Dogs make wonderful running partners and their need for regular exercise serves as great motivation to get our own workouts in for the day. Running helps energetic dogs burn a ton of energy, resulting in tired and happier pups by the end of the day. While some dogs are natural runners, others must ease into the sport. Follow these tips and guidelines to shape your dog into the perfect running buddy.
Consult a veterinarian before hitting the trails with your pup, especially with dogs under two years of age. The starting age varies among breeds and sizes, and it is generally recommended that a dog not begin a strenuous activity like running until they are at least six or seven months old. For some breeds, it may fall into the 1 to 2-year range. Running can damage a puppy’s joints and bones if they haven’t yet fully formed.
On the opposite end, senior dogs may need to build up their stamina for longer distances at faster speeds or they may not be able to run as far or as long as a younger dog.
Doing too much too soon can result in injuries like hip dysplasia, joint pain, or heart stress. Always remember to ease into a new sport.
How to Begin
Start out slowly and build distance gradually over time. If you’re three months into marathon training, don’t take your pup out on that 20-miler just yet. Great starter training plans include those from Jeff Galloway, which utilize a walk/run technique or something like the Couch to 5k. If you’re already training for a half marathon or marathon, have your dog join you on your warm up or on your easy days, starting with once or twice per week.
Monitor your dog’s stamina and physical signs, taking note of panting levels, whether they’re limping, or slowing down after a certain distance.
Gear for your Dog
Depending on the type of terrain, location, or distance, your gear needs will vary.
I love the K9 Excursion Running Belt and Springback Leash combination. We run with the 30-inch leash, which keeps her close, but still gives her some lead. If you run on a more narrow singletrack, then opt for the 48-inch Springback Leash.
The belt is comfortable and holds a surprising amount of gear. I’ve run up to 12 miles with it and have never experienced chafing. At times, I’ll need to carry poop bags, a phone (iPhone+ won’t fit, but the regular size does) or GoPro (both won’t fit at once), and keys. It also comes with a small water bottle to carry on longer runs.
We’re from the Pacific Northwest and, as you may have heard, it rains here a lot and we accumulate some serious mud after a few hours in the woods. There are two items that I have ready and waiting in the car to clean Sora’s muddy paws. First is the Mud Dog Travel Shower, which is basically a perforated shower device that screws onto most plastic bottles and acts as a portable shower. Admittedly, we’ve even used it ourselves while camping! The second item is a clean, dry towel to dry off Sora’s paws and remove any excess mud.
If we’re going for a run under five or six miles, I don’t worry too much about making sure Sora is well-hydrated before and during our run, but I always make sure there is water waiting for her in the car or at home immediately after we finish.
If we’re going for a longer run, especially on a hotter day, I’ll carry water and a small collapsible or folding bowl for Sora. The Zippy Bowl is great for running since it zips to a small size, comes with a carabiner if I want to clip it to a hydration pack, and it’s lightweight.
To ensure she’s had plenty of water before we head out, I’ll drown her kibble in a bit of water, up to one cup or so.
In hotter months, run in the morning or evening, when the temperatures are cooler. If it’s over 75°, then consider leaving the pooch at home. Signs of overheating include excessive panting and malaise. If you’re running on the road, check the heat of the pavement by holding the back of your hand to the road for at least 5 seconds. If it’s too hot for you, then it’s too hot for your pup.
Running in Cold Weather + Snow
At the other extreme, winter cold can affect your dog as well. Dogs with short coats may require a jacket, like the Loft Dog Coat. When running in the snow, check for ice balls accumulated in your dog’s paws. If you notice them limping, that’s likely the reason. Many swear by Musher’s Secretor you can opt for something like the Step-N-Strobe Dog Boots to reduce painful ice balls.
Flora + Fauna
Learn to identify any potentially hazardous plants for your dog. The barbed seed heads of foxtails, for example, can work their way into your dog’s body and lead to serious infection or even death. Here is a full list of plants that are toxic to dogs from the ASPCA.
Depending on where you’re running and the time of year, perform a tick check on your dog after every run. If you do spot a tick, remove it as soon as you can using a tick removal tool like the K9 Grooming Gadget.
Know Your Dog
Different dogs are better suited for running longer distances, while others are geared more for shorter runs. I know Sora loves running because she wags her tail when I get out her running leash. She wants to continue running long after we’ve completed our 15-mile training run. Not all dogs feel the same enthusiasm about the sport. Test out running with your dog and see if it is the right fit for you!
Jen Sotolongo is a writer and photographer and runs Long Haul Trekkers, a blog about independent, responsible travel with a pet. Over the past few years, she and her partner have taken their dog, Sora on a cycle tour spanning across Europe and South America, proving that adventures can include your dog, no matter where in the world they may be.