Most dogs love to run, whether it’s chasing squirrels through the yard, frolicking with other dogs in the park, or trotting down beautiful stretches of sandy beach. Dogs make great workout partners, and many dogs seem to love running alongside their people, which can also be a great bonding experience. But is running with your dog a good idea?
Fortunately, in most cases, the answer is yes. However, although dogs need daily exercise (and running is a great way for them to get in shape and stay at a healthy weight), not all dogs are cut out for running. Additionally, certain precautions should be taken with any dog who runs to keep him safe and protected from injury.
Below are some Do’s and Don’t’s to keep in mind when it comes to running with your dog.
Don’t assume that your dog is built for running.
Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and not all of those body types are ideally suited to running, especially for long distances. Certain dog breeds with very short noses and flat faces (such as English Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingeses, and Boston Terriers) are known as “brachycephalic”. Because their faces are anatomically flatter, brachycephalic breeds have narrower nostrils, shorter airways, and longer soft palates than most other dogs.
This anatomy makes it much more difficult for them to move air into their lungs, especially during exercise or times of stress. Their impaired breathing can lead to a dangerous buildup of carbon dioxide, which in turn can cause life-threatening respiratory distress. Brachycephalic dogs are also more susceptible to overheating and heatstroke.
Dogs with short legs and long spines (like Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, and Corgis), may enjoy running, but their stockier build and shorter legs may make it harder for them to keep up. Dogs with very thick coats may be more prone to overheating in warmer climates, while those with very short coats may not be well-suited to running in very cold temperatures.
Do start out slowly.
Just like us, dogs need time to adjust to a new exercise routine, especially if they are overweight. Start out slowly by alternating walking with short intervals of running, then increase speed and distance gradually. Too much too soon increases your dog’s risk of injury.
And remember that we have the luxury of running in shoes; our dogs aren’t so lucky! Running on concrete, gravel, or asphalt can put dogs at risk for injury to their paws. Paw pads in particular need time to toughen up and develop light callouses to protect them; a dog’s paws can become sore or even raw if he runs too far without time to adjust.
Don’t hit the road with a very young or very old dog.
Since young dogs have growth plates (areas of cartilage at the ends of their bones) that haven’t fully closed yet, running on hard surfaces can cause injury and damage to these areas within their joints. This is especially true for large breed dogs, whose growth plates take longer to mature. Depending on the breed, growth plates are not fully closed until a dog is between 18 months and 2 years old. If your dog is still growing, be sure to ask your veterinarian about when it’s safe to start running.
Dogs who are older can suffer from arthritis and/or hip dysplasia, which can make running painful. Certain medical conditions can also make it dangerous for an older dog to run. Since running is a high-impact cardiovascular activity, to be safe, always check with your veterinarian before starting any running program with your dog.
Do take the time to warm up before, and cool down after, your run.
Dogs and humans both benefit from taking the time to warm up before running. Warming up muscles can protect against injuries, so give yourself and your dog plenty of time to work out the kinks. Start with at least a few minutes of walking or slow jogging before you run. And finish your run with at least 5 minutes of walking to allow your dog to cool down and let his breathing return to normal.
Do take lots of water breaks, especially in warm weather.
Remember to bring along water and a container that your dog can drink from, such as a collapsible bowl or water bottle with a special spout made just for dogs. Only give your dog water, never sports drinks, which can cause stomach upset and gastrointestinal problems in dogs.
Since dogs can only sweat through their paws (they don’t sweat through their skin), and are essentially running in full-on fur coats, they can overheat very quickly in warm weather. Watch your dog’s body language for signs that he might be overheating, including excessive panting, difficulty breathing, or a bluish tint to his tongue. If your dog begins drooling, vomiting, seems weak or disoriented, has dark red gums, or is panting so hard he can’t catch his breath, stop running and seek veterinary attention immediately – these are signs of heatstroke, which can be life threatening.
Do take precautions when running in cold weather.
If you live in a cold-weather climate and like to run in the winter with your dog, try to avoid roads and sidewalks that have been treated with salt or ice-melting products. These can damage your dog’s paws and cause stomach upset if he licks his paws once he’s back inside. Canine booties will help protect your dog’s paws in the winter, or if your dog won’t tolerate booties, you can apply petroleum jelly to his paws before running to add a layer of protection. Always rinse off your dog’s feet once you’re back indoors.
Also take your dog’s haircoat into consideration – if it’s very short, or he’s less tolerant of cold temperatures, you can protect him with a coat or sweater. Avoid running in severe winter weather or very cold conditions, since dogs are susceptible to frostbite, especially on their ear tips.
Do head for trails and natural surfaces whenever possible.
Running on grass, dirt trails, or sandy beaches is much gentler on your dog’s joints than running on asphalt or concrete. Plus, it gives dogs a more natural environment in which to run, complete with mentally stimulating sights, sounds, and smells.
Natural surfaces also tend to stay cooler in warm weather than asphalt. Hot pavement can quickly burn your dog’s paws, so be sure to check the ground temperature before you run by placing your palm on the pavement and counting to ten. If it’s too hot for you to leave your hand down, it’s too hot for your dog to run on.
Don’t forget about flea and tick protection.
Running with your dog on wooded trails or through grassy areas can put your dog at risk for picking up fleas and ticks. Make sure your dog is appropriately protected, either by being up-to-date on veterinarian-recommended oral flea and tick medication or topical spot treatments.
When your run is over, always inspect both yourself and your dog for any ticks that may have hitched a ride, and immediately remove any ticks that you find.
Do think about gear for your dog.
Make sure you’re using a simple buckle collar or back-clip harness and a fixed-length (not retractable) leash when running with your dog. Check to make sure the collar or harness fits correctly and doesn’t chafe your dog while he runs. Reflective leashes can also help make you and your dog more visible when running at night or in low light.
You may also want to invest in a hands-free leash system, which consists of a thin nylon belt that goes around your waist and connects to a 4-ft long bungee-type lead with a buckle, which in turn connects to the end of your dog’s leash. This keeps your hands free to move, while keeping your dog close enough to you without having to worry about tripping over him or getting tangled up in the leash.
And don’t forget to pack the poop bags!
Advice From The Professionals
The American Veterinary Medical Association also has several helpful tips when it comes to staying safe while running with your dog:
- Always consult your veterinarian before starting your dog on any exercise program. Make sure your pet is healthy enough and ready to run.
- If your dog is overweight, talk with your veterinarian about a diet and gradual exercise program that begins with walks and gradually works up to running.
- Don’t begin running with your dog until you are confident that he/she has good leash manners.
- Plan your route. Know where you’re going, as well as places to take a break if you or your dog need to cool off.
- Don’t run during the warm hours of the day during the warm seasons, and avoid the coldest times of day during winter if possible. During extreme weather, you should probably leave your pet at home (and also consider your own safety when deciding whether or not to run outdoors in extreme weather conditions).
- If your dog wears a jacket/coat while running in cold weather, make sure the jacket fits well, doesn’t have hanging straps that could tangle in your dog’s legs, and doesn’t interfere with your dog’s leg movements, breathing, sight, hearing or ability to open his/her mouth.
- Watch for signs of a problem while running, such as lameness, sudden stopping, change in attitude, reddened gums, labored breathing, or excessive panting. If you notice any of these signs, stop running immediately and seek veterinary help.
- Check your dog’s paw pads and legs after each running session for skin damage, swelling or pain.
Keeping Running Fun And Healthy For Your Dog
The final “DO” when it comes to running with your dog is simple: have fun! Most dogs in general are good at running, and they really enjoy it. Small dogs can make just as good running partners as larger dogs – in fact, many small dogs such as Terriers and Chihuahuas are very game runners, and since they carry less weight, they tend to experience less strain on their joints than large dogs.
Since most dogs love to run, it’s important to keep a close eye on them so they don’t overdo it. If your dog seems stiff or uncomfortable after running, give him plenty of time to recuperate before your next run, and watch him closely. Many dogs will keep running right through an injury because they’re having so much fun.
Running with your dog has many benefits for both of you, including keeping off unwanted pounds, releasing stress, extending your life, strengthening the bond between you, and helping you both stay healthy and happy.
So get out there, have some fun, and keep up the good work! 🙂
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Do you run with your dog? If so, do you have any tips you’d like to share? Please tell us about it in the comments below!