How To Evaluate Your Dog's Fitness For Running

If you routinely run with a dog, you already know it can be the best part of your day: running gets both of you outdoors, infusing you with euphoria-making natural endorphins and bolstering the already tight bond that exists between you. Exercising with your dog does not require a gym membership, nor special equipment. It does demand an able mind and body and a willingness to do it. Your dog may be the best personal trainer you’ve had or are likely to have. He never complains about the weather, gently reminding you it’s time to run on the days you don’t want to go; he might even bring you his favorite leash or harness.

But should you run with your dog? Is he up for the challenge of exercise? Always eager to please and unrelentingly enthusiastic about going outside in general, he’s not likely to let on if he shouldn’t run—he may not even know it himself. Whether you and he are already seasoned runners or you’re considering fostering this special workout partnership, be advised: some dogs make better runners than others, and some really should not run at all. Know before you go: run safely with your road-worthy dog to reap all the benefits of this wonderful outdoor activity.

Wait, He’s A Dog—All Dogs Were Made To Run, Right?

When we’re speaking of his ancestor, the wolf, the answer is yes. Ancient wolves could run as far as 60 miles (100 kilometers) a day in pursuit of food—they were built for it and accustomed to it; the modern wolf only covers about half that distance in a day. But the domestic dog has been fed from a bowl for hundreds of years—those roaming instincts were long ago pruned away.

Even an average runner is asking a modern dog to do something unusual: he is made to sprint, not to cover long distances. Running can strain his tendons and joints, especially if he is still young: a developing skeleton is at risk of permanent damage when it is pushed beyond capacity. The damage occurs when an immature dog’s muscles tire and can no longer support the frame; this results in bones abrading bones. Most vets recommend waiting until a dog is a year old before training him to run with you, and longer for large breeds.

Age notwithstanding, some dog breeds do seem more adaptable to long distance running with proper training and conditioning. The best running dogs tend to be young, short-haired, large-breed dogs with long noses. Other dogs are content with a brisk walk around the block; examples are short-legged dogs and toy breeds, dogs with short faces, and giant breeds. Resist asking your dog to go for a vigorous run if nature did not intend it.

Performance Dog Nutrition

Your dog became an athlete when you pressed him into service as your personal trainer. He’s more than willing to do it, but you owe him the best nutrition to meet the rigors of running: calories and nutrients are important to any runner’s diet—human or otherwise. Feed your running dog:

  1. A meat-rich diet
  2. A protein-rich diet
  3. A digestible calcium-rich diet
  4. Food with lots of micronutrients
  5. Food that contains “good” bacteria and enzymes

Watch for weight gain in a dog who is fed a high-energy diet but does not get enough exercise to compensate for it. And consider adding glucosamine and chondroitin to your senior canine’s diet for his joint health.

Remember: Avoid feeding a dog an hour before or after a run to reduce the risk of gastric torsion, or bloat.

Running Requisite: Take Your Dog To The Vet

Dogs don’t complain: he may have a nagging health issue he can’t tell you about. Ask your veterinarian to give your companion animal a thorough bumper-to-bumper evaluation before beginning a workout regimen, and by all means, make sure he is current on his vaccinations.

When you mention running, your vet will pay particular attention to your dog’s heart, lungs, and joint health. There are several potential health issues that may influence your running plans; better to be safe than sorry.

Your vet can also advise you about your dog’s predisposition to hip or elbow dysplasia and set you on a course of treatment if necessary. And a senior dog may not be road-worthy: your vet will weigh in.

A preexisting condition in your dog does not mean you absolutely can’t run with him, but it certainly can and should shape your running habits. For starters, learn your dog’s normal gait and resting heart and respiratory rates as a baseline against which to measure the same during long-distance runs. And ask your vet to show you how to recognize a medical issue if it occurs during a run. Then hit the road: there is nothing like running with your dog to galvanize your already tight bond with him.

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