Running with Your Dog
Running with your dog can be great exercise for both canine and human. But before you lace up, make sure it’s the right activity for your particular dog. The Dog Trainer has easy tips to keep your dog safe while running.
Dogs make great running buddies. Plenty of people agree, if I can judge by the number of dog/human pairs who pass in a blur while my dog Juniper inspects the foliage. And it seems natural for dogs to run, especially when you consider how much aerobic exercise many dogs need. But running isn’t the best fit for every dog. And even if your dog’s a natural, you’ve got some prep to do before you snap on the leash and go.
Is Your Dog Physically Able to Go Running?
For some breeds and body types, running steadily is right out. Forget it, please, now and forever, if your Zippy belongs to a short-nosed breed like the English Bulldog. Very short-nosed dogs can’t cool themselves by panting and often suffer from general respiratory compromise. That’s why you can hear them breathing half a block away, folks! On top of that, many of these dogs have gravely abnormal bone and joint structure. The same goes for Dachshunds and certain other breeds that are achondroplastic dwarfs. Dachshunds, in particular, are prone to serious, paralyzing spinal injury.
In general, the more a dog’s body diverges from the Basic Dog Model (think of a village street dog), the more caution is appropriate. But many breeds – Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs, for two – have high incidences of hip and elbow problems even though their body shape isn’t highly exaggerated or obviously deformed.
Sustained running is a high-impact activity that places a lot of stress on bones and joints. It’s best to have a vet give you the all-clear no matter what your dog’s breed or mix, or suspected mix. And that all-clear may not come cheap, if X rays are called for. Suck it up, because otherwise you may run your dog straight into chronic pain and debility.
Is Your Dog Old Enough – But Not Too Old?
Watch puppies play. The energy is high, but the movements are variable. The puppies run for a couple of minutes, they stop, they roll, they wrestle, they drop to the ground in a heap and bark at each other. What they don’t do is keep moving at a constant pace in a straight line for 45 minutes. On pavement.
While you’re getting that orthopedic and general-health all-clear from your vet, ask whether your puppy’s bones and joints are mature enough for him to run with you. (And if you’ve been running with your dog for years, then on your next run take note: Did Zippy always used to run ahead of you, but now he slows down halfway through your workout? That would be a news flash from the Land of Getting Older, Needs to Take It a Bit Easy, or maybe from the Land of Arthritis Coming On.)
Protect the Feet!
Inspection of your dog’s feet reveals that they do not come with pre-installed running shoes. Even the tough leathery paw pads of an urban dog can be cut, burned, bruised, scraped. Consider teaching your dog to wear protective shoes – a great idea for hikes in rough country, as well. Another possibility, if you prefer pavement running for yourself, is to choose routes that have grass or dirt alongside.
Wherever you run, monitor your dog so you can spot injuries quickly. Cuts on paw pads can easily get infected, and they may take a long while to heal because walking can reopen the wound.
This may sound obvious, but Dogalini can’t go straight from Couch Marathon to 10K, any more than you could. That’s true whether she’s an adult dog who hasn’t been vigorously active for a while, or a young dog just starting out. I don’t think there’s a canine equivalent of the Couch to 10K program, so take your vet’s advice and also use your judgment. Condition your dog gradually and remember, she needs varied activity and rest days for maximum fitness. Swimming, off-leash hiking, and balance exercises can all help Dogalini get in shape for runs.
How’s Your Dog Doing?
During any exercise, watch for signs that your dog is hitting the end of her stamina. She should be looking comfortable and running easily. Is she lagging? Does she seem to want more sniff breaks than she did 10 minutes ago? If she normally moves at a relaxed lope but starts to bunny hop, she’s tiring. Same goes for any other change from her normal gait. And I can’t stress this enough: If you are dragging your dog behind you on a tight leash, you’re moving too fast for her. She’s tired, or she hurts, or she is just not built to keep the pace you set. I have also seen dogs take ugly spills when they stopped to poop and their preoccupied handler kept right on going. Don’t space out like that, okay?
Choose the Right Equipment
If you follow the Dog Trainer podcast, you already know that I never recommend choke collars or prong collars, that I believe halters should be used with great caution if at all, and that I generally think extending leashes are unsafe. But, please, even if you choose to use these devices in other contexts, use a harness, a plain buckle collar, or a martingale – a “Greyhound collar” – for your runs. Choke collars are probably the biggest no-no, especially if you haven’t taught your dog to keep slack in the leash. This is not the time to be interfering with Zippy’s air supply. Halters are my second-place wince producers. There are few or no documented neck injuries from their use, but a high-speed yank to the dog’s whole head if you stumble has got to be painful.
After all that caution, can I still tell you to have fun running with your dog? Sure. Running together can be a blast for the right dog-human team. And if high-intensity sport turns out not to be a good choice for your canine companion, believe me, there are dozens of other ways to enjoy each other’s company, from ambling walks to games of fetch to trick training to scent work.
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