By Susan DuPont
There is nothing quite as wonderful as the bond between canine and human. Dogs have the uncanny ability to bring smiles to our faces even when we are at our lowest, and they love us regardless of how slow our mile splits might be or how ridiculous we may look in spandex (although I swear I’ve seen my dog raise an eyebrow at me a time or two). So what could be better than incorporating your favorite pooch into your workout routine? Running with your dog is beneficial for both you and your pet. You have an added sense of security, a workout partner who never complains, and you are allowing your best bud much needed exercise that is vital to his health and happiness. It’s a win win situation for both you and your dog. But running with a dog is not so simple. It takes time and patience, and not just any dog is up for the challenge. Before deciding to drag your four legged friend on your next ten mile jaunt, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into first.
1. Select the right breed
Just because your pet likes to run around the yard doesn’t mean he is going to be a world class runner. Certain breeds are simply not conducive to high volumes of exercise. Dogs with short noses such as pugs and bulldogs should NOT be used as running companions. Likewise, while they may be able to sprint, greyhounds are not ideal running buddies either unless you are only running to the mailbox. Instead consider breeds that have been developed for working and utility. These breeds are generally considered working or herding dogs and they have been bred to endure high intensity training, long days on their feet, and high endurance levels. The Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, German Shorthair Pointer, Australian Cattle Dog, Jack Russell terrier, Fox Terriers, Boykins, Vizsla, Weimeraner, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Belgian Malinois are all breeds that make wonderful running companions. I would be remiss not to mention your everyday Heinz 57 mixed breed; these dogs, depending on their genetic makeup, make excellent running partners. My own shepherd/cattle dog mix has logged countless miles with me and even competed in several half marathons, so don’t rule out those lovable mutts when choosing your running mate!
2. Consult your vet
Before making the decision to drag your pup out on a three mile run, first consult your vet. You want to make sure that your best friend is fit and healthy and can endure the training that you want him to do. If you have a new puppy, this is especially important. Puppies have growing bones and their joints are still developing. Logging in excessive miles and pounding on pavement can be devastating for a growing dog’s legs. While most vets recommend you wait at least one year before actively running your dog on a regular basis, you can usually get your vet’s permission to start taking your pooch out on shorter runs of up to 3 miles when they reach six to eight months of age. For larger breeds whose bones take longer to fully develop, your vet may want you to wait until your dog reaches 1 ½ years of age. However, not being able to take Fido out on long runs doesn’t mean you can’t start teaching him the rules of the road. Walks on the leash that simulate running will teach your pup how to respond to voice and leash commands as well as condition him to react to various stimuli and surroundings.
3. Learn proper running etiquette
There is nothing quite as disturbing to me as the sight of a dog dragging his owner down the road. If you are going to run with your pet, you must teach him how to behave. This includes how to run on a leash and how to behave around people, vehicles, bikes, and other dogs. Remember that you are responsible for your pet and bad behavior gives both dogs and runners a bad name. Teach your dog how to run at your left side and to obey your voice. Likewise, teach your dog how to properly respond to the numerous distractions that are bound to occur while you run. Does your dog try to chase every squirrel or try to chase bikes? This could prove disastrous if not gotten under control quickly. Since dogs possess an instinctual prey drive, you must learn to control this instinct. Teach your dog to respond to you and ignore other stimuli. Consider a basic obedience class or practice with your dog in a safe controlled area before venturing out on the highway or park. With enough training, your dog will become an extension of you and his running will become smooth and controlled.
4. Start slowly
Dogs that are new to running are a lot like novice human runners. They do not have the endurance or stamina to go long distance right out of the gate. Break your dog in slowly, like you would do yourself, and remember not to overdo it. Start with shorter distances at first and consider incorporating walk breaks during your run to allow your pup time to recuperate. Some dogs can quickly build up distance given adequate rest and practice, but other dogs may take more time to build up a base. Generally two to three miles is a good base with which to start and then gradually incorporate longer distance over time. Some dogs can run ten to fourteen miles without appearing seemingly tired, but others may be done after six. Know your dog and his capabilities before asking him to do a distance of which he might not be capable. Remember, your dog wants to please you and may push himself even when his body is stressing. Watch your dogs for signs of exhaustion and make note of how long it takes him to recover.
5. Keep it cool
Dogs do not sweat like humans do. Instead they regulate their body temperature by panting and through their footpads. Because of this, running with your dog during extremely hot temperatures is not a wise move. Would you want to run in the middle of summer with a fur coat on? Your dog probably doesn’t want to either. Consider running with your pet early in the morning or late in the evening when temps have cooled off. Also consider the terrain your pup is running on. Black asphalt in middle of summer is probably not the best running surface for a dog’s pads. Instead, think about running with your pup on grassy surfaces or on dirt trails. The dirt offers a softer surface for joints and trees provide excellent shade from the sun. Also, carry water for your dog. He needs to hydrate just like you do. For days that are hot, consider hosing your dog off with a water hose before you start your jog. This will help keep Fido cool on those extra hot days. Try to structure your running route so you are near rivers, creeks, or ponds so your pooch can take a dip and cool off periodically. Your dog will appreciate it and you might also enjoy the break. If your dog starts to show signs of heat exhaustion, stop immediately and get your dog’s core temperature lowered. This can be a life threatening situation if left untreated.
When you do return home with your four legged friend, make sure he has plenty of fresh water. Do not run with your dog right after he has eaten. This can cause your dog to become sick while running or in some cases, can cause bloat, a serious condition that can result in death. Your dog will probably sleep after his runs, which is understandable and normal. Also, check to make sure you dog enjoys running. Does he hide when you lace up your running shoes or does he grab the leash and head out to the car to wait for you? My dog used to wake me up in the mornings before the alarm went off in order to go for a run, even on our rest days! While most dogs love anything that involves being close to you, some dogs might prefer hanging out at home, so if your pup looks and acts like running is torture, then cut him some slack and bring your IPod on your run instead. Running with a dog can help forge the connection between you and your dog and get you both into super fit shape as well, so the next time you lace up your running shoes, consider grabbing the leash and taking your best friend along. He won’t tell anyone if you stop to walk, I promise.