My 1 year old Golden Retriever mix is my favorite running buddy. She is always ready to go and is enthusiastic about any form of exercise. As I start running with her more and more, I did some research about running with my dog. There is so much good information out there that I thought I’d share some of what I found.
Studies show that exercising with a partner increases your motivation. In a study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, researchers found dog owners walk more than non-dog owners and are more likely to reach the recommended physical activity requirements (for more information, read the article in Runner’s World). Your dog is probably the most dependable partner you can find! S/he won’t complain, worry about time, or listen to your excuses. Plus dogs run with a smile and a wagging tail. To top it off, running with your dog is such a great bonding experience!
Different Breeds for Different Runs
Different dog breeds do better in different conditions and at different distances. Runner’s World featured a great figure, originally by Liz Devitt and professional dog trainer JT Clough, which lays out which breeds are best for the type of running you do. If you own a breed that is not on this list, I recommend you read up on the characteristics of your dog and see if you can match them with any of the characteristics below. If your dog doesn’t fall in the category that you run in, you should consider talking to your vet to see if there are any health risks you should be aware of before running in those conditions with your dog.
Safety and Health Considerations
My pup is always eager to get outside and run around. Since running with her is not only getting me out and moving, but also giving her the exercise she needs as a young athletic dog, it is a win-win situation. However, there are some health and safety concerns that you should take into account before, during and after running with your dog.
Talk to your vet about your intentions so they can more closely monitor your dog’s heart, lungs and joints. You should also discuss with your vet any underlying health conditions you may be unaware of or should know more about. For example, my Molly has slight hip dysplasia. She’s still young, but I need to be conscious of this and watch for any signs she may be hurting or working too hard. I will also talk to my vet as I start running longer distances to make sure I don’t endanger her health. You also want to wait for your dog to be at least a year before taking them on distance runs since they will be almost finished growing and developing by then.
Be aware of the surface you are running on. If it’s a very hot sunny day in mid-summer and you are running on asphalt, your poor pup could be playing a version of hot potato with his/her feet as they hit the pavement. Of course you also need to watch for glass, rocks, or anything sharp that could wound your dog. If s/he stops to lick his feet, stop running immediately and inspect his/her paws. You should always inspect his/her paws after a run for any cuts. It may be a good idea to rinse/wipe off his/her paws depending on the conditions you were running in. For example, salt can irritate their skin. Be sure to get in between their toes! You should also check your pup for ticks and burrs if you were running in the woods or in meadows.
Hydration!! Make sure your dog gets plenty of water before and after a workout. If you are going on a long distance run, you should bring water for you and your dog. If your dog gets too thirsty, s/he may try to drink from puddles, which are often full of contaminants and yucky stuff you don’t want your dog to ingest.
Watch for signs of overexertion and/or stress: heavy panting, foaming at the mouth, glazed eyes, yawning, weakness and of course, slowing down. Any of these signs indicate that you should stop for the day. Remember your dog’s primary method of cooling isn’t sweating, it’s panting. Panting is not as efficient as sweating. If your dog starts vomiting, call your vet.
Training and Tips on Running with Your Pup
Just because your dog seems like s/he is always raring to go doesn’t mean you should immediately start running 10 miles with him/her. Just like humans, dogs need to train too. When you first start, set a baseline. How far can your dog comfortably run now? In what conditions? This will help you build a training program.
It’s important to start slow and make sure your new running buddy warms up. Since I am a new runner and so is Molly, we will be building our running stamina together. But I have to remember that while I can run on the treadmill at work during my lunch, she does not have a doggy treadmill (these exist??) at home where she can run to keep up with our training program. I can only run with her on weekends right now, so I don’t schedule any of my “harder” runs on the weekends. Once spring rolls around and I can run after work, our training program will match up again. Of course, let’s be honest – she is a much better runner than I am already. She is very active and plays with other dogs a lot. But that doesn’t mean she can immediately go out for a 3 mile run right now. Running with me differs from running around the farm playing with her canine cousin.
Depending on your dog, it may be best to start with long walks to build some endurance. As you ease into running, make sure your dog has a 5 minute walking warm up. Start at 15-20 minutes of more walking than running 3 times a week, and then build up by running more than walking and adding on 5 minutes per week.
You want your dog to be three feet in front of you and off to one side. When someone (pedestrian, biker, car, etc.) passes you, pull off a bit and keep your dog quietly sitting next to you. This may take some training depending on the type of dog you have, so be patient with your dog. Teach them cues such as “slow,” “sit,” and “wait.” Don’t let them get away with pulling you around or stopping to sniff every blade of grass. Developing good leash manners may take some extra training outside of your running time.
When running with your dog, be aware that some people aren’t dog people. You are your dog’s biggest fan. Some people may be allergic or afraid, so when around other people while running, keep your dog close to you. If you have a breed of dog that is often stereotyped as aggressive (such as a Pitbull, Rottweiler or German Shepard), be aware that, while you know your dog is super friendly, others may not know this. If your dog is not super friendly around others, try to run in an unpopulated area so that it is less stressful for your dog.
Don’t tie the leash to your wrist. Don’t like holding the leash? Buy a hands-free one!
The pads of their feet are also quite sensitive so they need to build calluses just like you. As your pup builds toughness in his/her pads, be aware of the type of surface you are running on. It may be best to start on a trail before moving to the road (if possible).
In addition to your running gear, you will also need some gear for your pup. Let’s start with the obvious. A collar with tags and a leash. You should choose a 4 – 6ft leash over a retractable one because that will give you better control, especially if you are running on the road or on a crowded trail. If your dog pulls a lot, invest in a harness. Be aware that on long runs they can chafe. I don’t know much on harnesses, so I suggest you do research to see what type would be best for you and your dog.
Bring bags to clean up after your dog – just because you went before the run doesn’t mean your dog will.
If you are going on a long run and/or it is very hot, you should bring some water for you and your companion. Teach your dog to drink from a water bottle or bring a collapsible water bowl to pour drinking water in.
This fun article from Runner’s World lists some pup running gear – check it out! I’m not sure Molly would like the pack or the boots, but she would be a big fan of the treats!
Speaking of treats, as you work with your dog in different environments, it would be good to bring some training treats with you. Molly is naturally shy so I like to bring treats with me to both reward and distract her when she is in a stressful situation. Plus you should always praise and reward your dog when s/he is being good!
Racing with Your Dog
As you train together, you may start to wonder – can I race with my dog? Well I did an internet search and did not find too many races in which you can run with your dog. Many larger races do not allow this because of safety and liability concerns. However, I found some local races I can race with Molly in (Walk and Run for the Animals in Annapolis MD and Dog Day 5k in Doylestown PA)
You may also consider looking up a race that benefits your local animal shelters. Even if you can’t run with your dog, at least you will be helping other dogs live a better life! (Here’s an example: Rescue Run 5k in Philadelphia)
So You Don’t or Can’t Have a Dog?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Do an internet search to see if any local shelters in your area have established programs that allow you to take their dogs on runs. If not, see if this would be something they are willing to let you do. I am not familiar with shelter policies so I cannot guarantee that you will be successful, but anything is worth a try.
For those of you in Philadelphia, check out this awesome non profit called The Monster Milers that connects runners with shelter dogs as running companions.
For those of you in the Washington D.C. area, consider joining PACK (People & Animal Cardio Klub) and running with an adoptable dog from the Washington Humane Society. They currently run Saturday mornings at 8 am.
For those of you in Austin, join the Rufftail Runners take local shelter dogs out for some fresh air and exercise!
Check out other programs on Miles and Mutts site! They made a great list of programs in Seattle, Annapolis (MD), Charlotte (NC), and more!
Sources and Further Resources
“10 Races to Run with Your Dog” Active. (This is a list from 2013. Hopefully they will post a 2014 list too!)
I am not a vet, dog expert, or fitness guru. Just as you should talk to your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, it is best to consult with your dog’s vet before bringing him or her along on runs.
*I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any tips or resources that you would like to share, please write a comment. I welcome any and all feedback. As I am not an expert, feel free to correct anything I wrote.