By Dr. Becker
Running with your dog can be a great form of exercise for you both, not to mention an excellent activity for bonding. However, don’t simply assume that your dog is ready to be your running partner just because she’s a dog.
Not all dogs are suited for running long distances, and even those that are may need to work up to your pace and distance. In addition, while some dogs love to run with their owners, others prefer brisk walks or vigorous play sessions to runs, so it’s important to keep your dog’s preferences in mind, too.
Assuming your dog enjoys it, however, you and your pet can grow as runners together.
Running With Your Dog: Safety First
Before you start vigorously running with your dog, take a trip to your veterinarian and be sure she’s in good health. Your dog’s age, breed and fitness level will all come into play when it comes to devising your running program.
Older dogs may still enjoy running, but you may need to slow down your pace or shorten your route. You’ll also need to keep a close eye out for signs of stress or overexertion. Young dogs are often ideal running partners eager to burn off some extra energy, but be careful with starting out too young.
Dogs should only go for regular runs with their owners when they’ve reached skeletal maturity; this is necessary for their growth plates to close, to allow them to run safely and without increased risk of injury.
In general, this occurs at about 1 year of age, although it may be somewhat sooner for small dogs and later (around 18 months) for large dogs.
Certain dog breeds, such as brachycephalic dogs (those with squished faces, including Pugs, Bulldogs and Boxers), may have more trouble breathing on runs, so take this into account as well.
Dog Breeds Built for Running
Dogs especially suited for running include working and sporting breeds, such as pointers, retrievers, setters and spaniels. Examples of breeds that may make good running partners include:
✓ Jack Russell Terrier
✓ Brittany Spaniel
✓ German Shorthaired Pointer
✓ Standard Poodle
✓ Australian Cattle Dog
✓ Airedale Terrier
✓ Border Collie
✓ Siberian Husky
Many mixed-breed dogs in shelters also make excellent canine running buddies, but no matter what the breed, consistency will be key. It’s not a good idea to give your dog minimal exercise most of the time and then expect her to go on a 5-mile run once a month.
Like people, dogs need consistent exercise to maintain muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness while preventing muscle wasting. When you run, you’ll want to use a pace that elevates your pet’s heart rate (for about 20 minutes per session) without leading to overexertion.
While all dogs benefit from eating a fresh food, species-appropriate diet, canine athletes do especially well on unprocessed food because of the vast amount of ligament-supporting minerals and naturally occurring glucosamine found in fresh food.
Planning Ahead Is Crucial
It doesn’t take much planning to have a successful run with your dog, but that little bit of preparedness can make all the difference. Most importantly, be sure you bring water along to keep your dog adequately hydrated.
If you’re bringing along a water bottle for yourself, also bring a portable, fold-up bowl to share some water with your dog. There are also special adapters available that attach to the top of most standard water bottles, allowing for dogs to easily take a drink.
You’ll want to offer your dog water at least every 30 minutes during a trail run. Other practical matters include a leash, harness and, of course, poop bags.
Most trails (and neighborhoods) require dogs be leashed while on walks or runs. Whenever your dog will be on leash, and especially if you plan to go for a run, I recommend using either a head collar or no-pull harness.
Using a traditional collar may pose a risk of injury to your dog’s neck or back if the dog pulls at all. There are many different styles of harnesses, find the one that is ergonomically correct for your dog. Also, skip the retractable leashes, which may lead to injuries, and instead choose a flat leash that is no longer than 6 feet.
The other important consideration is making sure the trail you choose allows dogs. For instance, dogs are not allowed on trails in most U.S. national parks.
Avoid Running in Extreme Weather
Dogs sweat via their paws and use panting to cool down; however, they may overheat considerably faster than you do. You should avoid running with your dog when it’s overly hot outside as well as when it’s particularly cold.
Snow and ice can also pose a risk of injury (including slipping) to dogs, and some breeds do not tolerate cold weather well (including short-haired dogs and very small dogs).
If you enjoy running outdoors in the winter or plan to involve your dog in other winter sports, consider a breed or mixed breed that is suited for cold weather, such as the Alaskan Malamute, Chow Chow or Great Pyrenees.
Adapt Your Running Route to Suit Your Dog’s Needs
It’s important to keep a close eye on your dog during a run and adapt your route as necessary to suit your dog. This may include cutting your run short if your dog is too tired, or skipping a particularly rough area of terrain that could injure your dog’s paws. Watch your dog closely; she should be at your side or slightly in front of you. If she drops behind you, the run is too intense for her. You’ll need to work up to longer runs slowly, increasing your mileage by no more than about 10 percent each week.
If you pay attention, you’ll quickly learn whether your dog is suited to be your running buddy or not. If your dog eagerly anticipates your runs, blazes the trail, and easily keeps on your pace, you’ll know you’ve found your running match.
For fun, you can also check out the MapMyDogWalk app. It keeps track of how far and long you and your dog walked (or ran), and how many calories you burned. You can even see what routes people around you are using to change up your routine and stay motivated.