Are you looking for a new workout buddy? One who doesn’t care what time you get up, doesn’t make excuses and never bails when it’s time to exercise?
If you’re tired of running on your own or just need a little motivation to help get back into shape, there’s one fitness partner who will always have your back: your dog.
Before heading out the door for your first run together, there are several things you need to know about safety, preparation, progression and more. By following a few key points, you and your pup will be signing up for races, improving your mile time or simply going out for leisurely jogs together in no time.
1. Know Your Dog’s Limits
Before lacing up, keep in mind that some breeds are better runners than others, and some aren’t made for running at all.
Muscular, lean dogs like Labrador Retrievers, for example, can make great runners. On the other hand, breeds like Bulldogs, who have shorter snouts, don’t make great runners due to their strained oxygen intake when breathing heavily.
Large-breed dogs definitely aren’t off-limits when it comes to running, but keep in mind that the constant pounding on their joints from their heavy bodies can be damaging. In their case, shorter runs might be a better option. Never push them past their limits.
2. Ask Your Vet First
Knowing the “norm” for your breed isn’t enough to get you out the door, though. While it’s important to research whether or not your dog was born to run, the final word should come from your vet.
They know your dog’s health, age, breed tendencies and whether or not they’re in good enough shape to run 5 feet, much less 5 miles.
Just as a human adult starting a new fitness routine should get a physical, so too should your dog. Always get the green light first.
3. Start Slow
If you haven’t gone for a single run in the past year, you know it’s not smart to take on a 10-miler your first time out again, right? You need to get back in shape, build up to it and then head out for longer distances. Well, the same holds true for your dog.
Sure, they might seem fine the first time you take them out, but in reality, your dog will rarely show discomfort. If asked, they’ll likely run as far as you want them to and then silently suffer the injuries later.
Start short and slow. Try 1 mile first, build from there each week and constantly check in to make sure they’re not being pushed past their limits.
4. Train Commands
You always want your dog to practice good behavior, but it’s even more important while out on a run.
Imagine jogging at a fast pace, approaching a turn and heading left while your dog goes right. Or even worse, nearing a traffic light and stopping — without your dog realizing it’s time to put the breaks on. Your dog won’t instinctively know when to turn and when to stop.
Teaching them how to sit and stay is great, but “turn,” “stop” and “slow” could save their lives while running. Start by training these new directions while walking, and then translate them over to running.
5. Keep Them Safe
Running safety involves a number of things you might not realize, like how concrete can damage paws, the likelihood of encountering ticks or what kind of leash and harness your dog should wear.
- Hot concrete or off-road trails can wreak havoc on paws if they haven’t built up calluses. Routinely check their feet to see whether or not the pads have adjusted. Check before, during and after every run if they’re new to the sport.
- If you spend any time off-road, do a thorough tick search afterwards.
- Fit them with the right gear before getting started. Choose a harness with padding to avoid chafing. Purchase a leash or collar with reflectors to keep them visible in bad light.
- Keep your dog on a relatively short leash when running, especially when just starting out. Distractions happen, so keep your dog safe.
Here are more tips to make running with your dog a joy:
6. Keep Your Dog Hydrated
Just like you, your pup’s body heats up when they run. They lose water as they pant and stop for bathroom breaks along the route, and even moisture evaporates through the pads of their paws.
Staying hydrated keeps their internal body temperature regulated. It keeps them from getting overheated and ending up in a dangerous situation.
Make sure your dog drinks water before, during and after your run. Carry a portable water dispenser if you know there won’t be spots to stop along the way. Keep a close eye on your dog after you finish each run, and always be on the lookout for signs of dehydration, like loss of appetite, sunken eyes and dry gums.
If you think your dog might be dehydrated, head straight to the vet.
7. Follow the Rules
Ending a run with a ticket or fine is no fun. Unfortunately, it happens all too often when runners ignore the road rules of their city, like leash and pet cleanup laws.
Always carry waste bags when you head out for a run. Your dog will probably take multiple bathroom breaks along the way. Just because you’re running doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop to clean up, though.
Leash laws are another important rule to follow, and they exist for a reason. You might think your dog is perfectly behaved and won’t veer away from you on a run. When there are pedestrians, cars, bikes and other animals to keep in mind, though, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Even if your dog is perfectly behaved, the law is the law. Is having your dog off-leash really worth the hassle?
If you’re not sure whether or not your city has leash laws, do a quick search or ask an official. Your city’s government website will probably have a section for pet codes or laws to clear up any confusion.
However, if your city doesn’t have a leash law, make sure your dog is trained to not head off on their own route, no matter what’s luring them away.
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