Research has shown training with a running buddy can increase exercise enjoyment and performance. While lining up calendars can be hard, there exists a running buddy who doesn’t require coordinating calendars or negotiating meeting spots. He or she will be enthusiastic about joining you no matter the time or weather. The most dependable running buddy is … your dog!
If you’re a regular runner — and a dog lover — you’ve probably considered teaching Fido to run happily alongside you as you casually navigate the trails, just a runner and man’s best friend. But while you can teach an old dog new tricks, running a 10K isn’t a skill dogs naturally possess — like any human, they need to build up mileage slowly and in a smart way.
Whether you’re heading out for an easy recovery jog or a tempo run, your pup will be happy to accompany you. The key to running with a dog is to train him or her to trot by your side at your desired pace.
These longtime ultrarunners and dog owners share their top tips for getting your dog trail-ready.
KNOW YOUR BREED
While there are personality differences from one dog to the next that affect his or her inclination for exercise, most breeds can run. “Different breeds have huge variability in abilities,” says Candice Alicia, an ultrarunner with four dogs. “I am very aware of the distance, time and speed they can each go, water sources and weather. Different dogs have different abilities and age plays a big factor, too.
“I don’t take my French bulldog on hot or long runs, only very short, hiking-heavy runs,” says Alicia. “I can take my Chihuahua on almost any run or distance — he’s done up to 42 miles and is built more like a small greyhound — but he needs jackets in the cold or rain. Know thy dog!”
The age of your dog also matters. Many vets recommend waiting to run with your pup until he or she is fully developed, which can be as late as a year and a half for some breeds. That first 1–2 years is a great time to focus on walking and leash training, a vital skill to master if you hope to run together. Teaching your dog to heel by your side, stop at intersections and follow general commands are all things he or she should be able to do before graduating to running.
Use low-key runs as an exercise in self-control for your pooch. Treats and verbal encouragement can go a long way in keeping him or her focused on the task. “The key things I have been doing are hiking her off leash every day, while providing a ton of treats and praise for everything good she does, using commands like come, sit, leave it and heel,” says runner Ryan Sullivan. “Every morning she runs right with me for 10 minutes after my run, and I just positively reinforce the whole time. Basically, focus on a ton of positive reinforcement and developing the most important commands as early as possible.”
A hands-free waist leash is perhaps the best investment you can make to keep your dog by your side while running. A harness that allows for the dog’s full range of motion can also be important if your pooch tends to pull. Be sure to carry waste bags on all runs, and bring along a collapsible water bowl when the weather is warm. Longtime runner Stephen Pretak, echoes this adding, “always bring more poop bags than you think you’ll need.”
NOTE THE TERRAIN
A lot of dog owners try to find trails to run since that terrain will be easiest on your pet’s paws, but that’s not possible for everyone. Still, consider your area and try to find the cleanest roads possible. “My partner and I both take our dog out the door for probably 60% of our runs. We’ve also had to be very careful with his paws … pavement can be rough on them, especially when hot or littered with debris,” says runner Ryan Horner. “We haven’t had any major issues, but we take extended breaks if he ever shows signs of something wrong with his paws.”
MAKE TRAINING PROGRESSIVE
Pretend your dog is a child, and ask yourself what you would expect from an active 10-year-old on his first run. Remember, you’re the alpha dog. This means your dog should always follow your lead, jogging by your side when you’re out for an easy recovery run and picking up the pace when you’re putting in a harder workout.
Control the pace and start slow. “Building the mileage up slowly is important,” says Kylee Van Horn, a nutritionist and runner. “I make sure to give our girl a couple of days off between runs, but she can go up to 20 miles with me on trails!”
CARRY WATER OR PLAN STOPS
“I also plan longer runs on routes I know have water crossings so I don’t have to carry too much extra water,” says ultrarunner Shad Mika. If you don’t have a lot of streams on your route, carry a water source that you know your dog will drink out of — sometimes, a thirsty dog still won’t be willing to slurp out of your water bottle. Ensure that they have an easy way to get enough water throughout your run — and on hot days, stop often to let them drink.
BE CONSCIOUS OF HOW YOUR DOG FEELS
Make sure you’re watching your dog for signs of distress — the tricky part is your pup is so eager to please, he’ll try to keep up even when he’s getting overheated, tired or is hurt. On hot days, having water access and shade along the route is key. Pay attention to your dog’s running style to make sure he doesn’t develop a mid-run limp thanks to a rock or shard of glass in his paw. Signs a dog is struggling include excessive panting or labored breathing, limping and abrupt stopping. Your dog isn’t always able to communicate distress with you until it’s too late, so it’s your job to look for those early warning signs.
HAVE AN EMERGENCY PLAN
“For long trail runs, if you have a medium or large dog you can’t carry, I recommend investing in an emergency carrying harness that you can stash in your pack,” says runner Cassie Crawford. If your dog is new to running, consider running a short loop multiple times so you’re never too far from the finish.
PLAY TO YOUR DOG’S STRENGTHS
If your dog isn’t built for speed, leave him home when you have to get in your interval run, but use him to ensure the easy runs on your training plan actually stay easy. It’s like having a built-in coach slowing you down. “My dog is pretty big, slow and uncoordinated … So he’s great for keeping my easy runs easy,” says runner Kassandra Marin. “Also, he prompts me to stop more and fully appreciate where I am and how awesome life is.”
IT’S OK IF YOUR PUP ISN’T A RUNNER
“My dogs prefer the post-run naps,” says runner Don Reichelt. If you’ve tried every training trick in the book and your dog would still rather flop than fartlek, that’s totally fine. Even dogs that seem like perfect trail runners sometimes just don’t love the sport. Again, think of your pup the same way you would a child: You might take him on a few runs, but if your kid stopped on the trail and refused to run every single time, you’d probably accept he’s just not into running.