Trail running is an invigorating, but lonely sport if you choose to tread ground by yourself. If you’re looking for a new companion while you train for the next 10K, there’s no reason you can’t take your best friend. It’ll take a little conditioning, but dogs definitely make for some good running buddies.
Here’s how to get started.
Choose the Right Breed
Not every dog is made for running, believe it or not. A French bulldog isn’t going to get very far on an uphill trek, but a Vizsla can climb mountains. Be sure to research the breeds and make sure your pooch is fit for the trail. Take into account body shape, propensity for injuries and genetic defects like hip dysplasia and whether or not your pup can handle the climate you prefer to run in. Don’t take a dog running if he’s not built for the adventure.
Build Up Endurance
While the average dog might be able to outrun most athletes, that doesn’t mean your pup won’t need conditioning. When first starting out it’s important to help your dog build his endurance rather than expecting him to keep up right out the gate. Try minimizing runs to a mile or two for a couple of weeks, then slowly increase the distance over time. His muscles and joints need time to adjust just like yours did.
Work On Leash Commands
If your dog isn’t the best at walking on a leash, he’ll probably be a nightmare if you try to run with him. Make sure he has his leash and walking commands down pat before attempting to speed things up. You dog should be taught to stay by your side on both walks and runs by rewarding him with treats as you go. Remember, he should be within three feet of you at all times, so keep him on a short leash that is tethered to your waist. If he pulls, immediately turn around in the other direction and call for him to follow. If he turns with you and comes to your side, toss him a treat. Your dog also needs to learn how to stop on command.
Your dog needs to be properly socialized before hitting the trails. Otherwise, every encounter with a human or another animal could cause him to becomes excited and lead to serious injury. A poorly socialized dog can become too energetic and trip you during your run when something approaches, or could become aggressive and attack. Introduce him to plenty of strangers, both of the two and four-legged variety, when he’s young so he’ll know people and their pets are not a threat.
Start At an Appropriate Age
Most medium to large breed dogs don’t stop growing until they’re roughly 18 months old. Trying to make your pup run with you before then could cause lasting damage to his joints. Wait until your dog is fully grown before starting a training regime. It’s difficult to make him sit out on your adventures for so long, but it’s much better than the alternative of expensive surgeries and medications to help him walk when he’s older because you messed up his legs as a puppy.
Like humans, dogs shouldn’t just hit the ground running without performing a few stretches and warm-ups first. Walk your dog for at least five minutes before picking up the pace to help ease him into the trip. Repeat this at the end to help him calm down.
Dogs are hardwired to please their owners, which sometimes mean they’ll push themselves a little too hard without us knowing it. Watch for signs of fatigue and dehydration while running and be sure to bring along extra water for your pup. If your dog is excessively panting that means it’s probably time for a break. Don’t push him too hard, keep him hydrated and make sure to have him checked out by a vet on a regular basis to ensure he maintains his health.