Both you and your dogs can benefit from regular physical activity, so why not enjoy the experience together? Whether you have a new dog or would like to start jogging with your trusty long-time sidekick, it's important to begin the right way. These tips will ensure that running with your dogs is a safe and enjoyable activity for everyone.
Ideal Canine Candidates for Running
Does your canine companion have what it takes to be a jogger? It's essential to consider several factors when determining whether it's safe to include your dog in this activity.
Although age is not a disease, older dogs are unfortunately more likely to have illnesses or conditions that might affect their ability to run. Additionally, it's dangerous for young puppies to participate in running if they have not fully developed.
Many herding and hunting breeds, such as Border Collies, cattle dogs, or pointers, were bred to withstand running long distances on foot, so they likely make great running partners. However, brachycephalic breeds with shorter snouts have an airway structure that may prevent them from running in the heat or for longer distances. If you choose to run with your Bulldog, Pug, or Shih Tzu, or another brachycephalic breed, practice extreme caution to ensure they don't overheat or exhaust themselves.
The most critical factor is your pet's overall health condition. Dogs that suffer from chronic illnesses or injuries may not be ideal candidates for recreational running. Always confirm with your veterinarian that it's safe for your pet to start a running program.
The Right Age to Start
Is it possible to begin running with your dog too early? Yes. But unfortunately, there's no "right" age to start. You must simply wait until their joints and bones are fully developed. This time frame depends on their breed and size.
A small breed puppy may be developed enough to begin running somewhere between 9 to 12 months of age. However, large breed dogs take significantly longer to grow. They won't be ready to run with you until 12 to even 24 months of age. Each pup is an individual and has different needs, so be sure to ask your vet for specific recommendations on when your puppy can begin jogging.
Just as humans must learn to walk before they run, dogs must understand how to walk on a leash before they can run by your side. Ensure your dog is leash-trained and does not pull or lunge at other dogs, people, or animals. Your dog should be trained to stick to one side of your body and avoid crossing in front or behind you.
These behaviors are undoubtedly annoying on a walk, but they can be catastrophic at a faster pace. You and your pet are both in danger if your dog does not have proper leash-walking etiquette prior to recreational running.
It's a common misconception that active dogs who chase frisbees and race around the park can jump right into a running program. But there's a significant difference between these activities. When a dog is free to run at their own pace, they can slow down or stop whenever they wish. But while running with their owner, a dog may be so eager to please that they will not stop until they're granted permission. This mindset puts dogs at higher risk for injury while running alongside their owners versus running of their own free will.
It's important to start small and ease your dog into a running routine. You wouldn't toe the starting line of a 5K marathon without training to work up to that distance. Use the same strategy for your dog. Begin by jogging a block or two together, then slowly increase your range. Many trainers recommend a walk/run method, whereby you run for a minute or two then walk for several minutes. As your dog builds endurance, you can gradually increase the running time and decrease the amount you are walking.
Safety Measures Before Your Run
Is your dog ready to begin running? Every time you prepare to hit the pavement or trail, perform four assessments to ensure your dog's safety.
Assess Your Dog's Condition
If your dog exhibits any lameness, lethargy, or has an upset stomach, it's best to leave them at home. Obvious reluctance to go could also mean some health condition is brewing. Vigorous exercise can exacerbate ailments, so head out solo if your dog isn't feeling up for it.
Check the Weather
Most dogs don't do well in extreme weather conditions. Avoid running with them if it's very hot, very humid, or very cold. Even mildly elevated temperatures can be dangerous for your dog. Panting is their only method of reducing their body temperature by themselves, and they may have difficulty cooling down once overheated. Not to mention, many dogs are essentially wearing a winter coat year-round, so they can become warm very quickly.
You can wet your dog down on a very warm day to help prevent overheating, but use this method with caution. Also, check that ground temperatures aren't too hot or too cold for your dog's paws, especially if they are new to running and haven't built up their paw pads yet.
Wait to Feed
Many veterinarians believe that ingesting a meal or large volume of water immediately before physical activity can put dogs at higher risk for Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV), or canine bloat. Wait at least 1 to 2 hours after a feeding or big drink before running with your dog. This is especially critical if you have a deep-chested dog who is already at a higher risk for bloat.
Just as you should warm up before running to prevent injury, it's important to warm up your dog's muscles and joints, as well. Take a brisk 10-minute walk -- the recommended time to bring the heart rate and internal temperature up to appropriate levels -- before you break into a jog.
Safety Measures During Your Run
Now that you're out with your dog, it's essential to keep these considerations in mind throughout the duration of your run.
Be aware of your surroundings as well as your dog's behaviors. Avoid listening to music (or listen with just one earbud), so you can hear approaching cars, people, or other animals. Keep an eye on your dog's demeanor and stop if they get hot or spooked.
Take Water Breaks
Stop every 15 to 20 minutes (or more often during warm weather) for a water break. If you go too long without offering your dog water, they could drink too much at once and potentially vomit. Offer small, frequent amounts. After a few runs, you should establish a water break routine.
In addition to your typical training commands ("Leave it," "Come," etc.), it can be beneficial to create running-specific commands. Try something like "Let's go" as a command to pick up the pace from a walk to a jog. Training your dog to "Sit" and "Wait" at a curb before proceeding into the street is incredibly valuable for safety.
Enjoy the Experience
Most importantly, have fun! You're both getting stronger with each step, and your unique bond is strengthening through this shared experience. Don't forget to praise them with enthusiastic words of encouragement.
Safety Measures After Your Run
Be sure to execute post-run safety measures when you return home.
Wait to Have a Snack
Just as with offering a meal to your dog immediately preceding running, avoid feeding your dog or giving them a large volume of water right after a run. This could cause vomiting or put your dog at risk for bloat.
Examine Your Dog
Check your companion for any bug bites, lacerations, or grass awns they may have picked up during the run. Make sure they're not limping and don't appear out of sorts. If it's warm out, monitor your dog for signs of heatstroke, including weakness, vomiting, red gums, and collapse. See your veterinarian immediately if you notice any concerning signs.
Consider a Joint Supplement
Although this isn't something you should necessarily give immediately following a run, it's a long-term addition to consider. A daily oral supplement can protect your pet's joint health and aid in slowing the progression of arthritis. Common ingredients include omega-3s, glucosamine, and chondroitin. Ask your veterinarian which dog-formulated or over-the-counter supplement they recommend.
9 Must-Have Items for Running With Your Dog
Be prepared for every running excursion with these essential items.
- Dog ID. Your dog should always wear some form of identification in the event that you get separated. It can also be beneficial to have your dog microchipped should they slip out of their collar.
- Water. Always carry an ample supply of water with you. Grab a specially designed dog water bottle or tote a collapsible water bowl for easy sharing.
- Treats. Carry a few tasty treats for training or recall purposes.
- Harness. A harness is often a safer choice than a collar for your running buddy. If you stop abruptly or they're a big puller, a collar could cause strain to the neck. Just ensure that the harness has padding and doesn't rub your dog's sensitive underarms as they run.
- Leash. Even if you elect to run with your dog off-leash, it's important to carry a leash with you. Should you encounter an aggressive animal or if your dog becomes scared, you can quickly attach the leash for security. A hands-free running leash is a smart investment that allows you to jog comfortably with your hands free.
- Light. Visibility is crucial, particularly in the early morning or evenings. Attach a light to your dog's harness or use a reflective leash to ensure motorists see them.
- Waste bags. Running can stimulate bowel movements in pets. Do your part by picking up after your dog.
- Phone. If your dog becomes overheated on injured on the run, you can call for help with your cell phone.
- Attention. Don't run with your dog if you're distracted. Be mindful of your surroundings and your dog's demeanor to keep them safe.
Strengthen Your Special Bond
Running with your canine companion can be a healthy bonding experience. However, it's important to begin with baby steps to ensure your dog's safety and wellbeing. If you find that your dog isn't meant for running, that's OK. You can take them on your cool-down walk following a solo run to gain the same bonding benefits.