Hopefully all of you dog owners are out walking your dogs every day. Walking is critical for your dog. Physical health benefits aside, think about being inside all day while your favorite person is at work. When they come home, you want to spend time with them and unwind all that energy you have from sleeping all day! Going out for a walk allows them (and you) to not only stretch your legs but get fresh air, see some friends, and be part of the cosmos.
It is important for you and your dog to have a good working relationship with walking before progressing to running. Your dog should be used to cars, traffic, pedestrians, and the fundamentals of walking on a leash before you start running.
Maybe you’re already an established runner or you’re trying to get into running. Either way, to progress from walking to running it’s important that we review some basics first. Let’s approach it as the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How’s”. As always, check with your veterinarian about concerns or guidelines specific to your dog.
So who gets to run?
All dogs can run and dart around a yard, but, for this situation, let’s consider running as at least one mile. Puppies should be a minimum of six months of age, and, in some breeds, a little bit older, before taking up running. This is not only because they need to learn how to walk appropriately and safely on a leash, but also because running can impact the growth plates in their bones. We don’t want to cause damage by overdoing it too early with a young dog.
Some dog breeds are natural runners (greyhounds, hound dogs) and some are not. But all dogs have the potential to be runners. We always want to be careful with snub nose breeds (pugs, bulldogs) because they can overheat faster than other breeds (more on that later). Additionally, remember that tiny dogs (chihuahuas, teacup poodles) are already running just to keep up with your normal walking stride.
Older dogs can run too, maybe they don’t run as often or as far, but being old does not preclude us from running. Did you know that humans hit peak long distance running age at 55? So, if we can get better with age, so can our dogs (just like wine and whisky).
Depending on the dog, children can be great to be a dog’s running partner. This is a great way for both of them to run off lots of energy. For adults that are running, ask yourself what you’re training for. Is it a 5K? 10K? full marathon? Your dog may be able to train with you for all of those runs or maybe just part of them.
What do you need for running with your dog?
First and foremost is safety. This starts with a leash (I prefer a 3-4’ leash, not the flexi-leads) and a snug fitting collar (my preference is Gentle Leader). We don’t want our dogs too far away from us and we don’t want their collar to come off while running (especially near traffic!)
More on safety: This can be a reflector vest for your dog, a flashing light, or even a GPS collar. (The last one is really important if running in big fields or the forest.).
To keep track of distance covered, you may use your smart phone, or if you have a GPS watch (Garmin) or a FitBit. There’s technology like this for dogs too. I use VoycePro Collars on my dogs. It tracks their heart rate, respiratory rate, and distance covered. Then I can see how they are doing and make adjustments accordingly.
Remember to walk a bit first to get started, and your dog may want to stretch a bit to loosen up before running. It’s very important to warm up so that we can avoid injury.
When first running with your dog, plan your routes ahead of time. Be aware of the time of day, amount of traffic. To check if the road it too hot for your dog, place your palm flat on the road. Count to 10. If you cannot make it to 10 seconds without pulling away from the heat, it’s not safe for your dog. More on heatstroke later.
Always allow your dog to urinate and defecate before you start to run. For those of you with more than one dog, just take one at a time on runs and NEVER try and ride your bike while running with your dog on a leash. It’s not safe for anyone.
When do we run?
Some of us are morning people. Some are not. You may choose to run in the morning, afternoon, or evening. For running with your dog, I recommend avoiding between noon and 3pm as this is generally the hottest part of the day. Remember that dogs do not sweat (except through their foot pads), so they can very quickly overheat.
For those of you running at night, be extra careful about safety. Remember to use blinking lights, reflectors, and pick paths that have some lighting.
Remember to walk a bit to warm up and walk some to cool down after the run.
Depending on the length of the run, you may need some carbohydrates to replenish. Dogs’ bodies work differently than ours, so unless you’re running for 3-4 hours don’t worry about replenishing their carbs. Have fresh clean water available at the end of the run. If it’s been a long (greater than 60 minutes) run, then a SMALL snack is ok. I do not feed a meal to my dogs until at least one hour after the run is over. This allows them to cool down, relax, and is helpful in avoiding “bloat” (gastric dilatation and volvulus, where the stomach fills up with gas and twists). If you’re interested in learning more about bloat, please contact me.
Where do we run?
I prefer to run in my neighborhood and that may be best for you as well. For those in big cities, it may be easier to drive or walk to a park to do your running. If you’re running on roads, remember to run OPPOSITE vehicle traffic and watch for cars. If you’re running on trails, be on the look out for other runners, cyclists, debris, snakes, and other animals. After trail or field running, stop and check your dog for ticks.
For winter running, be careful with ice and salt. Take a warm washcloth and wipe off your dogs feet (and between their toes) after a run to get the salt and debris off. Alternatively, boots can be used.
If you have to run inside, you can still run with your dog. I’ve trained many dogs to run on both regular and underwater treadmills. If you have a treadmill at home, just gathering dust it can be a great tool for your dog. Again, contact me for more information on this particular topic.
Why do we run?
Running with your dog should really be about fun. Fun for both you and them. Sure we can have other goals: weight loss, mental health, be outside, socialize, stay in shape, or we are training for a goal (agility dog, law enforcement, search and rescue, etc.), but the most important reason why is for fun. This is a great time to bond with your dog and enjoy the time together.
How do we run?
Once you have reviewed and organized all the previous information, it’s time to start running. Well actually, start with walking. Remember to walk a bit to warm up those muscles and allow our bodies to get ready for running. Avoid busy areas and have a route planned out. Running will also depend on what shape you and your dog are in. I recommend starting out with a 5 minute walk and then running for 2 minutes, walking for 2 minutes. Continue this for 20 minutes total and then do a 5 minute cool down walk. That’s 30 minutes of total exercise. If this is too much for you or your dog (they are stopping, dragging behind on the leash), then still do the 5 minute warm up and 5 minute cool down and decrease the main set.
This can be repeated daily (or every other day). Once you’re up to 1 mile in running without stopping, you can begin to add on quickly. If you’re running 3 times a week, then the first run can be 1 mile, the middle run 1.25 miles, and the long run 1.25-1.5 miles. Each week, you can add 0.25 miles to each run depending on how you and your dog are feeling.
For those of you who run track or like to run intervals, dogs are great companions for this. Many dogs are great at sprinting short distances and then walking a bit.
Regular visits to your veterinarian are important. I recommend seeing your vet twice a year at least. Getting a full physical examination and taking preventative measures to keep our running buddy in top shape is very important.
On my examinations I am looking in their history first. Do they have any previous surgeries, heart and lung conditions, diabetes, obesity, neurological conditions or arthritis? Even if they do I can usually tailor a program with a reasonable set of goals so that your dog can still be active with you.
I am looking for symmetrical muscle mass, the ability to flex and extend each joint appropriately, their body condition and how they currently walk before determining if they can be involved in a running program.
A dog’s normal body temperature is between 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit. (37.8-38.9 Celsius) So they’re naturally warmer than we are. Remember, that except through their pads, dogs don’t sweat. They’ll pant and that’s their natural cooling system. And they’re wearing a fur coat all the time. This pre-disposes them to heatstroke. They can very easily overheat (outside in the sun, or in a parked car) and their body temperatures will rise to 105, 106, 107, 108 degrees or higher.
Signs of heat stroke can be weakness, lethargy, excessive panting, lying down, collapse, diarrhea, seizures, and clotting disorders. This can be fatal if left untreated. All veterinarians are able to diagnose and initial manage heatstroke. Always know where the CLOSEST veterinarian is to you and also where a veterinary emergency room is if it’s after hours, weekends, or you’re away on vacation.
Heatstroke is a readily treatable disease, but one I’d rather just prevent from happening by being safe and smart.
Even when it feels relatively cool to us, it can get very hot for dogs quickly. Don’t leave your dog in a parked car during summer. Even with windows cracked, it can get dangerously hot within just a few minutes. For ambient temperatures, remember to avoid noon to 3pm, but also check the current temperature. I saw this sign in North Carolina and loved it.
Running with your dog can be a safe and fun time for both of you. Get them checked out by your veterinarian prior to starting running and enjoy the run!
If you have specific questions, please contact me.