For those of us who enjoy keeping fit, it’s always good to have some company when you exercise, so what better than have your canine friend accompany you when you go running?
But, a dog’s physiology is different to our own, and that can vary further depending on the size, breed and age of the dog. This article looks at some of the things you need to consider before taking your dog running with you.
First of all…
When we talk about going running with your dog, we don’t mean a short sprint here and there. Most dogs, even young puppies, are very active so can generally handle a bit of activity.
However, if you’re thinking about running a longer distance (i.e. miles at a time), then that can put more of a strain on your dog and in the same way humans need to be careful about not exerting themselves too much, we must also ensure we don’t cause any problems for our dogs. After all, most dogs will run themselves to exhaustion given the chance, so you need to be the one that looks after them.
What age does a dog need to be to go running?
This is an interesting one because it varies depending on the breed of dog. Some breeds can start running with you within the first year (from around 8 months), but others would have to wait until around 18 months. This is loosely tied to the size of the dog, with smaller dogs able to runner sooner, whereas larger dogs need to wait until they are more fully developed.
The reason for this is that puppies aren’t simply “small dogs” – “underdeveloped dogs” is perhaps a better description. Some puppy bones have “growth plates” at the end of them, which are soft areas that grow as the puppy matures (allowing for limbs to grow for example). As the hard areas at either side of the soft zone close, the puppy’s bone is fully grown and stronger. In addition, puppy bones in general are softer, only reaching maximum bone density as they near puberty.
It’s not just a puppy’s frame that is underdeveloped – their cardiovascular system is also still growing. Unlike older dogs or humans, regular exercise doesn’t particularly improve a puppy’s endurance – it’s only as they mature that this can happen. So heavy exercise for a puppy comes with some risks, but very few benefits.
There are plenty of age-appropriate exercises for your puppy – jogging long distances isn’t one of them. Wait until they are a bit older first.
Before jogging, make sure your dog can behave on a lead
There’s no point setting out for a brisk run, if your dog is going to be pulling you all over the place – the experience won’t be enjoyable for either of you.
We’ve published an article on how to stop your dog pulling on a lead, but you need to decide how focused your dog will likely be on your running route. Generally, a dog collar is a better choice (you don’t want your dog to be pulling on the lead – they should be running alongside you) or some dog harnesses are also an option. Choose your harness carefully though – some might chaff on longer runs.
On tip would be to avoid an extension lead. That could give your dog a bit too much freedom to run off in different directions when you want them to be running by your side. We recommend trying a jogging belt lead – it keeps you hands-free and has some storage pouches.
Dogs are pretty similar to humans when it comes to exercise
You might need to spend a bit of time getting your dog in shape for running – and like humans, it takes a bit of work. Tails recommends getting your dog out for a walk at least 20 minutes each day at a minimum. But, if you want to improve its fitness, then gradually increase the time and distance you walk.
If you’re happy that your dog is old enough, fit enough and well-behaved enough to go running with you, then handle your excise regime the same way you would for a human:
- Warm up before you set off (a gentle walk or hike to begin with).
- Start with an easy run. Begin with 2 minutes of running, then increase the next session.
- Keep an eye on your dog – if they are too tired, then stop.
- Allow your dog recovery days between runs.
How far and how often you run is generally specific to the dog. Certain breeds and younger dogs may like to run further than others. And some dogs might just not like running at all!
Be wary of the weather
Dogs have similar tolerances to weather conditions as humans, so if you’re feeling too cold or too hot then it’s likely your dog will be too.
It’s worth remembering that on a hot day, a dog with a thick coat may be feeling the heat more than you, so try and stick to the shade, early morning, late evening and always keep a supply of water close for both of you. It can be a good idea to train your dog to drink from a water bottle before you start running together!
And also think about the terrain!
Running on tarmac can help strengthen your dog’s pads, but running on a dirt path or grass would have less impact on their bones and joints. Dogs aren’t too different from us on that front, so it’s important to understand your environment before heading out.
Not all breeds are going to be able to run with you!
Consider dog breeds that have odd proportioned limbs – pugs or dachshunds for example. With the best will in the world, these aren’t going to be suitable running partners for you.
Generally, mid-sized dogs or herding dogs are a good choice for a canine running partner.
You should both have fun!
Let’s face it – there’s more chance of your dog out-running you, than the other way around! But it’s still important that you understand both your limits and you both enjoy the activity.