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Halpenny stresses that even dogs who are designed to go the distance must be in good physical condition before they start training, and they must be trained not to pull on a six-foot leash, which is what he recommends using. “When I started my dog running business, I didn’t fully realize the stress a pulling dog would put on my body,” he said. “I injured myself pretty seriously and couldn't run for weeks.”
“While I do prefer a dog who’s trained not to pull, I have used head halters or no-pull harnesses,” he says. “These need to be properly fitted, and the harnesses, especially, need to be checked to make sure they’re not rubbing.”
Halpenny notes that a dog’s natural gait for covering distance is an efficient dog trot, and that’s the pace they should stay with — no sprinting or fast-paced running. Make sure you take breaks as needed — Halpenny runs river trails, so the dogs can take a dip — and bring food for your dog on long training runs as well as water. And of course, be watchful for signs your dog is struggling, especially in the heat.
“The most important thing in training for distance races is to go slow. Going too quickly is the biggest mistake people make for themselves,” he says, “and that’s true for your dog too. All bodies take time to build up for distance running.”
He says that learning to run long races means finding and getting into a natural rythmn that’s like meditation, and your dog needs be able to let you get into mindset without distracting you. “The dog has to be on board with what you’re doing, and learn how to go along and not disrupt you,” says Halpenny. "Your dog needs to find that rhythm as well, which is why they need to stay in that comfortable dog trot."
When you’re training in a group, your dog also has to leave other runners alone, and again, that comes back to training and preparation. The marathon training groups Halpenny works with are open to dogs, as long as the animals aren’t causing problems.
“It’s all about control,” he says. “You want to keep that trot going, you want to keep the heart rate low. A dog who’s in control will not be bothering other runners, and not getting in the way of your own training.”
Interested in other kinds of fitness options for your dog? Learn more about agility training.
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