Picture the scene: summertime has arrived. You’re running in the park, wind in your hair, your headphones on.
Now, try again: you’re running in the park, wind in your hair, a four-legged friend running next to you, ears jumping up and down, waiting for you when you are too slow.
Much better isn’t it? Couldn’t agree more.
If you are lucky enough to be able to count on bringing a dog on your runs – whether it’s your own companion or the neighbour’s – or you are thinking to adopt one, then there are a few considerations to keep in mind to make the whole experience more enjoyable and safe for both your dog and yourself.
This is why we asked veterinarian Dr. Shannon Nash and Amy Pishner, a qualified dog trainer, both dog owners and devoted runners, to share their tips with us.
“Having a running buddy for me is great motivation to throw on my running shoes and take that initial step through the door”
-Dr. Shannon Nash
Age is not only a number
Just as you would probably not run with a newborn baby (unless in a stroller of course), you should also wait until your dog is fully developed before you bring them out with you during your runs. This because prolonged runs on hard surfaces could damage a puppy’s joints and bones that haven’t fully formed yet.
“Most mid-size to large breed dogs are fully developed with growths plates closed by 12 months old and can run longer distances without risking injury to developing bones. Giant breed dogs such as Great Danes or Newfoundlands may take up to 18 months for full growth plate closure. If you are unsure about what age would be appropriate for your pet to start running, always consult with your veterinarian. “ says Dr. Shannon.
Not all dogs are born to run
Most mid-size to large breed dogs, specifically breeds found in the sporting, working or herding group, are usually good running companions. We asked Dr. Shannon to enlighten us. ‘“Some dog breeds will be better equipped for running short distances, like greyhounds, while others, such as border collies, are better suited to long distances. Other breeds like toy or small breeds will have a more difficult time keeping up with our pace with their little legs. We’re talking little Yorkshire terriers, Maltese or Pomeranians for example. Breeds that are less ideal running buddies include brachycephalic breeds. These are breeds with flat faces such as English bulldogs or pugs. They can have difficulties breathing even without exercise, so we definitely want to avoid furthering those breathing issues with strenuous exercise”.
You can still have fun exercising with these breeds by going for a short fast-paced walk or with interval training – alternating jogging and walking – but remember to take it easy.
Have you thought about matching your own energy levels with your dog? Amy has some great insights in this respect: “If you’re looking to select a dog to be your running partner, find a breed that is designed for endurance and then pick a dog whose energy level matches yours (low, medium, high). There are different energy levels and varying temperament types within each breed. Like humans, dogs are unique individuals. Finding a dog who’s good match for you will set you both up for success!”
Like we already mentioned, it’s is not all about the breed, also remember to really take it easy and slow with overweight or elderly dogs.
Get your dog checked out before starting
We have asked Dr. Shannon what we should ask our vet before we start running with our dog: “We want to make sure that they are in good health, especially their cardiovascular health. Let your veterinarian know that you would like to start taking your pup running and ask lots of questions! Be specific and let them know whether these runs are distance or will be somewhat fast paced, so your veterinarian can provide you with the best advice.” Some questions to ask might be: “Can my dog physically handle the type of running I want to do based on their breed? Are they in good cardiovascular health? What dangers should I be aware of and look out for on our runs (this will vary depending on your location)?”
“Dogs need rigorous physical exercise, and running is a great way to help dogs get structured workouts. It’s a great way to bond with your dog as well.”
– Amy Pishner
Dos and don’ts before and after your runs
Do – Go for a short walk spaced up by dynamic stretches before your run. This way you will warm up properly and your friend will take advantage of this to sniff around and…go to the toilet, which will mean fewer breaks during your run.
Don’t –“Do not feed your dog for two hours before runs and 1-2 hours after runs. This helps to prevent bloat (GDV) especially in the large and deep-chested breeds,” recommend Amy.
Shannon explains the science behind this: “Their stomachs are anatomically situated in the body where they hang down like a pendulum. If they have food hanging out in their belly and then start to run, their stomach can flip over on itself and cause bloat, or gas build up in the stomach and this can be fatal. This is especially true with deep chested dogs, like greyhounds or German shepherds”.
How to train your dog to follow you
Running with your dog and pulling the leash might not be an enjoyable experience, for you or the pooch. Qualified dog trainer Amy says: “Some dogs will naturally follow their humans on runs. For the dogs that don’t, I recommend teaching the dogs to walk nicely on a loose leash and then leash the dog for runs. This will teach the dog what behavior you want from them. After doing several runs with your dog, you can use a tab leash (short leash) and let the dog run next to you without holding the leash. If the dog does well, he’s probably ready to have the leash unclipped. If they don’t, then try clipping the dog back to a regular leash.”
Shannon has some great tips too based on her experience as a vet, runner and dog guardian: “Practice makes perfect. Make sure you have lots of training treats on hand. Start by shortening the leash so that your dog stays at your side and doesn’t fall behind you or get in front of you. Take an easy jog for about 100 feet. When your dog gets the hang of running next to you, stop and give them a treat. Positive reinforcement! Repeat this process as much as needed until it becomes second nature for your dog to run by your side”.
Learn your dog body language to understand when is best to stop or reschedule
We asked Dr. Shannon what should we be mindful of. “The most important thing to look out for is overexertion. We want to avoid this by watching out for excessive panting and salivating. Additionally, make sure their gums and tongue stay a nice pink color and don’t ever turn purple or bright red. This could mean they’re not getting enough oxygen to their vital organs or they’re overheating. If you see more severe clinical signs such as vomiting, dizziness, rapid pulse, muscle tremors, lethargy or weakness, definitely get your pup to the veterinarian right away. Obviously we want to avoid it getting to that point, so if they simply start to slow down or stop during your run, it might be time to take a break. Always be mindful of your pets energy levels. If they are panting and breathing pretty hard it might be time to take a break or call it a day.”
Important: be mindful of the heat as well, as most surfaces will heat up in the sun and scorch your dog’s paws. Dr. Shannon recommends to take our dog with us only when the temperature is below 70F / 21C degrees or lower if your dog has lots of fur.
Head down, tail low is also a sign of fatigue according to qualified dog trainer Amy, so always observe your dog carefully while running.
Running equipment: Flexi leash or regular leash – what to choose
Both Amy and Shannon suggest regular leashes as opposed to retractable as otherwise it can prove difficult to maintain control. “Retractable lashes can cause harm to our pets and us if not used correctly. They are usually much longer than necessary allowing more freedom for the pet to pull and get too far away from us. They can also malfunction causing injury to both parties and additionally can cause burns if you or your dog gets tangled up in them. Stick with your basic six-foot leash. I really like the newer double handle leashes! They are great for maintaining control of your pup while running, allowing you to keep your pet next to your side more easily” says Amy.
You can also find specific running leashes, which are great to keep your hand free as they come with an adjustable waist belt and are often made with weather-proof, reflective and shock-absorbing materials. “For laid-back running partners, a chest plate harness works fine” says Amy.
It is important to make sure the harness adheres well around our pup – “We don’t want to create chaffing or abrasions from a harness that has a lot of movement against the body.” says Shannon.
Choosing your running field
Roads, parks, trails – so many choices when it comes to running. Sometimes dictated simply from the area where you leave. But if you have the choice, try to avoid streets as the surface can be too hard or hot on your dog’s paws and traffic can be unpleasant and dangerous for both of you. Parks and trails are always the best choice.
“I recommend running in areas that are free of other dogs, as many dogs are off leash or loose in the yard and can charge at you and your dog. I also recommend running with an air horn in the event you get chased by a dog or other animal. The air horn will startle the other dog (and probably your dog as well), but may be enough to keep the dog away from you. “ says Amy.
Always remember to check beforehand what types of wildlife roam the area (you should avoid areas with deer, foxes and venomous snakes for example).
Dr. Shannon Nash is a animal veterinarian in the San Francisco Bay Area who enjoys running, CrossFit, eating clean, blogging and getting crafty! She loves spending her free time relaxing at home with her puggle Haley, a good book and some delicious cold brew coffee. You can find her on instagram @shannonedithblog or check out her blog at www.shannonedithblog.com.
Amy Pishner is the Owner of Valor K9 Academy, LLC, and the Head Trainer for Valor K9 Academy in Spokane, WA. She is triple certified and specializes in puppy training, basic to advanced off-leash obedience and behavior rehabilitation training. She and her husband Justin have two German shepherds and two Australian shepherds. Amy is a former marathon runner and has a love for fitness! Check her website at www.valork9academy.com.
Important note: this story mentions breeds, so we thought it would be good to stress that Vilda is firmly against breeding and actively promotes #adoptdontshop. However, we realise that breeds can be present in shelters too, and for a variety of reasons, people end up with breed dogs. This advice is for anyone who wants to run with their dogs, whatever dog you have.
Photos by Bruno Cervera, Peter Hershey , Cam Bowers and Jamie Street via Unsplash