitment for the next 15 years; the dog is going to be sharing your home, your family, and your resources.
Dogs that have been bred for generations for their retrieving ability are going to be hard wired to retrieve, so if you cannot cope with your shoes being brought to you in a slobbery mouth, you will need to learn to be tidier or this might not be the breed for you!
Likewise dogs that have been bred to herd will herd something, perhaps you, if not sheep!
Larger dogs have larger appetites, and generally larger vet bills as oftentimes medication is based on weight. Some breeds are also more expensive to insure, so it's important to do your research.
And if you already have a dog? Well, you might just find that’s the best dog for Canicross, so lace up your trainers, pop on the belt and harness the dog and head out on the trails…
Written by Dawn Richards, CaniX Canine Sports
Canicross & Sports Guides
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