I’ve written a few posts recently (here and here) about running with my 2-year-old black lab named Jack (his classic “take me for a run!” look can be seen in the picture to the left). This has gotten me thinking about the general topic of running with dogs, so I hopped onto Google and began to look around for any information that might be out there on the topic. Below are some useful bits of information that I thought might be of interest to runners:
1. First and foremost, I want to emphasize that I am neither a dog expert nor a veterinarian. Everything I write below comes either from research and reading done on-line, or through my direct experience running with my own dog. Always check with your vet first if you have any questions about taking your dog running with you – some dog breeds are better suited for running than others and it pays to ask questions and do breed research to avoid any potential harm.
2. All domestic dog breeds are ultimately derived from the wild Gray Wolf – this fact is indisputable. According to Wikipedia, the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is a “domesticated subspecies of the Gray Wolf,” and Animal Diversity Web reports that their “basic morphology…no matter how modified, is that of their wild ancestors, gray wolves.” For those wishing to dig deeper, scientific papers on the origin of the domestic dog include Vila et al., 1999 and Parker et al., 2004. According to the latter paper, over 400 breeds of domestic dog have been described, and most of these have existed for fewer than 400 years.
Image via Wikipedia
Being derived from the Gray Wolf, dogs are natural born runners. Animal Diversity Web reports that “Wolf movements are usually at night and cover long distances. Daily distance traveled can be up to 200 km, the usual pace is 8 km/hr. Wolves can run at speeds up to 55 to 70 km/hr.” Although some dog breeds are obviously better suited to running than others (i.e., you probably wouldn’t want to marathon train with a Bulldog or Dachshund – but look at this little guy motor), the ability and desire to run is in their genes.
3. A variety of dog breeds can make excellent running partners. Based on a number of sites that I visited, working/herding/sporting dogs are most frequently recommended, including such breeds as Retrievers (Golden and Labrador), Border Collies, German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Collies, Shelties, and Heelers. For a longer list, view this list of “excellent jogging companions” from the Dog Breed Info Center.
Of course, if you’re looking to get a dog, there is much more to choosing a breed than its running ability -for example, some high-energy breeds might not make the best family pets, and probably would not be best suited for life in a small apartment. Your best bet is to do your research, visit sites like the webpage of the American Kennel Club, and find a breed that is best suited to your lifestyle.
Personally, I have a black lab (Jack), and he is both the perfect family pet and a great running partner. He has a lot of energy, but as long as he gets a good walk or run in each day, or a nice play session with his best doggy buddy (a Boxer) across the street, he is a model pet. Best of all, I have 2 small kids and he is excellent with them – there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching Jack and my 5-year old son race around the house with a tug rope!
4. Dogs, like people, need to ease into running. If you were to go for a run for the first time in a year, you probably wouldn’t head out for 5 miles – the same thing applies to a dog. If you are a regular distance runner, ease your dog into running gradually to build up his/her stamina. My dog has run as many as 7 miles in one go with me, though on a cool day he could probably go farther. It took some time to get him to this point (he’s only 2 years old), and a gradual build-up helped.
Image via Wikipedia
5. Although I have read some conflicting reports on this, most sources suggest holding off on running long distances with a puppy until it is mature (around 1 year for most breeds, though this is variable). The reasoning for this is that it takes some time for the skeleton to mature and for the growth plates in the limbs to close, and waiting is a precaution for avoiding any long-term skeletal damage. Incidentally, potential for growth plate damage is one of the same arguments for why humans children should not run marathons (e.g., see this article from the Chicago Tribune).
6. Be wary of the temperature as dogs are very susceptible to overheating. Dogs cannot sweat like humans can, and heat is dissipated primarily through panting and via the paws. In hot weather, it’s very easy for a dog to overheat, and hyperthermia can be life threatening. Anything above 80 degrees or so is too hot for my dog, and high humidity at cooler temperatures can also be a problem. My rule of thumb is that if Jack looks lethargic in the backyard, it’s too hot to take him for a run – he’s better off resting in the shade (or inside) than risking his life running in the heat. On runs when it’s cooler, I still make sure to get him a swim or drink on a regular basis- usually every 2-3 miles. We have the advantage of living near a river, so usually I’ll plan a route to include a swim stop, which is a great way to keep him cool. I also make mental notes of roadside stream locations for drinks – a cool, hydrated dog will make a much better, and healthier, running partner than a hot, dehydrated one.
According to an article titled “Train With Your Dog” from Runner’s World, signs that your dog might be overheating include “slowing down, an extremely lolling tongue, possible foaming at the mouth and glazed eyes. The dog may become weak and wobbly or even collapse.” Should your dog appear to be overheating, don’t push it, and try to cool him/her down immediately. Submerging the dog in water is a frequently cited suggestion for cooling a dog down, and if a water body is not nearby, pouring water on the dog’s abdomen is another (it’s always a good idea to carry water when running with a dog).
On the other side of the temperature spectrum, dogs are great cold-weather runners. Jack is a completely different dog in the winter, and he seems like he could run forever up here in frosty New Hampshire. One of his favorite activities in winter is to go snowshoeing through the woods with me – he gets to go off-leash and bounding through snow-drifts is pure doggy joy!
Image via Wikipedia
7. Always leash your dog when near roads. It took me a while to train Jack to run by my side (he was a major puller when we first started), but even now that he does, he’ll still try to bolt at the site of a cat or squirrel (it’s his instinct as a retriever). If he was off-leash, I’m certain that he would not look both ways to see if there were any cars in the road. I’d much rather deal with a sore shoulder as I reel him in than an encounter with a car, so leashing is a must when we run near roads.
Once we hit the trails, I’ll usually let him run free. He’s pretty good about not bothering people on the trail, and he will only briefly stop to greet other dogs that he encounters (we use a major dog-walking trail near my house, and most of the dogs we encounter are also off-leash). I think that run-walking is more of the natural mode for dogs, and when off-leash Jack will bound off down the trail and then either wait for me to catch up or trot back until he’s by my side – he loves it, and I like to give him the freedom of being off-leash as long as he is well behaved.
8. Last but not least, dogs need exercise. I’ll probably add to this post as more ideas come to me, but I really want to emphasize that an exercised dog is a happy dog. The joy that my Jack derives from running is obvious, and his excitement when he sees me putting on my running shoes is one of my greatest sources of motivation for getting out the door when I don’t feel like running. Just like in humans, obesity is extremely unhealthy for a dog, and walking or jogging with your pet is one of the best ways to keep them healthy. I also feel bad for the dogs we occasionally pass while running that are chained to poles by short leashes, or penned in small chain-link cages. Dogs are meant to be free and run, so do yourself and your dog a favor by becoming a dog runner!
Below are a few of the helpful sources of information I found while researching this post:
I plan to update this post in the future as I gather more information on running with dogs. In the meantime, if you have any tips or thoughts about dog running that you’d like to add, please leave a comment.