Exercising with friends is a great way to stay motivated and prioritize health — and running with man’s best friend is no different. If you’re looking for new ways to spend time with your dog, taking it out during your training can be a great way to keep it healthy, too.
“Running really is a fantastic activity for most healthy dogs,” shares Elissa Sosland, director of operations at Trailblazing Tails. “It is a healthy, safe outlet that improves their overall quality of life — not just while they’re out running — making them happier and more well-adjusted overall with their families when they’re able to have consistent, fun, structured exercise.”
If you don’t personally have time to run with your dog or give them the exercise they need, using a company like Trailblazing Tails or Wag is a great option; your dog will be with a trained professional who uses positive reinforcement to cue good habits and behaviors.
Should you decide to take your dog with you as you train, there are a few key things to consider to keep your dog out of harm’s way and make sure it is a safe and happy experience for you both.
MASTER BASIC TRAINING
Before you embark on a running plan with your dog, there are a few things to master. Basic obedience is key and may require some outside assistance such as a training class to make sure your dog knows you are the alpha and listens to your commands.
“Training your dog to run with you can begin at any phase in life,” shares Andrea J. Nelson, a licensed veterinary technician and co-owner of Nelson Veterinary Associates. “It is important for your safety and the safety of your dog to begin with basic obedience and leash manners — heel, sit, stay and leave it commands — all which will be beneficial if your running route brings you through urban areas where you will have to navigate through pedestrian traffic and use crosswalks.”
Starting off by taking your dog for a walk helps you gauge how they will behave when you pick up the pace. Additionally, it is good to see how they behave when approaching people or other dogs that may be out and about. To do this, many trainers recommend using positive reinforcement and rewarding your dog with training treats.
“Teaching dogs to walk on a loose leash while checking in — turning to look at your face — frequently during walks, practicing stopping and sitting, ignoring potential distractions like other dogs, people and squirrels, all while using tasty treats and proper encouragement can really tire a puppy out quickly without requiring any running whatsoever,” adds Sosland. “Because of this, and a dog’s physical development, we recommend holding off on prolonged running with most breeds until they are at least 8 months old.”
KNOW YOUR DOG’S LIMITS
In addition to taking into consideration the age — and obedience level — of your dog, understanding their breed is important when it comes to running. Though most dogs can run no matter their size, there are limitations that come with them trying to keep up with your stride and pace.
“Some breeds are more athletically inclined than others,” points out Nelson. “Personally, I have a mini schnauzer and a giant schnauzer; despite their size difference, both are great running partners. Just keep in mind how much more work it takes for an 8-pound Yorkie to keep with your stride verses a 130-pound Great Dane.”
For the safety of your dog, it is important to understand some breeds have additional limitations to consider.
“The main exception to running is short-nosed or smushy face breeds like bulldogs,” stresses Sosland. “They don’t have a long enough snout and their bronchial chords are often contracted so they simply can’t breathe in and out efficiently enough to safely run. It’s a real risk to these breeds’ health to run with them.” Boxers also fall into this category; both still need exercise, so taking them for walks is fine, but running with them could be harmful to their health.
GET THEM CLEARED FOR EXERCISE
If you have any questions about whether or not your dog can safely run, asking your veterinarian is the smartest option. This is a good idea even if you know your breed can safely run. Just as you would get a physical before starting a new exercise routine, you should do the same for your dog.
“Just like with humans, it is vital to make sure your pet is in good cardiovascular health before beginning a new training regimen,” urges Nelson. “If your moderately-active dog begins accompanying you on your road to your first marathon, have his or her veterinarian give them a thorough examination, including listening to the heart and lungs.”
TAKE THE SEASON INTO CONSIDERATION
Just as you would take the time of year into consideration when planning your own run, doing the same for your dog is important. Running in weather that is too hot — or too cold — comes with its own limitations for you both. Because your dog can’t wear shoes, make sure to keep their paws protected when the concrete is too hot or covered with chemicals to de-ice the roads.
“In Portland, winters are typically quite mild — with temperatures in the 40s and 50s — with lots of rain,” notes Sosland. “That’s a pretty good temperature range for dogs to run in, so there are less precautions needed for that type of weather than, say, running in the heat, when frequent shade and water breaks are important to prevent dogs from overheating.”
For added safety, Sosland recommends becoming pet first-aid and CPR certified. This, of course, is in addition to being familiar with your dog and signs of distress they may exhibit indicating that they need to rest.
READ MORE > HOW TO TURN WALKING YOUR DOG INTO A WORKOUT
KEEP EVERYONE — NOT JUST YOUR DOG — SAFE
Once your dog has mastered their obedience and been checked by a veterinarian, make sure you have the additional tools needed to keep everyone safe. This includes knowing the route you are going to take them on beforehand.
“Run or drive a new route once without your dog,” instructs Nelson. “Look for potential pitfalls, such as a house with a loose, aggressive dog. It’s better to be ready than surprised when a new dog bounds up to you.”
Additionally, making sure you have a strong leash and harness system is important for both your comfort and your dog’s. Overall, being aware of your dog’s cues and knowing if they are tired and it is time to slow down — or even walk — is the ultimate safety tip to make sure your dog’s health is the priority.