I am a runner and my dogs join me on almost all of my runs. I love running and bringing my dogs makes it even more enjoyable since I know they are getting some much needed exercise, fresh air and enrichment. But running with your dog is not usually as easy as lacing up and hitting the trail.
Running with your dog can be a lot of fun but it will require some work on your part to get it there. If your dog does not readily do loose leash walking, then they are likely to want to stop and sniff every couple of steps which can be a real drag (literally) on a run. If you are not already running with your dog, here is how I recommend to start.
Firstly, an important warning, you should not go running with a puppy. That means dogs under 1 years of age, and for some larger breeds, under 2 years of age. If you’re unsure your dog is ready to run, talking to your vet is a good idea. The reason we don’t run with rambunctious puppies is that we can damage growth plates while they are still closing up which can lead to issues later on. This is usually done by pushing our pups too hard with exercise. So it’s safer to wait until they are a bit older. I’m not saying that puppies shouldn’t run around and be puppies, but they shouldn’t be forced into running a full 5km with you, because this may be too much for them, so instead, leave them at home until they are older to make sure you have a dog who is healthy and ready to keep up.
If you aren’t a runner, then starting to run with your dog will be easier since you both have to build up your skillset! I recommend finding a walk/run program. Years ago I used the Beginning Runner’s Handbook to start running and even returned to the walk/run program when I got injured, in my opinion, it is one of the best programs out there. A walk/run program is the most effective way to build your muscles and endurance which needs to happen for both you and your dog. The best part is you don’t need to be a runner to start running, the program is that easy.
Once you’ve found a program, you will want to be prepared for your run. Here are the items I recommend, but you can probably forego one or two if you need:
- A leash that is comfortable to hold or goes around your waist. Here are some that I really like:
- A harness for your dog, one that clips in the front and on top. At the beginning when your dog is pulling more, the front clip will help. Eventually you will transition to clipping on top as your dog figures everything out. Here are some that I like:
- Running shoes for you and any other gear you need for running (you don’t need much to start).
- Poop bags!
- If there aren’t many garbage bins on your running path, then bring a fanny pack or running pack to put the poop bag into so you don’t have to carry it. I have a running vest that I use and I keep a scent proof ziplock bag in it to put the filled poop bags which keeps me from smelling it while I run.
- A comfortable treat pouch and a lot of small high value treats, something like freeze dried beef liver.
Teaching your dog to run with you
Now we get to the fun part, we want to teach our dogs that if we are running, it’s time to keep up and stay next to us, and if we slow down and walk, then they can go sniff. I always start a run with a short warm up walk, this allows the dogs to pee, get to sniff a bit, and get that initial excitement out of their system. Before you run, think of a word or phrase you want to cue your dogs with. I say, “are you ready? Let’s go!”. Once I say this, the dogs know it’s running time and that gets them so excited and takes the focus off sniffing. Once you start to run, you’ll want to grab a couple of treats and reward your dog for staying next to you. You’ll want to dish out the treats regularly at first and make sure to hand them to your dog close to your hip/leg. You want to teach your dog to stay in this area in particular. It’s the yummy treat zone. As your dog gets better at this, start to phase out treats by running longer and longer in between treats. It might feel weird to hand out treats while you run, but you will get the hang of it.
The treats will also be handy if you are in an urban environment and have to stop for traffic. When you come to a stop, ask your dog for a sit and reward them for sitting and waiting with you. Or for those of you with reactive dogs, you can use your treats when encountering something that makes your dog nervous like other dogs, or people and work on your auto-watch.
I run with dogs who love to sniff, so I use the command “on-by” during running in the same way I do while we are skijoring. “on-by” means keep going and if I say it when I see they’re really interested in something ahead, they will keep running by. So how did I teach this? I started at a slower pace with treats in my hand. As I approached something they would be interested in, I sped up and said “on-by” as the dogs followed and sometimes tried to slow, I would keep going and once they were focused ahead again I would say “Yes!” and give them treats as we kept running. The treats are not forever, but just to teach this moving version of leave-it.
Other important tips
Sometimes your dog will just stop because nature calls. It happens, so always be prepared with poop bags and to have to carry that poop bag. I LOVE my running vest, it has made running with my dogs so easy since I can even carry a collapsible water bowl (this one is my favourite) for them on hot days.
If you are planning to run off leash with your dog because the trails you are taking permit this, then please make sure you have an excellent recall. Running is exciting and can make your dog less likely to recall when they see something interesting like another animal. So always be safe and practice, practice, practice.
My last safety tip is heat related. Make sure your dog does not overheat. In the summer, my husky mix only joins on shorter runs and I hose her down first. It’s necessary to keep her from overheating. Dogs can also burn their paws on hot pavement, so always make sure the temperature is appropriate. Sometimes, they won’t be able to join, but it’s better to leave them at home than get them injured.
Lastly, have fun! You are trying something new with your pup, so don’t focus on pace, or getting your personal best for your 5k, instead focus on fun and getting some activity in fresh air together.