If you are a runner or you are just thinking of taking up the sport, the idea of having your dog run with you is probably quite appealing. Running is a great way to spend time with your canine companion and is a wonderful way for both of you to get some healthy exercise.
But before you run off down the trail with your dog in tow, here are some things to think about that will make this experience better for the both of you:
One – First of all, you want to make sure the breed of dog you have is suited to running longer distances. Dogs who have short muzzles (known as brachycephalic dogs) such as Pugs and Bulldogs, are not suited to be running companions, as they cannot sustain the extra workload on their respiratory systems. Even with breeds that are suitable, each dog has their own individual personality and may or may not take to running.
Two – Even if your dog is a suitable breed, if he is still a puppy, you will want to hold off until he is older. Puppies bones are still growing and developing, and long distance running can damage them. Wait until your dog is one and a half years old (18 months) until you introduce a running program.
Three – Train your dog to master what is known as loose leash walking as a pre-requisite to beginning running. You likely know from experience that a dog who pulls on a leash when walking is a very unpleasant experience, and you don’t want to get into a potentially dangerous situation at faster speeds. You have to reward your dog to stay near you, always keeping the leash loose so it hangs in a “J”, so reinforce him with praise and treats for keeping the leash loose.
Four – Train for position. You’ll want to train your dog to stay in position on one side of you because if he runs ahead of you or goes from side to side, you can trip or get the leash tangled. Pick one side (it doesn’t matter which) and stick to this so he knows what to expect. Train this at a walking pace at first and only give him treats and reinforcement from that side.
Five – Speed things up. When he’s ready and you are about to set out for a walk, pick a cue like “let’s walk” to signal your dog. Then when you are ready to go faster, use a different cue such as “move it” as this will make it easier for your dog to know what to expect.
Begin at your walking pace, then give the “move it” cue and begin jogging in short bursts. When your dog runs to catch up, reward him. If he goes too fast, use another cue to teach him to reduce his speed, such as “slow” or “whoa.”
Six – Build stamina. You’ll want to train your dog in intervals, but adding short bursts of running into every walk, making sure he has time to fully recover in between. Then gradually lengthen the time you run with the time you are walking on each outing over several weeks.
Be sure to carry a water supply with you to keep your dog (and you!) well hydrated. Be aware that dogs don’t handle heat and humidity as well as humans so don’t run if the weather is not good. Give him breaks as needed and watch for any signs that he’s uncomfortable, such as excessive panting or if he starts to slow down and lag behind. Your dog will run to please you even if he doesn’t really want to, so be mindful