Everyone knows that a dog is considered man’s–and woman’s–best friend. But as many loyal canine owners and runners will tell you, dogs can be a runner’s best running partner too. And let’s face it: So many dogs have an instinctual desire to run that the relationship between runner and pup can be mutually beneficial.
For a runner, a canine partner not only provides company, but can also act as a source of protection, warding off potential attacks from other animals–and even scarier, other humans. In some extreme cases, dogs have been known to save their owners’ lives by alerting others that their human counterpart was injured and needed help.
Plus, it’s highly unlikely your dog will stand you up for that chilly 5:00 a.m. run like many people in your running group might tend to do.
For a dog, the act of running can provide much-needed exercise and energy expenditure, as well as bonding time with their owner, keeping him or her both physically and emotionally healthy.
But, just like humans, dogs are not immune to the potential health risks and injuries that can be associated with running. So how do you get–and keep–your pooch running?
1) Start them slow
Most people don’t wake up one morning, decide to take up the sport of running, and go out and complete 15 miles. Or if they do, they more than likely don’t come out of that feat unscathed.
Your pup is no exception.
Despite the fact that they have two more legs, dogs (just like humans) are susceptible to overuse injuries from doing too much, too soon. Start with a routine physical at your vet’s office to make sure your dog is healthy. Openly discuss your intentions with the veterinarian to ensure that your dog is the right breed, right age, and absolutely ready to run. Once given the green light, work jogging intervals into your regular walks. Gradually build up distance over time, just as you would in your own training plan. Keep in mind that it took you a while to build up to your current mileage, and it might take just as long for your canine friend to do the same.
2) Listen to your dog’s body
Unlike a human running partner, a dog can’t verbally say, “hey, I’m not feeling so great today, let’s slow down!” Instead, you have to pay attention to your pooch and watch for nonverbal signs and communication. Look for any signs of discomfort that may signal your dog is not quite ready for that distance, isn’t feeling so great that day, or has a potential pain or injury. Things like flattened ears, tail down, heavy panting, and hind legs dragging may all be signs of fatigue in your dog.
After your run, keep an eye on your dog and look for any signs of discomfort or injury. Don’t forget to check the pads of their feet; various terrains such as hot asphalt, sharp rocks, and even icy roads may cause injuries.
3) Hydration and fuel
These things are essential to all life, not just our own! Keep your doggie hydrated and properly fueled, just as you would do for yourself. Base your hydration and fueling stops on things like the temperature outside, duration of your run, and obvious cues from your dog that he or she is thirsty or hungry. Again, keep your eyes open for signs of dehydration or overheating in your dog, as this condition can quickly become dangerous or even deadly.
4) Use a leash
I get it, you want Fido to feel the exact same freedom that you do while barreling down the trails. But if you are on a public path, please put your dog on a short leash that you are able to control. Despite the best training and intentions in the world, a startled dog may not react the way we expect them to and may either run away when frightened or worse, lunge at another runner. Further, if something else (such as an unleashed dog) aggressively approaches your pup, you will have a greater ability to control and protect your dog. Lastly, in many places, it is the law to have your dog on a leash.
Remember: Not everyone likes dogs. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. If your dog has an aggressive temperament–even if it’s a friendly “I’m so happy to see you, I’m going to jump all over you and smother you with kisses” aggressiveness–consider the types of public places you choose to run with your dog, and respect the fact that not everyone wants to come face-to-wet-nose with your pup.
5) Clean up their poop
Dogs have this wonderful ability to squat in the most inopportune places. It goes without saying that it is your responsibility to clean up after your dog. Sadly, a large majority of people don’t follow through. Other runners would rather not scrape your doggy’s doo out from the treads of their trail sneakers, so please, please, please scoop that poop. It’s the respectful thing to do.
With adequate preparation and awareness on your part, your new four-legged running partner can experience a long and wonderful running career. For more tips on how to get your dog running, talk to your vet so the two of you can come up with a plan specifically geared toward your dog’s needs.