Smart Tips for Running With Small Dogs

Jogging with Sheltie
Before you take your dog running, make sure he has a clean bill of health from your veterinarian.

Owning a small dog has its advantages. It's easier to find hotel rooms and apartments that allow small dogs. Small dogs eat less food (and, as you'll know if you've ever been on poop scooping duty, create less waste) than their larger counterparts. And, if you're looking for a lapdog, well — you don't need us to tell you that having a Havanese on your lap is probably a little more comfortable than trying to make space for a Great Dane.

But what if you want a running buddy? Can — and should — your small dog join you when you jog?

Is Your Small Dog Ready to Run?

We went to Dr. Sarah Wooten with this question, and it turns out that the answer is typically yes — with a few caveats, the main one being that any dog should be in good health and free of pain. If the dog has enthusiasm for going and is able to match your pace without dragging behind, then your pet may be a good candidate, but there are a few more things to keep in mind.

"Most dogs love to run — as long as they're not in pain or having difficulty breathing," Dr. Wooten says. "Their ancestors could run at a moderate pace for a long, long time. They used to run their prey into the ground. Somewhere in their DNA they [probably] love to run."

But, as some of us who've dealt with injuries are all too aware, loving to run doesn't always make it a good idea, and the same holds true for dogs. "The problem is, we've bred these little animals to be so specialized that they've lost some of the adaptations for long-distance running. So, even if they want to run, they're limited by the breeding," says Dr. Wooten.

Should Your Dog Stick to Walks?

If you're talking about a very small dog, like a toy breed such as a Chihuahua, remember that they're taking lots of steps for each one of yours. For this reason, Dr. Wooten says, toy breeds are typically not great running partners, although if they're young, energetic and healthy, they might be up for a walk/jog combination for a mile or so.

Beyond simply being tiny, certain builds also make running difficult or dangerous. You've likely heard that brachycephalic (or smooshed face) breeds such as Pugs struggle with running and heat because it's hard for them to get enough air, but chondrodystrophic dogs — or dogs with abnormal cartilage development often resulting in shortened or bowed limbs, such as Dachshunds, Bulldogs, Lhasa Apsos, Corgis and Shih Tzus — also have challenges running due to the shape of their legs, plus some of these breeds can be at greater risk for certain back injuries. Consider sticking to walks or short, easy jogs with these types of dogs, suggests Dr. Wooten.

Regardless of your dog's size, there are a number of reasons he might not make a good running partner. "Have your animal checked out by a veterinarian to make sure they're a suitable running companion," says Dr. Wooten. And puppies don’t make great running partners because the activity can potentially damage developing bones. Your veterinarian can tell you when it’s safe to start running with your dog, but it may not be until the pup is 8 months or older.

Weather and environment are also concerns. You need to remember that dogs are running with a fur coat on and they generally can't sweat except for their paws. Although dogs can dissipate heat through panting, it’s not always efficient and the heat can get the better of them. ”Watch your dog closely for signs of fatigue or overheating to prevent him from going into heatstroke... like starting in front of you and then lagging behind or sitting down and refusing to move. Even if you feel okay, it might be too hot for your dog," Dr. Wooten says. "And you also need to be concerned about the temperature of the pavement. Plus, dogs who aren't used to running are at risk of worn or sore paw pads."

Tips for Running With a Small Dog

  • Start short and slow, especially if your dog is just starting to run. Maybe run for four or five minutes, then walk for two. Unless you've got a really well-conditioned athlete, Dr. Wooten says that frequent walk breaks are always a good idea.
  • Make sure you stop before he does. If he's excited to run and easily keeps up with you, you're in good shape, but if you run to the point that the dog is dragging behind, you've overdone it, says Dr. Wooten. Dogs don't stop when they should — they generally stop when they're just unable to continue. That's not a point you want to reach.
  • Run on grass, dirt or asphalt trails when possible. Concrete is just as hard on a dog's joints as it is on a human's, so if you can give your pup a softer surface on which to run, you'll be doing him a favor. Beware of uneven surfaces or sharp stones, though, and always take it to an easy walk if the terrain becomes treacherous.
  • Take water for your dog. And make sure you can deliver it to him in a way he'll be able to drink it!
  • Unless you have a dog that's really bred for long distances, think 5k versus ultramarathon. Most healthy dogs can build up to running two to five miles or, depending on the breed, perhaps a bit more, but generally speaking, Dr. Wooten says that super long distances tend to be detrimental, so you might want to stick to your human pack for the long training runs.

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