Canicross starter kit

Canicross starter kit

3 January 2023

written by Canicross expert, Dawn Richards; reviewed by our in-house vet.

The idea of lacing up your trainers and hitting the trails with your dog is one that appeals to many people.

Dogs are in many ways the perfect running partner; always ready to go when you are, good company and have no problem keeping up.

The sport of Canicross is growing in the UK, both competitively and as an enrichment activity to do with your dog.

In Canicross the dogs wear an unrestrictive harness, which is attached to the runner via a bungee line and belt. Thus, the runner is more balanced than if using a handheld lead and the dog can assist the runner by pulling into the harness, making those hills seem much easier! 

For runners who have dogs with poor recall or for those rural runners where livestock is present having the dog attached is particularly appealing.


Summary

So, what do you need to get started?

Retailers

Belts

Line

Grab handle

Harness for canicross

Teddy the Golden Retriever on top of the hill, pleased with his run!
Teddy the Golden Retriever

So, what do you need to get started?

Aside from your dog and a pair of trail shoes with good grip you will need:

  • the Canicross system of a belt for you
  • a line to attach you to your dog
  • a harness for your dog

The best way to make sure you get an appropriate and well-fitted kit is to have a fitting with a retailer; one who offers a wide range of brands and who can assist you to select the best and most comfortable and affordable options for you and your dog.

Few of these retailers have a physical presence in the form of a shop, and whilst some offer “pop up shops” or have promotional stands at Canicross events the only option for many people is to buy online.  With websites offering a plethora of kits that can often be overwhelming, here’s a few tips and pointers to help you narrow your choices.

Norek the Cross Breed sat in the woods showing off her turquoise and blue running harness
Norek the Cross Breed

Retailers

Firstly, retailers.

Opt for an established retailer who has a range of brands, take advantage of any online consultation that is offered, and make use of the follow up offered to check that kit is a good fit. K9 Trail Time is the leading supplier in the UK and has many “guides to” videos on their website and social media channels. These are a fabulous resource for those seeking help with harness and belt fitting.

Many retailers also offer a “starter kit” bundle containing the belt, line and harness doing a lot of the work for you in kit selection.

Belts

Belts, often referred to as waist belts, but this is something of a misnomer as they are worn around the pelvic area rather than waist.

This directs the pull from the dog to the large, strong glute muscles, and protects your lower back; particularly important for those with strong pulling or heavier dogs.  A belt with leg straps is recommended as this helps to keep the belt in place and stop it from riding up.

Some belts such as the “Adventure Belt” by Arctic Wolf have a more padded construction which appeals to runners who feel it is more supportive for their lower back.  It is also simple to put on and take off, though less adjustable than some other belts.

The Non Stop CaniX belt is a light weight construction which directs the pull across the hips and is also very adjustable.  It also has a screw gate carabiner to the attachment point which allows the line to be detached very easily.

Bo the Bedlington Terrier waiting in the long grass to go for a run
Bo the Bedlington Terrier

Line

This brings us to the line.

Firstly, there are those that have a bungee cord at their core, or the fully elasticated type offered by Non Stop.  Their function is to absorb some of the “shock” and energy of your dog pulling making your run more comfortable for you and your dog.

Short line

Lines come in many colours, but in only three lengths.

The Short line (was previously known as the Park Run length) is most suitable for dogs that are still learning their directional commands.

In Canicross we want the dogs to be running ahead of us, so learning the voice cues is an important part of training.  The short lines keep the dog closer to the runner and able to feel any directional changes the runner makes in addition to hearing the voice cue. This short line length is also suitable for those dogs that might drop back and run close to the runner; there is less line for the runner to hold up or form a potential trip hazard!

This line length is also very popular with those runners who have dogs that can become distracted by other dogs, people or wild-life when running as it gives closer control.

Mid length line

The mid length line or Canicross line is a suitable length for those with dogs that pulling out in front of the runner and are reasonably sound in their response to directional voice cues.  

Dogs that are less likely to drop back to run alongside their human and are not easily distracted from their task of running.

Standard length line

The longest of the line lengths is what is known as the “Standard length”.

When Canicross first started to become popular it was only this length that was available, and it is worth noting that some elite races demand this line length of entrants.

It is suitable for those with strong pulling dogs, who are solid on their response to directional voice cues, and who will neither drop back or be distracted by other dogs, wildlife or humans on the trail.

Grab handle

Other features to look for with lines is the inclusion of a grab handle.

These are particularly useful when crossing roads or in any situation where closer control is needed. It is worth noting, that for safety reasons several event organisations will not allow lines to be used where there is a metal clip of any type to attach the line to the runner’s belt.

Trigger clips and screw gate carabiners are permitted to attach the line to the dog harness.

Luna the Cross Breed wearing a purple harness
Luna the Cross Breed

Harness for canicross

This brings us finally to the harness.

This is possibly the most complex part of the Canicross system, and as discussed in our article on how to find the best harness for canicross, this is a similar issue to running shoes for humans in that what suits and is comfortable for some is not so for others.

This piece of kit cannot be determined by dog breed or type, but more so we rely on key pieces of information specific to your dog.

In short, dogs that are hard pullers are usually run in a long harness, whilst those that are more leisurely pullers will be placed in a short harness.

We often talk about Canicross harnesses being “unrestrictive” and by this we mean the harness that interferes the least with your dogs natural movement and gait.

When fitting a harness, we check that certain parts of the anatomy or function are not impeded by the harness.

This includes breathing (throat and ribs) forelimbs and hips. Key points to look for are a Y shape construction in the chest, which allows the unrestricted forelimb movement, a fit which allows the forelimbs to move unhindered and a suitable length which is not pulling into the soft tissue of the abdomen or restricting the natural “drive action” of the rear limbs.

The fit of the harness always needs to be checked with the harness in pull.


With this information in mind, you can head for your nearest retailer or website.  A good discussion or consultation, whether it be in face to face or online is invaluable and will help you to get started in this fantastic sport.  So, tie those laces, belt on harness on and let's go!

This article is for information only. Always choose products depending on your individual dog's needs and by taking advice from your vet. 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

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