If you love running and have an energetic dog, he could be your new fitness partner. He’ll motivate you to get your workout in and your dog will likely feel more balanced after burning all that energy. We asked Andrea Servadio, co-owner of Fitdog Sports Club in Santa Monica, who leads a weekly dog running group, to break down the basics of hitting the pavement with your pooch.
Is Your Dog Ready to Run?
If your dog has a lot of energy – you go for a really long walk or spend an hour at the dog park and he’s still raring to go – you’re probably ready to start a running program with your pooch, says Servadio. But every dog isn’t built to run and some aren’t in good enough shape to run.
Short-snouted dogs like Pugs or Bulldogs typically don’t make great running partners because they can’t breath as well and tend to overheat faster. Running is also not advised for oversized breeds, think Great Danes or Rottweilers, because they tend to age quicker and running can put unnecessary stress on their joints. In high temperatures, dogs with undercoats like Golden Retrievers can overheat easily. That said, some breeds are built to run – Vizslas, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Weimaraners for example. Mutts also make some of the best running partners – to assess their potential, compare their characteristics to other breeds.
Just to be safe, consult your vet before you take any dog out with you for the first time. Some dogs may be overweight or have hip problems or other underlying health issues that make them unfavorable running partners. Puppies aren’t always the best candidates either. Even though their energy is high, some experts caution against running with puppies since they are still growing. Though as long as you don’t have to push them, a few short sprints on a walk could be a good way to burn off steam and help get them used to picking up speed.
Wondering if you need to train your dog specifically to run? “If they can walk with you, they can run with you,” says Servadio. So before you begin running, make sure your dog is leash-trained when you walk. “You don’t want to start running a dog that pulls you up the street,” stresses Servadio. You should have control of your dog as you walk, including the ability to make him heal because your dog should be running right at your side, not pulling you down the trail. Once you start out, most dogs will fall into pace with you quickly. Though no matter how much you love pounding the pavement, some dogs might not share your love. If your dog seems to get bored after a few minutes and starts fighting you on the leash, you may need to find a different training partner.
While you may log 3 miles a day, you shouldn’t assume your dog is ready to do the same right out of the gate. If you’re more of a jogger, running a 10-minute mile or slower on average, your dog will probably be able to keep up with you, says Servadio. But if you’re more of an athlete, running a 7 or 8-minute mile, you should ease your pup into the workout starting with a half-mile or mile to see how it makes him feel before building up distance.
The most important thing to remember is to be aware of your dog and pay attention to signs and signals he may be giving you. If your dog is slowing down, lagging behind, panting heavier, it might be time to stop or take a break.
You should always bring water with you or run on a path that has water fountains – you don’t want to risk your dog overheating. Servadio says the dog running group she leads generally stops every half-mile to every mile to let the dogs drink water. She sometimes throws water on top of them as well to cool them since they don’t sweat like we do.
In the summer or when temperatures heat up, try to fit your runs in during the cooler morning or evening hours. Also, be aware that asphalt can get very hot and your dog’s paw pads are soft and susceptible to blisters and cuts. Run on a trail or the grass to protect their paws and reduce impact on their joints, recommends Servadio. Musher’s Secret, a barrier wax, can also help protect paws, preventing blisters and cuts.
Logging Miles with Fido
Even if your dog runs well by your side, longer distances aren’t for every dog. To go more than 4 or 5 miles in one stretch, Servadio says dogs should be at least two years old and younger than 8 years old. If your dog falls into that age bracket, then feel free to experiment with longer distances and greater speeds. Your dog could even help you train for a 5K.
Servadio has a Jack Russell Terrier that has been running with her since he was 6 months old. He used to run 8-minute miles for 6 miles. Though since they don’t go on these tougher training runs anymore, he has gotten lazier now. Remember, dogs get out of shape just like people!