Before I get into my tips for running with your dog, let me tell you some things about my Labrador, Darcy, and what a rascal she was, which should give you somewhat of an insight into our running relationship. Her family lineage was a long line of working dogs bred to retrieve game from fields and essentially, work all day. Because of this, she had energy and tons of the stuff! She was also powered by rocket fuel, Red Bull or the Devil, I’m not sure which. Not only that, she loved to run… not necessarily with me, but off leash she was as wild as the day is long.
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I once had to retrieve her (the irony isn’t lost on me) from a huge field of people having some kind of picnic, festival type thing, that she’d decided to, for no good reason, gatecrash. Perhaps she could smell sausages, I just don’t know what used to go through her dog mind.
When we took her to puppy training classes (I know it doesn’t sound like she had any but believe me she was certified level 1 and 2) they told us not to use extendable leashes because it would encourage them to have more of a free reign and to train with a static one to get used to them being in the correct ‘position’. Darcy had, in conjunction with a halti on occasion, a fabric lead until she was around 3 years old. She would have days where she would be exceptionally good on the lead and walk right next to me no troubles, however, put another dog in front of her and she would lose her mind and do anything to say ‘henlo’ to them.
I got some advice from the local pet store, when I’d decided I was going to train for a half marathon, on which running lead would suit Darcy best. He came to the conclusion that an ‘around the waist’ lead which was slightly stretchy, what you’ll mostly see at Canicross events and what I would recommend to you to run with your dog, would be no good because she was far too strong for me. She could easily pull me to the ground with minimal effort and I needed to be able to pull her back and keep her close to me at short notice if necessary. So, I opted for the extendable lead which would also be much more comfortable when Darcy would decide to dart off in the opposite direction because she wanted to sniff something interesting and nearly twist my arm out of the socket. <a href="http://Kzoo Patented 360° Heavy Duty Tangle-Free Retractable Dog Lead For Dogs Up To 50kg; Extendable 5m Long Nylon Tape/Ribbon With Anti-Slip Soft Rubber Handle, One-Handed Brake & Lock“>Click here for a similar extendable lead to the one we used
So, Darcy and I got to training, gradually increasing our mileage week by week. I found it a comfort to run with her as I didn’t feel like I was running alone and it also meant I was more likely to go out because I had to take her out anyway, I may as well kill two birds with one stone. When we first stepped out of the door she’d be off like she’d never seen the outdoors before and she’d sprint as fast as the extendable lead would allow her with me trailing along behind trying to keep up with her (not the ideal way to start a run but hey).
After around a quarter of a mile, she’d settle down into a comfortable running pace and she’d run alongside me for the rest of the run. I soon found though that while she seemed happy enough running with me, her max limit was around 3 miles. She would start to lag behind or she’d get easily distracted by leaves and lights and mist and I’d have to shout encouraging phrases at her, much like a personal trainer, ‘Come on Darcy it’s not much further now’.
I had to accept that while my pup was perfect in every other way, she wasn’t going to be the training buddy that I’d hoped for. I think it just didn’t hold much excitement for her after a certain amount of time and she got a little bit bored. While I was still training for the half marathon, I’d take her out for around 5k, loop back home to drop her off and go back out again.
Let’s get into the tips for running with your dog! I’m sure your pup is much better behaved than mine was, so you’re already ahead of the game (ahem).
Make sure your dog is fit and healthy enough to run with you
The rate at which dogs mature and are fully grown is different for each breed. Larger dogs have a much longer ‘puppy phase’ than smaller dogs (which is why Labradors are so naughty for so long!), so have a chat with your vet or dog trainer so they can guide you on when is best to start running with your dog. Dogs’ bones and ligaments need to have fully formed before you should start running with them so let them get over their toddler years to avoid injuries for them further down the road. Darcy was around 2 before I started running with her at all, mostly just as casual short occasional runs.
Have good leash training
I know this is rich of me to say but do as I say not as I do and all of that! It really will make running with your pup much easier if they’re already used to walking on one preferred side alongside you. As I mentioned previously, walk train your pup with a static leash that doesn’t have much room for lunging and they’ll adopt this placement much easier once you upgrade them to a more suitable leash for running.
Start them steady and slow
We wouldn’t expect ourselves to be able to go from ‘couch to 5k’ without actually running any distance in between so we shouldn’t expect our four-legged friends to do this either, no matter how fit we think they are. Much like you’d increase your weekly mileage, do the same with your pup. If you’re going out for every training run together and you’re both new to running, even better.
Try and train your pooch to run on softer terrain
I was very much a helicopter dog parent with Darcy and when we were out running together, I’d always try and encourage her to run on the grass rather than with me on the pavement. Running on the grass was much softer a landing for her joints and she seemed to prefer to run on there any way (it smelled way better than the pavement I’m sure!).
Find the right leash for your dog to run in
There are some great leashes designed for running with your dog which are practical and comfortable so you can run hands-free. I would highly recommend that you choose a canicross style or static lead to run with (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend running with an extendable leash). As I mentioned, this type of leash wasn’t ideal for Darcy and me to run with as on the odd occasion she’d have to wear a Halti and she was a notorious ‘stop, drop and sniff’ kind of girl. I also felt like I had more control over her when I had the extendable lead and I also found it more comforting to be holding something. Speaking of which, when I run alone now, I find myself clenching my right hand into a fist because I was so used to running with her and holding her lead! <a href="http://DogTao Running Dog Lead For Medium and Large Dogs – Hands-Free Dog Walking Belt with Waterproof Pouch“>Click here for a hands free dog leash suitable for running
I’d recommend you speak to your vet or local pet store for more options and styles of leash for running with your dog.
Give it time
If your pupper isn’t turning into the natural runner that you’d have liked, don’t give up. It will take some time for you both to get into a running rhythm with each other, much like when you start to run with another person in the beginning. Be patient with them and accept that they do need regular stops for breaks and sniffs and saying ‘henlo’ to other dogs. I know many people are strict about this sort of thing but I wanted Darcy to enjoy running as much as I did so I tried to make it fun for her too.
Listen to what your pup is telling you
I’m under no illusion that you’re Doctor Dolittle here and you can actually understand what animals are saying (if you are, call me, I want to learn your secrets), however, look down at your pup frequently and see if he looks comfortable when running. Look out for signs of them being in distress or injured and make sure you don’t force them to run when they look uncomfortable.
I was once at the end of a run and Darcy was getting more and more reluctant, which was nothing unusual, to keep up. I tried all of my usual encouraging ‘you’re doing amazing sweetie’ type pep talks but something didn’t seem quite right. Darcy had the type of personality that even if she was in pain or hurt in some way, she’d still soldier on regardless (unlike me who at the slight sign of illness will crumple like a piece of paper and lay down for days until I’ve recovered). I was keeping a close eye on her and all of a sudden realised she had a slight limp. I stopped immediately and she started to draw her paw off the floor as if there was something on her foot. Sure enough, when I lifted her paw up to get a look, she had the tiniest thorn stuck in one of her pads. I picked it out of her paw and she got merrily back to running again! I, on the other hand, felt terrible, how could I have let my poor baby girl (helicopter parent remember) run when she was in pain! You live and learn.
Sign up for a Canicross event
If you haven’t heard of Canicross before let me enlighten you.
“Canicross is the sport of cross country running with dogs, it is dog powered, so they are harnessed , attached to the human and run in a team. The human is the driver, directing the dog from behind with voice commands. Canicross not only is a great method to get a human and a canine fit but works the dog’s mind and allows them to use their brain in a work mode”.
If the thought of running races with your pupster appeals to you, check out the Canicross website https://cani-fit.com/beginners-guide-to-canicross/ which has got tons of tips on racing with your furry monsters.
Pay attention to weather conditions
I personally, never took Darcy out when it was anything more than a ‘mild’ temperature. If she used to resist a 5k on a cooler day, she certainly would on a slightly warmer day. If your dog isn’t great with the heat, don’t take them out during the blazing hours of the midday sun but rather run with them first thing or later in the evening. Sometimes, I’d take some water with me if I felt like she might need a drink along the way but I was very conscious of her overheating and scalding her paws on the hot pavement.
The same would go for very cold weather. While she would run and play in the snow for hours (“the cold never bothered me anyway” – Elsa, was definitely a mantra that Darcy lived by), if the pavements were very icy and slippy she wasn’t keen on walking on it and to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t run in those conditions anyway (she wasn’t a husky after all!).
Keep them safe
Even when I wasn’t running with Darcy, I used to make sure she was wearing an LED collar which could be seen from pretty far away when it was dark out. This helped to make her more visible when she was on pavements and crossing roads (it also made her look really cute) to alert other pedestrians, especially when she was ‘extended’ on the lead, that she was there. <a href="http://PetSol Ultra Bright Mini LED Collar For Dogs – Perfectly Designed For Small Dogs – Ultra Bright LED Dog Collar For Increased Visibility & Safety – 4 Colours 2 Sizes (Green, Small)“>Click here for the collar that Darcy used to wear
Some final tips
Make sure you never leave the house without some dog bags, you don’t want to get stuck on the hop without them so add them to your running with pup checklist!
If your dog really is a reluctant runner, don’t force them. Some running relationships just aren’t meant to be and with all the patience and practice in the world, sometimes it’s just not for them.
Make sure you make the runs fun for your pup. It’s okay for you, you’ve got your new running shoes on and you’ve got a great playlist in your ears but for the most part, your pup is just running alongside you with not much else to stimulate them. Some dogs are perfectly happy with this but my pup never was. We’d sometimes skip sideways and I’d encourage her to do mini sprints to try and get her to the end of a run when we were closer to home when she’d clearly had enough.
If you liked this post, click here to read my post on why dogs are so good for our health
I wish you and your best friends the best of luck and many years of a beautiful running relationship. You’ll never find a more enthusiastic, all-weather, no matter what running buddy, I guarantee it!