A canicross adventure: Nicola and her dog running buddies

A canicross adventure: Nicola and her dog running buddies

21 September 2022

written by Canicross participant and borrower, Nicola Deschamps; reviewed by our in-house vet.

A running start: Bob and Mr B

I joined BorrowMyDoggy in 2015 in the hope of finding a local dog that enjoyed countryside rambles as much as me. At the time I had a demanding job, worked long hours and went on regular business trips, so owning a dog was not an option.

It wasn’t long before I met ‘brothers’ Bob the Sprocker and Mr B the Jack-Sausage, both owned by a young couple who needed a helping hand with their care.

They were looking for regular commitment from a borrower, which they felt would benefit their dogs most, as weekly contact offered the best opportunity to form a bond. We agreed I would see ‘the boys’ at least twice a week, once during the week when I worked from home, and then at the weekend.

Lunchtime walks and weekend countryside rambles

On my work-at-home day, Bob, Mr B and I would go for a walk during my lunch break to the local park. Taking them out proved a great motivator to close the laptop and get some fresh air. A typical spaniel, Bob had boundless energy while Mr B loved to explore. Those lunchtime walks gave me the opportunity to get to know my neighbours and their dogs.

At weekends, the boys and I enjoyed wonderful country rambles across Somerset, Wiltshire and Devon discovering beautiful woodlands, parks, coasts and country estates. I loved looking online to find new places for us to visit. Their owners and I got on really well and enjoyed regular chinwags about the boys and life in general. But more fun was to come...!

Runner, Nicola, is crouched down with a thumbs up and Sprocker, Bob, in front, they're both tired and very pleased with their race win.
Nicola and Bob - Race win

Canicross introductions

While walking Bob and Mr B one afternoon, a local dog walker and I got chatting and she mentioned ‘canicross’, a popular winter sport of cross-country running with dogs. I had never heard of the sport before so when I got home I went online to learn more.

Originating in Europe, canicross is used as a means of off-season training for the sledding community. But now it is a popular sport in its own right, especially here in the UK.

All dog breeds from small to large, and people of all ages and abilities can take part. While the runner wears a waist belt, the dog has a specially designed harness and then the dog and runner are attached by a bungee lead.

My research led me to a local canicross club, and with the dog owner's support, Bob and I joined as a running pair, and there began the start of a wonderful new experience for us both!

Mr B joined us on practice runs, which replaced our park walks. Despite his small size, Mr B proved a tenacious runner. Fortunately, the canicross club had a kit bag, so I was able to try on different harnesses to find a type that worked best for Bob. As I wasn’t sure how I, or the dogs, would take to canicross. I opted to buy second-hand harnesses and a waist belt from one of the many dedicated Facebook buy-and-sell sites for sled sports. It took quite a while to find one that fitted Mr B perfectly as he is an ‘interesting’ shape!

Nicola is kneeling on a bright red paddleboard, wearing a matching red life jacket, with Sprocker, Bob, wearing a yellow doggy life jacket, standing on the paddleboard in front of her. The water is calm and behind them is a large covering of bushes and trees.
Nicola and Bob - Paddleboarding

Training for canicross races and finding the correct dog running equipment

Within 6 months we’d gone from couch to 5km. Being part of a club really helped me better understand the sport and also how best to train Bob and ensure his wellbeing.

The belt and harness are designed to ensure comfort for both runner and dog. Bob took to the sport like a duck to water; he loved meeting other dogs and running cross country getting wet and muddy!

Over the course of five years, Bob and I competed in races around the South West and enjoyed many sociable club runs too, meeting super-friendly people and their dogs. Bob picked up all the commands quickly: ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘on’, ‘steady’ and more. We intuitively worked together running distances ranging from 5km to 15km.

Bob and I became very close. I’m not a natural runner, but he helped inspire and motivate me to keep challenging myself. We both got very fit.

I have so many fond memories of competing with Bob and running with both him and Mr B. As canicross is a winter sport, many canicrossers go paddle boarding with their dogs in the summer. Bob and I tried; it was so much fun! Bob retired from canicross aged 10, but we continued rambling, which we still do to date, albeit shorter walks as both boys are getting older now.

Finding other dogs that love to run: Herbert the Dalmatian

When Bob retired, I wanted to find another dog that would love to join me cross country running. Through BorrowMyDoggy, I met Herbert the Dalmatian, who was young, eager and quite a handful. His owners were delighted that he could join me running. It was thrilling to run with such a natural and graceful runner.

Herbert was also friendly and sociable so popular at the club. Sadly we only had the opportunity to run together for 6 months as Herbert’s owners needed to rehome him due to a change in their personal circumstances.

Keen to help ensure my young friend went to an active home, I made an appeal to the members of my canicross club. Herbert was rehomed with a fellow canicrosser and he joined her active family who also owned another Dalmatian. A perfect match!

Runner, Nicola, is crouched beside black Labrador, Lola, holding a gold medal around Lola's chest proudly after winning their canicross race.
Nicola and Lola - Race win

Lola the Labrador

Thanks again to BorrowMyDoggy, I met Lola the Labrador who had “I love to run” on her profile! After meeting her owner we agreed I should take Lola on a trial run. She turned out to be a natural.

Lola loved running and was super quick at learning the commands. It wasn’t long before we were competing in various races and joining club runs. Lola and I run really well together, but she’s more competitive than me. She loves to win, whereas I’m just glad to make it to the finish line!

We’ve won a couple of medals, but more importantly we’ve had great fun together.

Lola and I run three times a week, early morning, before I start work. But she also enjoys rambles too, especially routes that involve water. She loves swimming so I try to find routes near streams. Our latest challenge is to complete a half marathon in aid of a dog charity. We’ve started our training now so we’re ready to complete the run in a few weeks' time.

Canicross teachings

I’ve learnt a lot taking part in canicross with Bob, Herbert and Lola - the discipline required to compete in a sport, the need to work together as a team, learning new commands, being able to socialise with lots of different dogs and their owners, and more.

For the love of Spaniels

Having Bob in my life motivated me to start fostering for a spaniel charity. Sadly, post-pandemic the charity had many ‘lockdown puppies’ that needed fostering or adopting.

Now, when someone says to me “I want a puppy”, I often suggest they become a borrower first, as borrowing gives a good insight into the commitment and responsibility needed to look after a dog. At some point in my life, I may well get a rescue spaniel, but until then I think I have the best arrangement.

BorrowMyDoggy has introduced me to the most paw-fect friends that have enriched my life, and in turn I hope they have enjoyed the many adventures we have had together, and continue to have. Bob, Mr B and Lola remain my special friends.

Useful information

If you’re thinking of trying canicross the British Sleddog Sports Federation have a useful map to help you find your nearest club, as well as recommendations on equipment to get you started.

To learn more about canicross, visit the canicross trailrunners site.

Join Nicola at Wessex canicross club.

Fancy a try yourself? Read up with our guide on how to start running with your dog (including a couch to 5k plan for you and your pup)!

Looking for a motivated running buddy? Check out our 5 best running buddies

Not a fan of running? Here are some other ideas on how to work out with your dog! 🐶

Have you found a new activity with your four-legged friend that you want to share with others? We’d love to hear from you! Share your story with us at woofwoof@borrowmydoggy.com.

This article is for information only. Always speak to your vet to ensure your dog is fit for taking on new forms of exercise.

Canicross & Sports Guides

Best dog for canicross

A canicross adventure

How to start running with your dog

Best running buddies

Dog-friendly things to do to stay active together

Walk Your Dog Month 2023

How to find the best harness for canicross

Canicross starter kit

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