Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ready, Set, Go!

The key to running, for both people and dogs, is to start out slow and short and build gradually.  Here are some easy steps to get started running:
·         Start by walking!  If you haven’t been walking your dog or if your walks have been very casual, work up to briskly walking for 20 minutes at a time at least three times a week.  Once you are comfortable, add a couple of minutes to each walk until you are walking for 30 minutes at least three times a week.

·         After several weeks of consistent activity, you can start adding in some short running intervals to your walks.  Your first runs will look something like this:
o       Walk briskly for 5 minutes to warm up
o       Run for 1 minute followed by a two minute walking break
o       Repeat 6 more times (for a total of 21 minutes walking/running)
o       Walk for 5 minutes to cool down

·         Slowly increase the length of the running interval while decreasing the length of the rest/walking interval.  Your progression may look something like this:
o       1 min run: 2 min walk (7 times for 21 minutes)
o       1 min run: 1 min walk (10 times)
o       2 min run: 2 min walk (5 times)
o       2 min run: 1 min walk (7 times)
o       When you are comfortable running for 2 minutes and walking for 1, gradually add 1 minute to your run interval until you are running the length and distance you want.
o       Remember to always include 5 minutes of walking for both of you to warm up and cool down. 

·         You don’t ever have to go long or go hard with your dog and it may be best if you don’t.  If your dog is running on leash, keeping a steady speed for miles is not only hard on his body but can be boring for him mentally as well.  You are better off keeping it short and interesting so you both have fun.  In my experience, dogs enjoy intervals of walking and running best because they like the variety and it is less stressful for them.  Thirty minutes is long enough for both of you to ramp up your metabolism and reap the cardiovascular benefits of running.  45 minutes is great if you both have it in you.  I would not recommend running your dog on leash for longer than an hour. 

·         If you do want to add additional time and distance to your workout, don’t add more than 10% a week.  (If you are measuring your workout by time, that means you can add three additional minutes to your initial thirty minute workout each week.)  Trying to go too far too fast is a major cause of burnout and injury in runners – both human and canine!

·         Watch your dog and set a pace that is comfortable for him.  If your dog is frequently switching between trotting and running, speed up or slow down so he can hold a consistent gait.  Carefully watch for any signs of stress.  If he’s running behind you more than he is running with or ahead of you, this may be a cue that you need to slow down and walk home.  

·         Dogs running off leash (where legal and if your dog is reliable) can regulate their personal speed and gait better.   

·         If you are going for a longer run, make small amounts of water available at intervals during your run but don’t let your dog down a large amount of water mid run.     

·         Watch for signs of slowing down.  As your dog ages, he may not be able to go as far or fast as he used to.  If he isn’t as eager to run or gets up stiffly the morning after a run, consider cutting back on the speed and/or mileage.  Of course, discuss any changes with your vet to rule out underlying medical conditions.  Older dogs may prefer certain types of footing (dirt roads and trails tend to put less stress on the joints than pavement) or to run off leash (if appropriate) so they can set the pace that is comfortable for them. 

·         Not every dog was “born to run”.  If you have planned carefully and started slowly and your dog isn’t having fun, look for a different activity to engage him in.  Some dogs just don’t enjoy running for exercise, they may prefer to walk or play off leash instead. 

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