Running with your dog? 5 things to consider

We’re all guilty of it… hibernating in the wintertime. We’re content to do more sitting around when it’s cold outside. And, as a result, our dogs take on the same bad habits.

So here we are in April. In parts of the country, daffodils are blooming and the nip has left the air. In other areas, the wildflowers are glorious and temps are bordering on downright hot.

One thing’s for sure though, no matter where you live everyone’s getting out more and thinking about their bathing suit bods. What better time to get back into that running routine… or to start a new one.

Running, or doing any exercise, is more fun with a friend. But sometimes friends are unreliable—unless your friend’s your dog. They’re always happy to spend time with you.

If you’re thinking about making your dog your running buddy, there are 5 very important things to consider first. And know that having a running buddy who can run as far as you won’t happen overnight. There’s planning and training involved.

Here are 5 things to give serious thought to before you lace up your running shoes.

1) Would your dog make a good running companion?

If you have a Bulldog, a Pug, or a Chihuaha, the answer’s no. But if you have a Lab, an Australian Cattle Dog, or a Pointer, they would.

Dog’s with short legs and/or short noses are not good running companions.   A short nose means a less efficient respiratory system. And a dog with short legs will have to work a lot harder—too hard—to keep up with you.

Medium to large breed working or sporting dogs make the best exercise partners. They have lots of energy and desire.

Consider your dog’s health. Your dog should see the vet before starting a running program, just like you should see your doctor before you start any exercise program.

The age of your dog is also important. An old dog that’s been inactive most of its life is not the best dog to run with. Nor is your obese dog.

But a dog can also be too young. Dogs need to finish growing before they take on any intense exercise regimen. If they start running before their growth plates close, you could be asking for orthopedic problems down the road.

The right age depends on the size of the dog. Smaller breeds finish growing at younger ages than large breed dogs.

But no dog should run long distances before they are at least 7 months old. And most big dogs should wait until they’re 2. If you have a young dog, ask your vet when it will be ok to start running together.

2) What’s the best way to start?

If you and your dog are new to running, you’ll both need to start slowly.

If you’re a runner and only your dog is new to the sport, you must be patient. Your dog needs to start with short outings, only a 10 minute run at first. You can add another 10 minutes each week if you’re running several times a week.

But you should never expect your dog to run more than 10 miles. It’s just too much wear and tear on their bodies.

Always remember that your dog needs to warm up just like you do with a brisk walk or slow jog. And give them a chance to sniff and do their business before you speed up.

And don’t forget the cool down at the end of your run. A brisk walk for a few minutes works. Slow down gradually and hydrate slowly.

A 3 to 6 foot leash, along with a collapsible bowl for water, is all the equipment you need. And you’ll want to bring a poop bag if you think there’s a chance of that happening.

For safety sake, never use a flexi (retractable) leash when you’re running with your dog. It’s easy for the dog to get too far ahead of you and beyond your control. If they see something they want to pull towards, they can snap the leash.

Which leads me to behavior. It’s a good idea to be sure your dog knows some basic commands and is well behaved before you go running together.

They should walk well on a leash with no pulling. When you’re running, their nose should be at your knee.

If your dog likes to sniff or mark their territory every few feet, you’ll want to break that habit before teaching them to run with you.

They should know the “leave it” command in case something crossing your path or on the ground interests them.

When you have to wait to cross the street, “sit” and “stay” are helpful too.

3) Where’s the best place to run with your dog?

Some surfaces are harder on your dog’s joints than others. It may not be possible to get a good run in on grass, which is the best surface for your dog’s bones… and your’s too.

But trail running is the next best thing if that’s available to you. Running on a dirt trail is better than asphalt or concrete because the surface is softer.

If you’re going to run on a trail, you should first be sure the park or trailhead where you’ll be running allows dogs. They may not and you could be fined if you don’t obey the rules, and in some instances, the law.

If you run on a trail in a natural area, be aware of your surroundings, know the wildlife in the area, and be cognizant of rocks and ruts.

Running in nature can also mean ticks. Take precautions if you live in an area where they’re a problem.

And always always keep your dog on a leash. I can’t stress this enough.

Even if you think your dog is well trained, the wildlife isn’t. If an animal attacks your dog, you have no control, and no way of getting your dog back if they run to flee the attacker.

And a dog is a dog. Even the most well trained canine can decide to chase an animal they see in the wild. It’s new to them and interesting.

A wild animal can kill your pet! Keeping them on a leash gives you the greatest chance of protecting them.

A track is also a good place to run with your dog, but many schools with tracks don’t allow dogs.

For most people running on asphalt is the only option. So it’s important to know the potential pitfalls of running on a hard surface.

4) What problems can running cause?

When running with your dog, no matter the surface, watch out for signs of overexertion or heatstroke. Your dog can’t tell you they’re too tired to continue—and they will keep going until they drop, just to please you. Look for:

Weakness

Drooling

Dark red gums

Vomiting

Excessive panting/unable to catch breath

Lethargy

If your dog stops, and refuses to continue, they’ve had enough. Get them in the shade, and let them rest and cool down before you WALK home.

How about the hard surface? It can damage your dog’s joints and ligaments. They can tear an ACL just like you can. They can strain and sprain something just like you can. Watch out for limping.

Always start off slowly by warming up and stay consistent with your running regimen. Neither you nor your dog should be a weekend warrior. That’s how injuries happen.

Try to work a few running sessions into your weekly routine, and hopefully you’ll avoid a serious injury.

If you notice your dog limping, it may be an injured pad or toenail. The pads will toughen over time. Starting off gradually will toughen the pads before you get into longer running sessions that can injure them.

Dysplasia and arthritis are chronic problems. If your dog has either of them, ask your vet if running is advisable. It can exacerbate the problem.

If you notice your dog limping after you run, talk with your vet. They may be developing dysplasia or arthritis.

Another risk associated with heavy exercise is gastric torsion (bloat). Read my post on the subject to learn more about it. But know that it’s life threatening. You should never feed your dog less than an hour before or after running.

And do NOT let them gulp water after a long run. They should drink small amounts at a time to avoid an excessive build up of air in their stomachs.

But hydration is super important for you and your athletic dog! So don’t be afraid to give them water.

Stop every 10 minutes for a water break, at least until you know how much water your dog needs on your run. Teach them to drink from a water bottle or use a collapsible bowl. But always, always offer enough water throughout your run.

If your dog is thirsty and they see a puddle, they may try to drink it. Never let them do that. The water is contaminated and dangerous.

5) Are there better times to run than others?

Run when the temperature is comfortable for you and your dog. Don’t run in the heat of the day. In warmer months, early or late in the day is best.

Even if the air temperature isn’t too hot, the ground may be if the sun is strong. Asphalt, black top and sand heat up quickly from the sun.

Test it first before you let your dog run on it. Place your hand or bare foot on the surface for 10 seconds. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog’s sensitive pads.

And remember that your dog will overheat faster than you do. They don’t sweat like people. Dogs pant to cool off, and that’s not as effective as sweating.

Dogs are close to the ground, which radiates a lot of heat. And they have fur coats. So avoid a midday run when it’s warm out.

And if it’s sizzling hot, skip the run. Or at least leave your dog at home.

Sometimes we don’t realize it’s too hot out until it’s too late. If you go for a run and it’s hotter than you thought it was, your dog can succumb to heatstroke.

If you suspect they’re struggling, get them into the shade; give them small amounts of water, and poor cool water on their head and body. Those dark red gums are telling you something. Heatstroke can kill your dog!

Although temps are warming up now, you may want to continue your running routine into the winter. If you live in a cold climate, the snow can present challenges too.

The salt that’s used to deice the roads can damage dog’s pads and upset their stomachs if they ingest it. Avoid salted roads if possible. If unavoidable, try canine booties, petroleum jelly, or Musher’s Secret Wax. This will prevent irritated pads, and minimize licking the paws and swallowing the salt.

It’s a good idea to clean your dog’s paws after a run, no matter the time of year, with warm soapy water. Get between the toes to wash away salt and any other dirt they may have picked up.

Besides washing those paws, inspect them to be sure they haven’t damaged their pads or toenails.

And inspect your dog for burrs, ticks, lameness and general exhaustion. You want to be sure you’re not overexerting your running partner.

Don’t forget lots of love and affection. Praise them for their achievement— but love on them only. No food rewards for at least an hour.

Hopefully, running will be not only the exercise both you and your dog need, but also a fun bonding experience.

Do you run with your dog? Share your do’s and don’ts in the comment section above.

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