Your dog, like you, benefits greatly from daily exercise. It allows them to burn off some energy and calories, strengthens muscles, and helps to fight obesity (a large problem for dogs in the US). Jogging with your dog supplies them with this daily exercise they need, while also doing the same for you and creating an opportunity for you both to spend quality time together.
When to start:
The most important factor for deciding when you should begin jogging with your dog, assuming they are already a happy and healthy pet, is their age. Dogs can receive more harm than help from a running routine when they are either too young or too old for the regimen. For most dogs, you shouldn’t begin a regular running exercise routine until after they are 18 months old. Puppies 18 months and younger are still developing their bone structure. Running while these processes are still occurring can negatively impact their bone development, making regular exercise in the future more difficult for your dog and possibly increase the risk of certain physical conditions. This is especially important to remember when running with a dog breed possessing a high chance of developing one of these conditions. Many larger breeds like retrievers and German shepherds often suffer from hip dysplasia, so ensuring their bone health is optimal before you begin running with them is crucial. You also don’t want to run with your dog if they are experiencing deteriorating health and physical conditions from old age. Again, this can lead to more physical ailments. The age at which one should stop running with their dog really depends on the breed and the specific dog’s health, so use good judgment!
While you don’t want to run with your dog while they are still growing and developing their bones, it is a great idea to begin training them on leash behavior and walking. This doesn’t put any strain on the dog’s growing body and is a fantastic way to prepare for a future in running. The more comfortable your dog is on a leash, the better your running experience with them will be. There are two key things you should attempt while leash training your dog if you plan on turning them into your running buddy. First, use a shorter leash. This will encourage your dog to remain closer to you once they are successfully leash trained and ready to run, which makes exercising with them a lot easier and more enjoyable for the both of you. Second, do your best to have your dog walk beside you on the leash rather than in front. This will influence them to do the same on jogs, which helps you both establish a steady pace with each other, and prevents your dog from running ahead of you, making you feel like they are dragging you with them on their own run.
Beginning to Run:
Jogging with your dog for the first time mirrors jogging with any other person unaccustomed to the exercise. You don’t want to go out for a 5 mile run the very first day. Could you imagine being dragged out to run 5 miles the very first day you began jogging? No matter how much energy Spot or Fido might have around the house, they need to begin their running career gradually. Start with a short run at a slow or moderate pace. For example, a 1 mile run at a ten-minute pace is a commonly used run to begin training your dog. As you begin exercising regularly with your pet, slowly increase the time or distance when your dog is ready until you reach a healthy and desired run length. Most importantly, always pay attention to your dog. Watch them for any signs of excessive tiredness, injury, or heat stroke. For tips on this, check out our recent blog post by Krista Hauser, “Protect Your Pet from Heat Stroke”. Notice how your dog’s body responds to the exercise and make the appropriate adjustments to ensure they remain healthy and enjoy themselves. As you jog more, you both will begin to find a pace with each other rather quickly. However, early on you will often find your dog lagging behind you, making you feel like you are pulling them along, or far in front, making it seem like they are dragging you with them. While these may seem like signs that your dog is either not enjoying themselves or will never be able to successfully run with you, most often the case is that they just don’t know what to do. Our four-legged friends run in a drastically different manner than us and are not accustomed to prolonged stretches of running at a common pace. So if you have these problems, give it some time and allow your dog to learn and adjust to this new type of exercise. Soon enough they will be by your side matching your pace through your entire run. Because establishing a pace can be so difficult for your dog, training your dog for a specific run (like a 10K at a 9-minute mile pace) is most effective when you train them first for the pace and then for the distance. In other words, find your pace and then slowly increase your distance day-by-day.
- Always be sure you and your dog are well hydrated. Whenever possible, run with water or in an area with frequent water fountains for you and your dog. Any time where dehydration seems possible, stop for a water break.
- Run when it’s cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. You never want to expose your dog in their full fur coat to excruciating heat or cold. Exercise in the best conditions possible each day. Shade is great in the summer!
- When beginning to run with your dog, try and go to areas with as few distractions or dangers as possible while your dog learns the routine. This means fewer people or dogs to steal the attention of your dog away from the run.
- Warm ups and cool downs are great for humans and dogs when starting or ending a workout.
While all of these tips and instructions are great for getting your dog and yourself ready for an exercise routine, the most important thing will always be paying attention to your dog and seeing what is right for them. Some dogs just aren’t great runners, some don’t enjoy it, and some just physically are unable. Keep an eye on your dog to see how they respond to the exercise and don’t be afraid to consult your vet about starting your training with your pet.