I’ve had quite a few questions over the last day or so regarding running with a dog. I ran for years with the Weimaraner, Libby until she “aged” on me and let me know that she really preferred cuddles and naps verses long miles in the woods. And now I’m currently training our new Brittany mix, Kimmie to run with me. I’m not a dog trainer. I’m not an animal behaviorist. I’m a runner who is also a dog lover. Honestly, the reason I run my dogs is to keep them from eating my house. Yes, it’s true. A tired dog is a good dog. I’ve had dogs who don’t need to be ran and well, I’ve had a few who NEED a definitive outlet to burn the energy before it burns a hole in the house my pocket. Since running is MY game, it’s an easy way to burn up some of their energy quickly. Libby on her Last Long Run below (click the link to read about it).
If you are wondering if you need to run your dog, here are a few clues that he/she might need a bit more “exercise” running or otherwise:
- Chewed your new running shoes
- Chewed your coffee table
- Racing around the house like he/she is on fire
- Tackling the kids trying to engage them in play
- Biting at your pant legs
- Stalking the cat
- Counter Surfing
- Destroying dog beds/pillows
- Stealing your Run Less Run Faster book the kid’s toys/books
- Standing by the door whining
- Standing by the windows barking at wind/leaves/trees
Of course, running won’t be for every dog, many dogs, particularly older ones just like to walk. But if you are having some of the above problems then you may greatly benefit from running your dog. You want to burn off the excess energy but not hurt them or wear them down to nothing. For our household, we play outside and when we come inside, it’s downtime for everyone, dogs included. I don’t let the kids play ball or tug toys or anything with the dog in the house because when we come in we usually have work to do or we want to relax. I do allow working the dogs indoors, like sit-stays and/or heel practice in circles around the dining room & kitchen but NOTHING that riles them up. Outside is fun. Inside is work or relaxation. Being consistent is key. Dogs are SMART, they just need direction, especially when they are young. And speaking of young dogs, don’t start running with a pup til they are at least a year old because the joints are still developing prior to that and you don’t want to damage their developing bodies!
A few things that will help you train your dog to run with you:
- Obedience classes – I strongly encourage ALL new dogs take a training class or three regardless of their age. A good grasp of some basic commands can make running with your dog so much more pleasurable. Trust me on this.
- Collar – the kind of collar is SUPER important. If you are currently in an obedience class then the instructor may want something special and that is what you also need to use for running. If you haven’t taken any classes, then start looking for one now by walking your dog in their normal collar. Are they pulling on you and the leash? If the answer is YES, then you need to be careful. A choker collar or a regular nylon/leather collar can actually damage the dog’s trachea if they pull too hard. If they are coughing or gagging during your walk, then this is an indication that they may need a change in collars for walking/running activities. Our past instructors have always recommended prong collars for the safety of the dog and their windpipe. Yes, it does look like a torture device. No it doesn’t torture or hurt the dog. It actually expands and contracts depending on the pressure the dog is exerting on the leash. If the dog is pulling, the collar gets tighter and it’s like the mommy dog picking up her little one with her teeth. Not painful, but a firm pinch. No worries, it doesn’t poke or cut, the ends are blunt, but rather exerts pressure until the dog lets up. After I got past the way this collar looked, tried it out on myself, and then finally put Lib in it, my life changed for the better in both training and running/hiking.
- Leash – Second most important device. I use a couple different ones depending on the situation. If I’m in town, taking the dog to the vet, or on a trail with lots of critters and/or people, then I go short. Like super short. I prefer the traffic lead. It keeps the dog close and well, if you have a working/hunting dog, they can never really be too close. It allows me to react quickly and keep the dog in immediate heel position without any float. Nothing worse than a bird dog on float who comes across a quail/squirrel/bunny trailside and my having to reel the dog back in on a 6+ foot lead. That’s too much LEAD time for the dog to give chase. I’ve had my amazing Libby yank me off trail before my brain could even react to the fact that we were changing direction. My traffic lead is about 2 foot long, and just enough room for the dog and I to work TOGETHER rather than my being behind the curve.
Once the dog is doing well, under control the majority of the time, and/or I’m in a remote area, then I go to a hands-free leash. The hands-free system buckles around my waist with an attachment for the leash that’s on a quick release in case of an emergency as if I’d be coordinated enough to manage the release “in an emergency”. The dog is tethered TO ME. I go where the dog goes so I try to make sure we are both on the same page and moving the same direction at all times. Since Ms. Kimmie and I are new running partners, I kept my hand on the leash portion so that I could make instantaneous correction(s) if she wandered off course, stopped to sniff, or tried to cross in front of me. Remember that you are technically “working” the dog during the run so don’t let them “play”.
Baggies – Yes, we have to talk about poo. As disgusting as it is, once we have pets/kids, it’s just really no big deal anymore. But do know that the same thing that happens to your digestive system when you run, also happens to the dog. Running makes us have to “go”, even when we have already gone. So take a baggie for clean-up even if you live in the middle of nowhere your dog has already done the duty before leaving home.
Water – When you start out running with a dog, you need to build their endurance just like you did for yourself! So please start slowly, without high expectation or mileage goals. Initially this is a run for the dog, NOT you, so consider it to be working time with the dog, not run mileage for yourself. Eventually you may be able to get the desired result for both of you but not initially. Therefore, in the early stages, you will mostly likely NOT need to carry water for the dog unless it’s really warm. Once the dog progresses, and you are going further and/or faster, then consider carrying water for the dog and bring a bowl from which they can drink. In the past for both hiking and running, I’ve used a collapsible travel bowl and added a quick release clasp to attach the bowl to the dog’s collar. Yes, they can carry their own water bowl.
- Food/Snacks – Unless you are spending a long time on the trail with the dog, then food is not necessary. However, if you are in training mode, then treats are advisable. We cut up hot dogs in a pinch!
- Be hyper vigilant! It’s our responsibility as pet owners to keep our pet’s safe. Part of that responsibility is steering them away from trouble. Two parts to this equation for us. First, I live around some people who don’t necessarily think that fences are important. As a result I’ve been bitten 3x by neighboring dogs. This has forced me to the trail and the treadmill for more miles than I’d like to admit. So when I take the dog out to run with me, I’m hyper aware of our surroundings. I’m constantly watching the dog but also scanning the road ahead and fields around us to make sure that we are clear of any stray dogs who have been dumped and/or wondering neighborhood dogs. I now assume that an unattended dog is dangerous and going to bite me. I don’t want to put my dog in a dangerous situation. And yes, I still carry the Personal Savers WristSaver (below) as an added precaution. Last night we only made it 1 mile down the road before I noticed 2 stray dogs trotting down the road toward us. We immediately turned tail for home but it was still nerve-racking. Secondly, when a car approaches, I always make the dog go into a sit-stay. Always. Even after the 30th car passed yesterday. I see it approaching. I stop on the side of the road, in the grass. I make the dog sit & stay until the car passes. Keeps the dog close to me and both of us focused on the oncoming car so that we are aware of the danger of traffic.
- Know your dog and their endurance level. Also know when it’s time to retire your dog from the long run. All dogs are different but for me, I had to retire Libby from long runs at age 8. She just ran out of steam. So be aware if you have an older dog and stick close to the car because they will wear down faster than you expect.
- Keep the dog on leash. All the time. It’s a safety issue for your dog. It’s the law in many areas.
- Watch the trail, road, etc. for debris. My dogs don’t wear shoes so if we are running on our country roads, we don’t do so when the tar is hot and melty. We also steer clear of broken glass and debris. Plus I avoid highly salted areas in the winter that might damage the dog’s foot pads.
- Use common sense. A little common sense goes a long way. If you think it’s too hot to run with the dog, you’re right. If you think it’s too cold to run with the dog, you’re right. If you are wondering if a 20 miler is too far for your dog, then it probably is too far. Be smart cuz your pooch loves you so much they will run themselves into the ground to make you happy. I always err on the side of caution.
Did I miss anything? Let us know if you have additional tips on running with a dog!
** Happy Running ** Amanda – TooTallFritz **