The sport of urban mushing encompasses a variety of activities, ranging from obscure to surprisingly mainstream. In fact, one such activity you may already enjoy with your dog, without realizing you are mushing! The sport is canicross, which describes the pastime where dog(s) pull a human while both run. What originally began as a training activity for sled dogs during the summer months has recently become a world-wide phenomenon.
Canicross is slightly different from simply running with your dog, because pulling is encouraged. Typically, instead of holding a leash, the canicross musher will wear a belt that is attached to the dog’s harness, via an elastic or bungee-type line. Among all forms of urban mushing, canicross is one of the least expensive pursuits, and supplies are more readily available. Harnesses, leads, and waist belts can typically be found at most specialty running or pet stores.
Another advantage of canicross is that less training is required than when teaching a dog to pull a bike, sled, or cart. Dogs already enjoy running, and most will gladly appreciate the opportunity to pull without reprimand. Mushers can easily teach cues such as “turn right,” “turn left,” “stop,” or “wait.”
Also unlike most urban mushing activities, canicross can be performed anywhere that humans and dogs are allowed, from bicycle paths, to park trails, to open fields. In most instances, soft surfaces are preferred; however, city-dwelling dogs will receive just as much benefit from mushing down the sidewalk, if proper care is taken to condition their paws to the rough surface.
In terms of risk, canicross is among the least dangerous of urban mushing activities, to both dog and human. The weight that the dog(s) pull while running attached to a musher is less than if pulling a sled or cart, which decreases the chance of a strained muscle or other injury. Since the dog(s) are attached directly to a musher, there is a greatly reduced danger of them running away and becoming tangled or trapped, as can happen in bikejoring or scootering if the musher loses balance. As with all mushing activities, the dog must be monitored for overheating. For the musher, injuries may occur from tripping and falling, but are unlikely to be as serious as falling off a bike, scooter, or cart.
For the competitive runner, a number of canine running events take place in the US and in Europe. Although not yet as popular in the United States as abroad, runners are often encouraged to participate in local 5k races with their pups, especially if benefitting animal rescue organizations. In the UK, official canicross competitions exist, which typically cover a 2k or 5k distance. As with most mushing competitions, runners begin at different intervals, and the team to complete the course in the fastest time wins. The next time you and your dog are out on a leisurely run together and someone yells, “Who is walking who?” be sure to tell that person you are simply participating in your new favorite sport – canicross!