Essential Guide to Running with Your Dog

Running with a dog is great fun. Not only is running great for your health, but it is also great for your dog’s health. However there are a few things to consider before you take your dog out on a run with you.

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Article written by veterinarian Tricia Alderson, DVM.

Is My Dog Healthy Enough To Run?

Just as we need to be healthy to run, so does your dog. Be sure to take your future running companion to the veterinarian for a general check up.

Tell your veterinarian your plan about running with your dog. Your veterinarian can advise you on vaccinations, anti-parasitic medication, and nutrition for the activities you want to pursue with your dog.

Tick medication and bug spray may be needed if you want to do some trail running.

Your veterinarian can also advise you on when to start running with your dog. Puppies are still growing and running too hard and too far at a young age can damage joints and bones.

If your dog is running longer distances with you several times per week, you may need to consider slightly higher fat content in your dog’s diet. Unlike us, who burn mostly carbohydrates during our runs, dogs burn fat.

Avoid sharing your gels, power bars and Gu with your dog, as they are high in sugar and will be of little benefit. If anything, those higher sugar products will just upset your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Talk to your veterinarian about higher performance diets and treats for nourishment on longer runs.

Does My Dog Want To Run?

I know what you are thinking, what dog doesn’t love to run? Well, just like people there are some dogs that don’t really want to exercise.

Some dogs also aren’t built for athletics and shouldn’t be running long distances. For example, the short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds, like pugs or bulldogs don’t have airways and respiratory systems designed for sustained running. Heavy coated breeds can overheat, especially in the summer, so are not ideal for running either.

If you are looking for a dog for running, there are many breeds that would be excellent choices. Look for high energy breeds that are easily trained and that have lean longer bodies and shorter coats. Working, herding and hunting breeds tend to be good choices.

Some examples of dogs that are built for running include border collie, standard poodles, weimaraners, retrievers, and Australian cattle dog. This, of course, is a short list and doesn’t include mix breed dogs, that can be great running companions.

Keep in mind that every dog has its own temperament and personality and buying a particular breed doesn’t guarantee that you will have a dog that likes to run long distances with you.

How Do I Train My Dog To Run?

Your dog should know basic commands, like come, sit and stay. Knowing how to heel and behave on leash is a must.

Unless your dog has advanced obedience training, you should always run with your dog on a leash. Buy a sturdy shorter leash that allows you good control. Leather is a good choice, as it is softer on your hands than a nylon leash.

Flexi-leashes are useless. On a flexi-leash, you will be reeling in your dog like a fish on a fishing line when you pass by every person or dog.

You should hold the leash in your hand for better control until your dog is well trained to run on leash. Then you can consider a waist-lead so you have your hands free.

The best time to start running with your dog is when you are learning to running. Your dog will need to build up his/her fitness slowly to run longer distances. Don’t expect your dog to be able to run 5 km right out of the gate.

Just like we did, your dog will need to start by running shorter distances several times per week. Running at least 3 times per week and increasing time or distance by 10% each week is a good guideline to follow for both dog and its human.

What Are Your Best Tips to Run With My Dog?

1. Protect your dogs foot pads

Running on concrete sidewalks and pavement can be hard on your dogs foot pads. Be sure to check your dogs feet before and after every run.

Trail running can provide a softer ground for your dog to run on, but rocks and sticks can also pose a danger to foot pads.

Ask your veterinarian about topical products. Don’t waste your money on vitamin based foot pad creams. Foot pads are not how your dog absorbs vitamins. Good nutrition is key to good health, including healthy foot pads.

If your dog has sensitive foot pads, consider training your dog to wear boots during a run. Also remember that pavement heats up quickly in the sunshine and heat of summer, and can burn or blister foot pads.

2. Ensure your dog stays hydrated

Be sure to take extra water for your dog if you are running longer than 30 minutes. They will need to maintain their hydration too. They don’t sweat like we do, but they cool themselves mainly by panting. During longer runs, they lose water too. Don’t share your sport drinks, as dogs don’t need the added sugars and electrolytes. They will replenish these at their next meal.

3. Watch the weather forecast before you run with your dog

Dogs can overheat in the summer and get frost-bite in the winter. Be sure to watch the weather forecast. During extreme weather conditions, it may be safer for your dog to stay at home.

If your dog is showing signs of heat-exhaustion or hypothermia, get them out of the elements immediately.

Cool down a hot dog with cool, not cold, water.

Warm up a cold dog with blankets and bring them into a warmer area.

Phone your veterinarian immediately, as dogs can go into shock very quickly with the metabolic changes that occur due to these alterations in body temperature.

Signs of heat-exhaustion in dogs can include:

  • excessive panting
  • excessive drooling
  • increased body temperature
  • reddened gums
  • rapid and/or irregular heart rate
  • vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • abnormal behavior, disorientation
  • not responding normally
  • wobbly, drunken appearance
  • seizure

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has good resource articles on heat stroke and tips for summer safety.

Signs of hypothermia and frost-bite in dogs can include:

  • whining and shivering
  • anxiousness, abnormal behavior, disorientation
  • sluggishness, slow movements, dull and not responding normally
  • lower body temperature
  • slow and/or irregular heart rate
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • extremities cold to touch
  • discoloration of extremities

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association also has good resource articles on dogs in winter and your dogs feet in winter.

4. Pick up after your pooch

No one likes stepping in dog feces. It’s messy and it smells. Cleaning up after your dog is a part of being a responsible dog owner. Take some plastic bags with you when you run. Be prepared to carry your bag of dog feces to the next disposal site. You can train your dog not to defecate during a run, but still take along bags just in case.

Enjoy your run

Running with your dog can be a great experience for both parties. Its worth the effort to prepare and train your dog to run with you.

Enjoy these other articles from Pink Ribbon Runner:

Running with a Heart Rate Monitor

7 Ways to Make Running Fun

How to Start Running – A Guide for Beginners


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