Trail running combines the best of two awesome activities: running and hiking. If you and your dog enjoy either activity, you’ll love trail running. Unless your dog isn’t medically cleared for strenuous activity (always check with your vet before starting a new exercise regime), feel free to hit the trails together! Running trails delivers health benefits for both you and your dog. You work different muscles than street running. You breathe fresh air. You explore the outdoors. Plus, when you run trails with your dog, you build your bond. As for your dog, he’ll develop muscle, lose excess weight, and build endurance—all of which will help your pup stay fit and healthy as he ages.
As with any new exercise routine, start small. Even if your ultimate goal is to run rugged terrain at high altitudes, you should still start on a reasonably flat trail at a lower altitude. Both you and your dog will benefit from starting slowly and gradually building up your strength and endurance over time. Start with short, easy runs near home; that’ll give you the chance to test your gear and to get acclimated with running off-pavement. Space your runs out at least a few days to give your pup time to recover, and gradually lengthen your distance and duration. When I started running trails with my dog, Cooper, I downloaded a Couch-to-5k app on my phone. The intervals and carefully timed workouts helped me and Coop build strength and endurance off-pavement.
Get the Gear
Equip yourself and your dog with the right gear. A running belt for you and a backpack for your pup can help you tote the essentials: waste bags, lots of water, basic first-aid supplies. You need solid shoes that have grip, and depending on where you run, your dog might need boots, too. Know where you’re going and what you might encounter. Does your dog need a coat? Should you carry bear spray? Your area dictates a lot of the supplies you need, and that’s why it’s so important to start with short runs close to home. Give your gear a workout, too! And always keep a towel and extra water for you and your pup in your car for post-run cleanup. Stash paw butter in your car, too, in case you need to treat your pup’s feet once you come off the trail. When the trail is extra dusty or muddy, a portable dog shower is perfect for getting your dog squeaky clean before climbing into the car.
Follow the Trail
Review the trail map before you head out to get a sense of where you’re going, and always follow the most important safety rule for trail running: stay on the trail! Marked trails keep wildlife safe and keep you from getting lost. While it’s tempting to explore, don’t become one of those lost-in-the-woods stories on the local nightly news! Keep you and your pup safe by sticking to the trails.
Leash Your Pup
Keep your dog on leash so you can monitor pace and overall wellness (is he getting too hot? too cold? a torn paw?). Plus, you need to pick up after your pup, so keeping him with you ensures that happens. Pick a durable leash that can handle any snags or brambles you might encounter and a harness if you’re not using a backpack. Never run with your dog using just a collar, it will put too much strain on his neck and soft tissue. For more information on why your dog needs a harness, check out this blog post. If you need help keeping your dog focused and close to you on the trail, consider using a Springback Leash; it’s internal bungee will stretch to give your pup space when he needs it, and will retract when he doesn’t.
Hit the Trail!
Ultimately, trail running is a rewarding way to get great exercise and have fun with your dog. Bonus: If you struggle with motivation to run, running trails keep you going because there’s always something beautiful and interesting to see.