Sunday, April 17, 2011

Running with Your Dog: Let's Get Started

Pip has been hounding me to post so here is an introduction to things to think about before you actually start running with your dog.  Next week, I'll get around to the actual running part.

It’s spring time and for many of us, it is time to start getting back into shape.  Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution to lose a couple of pounds or you just want to be more active.  Either way, running is a great way to do it and including your dog provides additional incentive to get there and get it done. Chances are good that if you are out of shape, your dog probably is too.  Pet obesity is a growing problem in the US and the best way to fight it is to measure your dog’s food and make sure he is getting enough physical activity.  In today’s world, running with your dog is a great way to up his activity level in a safe and enjoyable way.

Most dogs enjoy running and running with your pooch can help you stay motivated too.  Don’t feel like running today?  Nothing like a disappointed look from your dog to guilt you into getting out the door (getting out the door is the hardest part of running).  To be honest, I wouldn’t be a runner today if it weren’t for my dogs.  When I started running, Nellie’s enjoyment of the activity is what kept me going. 

So let’s start with some basic ground rules:
  • Make sure your dog has good leash manners before you start running.  Running is hard enough without your dog pulling or trying to stop and pee on every vertical object you pass.  If your dog likes to sniff and mark a lot, teach him a “leave it” command, tell him to “leave it” before you get to a distracting object and don’t break your stride if he stops to sniff – keep right on going – so he learns he has to keep up with you. 

  • Chances are good that you will be passing other runners, pedestrians or dogs, make sure your dog is comfortable moving over to the side of the trail with you and waiting nicely while people and dogs pass.  No one wants a dog lunging at them, even if it is just because he’s really friendly and wants to greet them.  If your dog isn’t used to this, practice asking him to sit every time you stop walking.  When you see a person coming, step to the side of the trail, ask him to sit and offer him a treat as the person passes.  As he gets used to ignoring people and dogs passing him, you can pick up the pace and won’t need to stop each time you pass a distraction. 

  • Everything gets more challenging when you pick up the pace so practice first at the walk and in a low distraction environment.  Work up to a more distracting environment at the walk and make sure your dog’s behavior is consistent before you finally start running.

  • Don’t run young dogs.  Puppies need about a year for their joints to stop growing (this may happen as young as 9 months for small breed dogs or not until 18 months for giant breed dogs).  You don’t want to put stress on their joints before they are fully formed.  Up until then, limit running to short intervals during off leash play time so your puppy can choose to start and stop on his own.

  • Brachyencephalatic breeds (dogs with compressed faces like bulldogs, boxers and Boston terriers) have more difficulty breathing.  Be careful not to overexert them.  Depending on their individual anatomy, some individuals of these breeds may simply not be good candidates as running partners. 

  • Dogs do not manage heat as well as people do.  If outside temperatures are warm, watch your dog carefully for signs that he is uncomfortably warm.  He shouldn’t be panting excessively or lagging behind you.  If it is hot out, leave your dog home.  Remember that he can’t sweat and releasing heat by panting while running is difficult.  Also, hot pavement can easily scorch his paw pads.    

  • Senior dogs, overweight dogs and dogs with joint problems are not good candidates for running, walk them instead.  If you have any concerns or your dog has any health problems, consult your vet before you start walking or running with your dog.  Overweight dogs should shed the excess weight through walking, swimming or other low impact activities before you start running with them as excess weight puts additional strain on their joints and organs while making them more sensitive to heat stress.