Running with Your Dog: Tips for Success

A brown-and-white greyhound runs behind a person along a beach

When you exercise with a dog, the benefits are doubled—not only do you have a newfound motivation, but your dog gets to come along, too. But, before you go, consider your dog’s training and endurance, and be sure to bring along the essential gear your dog needs. Once you’ve gotten down the basics, you might find that your dog is the best reason you’ve ever had to run.

Melinda Benbow leans down toward her leashed puppy offering a treat

1. Running Basics: Obedience & Leash Training

  • Obedience training is essential. You want your dog to understand basic commands, so they aren’t pulling you down the path.  
  • With some exceptions, your dog will have to run with you on a leash, which means your dog will have to learn to run while in heel. It’ll take time to perfect the distance, but a leash allowance of about two to three feet is ideal. Work on perfecting your heel command before you go. 
  • A structured exercise routine isn’t natural for your dog, so expect lots of pee breaks and sniffing in the beginning. Be patient, over time you’ll be able to work up to longer stretches of running. 
  • For dogs who struggle on a leash but respond well to voice commands, off-leash running on non-wilderness-designated National Forest trails is a good compromise—just be sure to check the rules before you go.
Two dogs running through a field of grass and flowers in the mountains

2. Training Your Dog to Run with You

While your dog may have mastered the zoomies, training your pup to be a distance runner takes time and training. Once you’ve determined your dog’s fitness for running, be sure to build up slowly to a comfortable maintenance run, just as you did when you started running. 

  • Be patient and start slow. Start with an easy walk and gradually increase to a 15-minute jog three times weekly. Then add time every week in five- to 10-minute increments until you achieve the desired mileage. This gradual buildup allows your dog’s musculature and connective tissue to adapt to running without risking an injury. 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 cooldown run with you. 
  • Monitor your dog’s vitals. Be aware of 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 your pup’s feet and pads, which need to be toughened over time; pad wear is the most common injury among dogs who run regularly. 

Tip: Be mindful of the symptoms of heat stroke and dehydration in dogs, and don’t allow your dog to run on pavement that’s too hot; it could burn their paws. If running on roads, avoid areas with heavy traffic and watch out for litter, like broken glass. 

A small white-and-black puppy sitting in the grass

3. Gear Up & Go

The right running equipment is essential for safe and effective workouts with your dog. Here are the basics you’ll need to get started. 

  • 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. Avoid retractable leashes—they can tangle, put too much distance between you and your dog, and allow your pup to bolt.  
  • 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 your dog. 
  • Poop bags: Give your dog the chance 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 keep them in a dog collar personalized with their name and your contact information. Make sure their collar has their ID, rabies vaccination tags, and dog license. You can’t have too much ID!

Slow & Steady Wins the Race

Remember to walk before you run—give your dog time to gradually build up to longer runs and work on obedience training over time. Soon you’ll find a new running partner who's game whenever you are.