I remember the first time I ever ran with my puggle Charlie. The cool fall weather tempted me away from the treadmill and outdoors for my run during my second year of grad school. Nervous about running alone outdoors, I grabbed Charlie’s leash and harness and brought him with me.
Since then, I have run hundred of miles with either Charlie or Ollie, our lab-heeler mix, by my side. The sight of Charlie’s ears bouncing as he runs or the grin on Ollie’s face as we speed up fill me with joy. Both dogs love running, and Ryan and I love running with them.
A few people have asked me various questions about running with dogs. If you have a dog that can run, I encourage you to run with your dog – they truly make for amazing running buddies. This useful guide to running with dogs addresses a few topics I’ve learned in my years of running with dogs, from my choice of leash and harness to diet considerations to safety.
This guide is not meant to be definitive or comprehensive. I am not a veterinarian or dog expert. What worked for me and my dogs may not work for you and your dogs.
Diet for Active Dogs
Dogs have more sensitive stomachs than people and different digestion rates. Intestinal torsion, bloating, and GI distress are risks if your dog runs too close to a meal time, so wait at least 2 hours after eating to take your dog for a run and 1 hour after running to feed your dog.
You most likely adjusted both the types of food you eat and how much you eat for your running – and the same applies to your dog. If your dog is running a considerable mileage, you may need to switch them to a dog food specifically designed for dogs. Active dogs need more protein and fat, especially since dogs burn fat during exercise the same way that humans burn carbs. Look for a pet food with 30% protein and 20% fat to optimize health and performance (we feed Ollie Purina Pro Plan 30/20 Performance).
Before we switched him to his active dog food, Ollie’s weight hovered on the very low end of healthy, even though we fed him more than his recommended serving size. The active dog food is calorically denser than the normal food, meaning we do not need to feed Ollie as much (and aren’t going through a large bag each month).
Gear for Running with Your Dog
One of the most amateur mistakes I made in running with our dogs was not investing in a waist leash sooner. I used Charlie’s Kong leash to run with him for a few years until I realized just how much easier a waist-leash is.
Currently, I use Ruffwear Slackline Leash for running with the dogs. The length is easily adjustable via a toggle, rather than a bungee. A bungee leash gives Ollie too much leeway and actually seems to encourage him to pull, while the Slackline leash gives him the room he needs to run without spring-loading his next attack on a squirrel. The handle adjusts to work as a waist leash, although I sometimes secure to another waist leash if I want to give Ollie a bit more room to roam on our runs.
I always have the dog wear a harness on a run, rather than clipping their leash to their collar. A collar places too much strain on the dog’s neck and can easily slip off. A harness places the load on their torso, which reduces the strain, and keeps them securely attached to the leash. I personally use Kong’s Paracord Harness for both dogs. Ruffwear also makes a secure Adventure Harness that has front and back clasps for leashes, making it ideal for dogs who pull.
Both the harness and the leash I use have reflective trim so that Charlie and Ollie are visible on our early morning runs and on rainy days. For their safety, we minimize running along roads, but visibility is still important for when we are on sidewalks or on bike paths.
For longer runs, bring water for your dog as well as for yourself. We use a collapsible bowl, although more often than not we have simply resorted to pouring water straight from a bottle into Ollie’s mouth because he is too distracted to drink out of a bowl.
Most importantly, never go on a run without poop bags and always take one more bag than you would expect to use. Trust me on this one.
Safety When Running with Your Dog
Dogs can be more sensitive to extreme conditions than humans, with their thick fur coats and lack of the ability to sweat. There are certain weather conditions in which our dogs stay home from a run. If the temperature is above 80 degrees (which is hot for our region), neither dog runs. Charlie’s short snout can not handle high temperatures or poor air quality, while Ollie’s black coat increases his risk of overheating.
Dogs will push despite feeling exhausted or overheated, which means you must monitor your dogs for signs of fatigue or heat illness. If your dog suddenly slows down, is panting heavier than normal, or tries to lie down, stop running. This article from Runner’s World will guide you through how to treat overheating, paw injuries, and other injuries your dog could experience on a run.
I know others do differently, but I do not run with my dogs off-leash. We run on a combination of multi-use trail and sidewalk. Leashing my dogs keeps them safe in the presence of cars and cyclists. Both dogs have an instinctive tendency to want to hunt and would chase after animals if they were off-leash – and we see dozens of rabbits and ducks in a single run alone.
Leashing dogs is also considerate to the other runners and walkers on the trail. Dogs have chased me on my runs (more than once I was chased by Yorkshire Terrier and was terrified of accidentally stepping on it) or lunged at our dogs.
How to Start Running with Your Dog
You want to wait until your dog is almost fully grown before you start running them regularly. For some breeds, this is nine months of age, while larger breeds such as German Shepherds may take up to a year or more to grow. Running too young can damage a dog’s musculoskeletal system, increase the risk of hip dysplasia, and stunt their growth.
I started running Charlie about 4 years ago, then a 9-month-old 20-lb puggle, using run-walk intervals for 25-30 minutes once or twice per week. We gradually built up his run intervals until he was running 3 miles continuously and then progressed from there. In good weather, Charlie can run up to 6 miles at a time. (Charlie is a second-generation puggle – a beagle bred with a puggle, we think – so his athletic ability exceeds that of most puggles.)
For Ollie, we started him on short continuous runs of 1-3 miles, usually at the end of a run. Ollie is a high-energy breed and was fully grown when we adopted him, so we were able to build his mileage more quickly than we did with Charlie. The biggest issue was teaching him not to pull on the leash, which required training both during runs and beyond runs.
Build up your dog’s mileage conservatively – don’t just take them out for an 8 mile run for their first workout. You wouldn’t start yourself running 30 miles a week, so do not expect the same from your dog. Start with two to three easy runs lasting 10-30 minutes in duration, depending on the breed and age, and include walk intervals as needed.
Once you start running with your dog, teach them a few key commands for running. We use simple commands with both dogs on runs. “Sidewalk,” “street,” “run,” “stop,” “easy,” “speed up,” “turn,” and “leave it” are the most commonly used commands on our runs (“leave it” is because both dogs have prey drives).
Adjust for Breed and Ability
Breeds with short legs, short snouts (which can cause breathing issues), or an overall small size will do best running shorter distances less frequently – if they even run at all. While Charlie is a puggle, he has a longer snout and longer legs than most puggles and that allows him to run more than the average puggle could handle. Still, we keep his mileage on the lower end and run him just one to three days per week.
Work breeds and hunting dogs thrive in running. Breeds such as labradors, heelers, Vizslas, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, border collies, and German Shepherds have high energy and strong bodies. Running is good for these breeds particularly if they do not herd or hunt. Ollie would have a borderline destructive amount of energy if we did not run him regularly, but that same energy means that he can easily run 10 miles and run multiple days in a row.
When running with either dog, I adjust my pace for their needs. We usually go slower with Charlie, in the range of 8:45-10:00/miles, and are willing to slow down when he gives the signals to stop. Ollie is faster, so he usually joins me on easy runs, progression runs, and sometimes even tempo runs up to a 7:00/mile. You will learn quickly what pace your dog prefers, and then adjust accordingly.
Consider Your Run
Expect stops when running with your dogs. When I am focused on running a certain pace in a workout, I leave the dogs at home. That way, I’m not forcing them to hold a certain pace and they aren’t stopping me mid-interval to sniff and mark a bush. If one of the dogs really needs a run on the day or a hard workout, I will take them on my warm up or cool down.
Whether you are running for 20 minutes a few times per week or almost logging most of your miles with your dog, running with your dog is one of the most fun and rewarding things you can do for both you and your pup. Even with the inevitable hilarity that can ensue, four-legged running buddy is one of the best running buddies!
Again, remember that this is not a comprehensive guide. When running with your dog, use your prioritize their safety and do not push your dog to run when they are indicating they do not want to run.
Do you run with your dog? What breed is he/she?
If you run with your dogs, what advice would you add?