Many of the more energetic among us like to go jogging (or running if they are even more athletic) for fun. And they like to go out with a running companion – of the furry 4-legged variety. In fact, many people get dogs with the aim to go running with them.
It’s very important that you choose your breed carefully, because certain breeds are better suited to high-impact exercise than others. Age is also an important consideration because pushing dogs into too much exercise too soon can do lasting physical damage.
We’re going to look at some important tips to bear in mind if you want to run with your dog.
A big mistake that most people make is over-exercising their puppies. The problem with over-exercising puppies is that they can suffer permanent physical damage. Puppies have growth plates on the ends of their bones. They allow the bones to grow properly until pups reach sexual maturity, at which point the growth plates close. It usually happens when pups are around 18 months old. Too much exercise in early puppyhood can damage the growth plates. This means the bones don’t develop properly and puppies can end up with weak and deformed limbs.
Another special consideration is the softness of puppies’ bones. Once again, puberty or sexual maturity is a key age, as this is when bones reach their maximum density. Until then, bones are quite soft and are vulnerable to spiral fractures, which is when the bone twists and breaks in opposite directions.
Finally, puppies are much like human toddlers in that they tend to have bursts of energy followed by naps. They don’t have any endurance or stamina. It’s important that exercise is gradually increased to build up their endurance and stamina in healthy ways.
Getting the ball rolling
The best way to build up stamina and meet pup’s exercise needs is through free play, which is when pup runs about, sniffs, explores, has a dig, has a romp, has some zoomies and then falls asleep. And then gets up to do it all again. Your back yard is usually sufficient for this BUT it’s also very important for your pup’s socialization that she gets to experience the outside world. So you can also take pup for short walks around the neighborhood and for outings to the park and beach.
Behaviorists recommend two short walks a day. By walks we mean stop-start, sniff and explore walks, and not a 1 mile mission walk to beat your best time. The best way to estimate a safe amount of time for walks is to assign 5 minutes per month of age. So an 8-week-old pup can have a 10 minute walk, including sniff and explore time. You can go for longer outings, of course, but then you need to carry pup for periods of time or invest in a puppy stroller.
Pay careful attention to your pup’s body language. Give her a rest when she lags behind or stops walking.
You can help build up your puppy’s endurance in fun ways, including treasure hunts, using treats (or even pup’s food) as a way to encourage her to sniff and hunt and explore.
Play dates with other dogs (different sizes, ages and breeds) are a great way to burn up energy and help your pup learn appropriate behavior around other dogs. Just ensure that the playmates are suitable for your pup and that it doesn’t turn into a defensive fest.
Play with you and other members of the family is important for bonding and for exercise. Fetch (rolling the ball) and tug (gentle and low to the ground) are great for building endurance and muscles and burning energy.
Take a look at Puppy Culture’s exercise chart for an idea of age-appropriate exercises for pups from 8 weeks to 2 years old. According to the chart, you should only start running with your dog when she is between 18 months and 2 years old, and that depends on breed and size.
Breeds and running
Some dogs are almost perfectly designed to run long distances, like border collies and Rhodesian ridgebacks. Other breeds, like bulldogs, are most definitely not suited to a brisk jog. Any brachycephalic (flat-faced) dog is going to have trouble running because their airways are shorter and narrower. This makes breathing difficult at the best of times. Throw in a warm summer’s day and a 3 mile jog and you’ve got a lethal combination.
Short-legged dogs are not suited to long-distance running, although they have the endurance to enjoy a long walk. So don’t take your basset hound on a jog, but by all means go on a hike together. Just accept that it won’t be particularly fast.
Also keep breed and climate in mind. Huskies and malamutes are bred to run long distances (towing heavy sleds), but they’re bred to do it in the cold. Your husky probably won’t appreciate a 10 mile run in Miami heat, especially if the only time you have for a run is your lunch hour.
Giant breeds also don’t do well on long distance runs because their bones and joints can’t take the pounding. They’ll appreciate walk-runs and hikes more than a daily jog.
As a rule, herding and sporting dogs make the best running companions. They have the highest exercise needs and can happily exercise for 60 – 90 minutes per day. Terriers are high-energy dogs, but because they are smaller than herding dogs, they need slightly less exercise. So 60 minutes of high energy exercise a day will do just fine. Scent hounds, with long legs (not bassets), are like herding dogs in that they can keep up intense exercise for up to 90 minutes per day.
Sighthounds, like Greyhounds, are designed to run at high speeds for short periods of time, so they might enjoy wind sprints and walk-runs, rather than sustained jogging.
On your marks…
It’s important you and your dog undergo the same preparations before you hit that half marathon. That means you should start out slowly with shortish walk-runs, gradually extending the run and reducing the walk. When you can run the whole route, you can start aiming for more distance.
Always start your run with a warm up; believe it or not, but bowing (or curtsying) are great warm up exercises for dogs, as are hind-end awareness exercises. You should also start out by walking for 2 – 5 minutes before starting to run. End your run with a 2 – 5 minute cool-down walk.
Pick your running spots carefully. You might not mind running on the road with your high-tech running shoes, but your dog’s paws don’t have the benefit of cushioning and protection. Try to avoid road running (anything on concrete, asphalt or gravel) and hit the nature trails instead. If road running is your only option, try roads with grassy verges. If that’s not an option, toughen up your dog’s paws during the walk-run stage of the process.
Make sure you have the proper equipment. Used a fixed length leash. Retractable leashes are bad idea as your dog can easily run into traffic or get into other trouble before you can react, and can easily pull you off balance. Your dog should be wearing a flat collar with her name tag and your contact details. A collar and lead are sufficient if she runs nicely by your side and never pulls or lunges. If she runs ahead, pulls or is unpredictable around squirrels, birds and other dogs, then use a directional harness. This is a harness that clips on the chest. They provide more control than harnesses that clip on the back.
Consider using a reflective leash or investing a flashing collar if you run in the dark or twilight. And always have poo bags. It’s petiquette to pick up after your dog – in many cities it’s also the law.
Once you’ve hit your stride
Remember to always take care of your dog’s paws. Examine them before and after every run to see if they are raw or have cuts or lesions. Don’t run on hot roads or pavements. If you can’t hold your hand on the surface of the road for 30 seconds it’s too hot for your dog’s paws. Don’t run in extreme cold either, and if you have to run in winter, get your dog used to wearing booties to protect her paws from the cold and from the salt that is used to reduce slipperiness on icy roads and pavements.
If your dog feels the cold easily, you should invest in a jersey or jacket and rain coat so you can go running in all weather. On hot days you can get cooling collars and cooling jackets to keep their temperature down.
Bring lots of water with you, even on cold days. Some dogs are happy to drink out of squirt bottles, while some prefer to drink out of a bowl. There are specially adapted bottle lids so you and your dog can drink out of the same bottle. You can also buy portable, collapsible water bowls.
Always watch your dog for signs of exhaustion or heat stroke. If your dog is panting excessively, lagging behind, drooling or looks confused, stop and let your dog drink and rest. Most dogs will run themselves ragged to keep up with you, so it’s up to you to keep your dog safe.
Keep your dog up to date with tick, flea and worm protection and check them thoroughly when you come back from a run, especially if you are on nature trails.
Two last important tips
Keep your dog’s age in mind. We mentioned that dogs will run themselves ragged to keep up with you, so you might not notice their diminishing physical limitations until they do themselves serious damage. It’s important that you keep exercising your dog in her senior years. However, you will need to taper off the intensity and duration so that exercise suits her age. Swimming can be a great replacement activity, as it’s easier on their joints.
Finally, the advice that people should always consult their doctor before starting a new exercise regimen applies to dogs and veterinarians. Your veterinarian can give you advice specifically for your dog’s unique needs. Your veterinarian can also tell you what physical risks are common in your dog’s breed, size and age group, so you can plan your routine and routes to keep your dog healthy and happy.
There are more tips on how to run with your dog on Whole Dog Journal.