Ready, Set, Go: Running With Your Dog

The Right Approach to Gear and Training

For the same reasons that you keep your own running gear to a minimum, keep your dog's as simple as possible as well. The less equipment your pet wears, the more naturally he can move. A collar or a back-clip harness attached to a fixed-length leash are all your pet needs. Check your dog's harness and collar both during and after a run to ensure that they fit properly and aren’t chafing. Avoid retractable leashes; they offer little control, especially at high speeds, and can be dangerous to you, your dog and other runners or pedestrians. Leashes that clip around your waist allow you to run hands free, but they should only be used on well-behaved dogs with some running experience. Reflective or light-up leashes and collars help make your dog visible when you are running in low light.

Most runners follow some sort of training program; your dog also needs proper training to run safely. But while your training focuses on building strength and endurance, your dog's training needs to start with good manners. Maintaining correct running form is challenging enough when you are running solo, but it’s almost impossible if your dog is pulling on the leash — and this behavior can lead to injury for you and your dog. Before your dog starts running with you, make sure he knows how to properly walk on a loose leash. Start by teaching your dog to heel.

Once he is heeling, teach him to turn in response to a verbal cue. I use the word “turn” and then turn either right or left; my dogs know to follow me when they hear the cue. Train your dog to respond to turns at a walk first. Reward your pet for staying at your side by delivering a treat next to your leg as you change directions. Cues such as “jog," "walk" and "stop” are also helpful for your dog; they can be used to inform him of any change in pace and can keep him from straining at the leash or lagging behind as you speed up and slow down. Give the verbal cue a second or two before you alter your pace in order to give your dog a chance to adjust his speed appropriately.

Dogs should be well-socialized and comfortable around other canines and people, especially if you will be running with a group or participating in an organized race. If your dog lacks manners around people or dogs, talk to your veterinarian and consider enrolling in a positive reinforcement class to gain experience with this type of distraction before you sign him up for a pet-friendly 5K.

Start Slow and Run Safely

Just like people, dogs need to build up distance and speed gradually. Start by alternating walking with short intervals of running. As your dog gets more comfortable running, his distance and speed can be increased over time. Runners are conventionally advised to increase their distance no more than 10 percent each week; in his book Fitness Unleashed, my father, Dr. Marty Becker, recommends that dogs new to running stick to an increase of about 5 percent in the distance covered each week. Just as your body needs to adjust to longer runs, your dog's does, too; for example, paw pads need time to toughen up and callous over. Your dog's paws can be rubbed raw if he runs too far without any time to adjust.

Since your dog can’t talk, watch his body language for signs that he needs to slow down or stop. Canines heat up fast and will often keep going even if they’re hot or exhausted. Dogs only sweat through their paws, not their skin, and mainly release heat through panting; in addition, your dog is wearing a fur coat, making him less adept at running in the heat. Your dog can also get aches and injuries, have equipment rubbing or just become too exhausted to keep going.

If your dog is panting excessively, having difficulty breathingor his normally pink tongue has taken on a blue tint, he has overdone it and needs to stop. If stopping for a few minutes doesn't do the trick, call your vet. Dogs who are overheating may also attempt to seek any form of shade or water. If your pet lags behind or tries to stop or lie down, take heed and slow down the pace to what your dog can handle, or call it a day and get some rest and water.


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