If you’re an avid runner and a dog parent, the idea of hitching your four-legged friend up to his leash and pounding the pavement together might sound like a lot of fun. And it can be! Plus, it’s a good way for you both to get some exercise and stay fit.
However, there are a few things to know before you and your furry friend hit the trails or footpath. To start, not every dog is a good candidate for running, especially long-distance running. And even if your pup is built to be a great runner, you’ll want to teach them a few things to help your outings go more smoothly.
First things first: Talk to your vet
While you probably know your dog pretty well and are tuned in to his or her individual cues, dogs can’t tell us exactly when they don’t feel well or are in pain. That’s why it’s a good idea to take Fido to the vet and get a clean bill of health before you start any kind of training regimen.
Another thing to note: If your dog is a puppy, most vets advise that you hold off on trying to teach them how to run until they’re at least 18 months. Their bones aren’t fully formed yet, making them prone to injury, says Russell Hartstein, a trainer and CEO and owner of Los Angeles-based Fun Paw Care, a doggie daycare and training facility.
But if your dog’s been to the vet and is in tip-top shape, and he’s at least 18 months old, then he could be the perfect running buddy for you. Read on to get started.
Get your supplies in order
First, you’ll probably want a hands-free leash, which will free you up to move your arms the way you would during any other run.
A word of caution from Hartstein: Never use a choke chain, pronged collar, or shock collar when running with your dog – the risk for injury is too high if you have to stop abruptly for any reason.
His recommendation: use a flat Martingale collar or a rear-attaching harness. A rear-attaching harness is probably your best, according to GearJunkie.com, because they allow your dog to “run without obstruction.”
Other gear you might want:
a collar or leash with reflector lights for nighttime runs, so that drivers and cyclists can see you coming
a pouch you can wear on your waist that holds treats
extra poop bags
Think of a cue
This is a signal or command to alert your dog to the change in pace so that you’re not just jerking him on the leash, Hartstein says. The cue can be anything – for example, the American Kennel Club (AKC) suggests “Run” or “let’s go” — as long as it’s new and not something your dog associates with another command. You might also want to use a verbal cue of some kind that lets them know when it’s time to slow down (for example, “stop,” or “whoa”).
Even if you’re an experienced runner, you probably remember learning to run by alternating walking and running intervals. While there’s no exact equivalent for dogs, “starting with a slow, graduated pace is the default for teaching any dog a new behaviour,” Hartstein says.
Try starting with loose leash walking – i.e. when your dog is walking nicely next to you on the leash, not pulling or bounding ahead – for between five and 10 minutes. Just like people, it’s important for your dog to warm up before a serious run. Plus, this will also give your furry friend a chance to eliminate and sniff a few trees, flowers, or fences (aka catch up on Doggy Facebook).
Once you’ve decided what cues to use, it’s time to pick up the pace — slowly. To teach the cue, “intersperse short bursts of jogging or running with your normal walking pace,” says Jerry Klein, the AKC’s chief veterinary officer. “Simply give the cue immediately before you increase your speed, and then reward your dog when he hurries to catch up.” Likewise, do the same thing when it’s time to slow down – give Fido his cue and then reward him when he does it correctly.
It’ll take several weeks to build up your doggo’s endurance. Start with short bursts of running interspersed with lots of walking. Gradually, shorten the amount of time you spend walking while increasing the running.
Ready to move on to something a little more challenging? Try a 5K training plan just for dogs (yes, they really exist!). Runner’s World has a couple of good options here.
Any pup parent knows that your dog loves you and wants you to be happy. To that end, some dogs aren’t that vocal when they’re miserable on the inside, which means it’s up to you to keep an eye on your four-legged friend and make sure he or she is doing ok.
A dog who’s enjoying running with you will be engaged, enthusiastic, and ready to run, Hartstein notes. If, on the other hand, your pooch is whining, crying, limping, hesitating, or his tail or ears are tucked, he might not be enjoying himself.
“It is important to remember that each dog is an individual and behaviour is contextual,” Hartstein says. “As a pet parent, you know your dog best. Does your dog’s behaviour fit the context in which you are in? Is she exhibiting ‘normal’ behaviour patterns or is there something abnormal about her behaviour prior to, during, or after you dog run?”
Once you notice your dog is lagging behind a bit or having a harder time keeping pace, that’s a sign that he or she is getting tired and could use a break.
Running in hot weather
Is it a really hot day? Keep your runs short and sweet. “Dogs don’t think about stopping to drink,” says Gary Richter, a California-based vet and consultant for Rover. “When left on his own, he might know to stop and rest but when he’s with you, he’s going to try and keep up – even it’s harmful to him.” Building in frequent, small water breaks for Fido can help you make sure he’s not dehydrated and will also give you an opportunity to make sure he’s enjoying himself.
One important note: While it’s important for your dog to stay hydrated (just like you!) don’t let him or her take huge gulps of water, if possible, because it can increase the risk that they’ll swallow too much air and develop bloat, cautions Dr. Klein. Instead, give let him or her have small amounts at a time and make sure there’s at least a 10 to 15 minute “cool-down period, like a racehorse,” he says. Waiting until you get home to feed your dog will also lessen the chances of bloat (in that same vein, don’t for a run with Fido right after he’s wolfed down his breakfast).
Additionally, remember that little paw pads are sensitive and that hot asphalt or concrete can burn your dog’s feet. You can mitigate this with booties or paw wax, but it’s a good idea to double-check that it’s safe for your furry friend to join you. You’ve probably heard of the seven-second rule: Place the back of your hand on the concrete for seven seconds. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog, so you should leave him at home or use boots – but even if you opt for the booties, keep your runs brief. “In the heat or humidity, I would not run long, hard, or fast,” Hartstein adds.
Red-flag signs to watch out for
The big one is heatstroke, Dr. Klein says. If your dog’s gums are red, he’s panting until he can’t catch his breath, he’s drooling, vomiting, or having bloody diarrhoea, try and cool him down as best you can—wrap him in a wet towel or even dump some water over his body and take him to the nearest vet immediately.
Running in cold weather
The cold tends to be a bigger problem for short-haired dogs, who may need to be fitted with a jacket, but ice can burn your dog’s paw pads, too, which is why it’s a good idea to fit him with booties before heading out.
Can every dog be a runner?
Maybe! But some dogs are marathoners and others are sprinters. Working dog breeds — malamutes and German shepherds, for example — tend to love exercise. Other breeds that love running: Golden retrievers, labs, vizlas, German short-haired pointers, poodles, and weimaraners.
Small dogs may be better suited for shorter distances, as they have to take several steps to keep up with human strides, Dr. Richter points out. And brachycephalic dogs — aka short-snouted dogs like pugs, French bulldogs, and Boston terriers — don’t breathe well, meaning that running can quickly become dangerous for them (especially in the heat).
Still, “All dogs are individuals, and I have worked with many couch potato German shepherd dogs and many energetic English bulldogs,” Hartstein says. As with people, it comes down to knowing your pooch, starting slow, and paying attention. Soon enough, your furry friend will find his stride.