Running with Your Dog: How to Get Started

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Exercise is an important part of your dog's physical and mental health, just like it is for yours. And although you can join your dog in all kinds of activities, running with your dog is an excellent way for both of you to burn calories and relieve stress.

Lack of exercise is one of the most common reasons dogs develop weight and behavioral problems. With not enough outlets to expend their energy, puppies and adult dogs can become destructive. Not only does chewing upholstery cause you major distress, but it can also be dangerous for your pet.

Running benefits your dog in the same ways it benefits you — so don't hesitate to put your sneakers on, grab their leash and hit your favorite jogging trails. Wondering how to get started with your running partner? Look no further.

Know Whether Your Dog Likes Running

Before you lace up, assess whether running is something your dog might enjoy. Not all breeds need much beyond a regular walk. A border collie or similarly active herding or working breed may love to join you for several miles, whereas a stockier lapdog or smush-face (brachycephalic) pup likely won't want to keep pace. You know your dog best. Consider the type of exercise they usually enjoy. If running seems like a good fit, you're ready to take the next steps.

Consider Your Dog's Physical Ability

Perhaps just as important as your dog's desire to run is their physical capability. Before you hit the trails, know that some dogs require special consideration:

  • Puppies. Running long distances with puppies isn't recommended. This is especially true if you have a large breed dog because your growing puppy's bones and joints are more susceptible to injuries before they're fully developed.
  • Older dogs. Your older pup may have decreased cardiovascular function, joint pain or weak muscles that can make running difficult or painful. Schedule a checkup and consult with your veterinarian prior to starting any running program with your older dog.
  • Brachycephalic breeds. Dogs with flat faces, such as pugs, bulldogs, Brussels griffons, Bullmastiffs, Chow Chows, Lhasa apsos and Japanese chins, typically aren't good running partners. The anatomical structures of these dogs' noses, mouths and upper airways can make it difficult to get enough air for extended aerobic exercise. These dogs are better suited to walking and short play sessions.
  • Chondrodysplastic breeds. These breeds, including basset hounds and dachshunds, have very short, curved legs that don't translate well to running. Dogs who have any type of angular limb deformity also aren't a good choice for a running partner because their legs aren't designed for running long distances.

Many dogs are stoic animals and hide injuries and illnesses quite well from their pet parents, so check with your vet. They'll be able to tell you whether it's safe for your dog to jog. If you notice your dog laboring, limping or lagging behind, it's best to stop and let them rest or walk the rest of the way. Never force your pup to run with you.

Bring Items for Your Running Pup

If you've determined your four-legged pal would be a great running partner, make sure you have all the necessary items to keep both of you safe and comfortable. Check off each of the following every time you leave for a run with your buddy:

  • A secure harness with up-to-date identification tags
  • A sturdy leash, either hands-free or standard, that won't break should your dog suddenly change pace
  • Extra water for your dog (remember, they need to hydrate too)
  • A collapsible bowl or dog water bottle
  • Doggie bags to pick up and dispose of waste
  • Treats for when your dog needs extra calories (or motivation) on a long run

Check the Weather Before You Go

Small brown dog on a leash in red collar walks next to man on boardwalk near ocean.
Before you head out the door, check the weather. Dogs don't heat and cool their bodies like you do, so they can be more sensitive to extreme temperatures. If it's too hot, your dog could be at risk for heatstroke or burned paws from materials like hot asphalt. If it's too cold, frostbite can set in. Avoid running with your dog in temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit or below 45 degrees F.

Hit the Trails Together

Running requires very little training. Basic obedience training is usually all you need for a comfortable run together. Nonetheless, making sure your dog doesn't pull you around or weave in and out of your legs is an important safety measure for both of you; letting them lead the run can put your own muscles at risk. Also, make sure your dog can stop, sit and stay should you need to wait at any traffic lights or cross crowded trails. Above all, start slow and work your way up to longer runs to avoid injury, just as you would if you were beginning to run on your own for the first time. Looking for a running program? Check out this one a vet from Runner's World created.

You'll notice that as your dog gets into better shape, they'll be able to go longer distances at faster paces. During your run, check your dog's paw pads to make sure they aren't getting raw. Although your pup might start limping if they're injured, they might be so happy to be out with you that they don't notice or show it. It's up to you to ensure your dog is safe during exercise.

If running with your dog becomes regular in your routine, you might also want to talk to your vet about proper nutrition. Just like athletes, active dogs need more calories and varying nutrients than your average couch potato. Proper nutrition and exercise are paramount to keeping your dog healthy, and together, they'll help your best friend live a long, happy life.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten

A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and certified veterinary journalist, Dr. Sarah Wooten has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice, is a well known international speaker and writer in the veterinary and animal health care spaces, and is passionate about helping pet parents learn how to care better for their fur friends.

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