Originally Published: on Apr. 1, 2021 | American Kennel Club | By Stephanie Gibeault, MSc, CPDT
Running with your dog is a fun way to spend time together and helps keep both of you in tip-top shape. Canine fitness is an important part of overall health. Plus, having a running buddy can be an important source of motivation. Before training your dog to be the perfect running companion, make sure you’re aware of the following advice.
The Right Breed and Age
Before you start your training program, make sure your dog is suited to long-distance running. For example, brachycephalic dogs (those with short muzzles), like Bulldogs or Pugs, should only sprint for short distances. Also, be aware that running is generally not safe for puppies, as their bones are still growing. For most breeds, wait until the dog is about 1.5 years old.
Even within breeds, every dog has their own personality, and some will take to running more than others. Consider your dog’s temperament, research their breed, and take them to the veterinarian for a physical checkup to ensure that this is a safe activity for them to partake in.
Walk Before You Run
Your dog should master loose-leash walking before you start training them to run beside you. A canine companion that pulls on the leash is frustrating when walking, but downright dangerous at faster speeds. Remember that the environment is full of rewards, like squirrels and interesting smells. So, if you want your dog to stay near you, with the leash hanging in a J shape, you need to be equally rewarding. Use treats, toys, and praise to reinforce your dog for keeping the leash slack.
Keeping your dog on one side of you will be essential when you start running together. If they runs in front of you or weave from side-to-side, they can trip you or tangle your legs in the leash. It doesn’t matter which side you choose, left or right, but pick one and stick with it. Start training at a walking pace and keep reward placement in mind. Always give your dog their treats in the position you want to reinforce, so if you want them on your left, only offer treats at your left leg. Once they’ve mastered one side, you can train the other with a different cue.
Now that your dog is politely walking at your side, it’s time to speed things up. When you’re out for a walk, it’s handy to have a cue, such as “let’s go,” that tells your dog it’s time to move on and get walking. A different cue, like “get running” or “move it,” can be used to tell your dog it’s time to pick up the pace. The more information you can give your dog about what you expect, the better they will be at responding appropriately.
To teach the running cue, intersperse short bursts of jogging or running with your normal walking pace. Simply give the cue immediately before you increase your speed, and then reward your dog when they hurry to catch up. In the same way, you can teach a cue such as “whoa” to slow your dog down.
Now that they know to stay at your side and match your pace, it’s time to get your dog in shape. Just as humans need to build strength and endurance slowly, so does your dog. Start by adding small stretches of running into your walks. Then, on each subsequent walk, gradually increase the portion of your time spent running and decrease the portion spent walking. After several weeks, your dog will have adapted to running long distances.
Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Run
Your dog is finally trained and conditioned to be your running companion. But, to ensure that they’re safe and enjoy running with you, keep the following tips in mind:
- Warm up your dog before you run and cool them down when you’re finished by walking for several minutes.
- Be aware of weather conditions. Dogs can’t handle heat and humidity as well as humans can.
- Carry water on your walks and offer it to your dog regularly.
- Give your dog frequent breaks, so they can recharge, go to the bathroom, and enjoy their surroundings.
- Only allow your dog to run off-leash where it’s safe and legal, and only if they have a reliable recall amid distractions.
- Watch your dog for signs that they’ve had enough, such as excessive panting or lagging behind you. Dogs may run to please their owner, even when they want to stop.
Extreme Weather Conditioning
Dedicated runners will head out in rain, snow, or heat, but sometimes the weather outside is simply too cold or hot for your dog. Even though you can’t run together, you can still maintain your dog’s physical conditioning with indoor exercise. Depending on their size, a game of fetch down a long hall or up and down a flight of carpeted stairs can get your dog’s heart pumping and work their muscles. You can also set up an obstacle course with things you have lying around the house like a hula hoop or a cardboard box. Many training facilities also offer indoor agility classes that will get your dog running and jumping.
Many dogs can even be trained to use a treadmill. Some treadmills are specifically designed for dogs, but if you already have one of your own, that will work fine too. Just be sure the length of the ramp is long enough for the size of your dog. The bigger the dog, the bigger the treadmill they will need. Even though this is one of the easiest ways to give your dog an indoor workout, you can’t just drop them on and go. Research treadmill training or speak to your dog trainer so you can teach your dog to enjoy the machine and use it safely. Lastly, never tie your dog to the treadmill or leave them on it unsupervised.