With the Olympics in full swing, my favorite events are now televised: the track and field events. I have been a runner pretty much my entire life,. In the early days I would sometimes be asked by naive passersby if I needed a ride somewhere. My running attire included jeans or jean shorts, and whatever sneakers I happened to have on. Luckily for me, by the time I entered Middle School, I had a coach, and was able to get some proper attire. I started running with Nick, my German shepherd dog, right about that time as well.
Over the years, I continued to run, throughout high school and then on a track scholarship in college. And in spite of the wonderful friends that I have made in the lanes and on the trails, my favorite running partners have always been my dogs. The don’t complain about rain or cold or having to get up too early, and I have never been stood up for a morning run by a dog who had been out too late the night before. Not surprisingly, my daughter is already learning the joy of a dog as a running partner as well.
Yet, running with a dog entails more than just putting on the leash and heading out the door. Like people, dogs must be in suitable condition to run, and in spite of their lack of complaining, weather and other factors can absolutely affect them.
First, there is basic conditioning – just like people, dogs must take the time to gain conditioning. If you are already a runner, as I am, I recommend taking your dog on a short warm up of your run at first, running a short loop, then dropping him off at home before completing the rest of your run without him. In this manner, you can feel that you’ve had your full run without pushing the dog beyond his capabilities.
If you have a young dog, be sure to consult with your veterinarian, and don’t start running him for extended distances until his growth plates are mostly closed. I start training my medium-sized dogs (border collies) at about 9 or 10 months, and don’t run them at full distances until over a year of age. With the larger breeds, I’d wait longer than that. Note that the breed and size of the dog may be determining factors in maximum running distances. I’m a middle distance runner, so it’s never been a problem, but if you are an ultra-runner, consider your dog’s breed and condition before taking him along on your longer runs.
It’s important to understand that a dog will often not tell you if he’s had too much until it’s too late, so be aware of the signs of overheating in a dog which include a darkened tongue, labored breathing, stiffness of gait, and hyper-salivation (excessive drooling). Dogs also tend to overheat at more moderate temperatures than many humans, so don’t take your dog out if the weather is particularly warm. I have cut short runs with my dogs when I was raring to go on, but I realized that the heat would not be good for them. Brachycephalic dogs (with flat noses such as boxers and bulldogs) can overheat even more quickly, so must be monitored even more closely.
As to training, while I allow my dogs to wander to the ends of their leashes on walks, I insist on heel at my side while running. This is more for safety than anything else, as a wandering dog may get underfoot, tripping you and potentially injuring itself. I recommend against taking a dog running until he knows at least the basics of leash manners, and does not have reactivity issues on leash. If you are fortunate enough to find off-leash places to run with your dog, then a solid recall is a must, as well as a really good leave it command. And even in off-leash settings, a good heel at your side is useful for those times when you need your dog close in order to keep him out of trouble.
Running with your dog can be a most relaxing and enjoyable bonding experience, as well as a great way to stay in shape together with your best friend. Just be sure not to overdo it, and let your dog determine how far is far enough. And if you are unsure as to whether your dog is well-suited to running with you, consult with your veterinarian first to assure that it will be OK for him to do.