Running With Your Dog: Tips For Success

If you’re planning to recruit your dog as a running partner, there are three things to know before you go: first, obedience training is imperative; second, endurance training is as necessary for dogs as it is for humans; and third, being properly equipped to run with your dog could save his life. Once you’ve ticked these three important boxes you may discover your dog is finally the best reason you’ve ever had to run; read on to learn more.

1. Running Basics: Obedience & Leash Train Your Dog

  • Obedience training is essential if you plan to run with your dog—a well-behaved dog is loads more fun to run with than an ill-mannered one who lunges at everything and everybody, or tries to mark every blade of grass along the way. And with rare exceptions, you must also keep him leashed. A dog leash helps you set the pace for the workout and maintain control of your dog to ensure he doesn’t hog the road, trail, or path. If he is still unaccustomed to his leash, your first order of business is leash training him. Enrolling your dog in an obedience class is an excellent strategy before you invite him to run with you.
  • That accomplished, your dog must learn to heel at a run, staying at or just slightly ahead of your knees on whichever side you routinely place him; a good leash allowance is two to three feet. His leash should be loose, but without so much play it’s a tripping hazard, nor should you give him too much length—this will only encourage him to pull. Placing your dog in a heel with a loose but not slack lead will not only keep you from tripping over him, but also keep him from being hurt.

Running will not come naturally to a dog who has never done it before, particularly a young one. Expect lunging and frequent sniffing and pee breaks in the beginning. Ultimately you’ll train your dog to avoid these, but try to be patient at first. Play is intuitive, a structured exercise regimen is not: it’s up to you to teach him the difference.

For the dog who struggles with the leash but responds well to voice commands, off-leash running on non-wilderness designated National Forest trails is a good compromise, but just be sure to check the rules before you go.

Running Etiquette: Being mid-workout doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility of picking up after your dog. You risk being fined if you don’t. Plus, it’s just the nice thing to do.

2. Training Your Dog To Run With You

Undertaking a new running regimen with your dog is not as easy as lacing up your sneakers and grabbing his leash. Dogs are born sprinters, not distance runners, and some dogs are more adaptable to cross country running than others. Once you’ve determined your dog’s fitness for running, he’ll need time to build up to a nice maintenance run, just as you did when you started running.

  • Don’t demand too much. Treat your dog the same way you would a friend who came to you asking for a training partner: resist pushing too far too fast in the beginning. There are various timed training regimens you can try with your dog, but a good place to start is an easy walk increasing to a fifteen-minute trot three times weekly. Then add time every week in five- to ten-minute increments until you achieve the desired mileage. This gradual build-up allows your dog’s musculature and connective tissue to adapt to running without risking an injury—it takes time for him to adjust to your pace. If you are an elite runner and your dog is not, go on your full, fast-paced run alone, and then grab your dog to finish your cool-down run with you.
  • Monitor his vitals. Be aware how long it takes your dog’s heart rate to return to normal as you increase the intensity and duration of your runs; your dog’s veterinarian can show you how. And always monitor the condition of his feet and pads, which need to be toughened over time; pad wear is probably the most common injury among dogs who run regularly.

Additionally, be sure you are familiar with the symptoms of heat stroke and dehydration in dogs.

While it’s unreasonable to expect your uninitiated canine to run a 10K at a fast clip his first time out, neither should you conclude he lacks enthusiasm for running if he becomes distracted or lags behind at first; he is still learning how to run. But recognizing the symptoms of fatigue in your dog could prove life-saving.

Running with Your Dog: Don’t Play in Traffic

Start simple with a route that avoids heavy traffic and guard dogs. Also avoid hot asphalt, sharp ice, and broken glass. Beach runs require extra work of your dog’s muscles and tendons in the sand, so be mindful of that. Build up slowly to reach the desired pace, on the desired terrain.

3. Mandatory Gear For Running With Your Dog

The right running equipment is essential for safe and effective workouts with your dog, and could prove life-saving. Never strike out without these basics:

  • A good dog leash: Use a hands-free leash for more freedom for your own upper body, or a conventional leash three to six feet in length. Retractable leashes should be avoided—they can tangle, put too much distance between you and your dog, and allow her to bolt. Harnesses can also work well, and a leader-style halter is an excellent way to capture your dog’s attention quickly when her mind wanders.
  • Water: Bring enough for both of you if you think you’ll need it, and a portable bowl if possible.
  • Treats: For distracting and rewarding her for ignoring the squirrel or the lunging dog.
  • Poop bags: Better still, encourage your dog to take care of business on your own turf before you go so you’re not running with a bag of dog poop.
  • Cell phone: Always.
  • Dog identification: Have your dog microchipped at the vet’s office, and always keep her in a dog collar personalized with her name and relevant contact information. Identification hang tags and a current rabies tag should also be affixed to her collar. A shotgun approach to dog identification is best.

Sprinting around the back yard in a mad frenzy does not make your dog a marathon runner: give her a chance to build up to it gradually. And be sure to undertake obedience training if she needs it before you expect her to heel beautifully at your knee. Walk before you run; in no time at all she’ll eagerly anticipate this part of the day and won’t let you forget when it’s time to go.

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