Dogs make great running partners! They’re enthusiastic and motivated, and their wagging tails can get you out the door on days when you otherwise might be more inclined to stay on the couch. Like humans, dogs who exercise on a daily basis are healthy, alert, more content and tend to stay out of trouble.
Have you ever seen the t-shirt that says, “I RUN TO BURN OFF THE CRAZY?” This would be an even more appropriate shirt for your dog!
If you’d like to start running with your dog here’s a few tips to make sure both you and Fido have a safe and positive experience.
1. ASK THE VET FIRST
It’s always best to check with your veterinarian to get the all-clear for running with your dog. Older dogs may require a medical check-up especially if it’s been more than six months since they’ve had an examination.
And sorry…no puppies allowed!
It’s very important for dogs to reach skeletal maturity before they start running. This takes around nine months in small dogs but large breeds can take as long as 24 months. Puppies’ bones are still developing and running can impact the development of the skeletal system for optimal long-term physical integrity. Instead of running with your puppy use this valuable time to teach him proper leash manners. This will help build a strong base once he’s ready to make the transition into a running program.
Also, some dogs may be more suitable for walking vs. running. Short-nosed dogs like pugs and bulldogs should stick to walking because of their restrictive airways. Short and bow-legged dogs like Basset hounds and corgis may also have a difficult time. And giant breeds like Great Danes, mastiffs etc. are typically not the best candidates for endurance running. That’s not to say these dogs can’t run, but they probably shouldn’t join you for a late-summer 10 miler.
TIP: Make sure your dog is up-to-date on all vaccines recommended by your veterinarian before you go running–this is especially important if you plan on running in areas frequented by wildlife and other dogs.
2. TEACH BASIC LEASH MANNERS
You will most likely need to spend some time teaching your dog how to walk nicely on a leash before you tackle running. Some people assume that once they put the leash on their dog and start running he’ll just automatically know what to do. If that works for you GREAT! But in many cases dogs will be confused, crazy and even dangerous on a run if they can’t be controlled with basic leash manners. Ideally you want to keep your dog at your side (not in front of you) 2 to 3 feet away at the most.
If your dog is a “puller” this situation will only get worse if you try to take him out for a run before you’re both ready. Despite the miracle transformations that are often portrayed on television, it can take some dogs many months of training until they become good leash partners. A Gentle Leader is a great tool for dogs that are excessive pullers and I recommend finding a trainer or other pet professional in your area who can give you guidance on how it works. It’s not enough just to slap it on your dog and expect a miracle. 🙂
It may take some time to teach your dog the basics but the investment will definitely be worth it in the long-run.
Get it…in the long-RUN?! Aaaaaah sometimes I crack myself up!!
TIP: Your local animal shelter or humane society may have a dog trainer on staff or offer classes on teaching your dog proper leash manners and how to use a Gentle Leader. Other resources you might want to check out are the Association for Professional Dog Trainers and the Animal Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. For the most part I recommend avoiding dog trainers who advocate the use of choke and prong collars.
3. START SLOWLY
Hold your horses Jack!
Once you’ve gotten the all-clear from your vet and your dog has a basic understanding of leash manners it’s time to start running! But just like humans, dogs need to build up mileage slowly and progressively. This is especially important if your dog is overweight or has a reputation for being a couch potato. You’re probably super-excited to start running with your dog but don’t set out for a 3 or 5 mile run. Instead start slow and build your mileage together as you incorporate some walk breaks into your runs. Even if your dog has a ton of energy and enthusiasm it’s still important to go slow before you go long or hard.
You want to treat your dog the same way you would treat a friend who is brand new to running. Don’t ask too much and increase the time and difficulty only as he gets stronger. Build up from easy strolls and shoot for 15 minutes, three to four times a week. Remember what you did when you started running and use the same approach for your dog.
TIP: If your current training schedule has you running a lot of miles and you still want to run with your dog you can take Fido along for a nice relaxed cool-down (or warm-up) run/walk session.
4. ESTABLISH CLEAR GUIDELINES
Don’t let your dog rule your run!
Your dog needs to understand that this is exercise time–not sniff-every-mailbox-in-the-neighborhood time. Eventually your dog will learn to love the steady pace of running just as much as you do. The sniffing and marking of territory can be saved for another time. When you first get started you’ll want to run with your dog in a familiar environment instead of going some place new where all the different smells might be too tempting.
If you stop once to let your dog sniff something you’ve just established the guidelines for the rest of your run! At first you may need to use tasty (but tiny) treats to keep your dog focused on you…and make sure these are extra-special treats that he ONLY gets during your runs.
Remember that the leash is a form of communication between you and your dog. It’s an extension of your body and your dog can FEEL your body language even if you don’t say a word. They are VERY sensitive creatures so you need to pay attention to what you’re doing at all times. Without saying a word you are telling your dog where to go, what speed to walk or run, and when to stop.
TIP: Use two different leashes for your dog…one for more leisurely walks where he can stop and sniff and another for running. Your dog is smart and as long as you are consistent with your training he’ll quickly learn what each one means.
SIDE NOTE: If you’re in need of some good reading THE OTHER END OF THE LEASH is a GREAT book!!! >> http://www.amazon.com/The-Other-End-Leash-Around/dp/034544678X
5. STAY SAFE
While we’re on the subject of leashes….FOR THE LOVE OF ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL DO NOT USE A RETRACTABLE LEASH USE WHEN YOU GO RUNNING WITH YOUR DOG!
There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t like retractable leashes (you can read this article for more info) but the main reason when it comes to running is that the leash stops being an extension of your body and a way to communicate with your dog. It more or less puts the dog in charge–not you. Remember, is this HIS time or YOUR time? If you insist on using a retractable leash save it for your more leisurely walks where he’s allowed to stop and sniff.
This tends to be a very hot topic but I also think it’s important to keep your dog on a leash at all times when you run. As a veterinary technician I’ve seen too many times what happens when dogs are allowed off leash. Your dog may be very well-behaved but there are so many other variables to deal with no matter where you run. Inconsiderate people, off-leash dogs, bicycles, motor vehicles, wildlife, ticks, poison ivy, and the list goes on. You might be able to control your dog but you are never in control of your environment. It only takes a split second for something bad to happen. And if something bad DOES happen, leash laws will not go in your favor and you’ll be held responsible. Also, remember not everyone is as comfortable as you are with your dog so you need to be respectable of other people’s space and only use your private property if you want to let your dog “run free”.
Unlike people, dogs are less inclined to slow down or stop when they get tired so it’s also important to monitor your dog for signs of fatigue during your run. These signs include flat ears, tail down, excessive panting with lips peeled back and a tongue that is longer and wider than normal, as well as breathing that doesn’t come back to normal when you stop. And in some cases if your dog is totally exhausted he may sit down and refuse to continue which is a sure sign you’ve gone too far or too fast. And if he seems extremely tired or lethargic the day after a run you might want to dial it down a notch.
Also, some dogs will run until their paw pads are raw, so it’s important to check those on a regular basis especially if you do a lot of runs/walks on pavement. Check between the pads for rocks or burrs and look for cracks and cuts. It’s also best to avoid running with your dog on hot pavement and sand and make sure your dog’s nails are trimmed short so their paws strike the ground flat. However, a nice side effect of taking your dog for runs/walks on a regular basis is that you will have to worry less about trimming his nails!
TIP: Instead of a standard neck collar use a harness or Gentle Leader head collar when you go running with your dog. Yanking and pulling on a neck collar can cause spinal disc issues. However, if you choose to use a harness it’s important that your dog has first been trained to walk properly on a leash otherwise it will reinforce his desire to pull.
6. DON’T SHARE THE GATORADE
Your dog needs fuel for a long run but don’t feed him a big meal less than two hours before a run and don’t feed him a big meal until two hours after you’ve finished. And unlike humans, dogs burn FAT as their primary endurance fuel–not carbs. So don’t share your Gatorade with your dog! Dogs don’t need carbohydrates or electrolytes, and I’ve heard of one study that tested sports drinks in dogs and the main outcome was gastrointestinal distress. For dogs running around 20 minutes a few times a week, a normal commercial dog food should be fine. But if you and your dog run 6 or 10 miles a day he might benefit from a slightly higher-fat diet.
There are special high-performance dog foods now that contain as much as 20 percent fat. Or you can just add a teaspoon of fish oil to your dog’s kibble. That increases fat intake by 1 or 2 percent, which can be plenty. On the other hand, fat is somewhat indigestible and can lead to greater fecal mass. So if you increase your dog’s fat intake, be prepared to carry an extra plastic bag or two when you go running. 😀
If you’re going for a longer run you also want to give your dog water an hour or so before heading out. Immediately following a run he can drink a small amount of water from an elevated bowl or poured out from your bottle. But gulping a lot of water at once can cause GI distress, so dole out only a little bit at a time. Also, if you get thirsty during your run chances are your dog is thirsty too. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that water is available if you’ll be running with your dog for more than 30 minutes. While you may be dripping in sweat and effectively cooling yourself on a hot run, your dog is only able to pant and utilize the sweat glands in his feet. Even so, it seems that dogs are still much better than most people at rehydrating themselves. A recent study done with search-and-rescue dogs working in 90-degree heat showed they replaced their fluid losses almost drop for drop.
TIP: If it’s hot out and you’re worried because your dog doesn’t want to drink you can add a beef bouillon cube to his water to entice him to drink up. Better yet, on hot and humid days only take your dog running when you can both hide under the cover of sunrise or sunset.
7. Savor the moment.
This is the most simple tip of all.
I don’t want to be a Debbie-Downer but your dog is not going to be around forever. In fact, in the big scheme of things the time you have together is most likely going to be pretty short. I would encourage you to ditch the ear-buds and instead focus on connecting with your dog when you go for a run. He needs YOU to be there for him just as much as you need HIM and I think it creates a special kind of bond that needs to be respected. After all, there’s nothing more motivating than the rhythmic cadence of footfalls and paws, both moving together in perfect harmony.
Need some extra support and motivation to get you and your pooch out the door? Join the Fit Runner Club–home of the 30-Day Fit Runner challenge!