Running with Fido: Looking for a reliable training partner? Here’s some tips for jogging with your pet

Really good article in the Kansas City Star:


When Jill Hourihan isn’t feeling up to her usual run, she looks to Alex for motivation. He’s not her $100-per-hour personal trainer; he’s her dog, a chow/golden retriever mix who doesn’t let her forget their regular runs.

“I really consider him my running coach,” she says. “Once he knows it’s time, he won’t leave me alone. He’ll just keep checking in with me to see when we’re ready to go.”

In addition to the companionship and protection her jogging buddy provides her, Hourihan said Alex gets perks, too.

“He went from being a shy, reclusive dog to becoming mayor of our walks – just a friendly, wonderful dog,” she says. Hourihan is such a fan, she opened her own dog-running service in the Boston area, Running the Pack, five years ago to help other dogs get in their daily run.

For owners looking to bring their pup along for a jog, there are many factors to consider. Here’s a guide to get you started.

Start at the Vet’s Office

“It’s just like going to your own physician when you begin a new exercise regime,” says Dr. Rene A. Carlson, veterinarian and president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “You need to check with the vet who knows your dog.”

A lot of factors can affect your pet’s performance, including age, weight, joint health and hair coat and nail condition.

If your dog is overweight, then you need to slowly reduce the extra pounds through diet and moderate exercise like walking.

“Otherwise, the dog is at risk for many orthopedic issues that could end any hopes of a running routine,” says Dr. Louise Murray, veterinarian and vice president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital.

Age may limit running as well, whether your dog is too young or too old. Hold off if you have an eager puppy, suggests Carlson. Depending on the pet’s size, it takes dogs anywhere from nine to 16 months to fully develop cartilage and joints. Also be cautious for dogs in the senior range, starting at around seven years, as they may suffer from health issues like arthritis.

Not that you should scrap the running routine based on age alone.

“It’s based more on health than age,” says Carlson. “All dogs need exercise, as long as it’s not painful.”

Consider the Breed and Body Type

Although not the only factors to consider when deciding if your dog is run-ready, some breeds and body types are better suited for the activity than others.

“There’s no specific rule for each breed,” explains Murray. “It’s the dog with the lean body type and high energy level that’s going to do the best.”

She suggests talking with your vet about the breed to learn its history and what type of work it was bred for. Both Carlson and Murray agree that herding breeds like the border collie enjoy and benefit from longer runs. But again, it’s not just the breed to consider.

“There’s always a caveat. Corgis are herding dogs, but their body shape doesn’t work for long runs,” says Murray.

Toy breeds were bred to be companions and their small legs make it difficult for them to keep up with their owners. On the flip side, large dogs like Great Danes aren’t well suited for running either because of the stress it puts on their bodies.

Canines don’t have the cooling mechanisms humans do, so instead of sweating throughout the body, they reduce heat by panting and releasing sweat from their footpads. Brachycephalic dogs, those that have short noses and faces like pugs and bulldogs, have a lot of trouble breathing and reducing body heat.

Temperament and attention levels are also factors. “Terriers are endurance dogs, but they’ll want to check the mice in the ditch on your run,” says Carlson. “They must be trained to understand the different purposes of a walk and a run.

Focus on Conditioning

Once you’re ready to begin running with your dog, don’t assume he’s ready for a 10K.

“Just like people will suffer injuries if they push themselves too quickly, the same thing happens with dogs,” says Murray.

She suggests starting with a half-mile for a week, then working up to a mile – all while watching for signs of exhaustion.

Murray also warns against making your pet a weekend warrior and suggests you adjust their food. Just like humans, they’ll need it to fuel any increased activity.

Watch for Signs and Listen to Them

Your dog can’t tell you he’s tired, so it’s important to watch for signs before, during and after the run.

“Check the body language, see if the ears or tail are down. Everyone knows the signs in their own dog,” says Murray.

Also check for red gums, labored breathing and excessive panting.

Dehydration is a primary concern. Murray and Carlson suggest bringing a water bottle or collapsible dog bowl when running more than a few miles, especially in warmer weather. The rule of thumb is simple: If you’re thirsty, your dog probably is too.

Consider the Conditions

In her practice, Carlson has fielded many inquiries from owners about appropriate outdoor gear for their dogs, everything from sunscreen to sunglasses.

“None of that’s necessary,” she says. “But you do need to be aware of the weather conditions.”

Her rule: Don’t take dogs out if it’s over 80 degrees and avoid the midday sun.

Carlson says that the pads will be fine in most conditions, noting that “if the pavement is too hot, then it’s too hot to run anyway.” But just to be sure there are no injuries, she says, it’s best to check your dog’s paws after a run. Paw protectors may be appropriate in the winter months to protect paws from salt, which can irritate the skin between the pads.

Think Safety

Both Carlson and Murray agree that there are numerous benefits for running with your dog – assuming you maintain a reasonable regime. Dogs thrive on routine and can benefit from socialization within the safety of a leash.

While owners must be think safety first in caring for their dog during a run, they must also be cautious of others.

“Not everyone loves your dog as much as you do, so be courteous and careful with other people and dogs,” says Carlson.

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