As a lifelong runner, I’ve competed on a variety of teams, joined running clubs for workouts, and gone on countless social runs with friends throughout the years. While all provided pleasant company, none compare to my best running buddy: My 5-year-old vizsla, Welly.
It’s difficult to even begin to list the many advantages of having a dog as a running partner, but I’ll try. Motivation is a big one. On those days when I need an extra push to get out the door, Welly is it. While I might be OK with throwing in the towel and taking the day off, I know she needs the exercise. I often remind myself that dogs give far more than they demand. And so out the door we go.
Working from home, I have a fairly unusual schedule and often prefer to run midday. This is an impossibility for many adults (and potential running partners) in the traditional working world. Welly, however, is ready to hit the road just about any time.
In addition to her flexibility on timing, Welly also generally doesn’t care what type of run we do. She’s game for a 3-mile easy jog as much as for a 5-mile tempo. Plus she never judges me on days I’m dogging (pun intended) a run or choose to cut it short.
Nowhere will you find a more enthusiastic running partner. Humans are prone to moodiness, lack of motivation, and other worldly afflictions to which dogs are largely immune. On the days when I’m dragging mentally and physically, a glance down at Welly trotting happily by my side is a sure way to lift my spirits.
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Best of all, running with Welly serves as the ultimate bonding activity. Sure we spend many hours together each day as I sit writing at my computer, but they aren’t the same as getting out, moving and experiencing the world together.
So, how might you turn your dog into the perfect running partner? In my mind it involves a lot of patience, attention and common sense. Also know that not all dogs will be good runners.We hedged our bets when we chose to adopt a vizsla—they are a breed well known for their running prowess. Growing up, I ran with several of our family’s mixed-breed rescues who succeeded as runners to varying degrees. Even if your dog looks like they’d be a good runner, not all are well-suited for the sport. In the same way that you can’t force children to love certain activities, you can’t make your dog enjoy distance running.
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While you should consult a veterinarian or professional dog trainer for the particulars of safely and effectively running with your dog, here are 10 tips based upon what I’ve learned from my experience with Welly and from interviewing various experts in the field over the years. (There is also a lot of information about running with dogs and running with a dog in hot weather available from humane societies around the U.S.)
1. Get a waist leash and harness.
Gripping a leash can throw off your gait. That’s why a hands-free waist leash, preferably with a bungee attachment, is a key accessory. Additionally, because Welly pulls sometimes, I’ve found that a harness is a great tool, both to give me better control and to protect her from injuring her neck via her collar.
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2. Start slow.
My husband and I waited to start running with Welly until she was a year old. Prior to that I’d run on my own and then take her for a walk. The timing varies depending on the breed, so be sure to check with your veterinarian and be smart about running them before they are fully-grown.
3. Have patience.
In the beginning, dogs are often more interested in sniffing and marking every five feet than they are in running at a steady pace. Expect some zigzagging and stopping and starting from the get-go. I used gentle encouragement and carried dog treats in the beginning to get Welly to consistently run by my side.
4. Be sure to build your dog’s fitness in the same way you would your own.
When you’re out of shape, even a 5-mile jog can feel like a sufferfest. Don’t expect your dog to be able to put in significant mileage right out of the gates. In the beginning, take them for a half mile or a mile and see how they do. For runners—humans and dogs alike—doing too much too soon is a cardinal sin.
5. Speaking of mileage, take a conservative approach in this department.
While I’ve known plenty of runners who successfully do longer runs with their dogs, I’ve always erred on the side of caution, running between 3-6 miles with Welly most days of the week. When I’m going further, I usually drop her off at home and put in a few solo miles.
6. Always check the weather before pounding the pavement with your pooch.
Dogs don’t sweat like we do, which means they can’t cool themselves as effectively. When the temperature and/or humidity are high, I often decide to walk Welly to be on the safe side. You also need to be careful in extreme cold. Running through Minnesota winters, I outfit Welly in booties and a coat and cut the run short if she looks uncomfortable.
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7. Take water breaks.
In addition to watching the weather, making sure your dog is hydrated is an important method by which to combat heat-related illnesses. I carry a small foldable bowl in my waistband and stop at a drinking fountain to fill it up for Welly mid-run.
8. Watch the terrain.
Dogs are notorious for continuing to run when they shouldn’t (sound like anyone you know?) Be sure to check your pup’s paws for abrasions and be careful on rocky, rutted, snowy and icy terrain. We have to be especially vigilant about putting protective booties on Welly when there is salt and other de-icing chemicals on the roads in the winter.
9. Pay attention to how your dog is feeling.
Dogs are prone to injuries and illness the same way humans are. If your dog isn’t acting normally, they have their tail between their legs, a hitch in their gait, or the like, it’s important to be willing to back off and stop.
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10. Keep etiquette in mind.
Most dog owners are good about carrying poop bags with them, but let this serve as your reminder. Also, not everyone will be as crazy about your dog as you are, so be sure to be smart about keeping your dog close to you in heavily populated areas. Laws often require you to use a 6-foot or shorter leash. If you’re in an area where your pooch can run free, consider things like traffic and wildlife in the area to keep your dog safe. Since we live in the city, Welly is pretty much always attached to me during our runs. We make a habit of stopping at a local park and throwing the ball for her off-leash to really let her run. I discovered that while she loves joining me, she can find our moderately paced distance runs to be a bit of a snooze fest, so some unstructured sprinting keeps her happy.