Running: A healthy and good alternative to walks?
Running with your dog is a great way for both the owner and the dog to get exercise but don’t expect to go out and start a great run with your dog. Running with your dog takes preparation and training.
The following tips may help you decide if you and your dog are fit to go out for a run:
1. Physical capability:
Check with your veterinarian before starting your dog on an exercise program on that level. Running is not for all dogs! Some dog breeds suffer from hip dysplasia or are prone to knee and joint injuries. You really want to make sure your dog is fit and healthy to increase their exercise level and that also counts for you!
Short snouted breeds:
Some breeds are not made to run such as brachycephalic breeds (short snouted dogs such as boxers, bulldogs, pugs, etc). By nature these dogs have a tougher time breathing and because dogs cool off their bodies by panting, these breeds will have a much more difficult time cooling off their bodies and therefore are much more prone to overheating.
Young and old dogs:
Young dogs should not be run. You should wait until their bones are grown and depending on size and breed that may take anywhere between 6 to 18 months. When dogs get older they really don’t need that level of exercise. A hike or long walk should be more than enough. Senior dogs, 6 years or older, should decrease their amount of exercise at that level.
Right dog for running:
Some breeds are made for running if they do not suffer from any medical issues like Dalmations, Vizlas, Weimaraners, Rhodesian Rigdebacks, Jack Russel Terriers, Pit bull Terriers, German Shepherds, Spaniels, Border Collies, Siberian Huskies, Catahoula Leopard Dog, etc. If you are an avid runner and looking for a running companion you may consider one of the typical running breeds.
2. Gearing up:
Once you have your veterinarian’s okay the next step is to gear up. Not only for you but for you dog as well. Here is a list of things you should consider getting:
• Good running shoes
• Comfortable running clothes
• Gear to hold both your and your dog’s water
• Good running gear for your dog: harness and a 6 foot leash
Gearing your dog up with a doggie backpack is not necessary. The increase in exercise is more than enough! A harness is the best for running. A collar or the gentle leader can potentially be dangerous. A well fitted and comfortable harness is the right equipment for running. No pinch, prong or e-collars. Good exercise is the result of a positive experience, not a negative one.
3. Choosing the right surface:
Before you run wisely choose the surface you are planning on running on. You have the option of buying fancy gel filled shoes that absorb the shock of every step you take but dogs do not have that. Their soft pads may get injured fast and in the summer asphalt can burn them. Choose intelligently!
4. Condition your dog:
Like you, your dog needs to build up strength. If you are both starting from scratch make sure you make yourself comfortable in the runner’s world. You are basically becoming your dog’s personal trainer and your goal is to make your dog fit enough to join you. For you to reach that level you need to know about training yourself first! If you are already an avid runner you will have to introduce your dog gradually to the sport. A walk – run –walk is a great way to start. Gradually increase the duration of our running segments by shortening the walking segments of your training before increasing the amount of time you exercise in total. Don’t rush! Your dog needs to build up muscle tissue and strengthen its ligaments. Your dog needs a warm up just like you and as a human do not forget to stretch before and after your run. Like you, your dog may feel stiff and show signs of stiffness after your exercise.
5. Manners while running:
The first time you ever run with your dog you will most likely find yourself in an awkward position. You start your run and most dogs will happily join you by jumping up and down, pulling notoriously in a sled-dog manner and crossing your path every opportunity given. Your dog needs to learn on how to run. Not only condition wise but manner wise too. There is nothing more pleasing for a runner than having your dog graciously run at your side. If your dog already knows how to walk loose leash the step towards running loose leash will not be too problematic. If your dog doesn’t walk loose leash you may consider starting to teach him/her the trick of being by your side.
If your dog has a good recall and the area provides the possibility to run off-leash you are a lucky person. Please ensure that you are in a legal off leash area, there are no immediate dangers to your dog and you and ensure your dog responds immediately when called and is friendly with other dogs. You want to make sure you represent a responsible dog owner and you do not endanger other people, dogs, wildlife etc. We are loosing too many off- leash areas for our dogs as it is. If your dog doesn’t meet above mentioned manner criteria keep your dog on-leash until you have trained him/her properly. Gain respect by giving it!
6. Fun or no fun?
When out on a run you will still have to deal with your dog’s needs to explore its surroundings and to eliminate. With walks or hikes stopping to allow them to do those things is not a big disturbance for you but during a run the continuous stopping would not be pleasurable. However, taking the fun out of running would mean the dog may end up getting stressed and the running becomes an activity the dog may not associate with fun at all. Stop and allow the dog to sniff, explore and eliminate. While building up your running segments you could allow the dog to have its time during the walks. Continue the walks even if your running segments increase in time. Stop and have fun!
7. Water, water and more water:
Always bring water even if there is a water sources close by. Offer your dog water often, preferably every 2 or 3 miles. Your dog may not always want to drink but provide your dog the possibility to do so. Ensure your dog gets water before, during and after your exercise.
8. Overheating and hot weather:
Unlike humans dogs do not cool off their bodies by sweating. They have sweat glands but do not use them as such. Dogs cool off by panting and if the air is too hot, no shade is provided and/or the ground is burning you are setting yourself up for a disaster. Don’t run your dog when it is hot. Overheating is a serious condition and many dogs every year just die of overheating by being outside in the heat without the extra exercise. Watch for excessive panting (the tongue may become incredibly large-like a spoon), an increase in salivation, a drastically increase of the heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and red gums often go paired with signs of overheating. Stop immediately and cool the dog off. Last year a young pit bull was saved by a Ranger when they met by coincident. The young men running the neighbor’s dog thought she was fit enough to run. The Ranger cooled the dog off by putting her in his truck, turning up the air-conditioning and putting wet towels on her body and ensuring her body temperature would slowly go down. The dog got lucky and survived but a good intent could have turned lethal for this young dog if the Ranger had not shown up. Don’t expect someone to help you. Calling 911 will not bring you help. There are there to help humans, not dogs.
If your dog lies down end your exercise session. Dogs by nature will not show weakness and will continue to run even if they can no more. Watch your dog closely and if they show any signs of being tired or loosing the positive experience of your outing together STOP! Running with your dog is not about you but about your dog! His/her needs come first. You are making the decision to involve your dog into your activity then you have to listen to him/her.
9. Cleaning up after your dog:
Exercise stimulates pooping and in most places the law requires you to pick up after your dog. Ensure you bring bags along to remove your dog’s feces. Bio-bags preferably. Running with a stinky bag may not seem like your ideal outing situation with your four legged companion but picking up after your dog is a normal thing. Plan accordingly and make sure you can find a route that provides trashcans along the way if you don’t like running with a bag in your hand. Take Ziploc bags along if you have a backpack. Sealing off the bags avoids the spread of the smell in your bag.
10. Hiring a professional to run your dog:
A dog running business is a tricky business. The professional needs to be knowledgeable on the field of personal training, human and canine physiology and especially canine behavior. They should at least be up to date in dog cpr and first aid (refresher at least every two years).
Dog running businesses will provide you a training plan tailored to your dog. Your dog should be run alone and not with other dogs. The business should have requirements of their own when your dog joins their fitness program like a veterinary health waiver. Running is about your dog and not about the exercise the human runner gets!
Ensure the business has qualified staff that knows what they are doing. The dog runners should have the ability to read signs of stress, fatigue, tiredness and discomfort. The business should also provide you with a progress report. Businesses that use choke, prong or e-collars should be avoided. Punitive methods will make your dog’s running experience less pleasurable and you really just want your dog to have fun!
In the world of dog walkers ensure that the business you hire is a professional. They need to be licensed with the city, registered with the county if doing business under a fictitious name and have insurance. Make sure the insurance covers dog running as part of their services. If the business doesn’t meet above mentioned requirements stay away. Those are just the legal requirements to run a business. If those are not met you may want to look on!
11. Alternative to running:
If your dog is too young, too old or not made to run or if it is you that doesn’t meet the criteria: No worries! Hiking is a fantastic alternative for your dogs. You can join dog hiking clubs like the K9 Outdoor Adventure Club or hire a professional like The Dog Hikers: TheDogHikers.com, Smilin’ Dogs: Smilindogs.com, Moeller Dog: Moellerdog.com, Yoga Dog: YogaDogWalking.com or See Spot Run (they do offer a running service too!) happyhealthyhounds.blogspot.com, who will guarantee a incredible alternative to dog running around the San Francisco Bay Area.