Since starting canicross and qualifying as a canicross trainer, people frequently ask my advice about running with dogs. Here I have condensed all those frequently asked questions about running with your dog into what is hopefully a succinct article. I hope you find it useful if you are keen to begin running with your dog safely.

What is canicross?

Canicross is the sport of cross country running with dogs.  In canicross, dogs wear a running harness, and we attach them to a waist belt that we wear via a bungee lead. Canicross can be run with one or two dogs, always attached to the runner. You don’t have to be competitive and enter races to enjoy canicross.

I help a lot of beginners get started, who simply want to enjoy the countryside through being fit and active with their dog. You also don’t need to practice canicross to run with your dog. My older dog Bella has always run off lead. My younger dog is very prey driven and reactive, however, so canicross is the perfect way to exercise her safely and sufficiently.

What are the benefits of running with your dog?

Initially I started running with my oldest dog, Bella, when she was about 6, and I discovered I enjoyed trail running. It seemed natural to me to let her tag along. She was well behaved enough to stay at my heels, and if she did veer off for a sniff or a squirrel chase, she did always come back when I call her. I loved sharing these runs with Bella, and they became more and more regular.

Then we adopted our youngest dog. I had visions of Poppy, Bella, and I running free on the moors, frolicking in the heather, sitting on a cairn to watch the sunset. One day, Poppy chased a deer. She was gone for about 10 minutes, but they were the longest ten minutes of my life. From then on, she was highly alert every time we went out. I knew that initial thrill of the chase had awoken an instinctive prey drive in her. She needed to be on the lead, especially with all the sheep that graze our moorland. I turned to canicross for a solution.

The simple act of teaching her to run in a harness, attached to me, and listen to my commands, has formed a strong bond between us. Running gives her the freedom to stretch her legs, without me worrying about her running off. As a rescue from the streets of Romania, she is still very nervous and reactive. Running her on the lead really gives her a job to focus on – I can tell she really enjoys it. She especially loves our social runs where she can run as part of a pack and take it in turns to lead the way.

How old does my dog have to be to start running?

Dogs should be fully mature before they start running, especially in harness. For younger breed this may be a year old, sometimes up to 18 months for larger breeds, and how early or late they are neutered or spayed an also affect their early growth. Their bones are still developing until they reach maturity, so while you can start practising canicross commands and obedience training with them, it’s best to save the running until they are old enough. Check with your vet before you start running with them, particularly in harness. Once they’re ready, start them off on a couch to 5k programme, as you would a person, until they build endurance.

What kit do you need to get started running with your dog?

You don’t need any kit really to start running with your dog, as long as your dog is well-behaved enough to respond to you when you call him. I would however always advise that dogs wear an appropriate harness for if you do need to put them on a lead at any point (near a road or around livestock). Running with a dog on a lead attached to a collar can cause the dog neck injury, so an appropriate running harness is a much better option. Let’s talk about suitable harnesses: a running harness should not restrict the dog’s shoulder movement; it should be able to move its shoulders freely while running.

If you like the idea of hands-free running while the dog is on a lead, then you might also like to invest in a running belt for yourself, to which you can attach a bungee lead. Your waist belt will give you control over your dog. A common fear I hear is that people are scared their dog might pull them over. Our pelvis is so strong, and much better able to control a dog than holding onto the end of a lead. A bungee lead also absorbs shock, so avoids the jerkiness of a standard lead if the dog stops or sets off quickly.

How do I train my dog to run?

You train a dog to run in pretty much the same way you began to run, by way of a gentle introduction to running, making sure they have appropriate recovery days as they build up their endurance. I offer Couch to 5k courses for dogs that have never done any kind of running before, an initially I would recommend they run no more than 30 minutes 3 times a week. If you’re running canicross style with your dog attached to you, remember that your weight, as the dog pulls against you, can tire the dog out much more than you would imagine.

How far can a dog run?

Each dog is an individual, and just like us, some may enjoy running further or faster than others. You know your dog best, so just pay close attention to it. Some breeds are naturally more suited to long distance running than others, and if you are planning to do some long runs with your dog, just make sure you train them up slowly. Dogs will run until they drop, so it’s your responsibility to make the call on how much is enough for your dog.

Does my dog need extra food after a run?

Not really. It’s tempting to feed your dog extra treats during or after a run, but dogs are built to run, and with us they’re often not performing at their limits unless they’re in a race. Be careful not to overfeed them. While we’re on the subject of food too, if you are feeding your dog prior to run, make sure you do this a couple of hours before so they don’t get uncomfortable or bloated during your run.

My dog sometimes gets the runs on the run. Is this normal?

The adrenaline pumping through your dog’s body on a run can often cause the bowels to become a little overactive. This is a normal reaction, but if you are at all worried, have a chat with your vet about it.

How do I train my dog to run at my pace?

Running together is a great way to bond. Your dog will naturally be paying attention to you, to see what you want her to do. Dogs usually fall naturally into their human’s rhythm after the initial burst of excitement when we shout ‘Let’s Go!’ This can sometimes take more time with some dogs. Praise the behaviour/pace you want, and your dog will learn quickly.

What commands should I teach my running dog?

Keep the commands simple. I use just a few, as follows:

Let’s go!

This is our cue to go. I usually accompany this with an audible clap to get my dogs running.


I use this command when I want them to slow down a little. When training, I accompany this with a little tug on the lead.

Heel/With me

Useful when going downhill to keep the dog at my heel rather than pulling me down the hill. This is the most difficult one to teach, in my opinion, but is worth persevering with.


Very useful to avoid getting wrapped around trees. Surprisingly simple to teach with a small tug on the lead in either direction as you give the command.


A useful command if your dog is easily distracted by people/bikes/wildlife/smells. Encourage your dog to keep going forward. Also useful at junctions where your dog is unsure which way to go.

What if my dog won’t pull?

Some dogs don’t like to pull initially, because we spend our time on walks teaching them not to pull. It’s easy to see why they might be confused when we attach them to us and ask them to pull us along. Plenty of praise is useful to teach this skill, as is a willing friend with a dog who will run in front. What dog doesn’t love to chase? Some dogs just don’t like canicross, like my Bella for example, who is happier OFF the lead. If you’re not sure how your dog will respond, why not try a taster session with a trainer before you invest in kit?

Can children do canicross?

Yes they can! For safety, I recommend that young children have an adult attached to their dog with a bungee line. Children can certainly enjoy getting fit and active with their family dog as much as you. Children’s canicross belts are available, and many canicross trainers offer classes for children as well as adults.

Find out more about running with your dog on our Canicross Conversations podcast

You can find out lots more about canicross on my educational podcast Canicross Conversations