Running with your dog is an excellent way to get both you and your pooch into top shape.
Start at the right age and fitness level
Before doing anything, consider if your dog is capable of running with you. Small dogs, extra large dogs, dogs with short snouts (called brachycephalic breeds), as well as older dogs and puppies might not be fit to be your running buddy.
While puppy energy seems limitless, you definitely don’t want to take a young puppy out running with you. The impact of running can harm their joint and bone development, and lead to serious medical problems later on including early arthritis or fractures. Wait until your dog’s bone growth plates are closed — something that usually happens between 1-2 years old depending on the breed — before you take her on long runs. You can ask your vet when that time is for your specific dog. Once your dog is done growing, then she’s ready to start strengthening up for longer runs.
In the meantime, you can socialize your pup to people, dogs and other animals and training for obedience so that transitioning to running on busy trails will be a cinch. Your dog will meet lots of new people and animals and encounter many different distractions while out with you, so getting your new puppy used to just about anything that you might come across is a great way to gear him up for outings in the parks or on the trails.
On the flip side of this coin, you don’t want to push your older dog to new limits in running. Older dogs need much more time to develop stamina, and require less exercise anyway. Overexertion could push into problems like joint pain, dysplasia, stress on their heart and vital organs, and other negative consequences. Again, talk to your vet to see what your older dog is capable of doing before you launch into a long run. Also ask about things like joint supplements to help your aging dog recover more quickly after your runs.
Socialization and leash training
Whether a puppy or not, take the time to socialize your dog to anything you might encounter while running. You don’t want to run with a dog that is reactive or fear aggressive toward people or animals you meet. Dog training classes are a wonderful way to get the tools and interaction you need to get your dog ready for running on busy trails. If your dog simply isn’t happy in busy places, that’s okay too. Just plan on running on-leash over less popular trails and paths.
It’s also important to train your dog to run on a loose leash with you. Being pulled by a dog while running is damaging for both of you and you’ll spend more time being frustrated than happily running along. Getting started, your dog might be super excited that you’re running together. After all, running is play time! So take the time to train your dog to understand that running time is running time — no jumping, tugging the leash, running in front of you or other annoying and potentially dangerous behaviors. Show her how this is no different than your daily walks, you’re just going faster. Taking the time to train your dog not to pull on leash no matter what smells tempt her along the path or what people, dogs or other animals you encounter, will be key to a joyful jog together. We’ll cover more skills for your dog to have for running in a bit.
Starting slow, toughening up, and recovery time
We often overestimate how much dogs can run. They are made to run, after all, right? Well yes, but out of shape is out of shape no matter the species. If your dog usually only runs a mile or two a day, don’t immediately launch into a 10-15 mile runs. Dogs need to build up their endurance and muscles just like we do. So start slow and build fitness so that your dog can stay healthy for the long haul.
Begin with what your dog typically runs in a day, even if that’s just a mile. Build up from there by adding in one more mile every 3-5 runs until you’re both running the ideal distance for your team. Most dogs can run between 20-40 miles a week depending on their age and athletic ability. Watch how much time your dog needs between runs to recover. Sometimes a day is enough time but your dog might need two or even three days between runs. When your dog only needs a day or less to recover, you can feel safe bumping up your mileage.
No matter your dog’s fitness level, allow some time to warm up. It’s great for both of you to walk the first 10-20 minutes to get muscles limbered up for the run.
This is especially important if you had to drive to the place where you’re doing your run. Also, make sure your dog doesn’t eat right before a run. Their meal should happen about 90 minutes or more prior to running. If your dog is lagging behind you, slow down or even end your run. Pushing your dog too hard — just like pushing yourself too hard — too quickly can lead to injuries.
After each run, check your dog’s paws for soft spots, scrapes or cuts.