So now that we have the equipment, how do we start training for canicross? What should be your first steps into the wonderful world of canicross?
We read almost everywhere that you should not train your puppy until they are fully grown up, to avoid future injuries in their joints for example. Which, depending on the breed, can be between 12 months to 18 months, to even 2 years old for some larger breeds. That’s why you should always check with your vet first. Your vet knows your dog, and would eventually recommend some X rays to check their bones and joints.
But does that mean you cannot do anything in the meantime, and be frustrated while you wait for your pup to grow up? Of course not! You can start slowly from 9-10 months, if you are careful. Do not make your pup pull too hard when he is young, that’s the key. But you can start by few steps. Here are our own first steps into canicross.
Getting used to the harness
So one of the first things you can do, is getting used to your harness. The pulling harnesses have a different shape. I have been wearing a walking harness since I got to my forever home last July 2017. So I am completely confident with wearing a harness in the first place.
But my canicross harness with this X shape in the back, that’s another story. I tend to freeze when my parents put something on my head or my body. When I was spayed, they got me an after surgery shirt instead of the cone of shame. I froze completely when they tried it on me, and had trouble sitting when it was on me. My mom said it was psychological, I say I really could not sit lol
Anyway, so with my canicross harness, it was the same story! When they received it by mail, they wanted to try it on me and see if it was fitting me well. Again, I froze completely when they put it on me. So I had to get used to it by wearing it at home.
They would put the harness on me randomly. On certain evenings, I would have it on me for a few hours. This is to get the dog desensitized to the shape of the harness.
After a few days of trying it at home, I was already feeling better about it and would wear it with no problem and no more freezing.
Working on commands
In the meantime, while your pup is getting used to the harness, you can work on the commands.
On our mornings and evenings walks, my mom and dad would teach me the commands to go left and right. They would also teach me to slow down as I am already a strong pulling dog, even on walks 🙂
So get used to the mushing commands. You will find plenty of resources online to guide you through the mushing commands.
But basically, gee=right, haw=left, easy=slow down, hike=let’s go, whoa=stop, on by=to pass another dog or distraction.
So you can easily teach the commands on your regular walks.
First canicross trainings
So now let’s go to our first canicross trainings. You can start running with your dog earlier than the recommended age, but with a lot of caution. First, you can run with your dog off leash running next to you. I could not tell you about this method, because my pawrents say I’m not good off leash yet, so they have to run with me on the harness. Not sure why they say that, I always come back when I’m off leash… when I want to and when I decide it’s time to come back 🙂 but it’s not my fault if there are so many interesting things outside that I could not enjoy when I’m on leash! Haha 🙂
So when you run with your dog on the harness, you have to be very careful not to go too far, as you do not want to damage the joints.
But you may want to start slowly, to give your dog the will to run.
Some dogs are natural runners, like me 🙂 I don’t have any issue when you tell me it’s time to run, I run.
To develop that will to run, my parents and I started to implement a short canicross training once a week. Just running 500m (0.31 miles), but keep it once a week and running with the harness. It starts teaching me to run in front of my mom or dad, to ignore distractions, to pull, but on a short distance!
The key for those short trainings at the beginning is to keep the same environment. Go to the same place overtime. Find a training place that means happy moment for your pup, like his favorite park, or a forest. Try to avoid a crowded place with lots of distractions. If you want to train your dog to canicross at the dog park, don’t be mad because he does not listen to you!
For us, we chose to go to a local athletic field, which I already love going to on a regular basis during my walks. And a trail centre in a local conservation area which is flat and that I love. We already noticed a lot of places we could go run to in the future, but for now we just keep the same two places.
Last but not least, when you begin canicross, you want to make sure you get all the information you need to teach yourself and your pup how to canicross in the best conditions. You can read a lot of infos on internet, there are a lot of good websites that will teach you the basics.
You can find a lot of Facebook groups of mushers and fellow canicrossers as well. But please use the information you may find there with caution. There are a lot of good mushers, but please keep in mind that every dog is different. You know your dog better than anyone, so you know how he will react and what he will feel. Don’t take any advice, make sure it is suitable to you and your dog first. But it is for sure a great community and it is awesome to share our first experiences with experienced mushers and canicrossers!
For us, we did both of the above. But we wanted to go a bit further as we plan to canicross in official race as well and want to make sure to do everything in the perfect conditions not to injure me, of course!
We found a local canicross group, which one of the admins works in a canine sports shop and offers workshops. So we registered for a workshop early February, that will teach us everything we need to know to canicross safely and in the best conditions! We will have a theoretical class in the morning and then go out to practise what we learnt in the afternoon. I can’t wait!!
So here are our first steps into canicross! How did you begin canicross? Let us know in the comments if you have any advice for us!