By Dr. Becker
Many well-intentioned dog parents who are regular joggers decide the best way to exercise their pets is to enlist them as running partners. But there can be a problem with this, because while jogging is an excellent workout for many humans, it isn't the best choice for every dog.
I'm almost hesitant to bring this up, because on the whole, family dogs don't get nearly the amount of exercise they unquestionably need. But I think it's important to make pet parents aware that prolonged trotting or running can create health problems for certain dogs. Not all canines are natural runners. For example, some dogs, especially brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds, aren't physically equipped for running due to respiratory difficulties. Other dogs may be good sprinters, but lack the stamina for longer runs.
There can also be problems running with young dogs who haven't fully matured or dogs who are out of condition, as well as running on hard and/or hot surfaces, or in the heat of the day. Another issue can be dehydration when a pet parent underestimates the amount of water his canine companion will need on the run.
Dogs Who Aren't Suited to Jogging or Need Special Consideration
Generally speaking, brachy breeds are not good candidates for this activity, including the Pug, English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Boston Terrier, Shih Tzu, Pekingese and more. Mutts can also have flat or "pushed in" faces depending on their breed mix.
Almost all flat-faced dogs have some degree of brachycephalic respiratory syndrome. They can't breathe normally due to the construction of their head and face, and they don't pant efficiently. Since panting is how dogs cool down, brachys are at very high risk for heat stroke.
If your dog is still growing, long jogs aren't a good idea because until he's reached skeletal maturity, his growth plates aren't fully closed and there's risk of injury. Most dogs have finished growing by about 1 year of age, but larger breeds can take up to 18 months.
If your dog is in her senior years, even if she's in good condition, you'll most likely need to adjust your pace and the distance you run to accommodate her changing needs. Dogs with orthopedic disease, arthritis or other mobility issues are usually not good candidates for running because it can exacerbate the underlying condition.
Breeds Born to Run
Dogs that do well as running partners often come from the working and sporting groups, and can include the following breeds and breed mixes:
✓ Jack Russell Terrier
Small in body but with energy to burn, the Jack Russell can run for surprisingly long intervals. And he's fast, reaching speeds up to 25 miles per hour (mph) in short bursts.
✓ Brittany Spaniel
The blazing fast Brittany is often called "the breeze." She's a medium-size sporting dog with high energy and a light build perfect for running.
Dalmatians were actually bred to run alongside carriages and horseback riders, so a love of running side-by-side with their humans is in their genes.
With their long legs and sleek bodies, Greyhounds are built for speed and have been clocked at 45 mph. In between energetic bursts of speed-running, Greyhounds can be found napping on the couch.
The Whippet is thought to be a blend of Greyhound, Italian Greyhound and terrier. With that lineage, it's no wonder they're sometimes called "the poor man's racehorse." Believe it or not, a Whippet can run 200 yards in under 12 seconds!
✓ German Shorthair Pointer
This breed is athletic, with tremendous endurance, and those muscular hindquarters are custom-built for running. Since he requires exercise every day, he's the perfect companion for a long run or bike ride.
✓ Standard Poodle
Don't let the hairdo fool you — the Standard Poodle is loaded with energy and was originally bred as a gun dog and water retriever, making her an excellent partner for long runs.
✓ Australian Cattle Dog
This dog was bred to herd livestock on ranches in Australia, so a love of running is in her blood. She can go for miles, and she doesn't like to skip a day, so she's an excellent choice if you need occasional prodding to lace up your running shoes.
✓ Airedale Terrier
Airedales do well in hotter climates thanks to their short, wiry coats. This isn't a large or heavily muscled dog, so shorter runs (10 kilometers or less) are well suited to his energy level and stamina.
✓ Border Collie
Better known for their incredible intelligence and skill at flyball and agility events, Border Collies are also great runners and have been clocked at speeds up to 30 mph.
The agile "grey ghost" is adaptable to all types of running. She excels at short, quick bursts of speed and can cover long distances just as easily. Her short coat makes running in warm weather a breeze, and she's also confident on rough terrain and trails.
✓ Siberian Husky
If you live in a cold climate, a Husky is the perfect running companion. This dog was bred to pull sleds, so endurance running is in his blood.
The Basics: Health Checkup, Conditioning, Consistency and the Right Diet
Before you start jogging with your dog, I recommend getting a clean bill of health from your veterinarian to insure your four-legged workout partner is good to go. Make sure to tell your vet how often you plan to jog with your dog, and the average distance of your runs.
One of the keys to your dog's ability to comfortably and safely run with you is consistency. To stay in good condition he needs daily exercise. If you give him minimal daily exercise and then take him for a 5-mile run once every few weeks, you're asking for an injury or health problem.
Like people, dogs need consistent exercise to maintain muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness. When you run with your dog, you'll want to move at a pace that elevates his heart rate (for about 20 minutes per session) without leading to overexertion.
While I recommend all dogs be fed a nutritionally balanced, fresh food 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. I recommend all canine athletes, including dogs that consistently run, be on some type of chondroprotective agent to support joint health over time.
Safe Running Tips
When you head out for a run with your dog, it's crucially important that you bring enough water for both of you. Your dog keeps her body temp down through panting, which means she's losing water and getting dehydrated very quickly. She'll need more water than you do while exercising, in fact, about twice as much.
You can carry a collapsible pet water bowl on your runs, or buy a special dog-friendly adapter that attaches to the top of your water bottle so she can drink right from your bottle. If your dog will be on leash, I recommend using either a head collar or no-pull harness. A leash clipped to a traditional collar can risk injury to your dog's neck or back if she pulls. And skip retractable leashes, which may lead to injuries. Use a 6-foot flat leash instead.
Don't run in the heat of the day, keeping in mind that your dog can't cool his body as efficiently as you can. In addition, running on hot pavement can burn his paws. I also don't recommend running with your dog on very cold, wet or windy days. Snow and ice can pose a risk of injury (including slipping), and some dogs don't tolerate cold weather well.
Finally, keep a close eye on your dog during your runs and adapt your speed, route and hydration stops as necessary to suit your dog. She should be running alongside 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.