The best way to take your dog’s relationship with you to the next level is to enjoy shared activities that stimulate your dog both physically and mentally.
Dogs have evolved to travel long distances in packs, and running with them on a regular basis can help to satisfy their deep natural instinct and desire to stretch their legs and travel as a pack animal.
Running with your dog is a great form of exercise for you too, and it will release happy hormones, making you and your dog feel more bonded.
Is Your Dog a Suitable Running Partner?
It is important to analyse your dog’s suitability before you start running with them. All dogs love to run, but not all dogs are great running partners.
There are many things that can affect your dog’s ability to be the perfect running partner for you. Some of these things may be to do with how well matched you both are to run together in terms of pace, or your dog’s age, breed, build, fitness level and temperament could affect their suitability.
Observe your dog carefully at home, with other people, and out on walks. Check out their temperament – Are they calm or easily excitable? Do they give you their full attention in public places or are they easily distracted? What is their favorite thing to do on walks – Do they like spending time with you or prefer to be off doing their own thing or playing with other dogs?
It can take time to train a dog to want to run with you, and to run with you effectively, especially if they display characteristics like being over-excited, easily distracted, bored with your company or stubborn. Some dogs will require you to spend more time investing in them as running partners before they can actually be your running partner.
Check That Your Dog is Fit and Healthy for Running
Often a visit to the vet before embarking on your running program can reassure you that your dog is fit, healthy and good to go.
Book your dog in for a general check-up and let your vet know that you are interested in taking up running with them. They can have a look at your dog’s health history, make adjustments to your dog’s diet, and answer any questions you might have.
Is Your Dog’s Age Suitable to Run With?
An important factor to consider is your dog’s age. It is not recommended to start running with a dog that is too young. This is because their bones are still growing, and running can put a lot of strain on muscles and on joints that are not fully developed yet.
If you start running with a dog that is too young you can cause many problems for them later on down the line, which is not only a shame for the dog, but could also be a big strain on your wallet.
The same applies for an older dog whose joints are weak. As a general rule it isn’t a good idea to start running with any puppy under 6 months of age, and your vet should definitely check out an older dog first.
Do You Have a Good Breed of Dog to Run With?
There are some dog breeds that are more suited to running than others, because of their natural instincts, body type and stamina.
Most working dog breeds are perfect for running long distances with because they were bred to be active for long periods during the day, like hunting and herding dogs.
It is important to do some research on your own dog’s breed to make sure they will enjoy running and exercising with you.
Are You and Your Dog Compatible Running Partners?
You may find that the pace of your dog is simply not compatible with your own. There are some great running/jogging “dog walkers” that you can hire to run with your dog a few times a week, or even every day.
Alternatively you could find or start a running group for fellow dog owners in your local area, and swap dogs with each other during the circuit until you find a good match.
If you don’t have your own dog to run with you might also like to volunteer at a dog shelter that needs the rescue dogs to have an outlet for exercise.
What Do You Need Before You Can Start Running With Your Dog?
When you go running with your dog you will want to make sure that they are safe and that you have control of them during your run. If you do not have your dog on a lead, they are probably not going to stay by your side, at least not to begin with.
It is a good idea to start off running your dog on a normal hand-held short lead, especially if you have a larger dog. Holding the lead in your hand will give you better control over your dog as you will be able to communicate through the lead until they know what is expected of them.
If you use the more common hands-free dog leads that are popular with runners, and you have a big or strong dog that is not used to running with you yet, they could do you some serious damage if they decide to bolt off after a squirrel pulling you with them from the waist. Smaller dogs are also much more likely to zigzag on a longer lead, easily cutting in front of you and legging you up.
There are some awesome hands-free dog leads that are perfect for more experienced runners and dogs. Commonly they are worn around your waist and clip onto your dog’s collar, although you may prefer your dog to wear a harness when running for their safety and comfort.
It is best to keep the lead fairly short so that they do not have the room to stray too far from your side. The closer they are to you, the more control you have. The better running dog leads have a flexible band to absorb shock from sudden pulling or stopping. This can make your run more comfortable for you if your dog tends not to have a steady pace that matches your own to begin with, or if they drag behind you, it will coax them to keep up rather than jerking them along.
Manage Your Expectations
When you start off running with your dog it is important to have realistic expectations. Start out slow and don’t forget to warm up with some brisk walking and slow jogging to get into the rhythm. If you dive in head first and expect too much of your dog or of yourself there is more risk of injury.
You have to make sure the activity is fun and that your dog is enjoying themselves too, if your expectations are too high to begin with, you are more likely to be frustrated with your dog, which they will easily pick up on and associate with the activity, making it more stressful for them in the future. Dogs are very intuitive, and if you are not relaxed and enjoying yourself, they won’t be either.
Be enthusiastic and stay positive, with lots of verbal encouragement along the way. Be careful not to excite your dog too much though, as this can distract them from what they are meant to be doing, and they may think you want to play instead.
Plan Ahead When and Where to Run With Your Dog
Choosing a good location can get you off to a great start running with your dog. Go for a park that has a clear route to follow, at a time of day when there are less people, children, dogs and other distractions around.
Check the weather beforehand and make sure it is just right – if it is too hot the sun may have baked the pavement making it too hot for your dog to run on and they will burn their paw pads. If the weather is too wet and windy it may make it less enjoyable and more difficult or strenuous for you.
Make sure that you are comfortable, wearing the right clothing and footwear, and have enough water for both of you. You can get collapsible dog bowls that clip onto your belt or bag.
Take Your Dog’s Personal Needs into Account
Don’t forget to give your dog some time before you start your run to sniff around and go to the toilet. Then you won’t have to worry about having to stop too often for breaks.
If you prepare yourself well, do your research, and have plenty of patience, you will enjoy developing a new kind of relationship with your dog – one that keeps you both fit, healthy and happy. Have fun!