Running With Dogs – Tips from a Dog Runner

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.

Wolf pupImage 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.

Wolf skeletonImage 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!

Nylon webbing leash, a common styleImage 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:

Train With Your Dog: See Spot Run. See Dick run. See Jane run, too. What fun they’re having. By Renee Despres (Runner’s World)
http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-369-370–11951-0,00.html

Running With Your Best Friend, by JulieAnne White (SlowTwitch.com)
http://www.slowtwitch.com/mainheadings/coachcorn/rundogs.html

Running with the Dogs, by Runner Susan (the CompleteRunning Blog Network)
http://completerunning.com/archives/2006/12/11/running-with-the-dogs/

Running with dogs, by Paul Gains (Dogs in Canada)
http://www.dogsincanada.com/running-with-dogs

Safety Tips for Running with Your Dog (Run the Planet)
http://www.runtheplanet.com/trainingracing/training/dogs/dogrun.asp

Running and Jogging with Your Dog, by Alex Lieber (PetPlace.com)
http://www.petplace.com/dogs/running-and-jogging-with-your-dog/page1.aspx

Running With Your Best Friend, by JulieAnne White (Slowtwitch.com)
http://www.slowtwitch.com/mainheadings/coachcorn/rundogs.html


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.
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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Jeff Andrew Mabute says:

    I run with my dog using this leash. It’s great for helping me keep my form as well as when the dog bolts in one direction, my core does a better job of holding him than my arm. Also, get the lunge buster that attaches to it to help absorbing the shock of him going one direction.

    link to amazon.com

    link to amazon.com

  2. Nice article – fun to read and useful.

    Beagle Rakker is the dog of my mother in lab and my running partner for my endurance trainings. Last weekend we did a 10 miler in the pouring rain. The passage about the dog’s obvious joy as motivator was very applicable.

  3. Hi Pete,

    Very good article, I’m particularly enjoying some of the links. As a vet, I have access to information from board certified orthopaedic vets, and the current research suggests that running with your dog too early does increase the risk of orthopaedic problems. I year is a good reference point, but dogs such as Rottweilers may need to wait a little longer.

    My dogs don’t enjoy drinking water when we’re running, but they’ll happily take it if I add a little electrolyte powder. They don’t need the electrolytes as such, because they don’t sweat, but they seem to like the taste.

  4. Training Dog Leash says:

    Awesome. Thanks for your great tips. A big help. Keep going :)

  5. Stephan Torcy says:

    I love your articles about running with Jack. I runwith my Shepard / Rottweiler cross (Dave!) around 2 or 3 times week and he loves it (or at least he doesn’t complain) I’m not a fast runner so it doesnt seem to push him too hard, but I always run in the mornings and ensure it’s early enough to be cool in the summer. I don’t take him above around 7 miles as Shepards are well known for bad hips and I’m worried about causing him any injury.

    Nice tip on the flavoured water! Dave will only tend to take a couple of slurps now and then so I might give that a try. I also favour the dunking technique – I have a park near me with a small river that runs through it so in the summer every couple of laps I stop to let him swim for a couple of minutes to wet him down, which seems to keep him cool enough not to mind the heat too much. Running with a dog is a really rewarding experience and I can see me and Dave together in this for a good few years if my knee’s hold up!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks for the comment – running with a dog is great for both of you! It’s
      definitely harder in the heat of summer, but I do what I can for Jack.

      Pete

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks for the comment – running with a dog is great for both of you! It’s
      definitely harder in the heat of summer, but I do what I can for Jack.

      Pete

  6. Great Blog – good helpful tips. My Labrador, Holly, is yellow and loves running. I run with this leash link to irondoggy.com Allows me to run evenly since it is hands-free and without worrying about my dog pulling me over. It had hooks for different lengths for different running conditions. (Also great when hiking!)

  7. Bill Richardson says:

    Hi, I run with a three year old Kelpie and he loves it. No running until he was one and after that just built it up slowly for him. I had been ill and this worked best for us both. I’m not sure how many miles he will do in a week but we train for ultra marathons so it’s – 2 x 1:30 during the week and a long run at the weekend. The weekend one is more of a quick walk for him but I feel as if I am going along well. I carry separate water for us both and food which we share along the way – sometimes stopping for a coffee and slice if the weather is nice. Real serious running! If it’s hot and he is refusing water and hasn’t drunk out of any puddles then he gets water over the top of his head – which he isn’t keen on. I try to do trails or quiet roads with earthy type paving areas. I’ve never had any problems with him as far as injuries or that go. We often do mountain bike tracks where he can get off the lead and run, plus chase rabbits etc. he really enjoys club run on a Saturday as he gets petted a lot, and slipped treats by the kids in the club. I have thought about getting him one of those collars you can freeze for the few days when we get it really hot but usually just skip runs those days.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks for the comment – Jack and I are still running strong together, we
      did a 10+ miler just last week and he did great.

      PEte

  8. Leash Dog Training says:

    Wow . Thanks for this wonderful tips . It helped me a lot . Keep posting . :)

  9. anandanelson says:

    Thank you so much for your artice. My labrador Forest pants a lot, sometimes when it is not that hot [for me], could this be anxiety or stress? He runs 4km with me, in the mornings from 5 to 6am. I am stil not as fit, so we do stop and walk, he does see tree a lot and needs to go everytime all the time, is this a habit, becasue I allowed him to do this when we go fo a walk, but off course for running I need to keep my pace, but I do not want to get bladder problems because of this. What sould his diet look like, shoild he get more vitamins or minrerals and how do I know if he has torn some muscles? Because in his thights the muscles feel almost more cut in a way, is this normal? He does go for a quick swim when we get back, should I let me swim before we jog and can I throw some water over his body [back and head] when I see he is getting tired? He actually did run better in colder weather the other morning. I feel bad because I pulled him when he was slowing down and while reading your article I now know a lot more on how to handle my Loverdoor, while running with me. He is three years old, very very active,and shares the same fun characteristics as your dog, I love that I run with hima nd he is definently my running partner , but I because he can not speak I do not know what he wants, and do wish to meet all his requirements while he runs with me to avoid any future damages. If I had never taken him for a check-up [ x-rays] in hio dysplacia, but did ask the vet if he sees signs of… which he did not, should I rather make an effort to take hom for this?

    Please get back to me I will appreciate it a lot, like I said before Forest is my best great friend & I would like it to stay that way!I wil definetly check out your other sites recommended.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Panting is a dogs way of cooling down – they don’t sweat the way they do -
      so it’s normal for them to do this when they run. However, if you see
      foaming near the mouth it’s probably a good idea to slow down or get your
      dog a drink. I generally try to build a couple of drink stops into my runs,
      which seems sufficient for my dog. My Jack likes to mark his territory
      frequently when we run (sometimes moreso than others), so I also think
      that’s pretty normal and natural for a dog. As for diet, I’d direct that
      question to your vet since I don’t know much about the subject. As long as
      you pay attention and try not to push the dog to hard, it’s a great form of
      exercise to share together, and yes, just like a human, a dog will get
      slimmer and more defined due to running!
      Pete

  10. Labrador puppies says:

    I want to run with jack.the dog looks so innocent

  11. Excellent write-up.

    When I was first looking to adopt a dog my original plan was to find a black lab (I grew up with one) that I could take running with me.

    Life had a sense of irony because the dog that pulled at my heart-strings the most at the shelter was a shepherd/chow mix with an amputated front-right leg. But when we play fetch at the dog park he can out-run most of the other dogs in the place.

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