Dogs truly are a gift to humankind. They offer a unique companionship. Without ever saying a word, a dog will always want to be with you, always be happy to see you, and always love and depend on your love for their entire life. The friendship is pure and irreplaceable as a dog will never expect more from you other than your love and care. Naturally, if you're a runner and/or enjoy hiking adventures, your dog can be an amazing companion who will want to go however far you go, however long you go, whatever time of day. Being a responsible pet owner is being prepared so they can enjoy these adventures with you.
Since the moment I began learning about Jane Goodall in elementary school on my own account, animal behavior has always been a huge intrigue for me. The beautiful thing about animals is they innately will strive for love, protection, and survival within their communities. Animals, just like humans, are innately active, some more capable than others. It's our job to responsibly prepare them so they can always be a healthy running partner. Below is an expanded version of my 2XU Q&A article on how to train your dog companion to be the runner he/she is meant to be.
My two dogs are family: my 7-year-old labrador, Max, goes the distance on runs and swims. My 5-year-old boxer, Bruno, does sprints with me and chases me on my bike. The biggest benefit of running with your dog is to see their joy mirrors the exact same joy you have when you are out there running. To be able to share an activity you love with someone that will always be happy to be with you is a beautiful gift of companionship. You are their everything for their entire life.
2. What are the best breeds for running?
Different breeds have different abilities and/or limitations on how far or fast they can run with you. Any breed will want to run with you: how far and long will depend on its physiology and how well you train your dog. For example, short snouts can limit a dog on how well they can cool themselves or short legs can limit a dog how fast they can keep up with you. They cool off from their paw pads and panting. Therefore shorter snouts makes it more of a challenge for dogs to run long. Size, shape, length of legs, length of snout, weight, and density of fur coat all influence the type of runner your dog can be. Dogs cooling mechanisms are key to understand when it comes to running so keep these factors in mind when training your dog to run. This isn't a complete list but here are some breeds to keep in mind when choosing a running partner.
According to Outside Magazine:
Jack Russel Terrier
Australian Cattle Dog
American Staffordshire Terrier
3. What is the safe age for dogs to start running?
Two factors need to be kept in mind: 1) size of breed and 2) age. We need to be more careful with younger and older dogs as they are either still developing into their adult phase or are slower to heal/regenerate cells. Smaller breeds tend to live longer; therefore, their rate of physiological maturity is slower than larger breeds. By keeping these two factors in mind, follow the key rule: don't do too much, too soon, too fast. Sound familiar? What applies to humans applies to dogs. Allow puppies to be puppies especially during those first six months don't do anything extreme. Focus more on dog commands (such as heel, sit, stay) rather than distance or speed. Commands and skills are important to incorporate into your dog training as it can save your dog's life on a run. The more you work on these commands and allow your dog to practice, the better he will become.
For example, I adopted Max when he was six weeks old with the full intention he would be my running partner. Beginning at 2-3 months we would take casual 1-2 mile walks very early in the morning at the beach to avoid distractions. Puppies just like kids are VERY easily distracted so when training them aim to eliminate as many distractions as possible. We would practice commands on and off the leash and then I would allow him to splash around in the waves. By six months old, we started running 2-3 miles together only a couple times a week still focusing fully on the commands of him obeying on and off leash. From 6-12 months, I gradually extended the runs to 4-5 miles and started picking up the pace always listening to what his threshold was. After one year of training focusing primarily on commands and building mileage very gradually, then you can build more and run more often always listening to how your dog responds. At his peak shape, Max was able to handle 20-22mi trail runs at my pace and/or 7-8mi tempo runs at 6:00 min/mi pace. Anyone that has run with Max and I can attest how obedient he is when it comes to running out there. We usually opt for remote trails where there is less ped "traffic". He prefers cooler weather, though, like his mom.
Keep in mind that how well trained your dog becomes is very fluid. If you don't maintain it then they lose it and you shouldn't aim to have your dog aiming to kill mileage all year. Their bodies require rest and periodization too. Be patient with your dog and give yourself a year of gradual mileage build up.
Just like humans, there is no magic number and every dog breed is different. With most dog breeds, you want to be mindful and not be selfish to push them too long. They will run till the end of earth for you, but you don't want to burn them out. I've taken Max on +20 milers on the trails during cool weather when he's very well trained, but we aren't doing this every weekend. It would be once every couple months. Labs tend to be prone to joint problems and hip dysplasia. Therefore, I keep this in mind by giving him dog glucosamine supplements, aim to keep him at a lean body weight (yes, you need to be mindful of dog weight if you want him to safely be active on his joints), and don't do the really long runs too often. When he's moderately trained, he can handle a 10-12 miler in the trails at my pace a couple times per week. I normally would not exceed 30-40 miles/week with Max, but then again I am a low mileage runner as well. I will admit he does fall a little out of shape when I train for an Ironman because I am running much less. It's always harder to train a dog (or even a human for that matter) to go faster than go longer. Treat your dog like a human. Listen to what their body is telling you. If they are starting to lag behind on the runs then back off the pace and/or cut the distance short. The human will need to be more patient than the dog when it comes to building mileage safely.
You will need to train your dog to drink from your hydration pack/bottle and eat while on the run. This is more important for long runs and probably not as necessary for shorter runs. If it's hot, carry more hydration for your dog and slow down the pace substantially. Dogs have a different cooling mechanism than humans do. As humans, we have a higher surface area where our sweat glands will cool us off when sweat evaporates. Dogs do not have that luxury. Chill the pace or instead go for a swim with your pooch on very hot days.
Introduce drinking from your hydration bottle/pack very early in your walks and/or runs training the dog you will not go further until they take a drink. Certain dog breeds can be stubborn, but again training a dog takes a huge amount of patience since they will not get it the first try. Always praise your dog when they listen. A treat is nice, but don't get in the bad habit of allowing your dog to associate that every good deed will yield a treat. It's like when humans develop the bad habit treating food as a reward. All they ask is for your love. Train your dog to seek for your praise saying: good boy or good girl and massaging them behind the ears goes a very long way for dogs.
There are certain foods that are safe for dogs so learn to carry dog safe foods and electrolytes enough for your dog and yourself for the long runs. Labs have voracious appetites so my Max will eat anything. I give him a snack every hour when we are running for two hours or longer on the trails. I give him a sip of hydration about every mile depending on the outside temperature. Here are some food items that are unsafe for dogs.
6. How does temperature affect a dog's run?
|Mt. Islip Summit|
For rain: they love it! Most at least. Dogs are like little kids at heart and they will play with you out there for hours.
For cold/snow: Some breeds definitely can tolerate colder temps and are made for it. The colder it is, the longer and better they can run such as huskies. My lab absolutely loves it! My boxer is more cautious and not a huge fan of cooler temps so he wears the dog shoes as his paw pads are more sensitive to cold.
7. Who should dictate the pace – the human or the dog?
|Mt. Baldy Summit|
The human is the alpha so the human needs to command the pace and direction of the run. If the dog learns that it can do whatever it wants and you follow him/her, it can lead to an unsafe situation for your dog. On leash, your dog needs to learn that it should not pull or tug on you rather run with you. When off leash, your dog needs to learn that there still is an invisible leash and should always stay within a certain distance of you as you run along together.
8. What other issues are you likely to encounter when running with a dog?
|Strawberry Peak Summit|
Socialize your dog as early and often as possible. Take them to dog beaches and dog parks so they learn how to behave around a pack of other dogs and humans. Train them to travel with you. Train them to behave in different settings. So that when you take them on a run, they will just flow with you as if you both were one. I absolutely love my dogs and am so grateful I can share their beautiful joy outdoors with me.
Sounds like too much work? Like any relationship--partner, child, parent, student, athlete--however much you are willing to put into it is what you will get out of it. Your lovable, cuddly popcorn-smelling buddy will be an amazing running partner and every minute will be golden out there,
human and dog together.
human and dog together.
|Max's adventures @irondogmax|