Ready, Set, Go: Running With Your Dog

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We know that running is good for humans, but it can be good for your dog, too. Not all canines are built for running, but most dogs in good health enjoy it, even if it’s only a couple of miles. Whether you're a Couch to 5K newbie or a committed marathoner, there are some factors to consider before you take your dog out on a run.

Start With a Health Check

Before hitting the trails with your dog, it’s essential to get a clean bill of health from your veterinarian. Running is a high-impact, cardio-intensive exercise, and unless your dog has been cleared for this activity, he can be at risk for injury — or worse. Joint problems, like hip dysplasia, luxating patellas and arthritis, can make running painful or even impossible. Good cardiovascular health is also necessary for this intensive activity. Your dog's weight is another factor; overweight dogs will struggle more with running than their slimmer counterparts.

Your dog's age is a consideration as well. While an elderly dog may be able to do some running, his fitness level will not be the same as that of a younger dog. Be cautious as well about running with a young dog: Depending on breed, your dog's growth plates are not fully closed until he is between a year and a half and 2 years old. Engaging in high-impact exercise, like running, before he's fully developed can result in an injury.

Finally, brachycephalic dogs, or those with pushed-in noses, like Bulldogs and Pugs, have difficulty getting enough air, especially in the heat, which can make running dangerous for them. These dogs do better taking a long stroll.  

Make Your Run Dog-Friendly

The great thing about running is that you can do it almost anywhere. But there are better and worse places for your dog to run. Your dog can run on streets and sidewalks, but the hard surface can be tough on his body. Dirt and grass are softer and can be much easier on a dog’s joints (and yours, too) than pavement, but beware of uneven surfaces, rabbit holes, sharp stones and other hazards.

Pavement also heats up in the sun and can scorch your dog's paws. If the ground is too hot for you to touch comfortably with the palm of your hand, then it’s too hot for your dog to run on. In hot weather, running during the cooler parts of the day, either early morning or evening, allows your dog (and you) to go farther with less chance of overheating. Especially in warm weather, be sure that you take frequent water breaks to help keep your dog from getting dehydrated. You can teach your dog to drink from a water bottle, which makes hydrating on the go easier for both of you. Be aware that drinking large amounts of water can predispose some dogs to bloat, so ask your vet how much water to safely give your dog during a run.

When you're deciding how far to run, take your dog's breed into consideration. The average dog can run anywhere between two and five miles, according to Sarah Wharton, owner of Marathon Dog Walking and Training in Oakland, Calf. Certain breeds are built for bursts of speed, while others are built for endurance; as you plan your runs, be sure to consider the type of running best suited for your dog.

If you are looking for a companion for long-distance running, choose a breed that does not have any extreme proportions, such as short legs, like a Dachshund, or a pushed-in nose, like a Bulldog. Wharton has found that the sporting and herding breeds are the most likely to run the longest distances. But small dogs, including Terriers and even Chihuahuas, can make excellent running partners as well. Small dogs may even have an advantage over larger dogs: They carry less weight, which means they experience less stress on their joints when they move.

Even though the average dog may not enjoy a super-long run, some dogs do. Wharton’s record for running was a 20-mile run she took with a 60-pound mixed-breed dog. According to Wharton, the biggest limitation for physically fit and well-built canines is temperature rather than distance.

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