Running with Dogs: How to Hit Your Stride Together
Imagine the joy of jogging with a fresh cool breeze running through your hair…and your fur friend by your side! Whether you're looking for a new way to exercise with your pooch or want them to join in on one of your favorite activities, running with dogs is a healthy way to spend quality recreational time together and get that daily dose of cardio.
As much as you would probably love to leash your pup and run together right now, there are multiple factors you should consider first. Your dog's health status, breed, and training history all play a role in determining the distance and speed that are right for your best friend. Follow these steps to learn how to run with your dog and start pounding the pavement together!
Determine Your Dog's Exercise Needs
Although every dog needs exercise, it's important to decide whether running is the best exercise option for your fur friend. Characteristics such as age and physical build impact just how much physical activity your pup should take on—not every dog has the speed and stamina of a Greyhound!
Running puts stress on our bones and joints, and the same goes for dogs. If you have a senior dog, this kind of demanding exercise may be too taxing for their body. Unless your senior dog is in tip-top physical condition, walking or short bursts of light jogging might be more suitable alternatives to running.
On the other end of the age spectrum, puppies who are not fully physically developed can also experience bone and joint problems from running. According to the American Kennel Club, puppies of most breeds should not run until they are about one-and-a-half years old.
You should also consider your dog's physical traits. For example, brachycephalic dogs (meaning they have a flat face) may have trouble running. Such breeds including Pugs and Bulldogs often have difficulty breathing because their shortened snouts may restrict airflow, so running for extended periods can cause stress. Similarly, dogs with short legs may have trouble keeping pace. If your dog gets exhausted easily or cannot keep up, shorten running sessions and slow down to your dog's pace. Be sure to contact your veterinarian with any questions regarding their health.
If your dog is physically fit and an appropriate age for running, they'll likely make a great running companion!
Gather Your Gear
Just as you gather your running supplies before a run, your dog will need their own equipment. Always grab these doggy essentials before venturing outside:
• Leash – You can find a hands-free running leash that wraps around your waist, but a standard dog leash will also work fine. Whichever option you choose, make sure the leash is short enough that your dog won't be able to explore more than a few feet away from you.
• Water and container – Staying hydrated is an essential part of any physical activity, especially running. Pack enough cold water for you and your dog, as well as a collapsible water bowl or a dog-specific water bottle with a cutout designed for your pooch's mouth.
• Collar and ID tag – Make sure your dog wears their collar and identification tag with up-to-date information anytime you leave home together. Microchipping your dog is also a wise idea.
• Waste bags – You never know when your dog will have to go potty. Take some waste bags for your run and be prepared for cleanup duty.
Your pup should master dog leash training before you take on running together. If your dog would rather chase birds on your daily walk than stick by your side, for instance, they're probably not ready for running just yet. Once your fur friend knows how to walk appropriately on a leash, it's time to slowly ease them into running.
Training your dog to stay close to your side is an important first step—the last thing you want is for your legs to get tangled in the leash. On your next walk, use a leash that's short enough so your dog won't have room to wander away from you. Always keep your dog directly by your right or left side and try not to alternate sides.
As soon as your pooch gets the hang of walking close to you, it's time to pick up the pace. Like most training situations, learning how to run with your dog involves verbal cues and rewards. Jog a few feet during your next walk and say "run" once you pick up speed. Wait for your dog to follow and give them praise for obeying your command. If at any point your dog can't keep up, slow down to their pace.
When you're ready to stop, say "slow" as soon as you start slowing down. Gradually increase the running distance on every walk thereafter until your dog feels comfortable jogging long distances. Your dog will probably need a few weeks to fully understand the commands and build up stamina.
Establish a Warmup Routine
Have you ever felt queasy after running on a full stomach? Your dog can experience that same not-so-great feeling if they eat too soon before exercising. Ideally, you should not run on a full stomach and should wait a few hours after a meal to ensure you are both fully digested. It's also smart to let your dog go to the bathroom before you hit your running route—the fewer potty breaks during your run, the better!
Once you and your dog go outside, spend five to ten minutes walking at a normal pace. This will loosen your muscles, which can help prevent running-related injuries. It's also a good time for a last-minute potty break. Slowly increase speed until you're both running at your normal pace, then you're ready to roll!
Choose Your Own Path
You and your dog's experience impacts your running route. Many joggers opt for trail running or running on pavement, and each situation presents its own pros and cons.
If you and your dog choose to run through the neighborhood, you will both feel more familiar with your surroundings. This is a great perk for dogs who are new to running, as these recognizable sights and smells will help them feel more comfortable. Staying in the neighborhood will also keep you both closer to home in the event you're both having an off day. However, running on pavement can harm your dog's paws on hot days. As a standard rule, you should put your hand on the pavement for a few seconds—if it's too hot for your hand, it's too hot for your dog.
Trail running is an exciting choice for dogs who are accustomed to running because it presents varying terrain and different scenery along the way. Plus, if you can find a trail that is primarily dirt with minimal rocks or tree roots, it will be softer on you and your dog's joints for a less strenuous routine. Keep in mind that wild animals and potentially poisonous plants can capture your dog's attention, so it's critical to make sure your pooch always stays close to you and is trained to drop forbidden objects on command. Remember to read up on park rules and regulations before taking your dog to the trail. Many parks require dogs to be leashed and some may not allow dogs at all.
Go the Distance
No matter where you and your fur friend decide to run, you should both stay hydrated. Take frequent water breaks and give your dog plenty of chances to slow down and take a breather. Never make your dog go farther if they appear sick or exhausted. Remember, it's much better to cut a running session short than to push yourself or your dog to the limit.
You'll also need to be aware of running risks along the way, including:
• Heatstroke – Because dogs do not sweat, it's especially important to stay mindful of the temperature. Ideally, you should run during the morning or evening when the weather is cooler—especially on hot days. Stop running immediately if your dog shows concerning signs such as excessive drooling or uncoordinated movements.
• Ticks and bugs – Running trails and grassy parks often have more than their fair share of ticks and insects. Spray your dog with bug spray before running and check their skin for ticks and bites afterward.
• Sharp objects – Sticks, uneven pavement, rocks, glass, and even exposed tree roots can hurt your dog's paws as they run. Check paws for nicks and scrapes when you get home and consult your veterinarian if your dog seems to be uncomfortable.
• Salt – During the colder months, salt from snow- and ice-treated areas can get inside your dog's paws and cause stinging pain. Put your dog in booties or apply a paw protection remedy when running in snow.
When you and your dog are ready to head home, take a quick cool-off walk. Clean your dog's paws before going inside and don't forget to check for ticks, bites, and cuts. Feel free to give your fur friend a dog treat for a job well done—just be sure to wait enough time. Kansas State University veterinarian Dr. Susan Nelson recommends waiting one hour after exercising to feed a dog.
Running with dogs can be a rewarding experience for pups and people alike. In addition to keeping a tight relationship, jogging together helps you and your four-legged friend live healthier. Once you and your dog establish a fun, safe, and vigorous new routine, you may discover that you were both born to run!