Who needs a running partner when you have a dog? Some of my favorite runs are ones that I have done with my rescue dog, Sadie. Before you start running with your pup, though, there are certain things you should know.
1. Vet Check
Before taking your dog on her first run, make sure she is healthy enough for the mileage. If your dog is not yet fully grown, your vet will likely caution you to wait until her bones and joints are completely developed. For an overweight animal, it may be wise to walk off some weight first before attempting vigorous exercise, in order to reduce stress on the joints.
2. Harness and Leash
Next, purchase a comfortable harness for your dog if you do not already own one. Never take your dog for a run with a leash hooked to her collar, as serious tracheal and esophageal damage can occur if your dog suddenly stops running. In addition, a leash that has a comfortable grip and elasticity improves your comfort during the run. I personally like this harness and leash.
3. Start Slow
Once your dog is cleared to run, it may be tempting to allow her to join you for your next 10 miler, but it is important to build her mileage slowly. Even though animals are incredible athletes, they need time for their paw pads to develop proper calluses and to build endurance and strength. Start your dog with a run/walk/run program (i.e. run 5:00, walk 2:00, run 5:00) and gradually increase the amount of time spent running.
4. Training Tips
Most dogs inherently know how to run and pull, so little training is required to turn them into good running partners. However, some dogs need a little extra help. One method is to meet with a friend who has a dog that is already a good runner. As pack animals, dogs will instinctively follow another animal, particularly if your dog is young and the other is older. If you are not familiar with any well-trained running dogs, ask a group of friends to join you for a run. Your dog will want to follow the large group of people, and will likely think you are playing a game. Give plenty of positive praise when your dog is running well, and do not scold if she stops to sniff or potty. Do give your dog a lot of praise when she starts running again after these pit stops so that she associates running with positivity.
Don’t forget that your dog needs hydration, too. Since dogs are unable to sweat, they do not efficiently cool their bodies. Frequent water breaks (every 15 – 20 minutes) can help them keep from overheating.
Ultimately, remember that dogs do not have a concept of training or exercise, and do not care whether the miles they log or continuous or broken up. If you are a serious runner, it is not fair to either you or your pet to expect her to complete your workout per your terms, so it may be best to save her company for easy runs, warm ups, or shake out days.
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