Wouldn’t it be great if you had the perfect running partner? One that would always be ready to run with you, didn’t care about the pace or place, and would be totally content to be by your side for it all? Depending on the breed, a dog is that perfect running partner for (most) of your running needs!
I grew up having a dog in our family, but none that behaved enough to walk on a leash, let alone run. When I decided to adopt a dog as an adult, I knew I wanted one that could keep up with my active lifestyle and do so politely (read: leash friendly). Initially, my drive for adopting my first dog was because I was moving into the city and running by myself seemed dangerous. Though I never felt threatened living in the city, and I’ve run solo many, many times now, I still prefer some company more often than not.
Luckily, I now live in an apartment that allows dogs up to 45 lbs. with some breed restrictions. When I decided to move from my previous apartment (one which I rented solely because it was reasonably priced and for immediate occupancy), I made sure to look for one that allowed dogs and preferably, larger ones. In fact, I believe the company I rent from is one of the only ones in the city that allows dogs bigger than 20-25 lbs in many of their buildings.
Running with a dog is a great way to give your pet exercise, get your own workouts in, and bond with your dog, but it does have some challenges. If you adopt a dog that isn’t previously familiar with the concept of running on a leash (not uncommon for a rescue dog), be prepared to test your patience as it’s going to take some time to adjust to for both of you. I’ve now had two dogs that I’ve been able to run with, both having their own unique personalities and challenges. Below are some tips and things to think about, some I hadn’t considered before our first runs together!
Think about the breed and age of your dog.
Not every dog is meant to be a runner. Smaller breeds with shorter legs may not be able to keep up with your ideal pace, and older dogs might not have the stamina, or have joint problems which can cause problems for them. Young dogs (under 2 years old for some breeds) are still growing and the constant pounding can affect their bones, joints, and muscles. Don’t forget that some dogs shouldn’t partake in activity with high levels of exertion due to their nasal structure (pugs, bull dogs, etc.) For good measure, it’s always a good idea check with your veterinarian first to ensure it’s okay to run with Fido.
Just like you can’t run a 5k if you’re a beginner without training, neither can your pet.
It’s really important to remember that your dog’s fitness is similar to that of a human who’s untrained! If you can recall the day you made the decision to run your first race, you (hopefully) didn’t jump right in the next day and do it, so why would you expect your Pup to be able to do that? Try a run/walk regimen or start slowly with 10 minutes at a time, gradually increasing by 1-2 minutes every few days.
Don’t forget the warm-up (potty time!)
I don’t mind stopping mid-run for a bathroom break, but I like to give Dunkin a chance to get it out of his system first. We take about 5 minutes for him to sniff, do his business, and for us to get on a less busy street before we start running. Since he’s typically lounging on the couch for hours before we leave, it gives him a chance to get the blood flowing — just like I need to do, too!
Think about your pets fuel and water, too.
You probably hate running on a full stomach and I bet your pooch will, too. Let your dog digest its meal before deciding to go for a run. In addition, consider how long your runs are and the weather for hydration purposes. If there isn’t a clean water source to stop at, make sure you bring water. And like you, your dog probably isn’t going to want to eat a treat as soon as they finish running, either!
Watch (and listen) for your dog’s warning signs.
Dogs want to please their owners and they can’t talk, so if you keep running, your pup will continue, too. If they start to slow down, are panting, or doing something else unusual (foaming, acting weird) — take a break! As I’m getting Dunkin used to running, we stick to routes near the house so we can stop as he gets tired and take a short cool-down walk back home.
Think about the surfaces you’re running on.
Since dogs don’t have sneakers protecting their paws, it’s important to notice what you’re both running on. Grass and dirt paths are your best bet, especially if running longer distances. Be sure to wash their paws after returning home to avoid infections if they get any cuts. If it’s snowy outside and your dog is “bare” (no booties), avoid roads/paths that have been treated with salt as they can irritate their paws. Take extra care and caution to clean any snow and ice build up when you return home.
Don’t expect to go out for your runs with Fido and have it be your workout. Until your pup is trained to comfortably run with you, chances are there will be stops to sniff, poop breaks (bring extra bags — you never know if s/he’ll get the runners trots, too!) and they won’t be quite ready to keep the “perfect” pace yet. While you’re still adjusting, get your workout in first (or after), and treat the dog runs as warm-ups or cool-downs to your dedicated workout. For me, it’s a perk that I’m post marathon and my workouts are as long as Dunkin wants to run right now!
Pay attention to your pet’s recovery.
Your dog needs rest and recovery, too. Much like us, dogs can develop injuries related to running (paws aside). Don’t push too far, too fast, and always take note of your dog’s behavior before and after runs. I like that Dunkin is tired and sleepy after runs and try to plan them strategically so he’s tired when I’m going to be gone for a while. If your dog is unusually tired, or disinterested in playing, definitely take a step back. The goal for running is to enhance their lifestyle and keep them healthy, not hinder their quality of life.
If you’ve noticed anything about the tips above, it’s probably the simple rule of thumb: if it wouldn’t be a good idea for you, it probably isn’t a good idea for the four-legged friend, either. It’s always a good idea to be overly cautious with your pup at the start until you’re familiar with how they react to additional exercise and go from there.
I have to say, running (and playing) with Dunkin is something I really enjoy, maybe more than he does! As a coonhound, it’s in his nature to have high stamina and a lot of energy, so unless I want a dog that bays all day in my apartment building (yikes!), running is one of our only options. In fact, he has a bit of separation anxiety we’re working on, so he needs to be exhausted to make things better for our neighbors!
Rescuing him certainly upped my quality of life — I forgot how much I missed having an unconditionally loving dog to share my time with — and is bound to make me a more consistent runner once I get him trained. We think we’re the ones rescuing the dogs, but I tend to think it’s the opposite more often than not.