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Taking the lead: why a jog with a dog is the latest fitness craze

Sales of specialist equipment boom as pet owners combine traditional walkies with their own exercise routine in ‘canicross’

By Donna Ferguson  /  The GUARDIAN

A participant with a dog in November last year takes part in a bikejoring and canicross competition in Stavropol, Russia.

Photo: REUTERS

Once it was exercise enough to walk the dog. Now increasing numbers of owners are being taken by their pets for a vigorous run instead.

Although canicross — where a human is strapped with a bungee cord to a dog in a harness as it races across fields and woodland trails — has been slowly growing in popularity, there has been a huge jump in participation in the last 12 months.

Demand across the UK for equipment has quadrupled, while for training classes it has nearly tripled. Record numbers are also signing up to running events that allow dogs.

In response, a plethora of canicross training companies have sprung up, offering to teach joggers how to direct their dogs while running and ensure the pet’s pace is appropriate for its age and fitness level.

At DogFit, around 4,000 people have taken part in training classes over the past year alone, which is 2,500 more than last year.

“Participation is at record levels,” says co-founder Gail Walker.

She estimates that over the same period sales of her canicross equipment kits have quadrupled. “At Christmas we were inundated,” she said. “It’s definitely been the busiest year for canicross equipment that we’ve seen,” says Adrian Ward, owner of Innerwolf.co.uk, a Web site that sells canicross harnesses for dogs, waist belts for humans and leads made from bungee cords, to protect dog and owner from sudden changes in speed or direction.

He has seen demand “at least double” over the past year, he says.

“It’s exposure, I suppose. More people are hearing about it and, because most trail running events now incorporate a canicross category, there is more availability at races now as well.”

Canix, which organizes canicross racing events all over the UK, is putting on 15 percent more races this year and signing up 10 percent more runners for each one.

“The sport is definitely becoming more popular. We’re seeing more interest from beginners all the time,” says spokeswoman Dawn Crook-Richards. “I think people are more aware of the need to keep themselves and their dog fit. Compared with a lot of other sports it’s cheap — and people really love it.”

Mark Tasker, a dog trainer at the Dog Academy in Hertfordshire, decided to start offering canicross taster classes last month after requests from his clients.

“The first session was sold out and the next one is sold out too. Customers are looking for extra things to do with their dog,” he says.

Canicross appeals because dog owners like the idea of getting fit while strengthening their bond with their pet, he adds. “Plus, if you run with your dog, you are learning a new skill, and actually, it’s easier than running on your own because you’re working as a team.”

At Cani-Fit, another canicross training company, founder Lindsay Johnson says her clients and their dogs particularly enjoy the social aspect of the weekly hour-long training runs.

“We get a lot of people who wouldn’t attend a gym or a running club. They use the dog as a crutch — they tell themselves they are doing it for the dog. As for the dogs, they love running with other dogs.”

It’s a great way, she says, for nervous dogs in particular to safely socialise with other dogs.

“When they all face the same direction, there doesn’t tend to be any intimidation.”

Since it is best for dogs to run long distances on surfaces which are naturally bouncy and kind to their paws, canicross runs typically take place on trails, rather than pavements.

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