Learning about Jane Goodall in grade school, I was always intrigued by animal behavior and animal psychology. The beautiful thing about many animal species is they innately will strive for love, protection, and survival within their communities. Dogs, just like humans, are designed to be innately active, some more capable than others. It's our responsibly to prepare them so they can be a healthy fitness partner. Below is an article I wrote for a company asking me how I trained my pups and I share with you in hopes to inspire you to be patient with your companion as you train your pup with love, consistency, and structure.
Seeing their energy and joy is absolutely contagious. A calm walk watching them playfully wag their tails and watch their surroundings can sooth your soul. It can also be an excited run in circles chasing after the birds or their own tail that simply makes your soul smile. These joys give you the energy and gratitude to go the distance, faster, or sometimes just get out the door. Running alone is hard for many, especially if we have to do it for long periods of time. A dog's endearing eyes excited reminds you that it's important to "play." We often forget the importance of play as we grow older. Dogs give us the space to remind us of this important principle: there is great joy in simple things. Go run, walk, play.
2. What are the best breeds for running?
Different breeds have different abilities and limitations on how far or fast they can run. Most breeds will want to run with you: how far and long will depend on their physiology and how well you train them. For example, short snouts can limit a dog on how well they can cool themselves. Dogs do not have sweat glands like humans and are limited to cooling off from their paw pads and panting. Therefore, shorter snouts makes it more of a challenge for dogs to run long distance. 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 of the best 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 physiology or are slower to heal/regenerate cells as they age. 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 they will become.
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 as they get older, especially due to being overweight. Therefore, I keep this in mind by giving him dog glucosamine supplements, aim to keep him at a lean body weight (be mindful of dog weight for healthy 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 or cut the distance short. The human will need to be more patient than the dog when it comes to building mileage safely.
Experiment with what works for your pup. Just like humans, you will need to train your dog to learn to drink from your hydration pack/bottle and eat while on the run. This is more important for long runs and 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 of sweat glands that 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 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 habit of allowing your dog to associate that every good deed will yield a treat. 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.
There are certain foods that are safe for dogs so learn to carry dog safe foods and enough electrolytes 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 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 the 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?
Dogs can have an off day. Learn to read their signs. If they just aren’t their energetic selves then call it early and shorten the run. If you’re running in populated areas, train your dog to listen to your commands because sometimes you might run into some humans who just don’t like to be close to dogs. Respect others' personal space unless invited.
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 adore my dogs and am so grateful I can share the outdoors with them till their last breath.