There are five components to running with your dog. First of all, do you have the right kind of dog and is it the right age? Assuming you get past that, there is the vet visit and consultation, then you must buy the proper gear for you and your dog, then there is the training phase, and finally…BOOM, you’re running with your dog. Here is a handy dandy checklist for you that goes over each of those five components…..
Phase One – Are you being realistic?
Your dog must be the correct breed and age before you can run with them. For example, if you own a chihuahua, bulldog, pug, or other short-nosed, flat-faced breed (also known as brachycephalic), running may simply not be an option. Their flattened faces are adorbs, but they tend to have narrowed nostrils and partially obstructed airways, which make breathing difficult when they work too hard. If you own one of these dogs…stop reading here and instead, curl up on the couch and give your dog a cuddle.
Now, age appropriateness people! Running on hard surfaces can damage a puppy’s joints and bones that haven’t fully formed yet. This is why you must wait until your dog’s growth plates have closed or at least started to close. Generally speaking, if your dog is less than nine months old, stop reading….BUT bookmark this page on your browser and come back later. This leads us to our next component…..
Phase Two – Vet
You will want to consult with a vet about a few things. First of all, a complete check up is essential to rule out any conditions that might preclude your dog from being your running buddy. Then, if your dog is younger, you are going to have to find out if your dogs growth plates are closed or nearly closed. This will depend on your particular breed of dog. For example, a much smaller dog like a Miniature Poodle could probably start going on regular runs earlier than a larger dog, like a Afghan Hound, whose growth plates will take longer to seal up. Your vet will be fully qualified to tell you whether running with your dog is a viable idea.
Phase Three – It’s all about the gear
If you are going to run with your dog you must have the correct equipment! I researched like mad and quickly discovered Six Legs to Fitness classes. Such great information and it confirmed what I instinctively knew….it’s really not the smartest thing to run with a dog using an ordinary leash. You need to have both hands free at all times. An umbilical leash is an absolute must if you are using your dog as a running buddy, and it should be no more than 6 feet in length. You also must choose a proper collar called a Martingale. If interested, click here and here. For hot weather running, you should also buy a hydration belt that is capable of holding at least two water bottles with a pouch where you can store poop bags and a collapsible dog bowl. You can see me wearing one below. Most reputable pet stores will carry these, and some human running stores will have them as well.
Phase Four – Training
You should start with drills, away from any distractions like traffic or other people. The drills will entail doing short intervals of running combined with walking. This is a great way to build muscles, ligaments and tendons safely when your dog is young, and if you are starting with a mature dog, this is also a cautious way to slowly build up endurance and confidence. After about two weeks, you can gradually start making the running time longer and the walks shorter until, if you desire, you can take out the walks completely.
The training period also allows you and your dog to get used to the umbilical leash. You will quickly discover that you will need good core strength in order to stay in control. Practicing on a trail or a track is a great idea as you will not be exposed to traffic or other distractions. You can always gently tug on the leash if necessary to get your dogs attention, or to get him to move in a specific direction. You will probably find, however, that as you gain experience and log miles, your core will be what leads your dog. Just the subtlest of movements from you will be instantly communicated to your dog and you can expect him to move accordingly. For example, when Seamus and I are approaching another person with a dog, just by slowing down and resisting with my core, I am communicating to Seamus to pay attention, which he does beautifully. The great thing about the umbilical leash is that it completely presents you as the one in charge, which is what your dog needs to understand as you don’t want them to stop to sniff or mark every tree, or to pull you. It’s also important to teach a “Leave It” or “drop it” command, so that your dog will ignore or walk away from tempting items like trash, squirrels, deer or roadkill that you might come across on a path.
Teaching them to “Sit” and “Stay” is also helpful, especially at traffic crossings. If you have trouble training your dog any of these commands, consider an obedience class or dog trainer before proceeding any further.
During the training you should also establish that your dog will be running to the right of you. This keeps him away from traffic and bikes on a sidewalk or trail setting. This might take some time to establish, which is why you do the training first before setting out on any substantial run. You don’t want your dog crossing in front of you constantly as you do not want to be put in a position where you could potentially trip. You will probably have to use your hands on the leash in the beginning to guide your dog properly, but soon it will become instinctual, just like all the good habits you instill in your dog through proper and consistent training.
I have a nickname for Seamus for when we go on runs. Sir Poops-a-Lot. Expect this from your own dog as exercise can stimulate their colon. This is why I recommend the hydration belt. You ARE going to have to pick up your dogs poop. Do NOT be that dog owner that gives all other dog owners a bad name. At first I worried that I would not know when Seamus needed to defecate or to just pee. I need not have worried, and neither do you.
When your dog needs to “go” they will pull to the side and slow down of their own accord. This is why you need to be in tune with your dog and immediately be prepared to stop to accommodate your dogs needs. You should also have a good idea of where you can dispose of your dogs waste. I have several routes that I take Seamus on and I know where all the trash cans are. So, not only should you be prepared to pick up after your dog while you’re exercising, you should also know where you’re going to dispose of it, even if that means holding onto it until you find a trash can. I suggest that you give your dog plenty of time before your run to do their business and with time, you can absolutely train your dog to urinate and defecate on demand by taking them to the place where they usually go and using a verbal cue.
Phase Five – Yay!! Running with your dog!
You’re finally there! However, there are still a few things to always keep in mind…..
When I run on my own, I always listen to music. When I am running with Seamus, I don’t. He deserves my full attention. I recommend that you leave the tunes at home when you take your dog out on the trail or on the city streets.
You will need to ALWAYS keep an eye on your dog and to slow down if he needs to take a break. On a run with your dog it is NEVER about you. Ever. It always has to be about them. If you really need to get a solid training run in and you simply cannot stop, then do NOT take your dog. Problem solved.
If it is really, really hot or incredibly cold, don’t take your dog. Dogs overheat much more quickly than humans, since they have heavy fur coats and they don’t sweat the way you and I do. Just use common sense, especially in the middle of summer. Choose to run in the early morning rather than a mid day. Run in the shade, when possible, and avoid hot blacktop, asphalt, or sand, which can burn dogs’ paws. In the winter, you will need to find out if your city uses salt on the sidewalks to melt ice. If they do, do not run your dog on them. Most dogs will not need a winter jacket to run in as their fur will provide enough warmth. However, if the temperatures dip well below freezing, consider leaving your dog at home.
After every run you will need to check their paws to make sure they haven’t suffered any cuts or injuries. If you trail run, you’ll come across more stones, sticks, and uneven ground so the likelihood of injury can be substantial. You should also run your hands down their body to ensure that they have no burs or ticks. Dog booties or disposable latex boots can protect paws from irritants, but not every dog will tolerate them.
As far as feeding goes, do NOT give them food just before a run, and certainly not right after…not even a treat. When I run Seamus in the early morning, just like me he runs fasted. Once we get home, I wait 45 minutes and then give him his breakfast. Of course, not all dogs eat breakfast, so every dog will be different. If I am running later in the day, and Seamus is coming with me it is never a problem as he will have eaten his breakfast by 9:00 am. In general, make sure your dog has had at least three hours to digest any meal before taking him out for a run.
Finally, DURING and after your run, watch your dog for signs of heatstroke or overexertion, like unusual tiredness, weakness, drooling and dark red gums, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, or panting to the point that he can’t catch his breath. If your dog stops and refuses to continue, don’t force him. Any time your dog seems overheated, find shade and give him cool or air temperature water; you may even want to dump some on his head or body. Just don’t let your dog gulp too much water during or after exercise. When they’re hot and thirsty, it is possible for dogs to drink too much and fall victim to potentially fatal water toxicity or from bloat, a dangerous condition in which they swallow a lot of air. When Seamus and I run in the heat of the summer, I allow him multiple water breaks, but I limit the amount he drinks at one time. I do this because of what I just wrote about bloat. Seamus is an Irish Setter which means he has a barrel chest. Barrel chested dogs have a higher risk of bloat.
Once your dog has accomplished the art of running with you, you’ll have yourself an always-willing, always-excited exercise partner. Just be sure your dog seems happy. When I ask Seamus if he wants to come on a run with me, he gets so excited so there is no mistaking his eagerness to go and the fact that he loves running with me. There have been a couple of times he has ignored me though. I assumed he was not feeling well, or was just not up to the exercise so I just left him at home.
In the long run, working out with your dog can not only keep you both in terrific shape, but it creates a special bond between the two of you. You will also keep unwanted pounds off, extend your life, and enjoy the outdoors. Win, win, win!!
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