The sight of Jolee Pointer putting on her running gear and the sound of her taking out the leash can only mean one thing: It’s “Tweed time” – aka time for her and her 8-year-old border collie-Australian shepherd mix to go for a 5-mile run. “He does circles, jumps, gets so amped out, I feel as though his heart is going to burst through his rib cage,” says Pointer, a 48-year-old flight attendant in Park City, Utah.
She looks forward to the excursions just as much. “Running with Tweed is all about our time together, staying fit and being in the fresh air and outdoors in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” she says. “I love running with my dog.”
Fitness professionals and canine experts alike love such partnerships, too. For people, of course, running is a great cardiovascular workout; inviting your pooch along is added motivation, says Angi Aramburu, founder of Go Fetch Run, a dog-and-human circuit training program she started in New York City and is now working on launching in San Antonio, where she lives. “It’s always easier when you have a partner, and dogs are generally very willing partners to go for a walk or a run,” she says.
For the four-legged furballs, running confers its own benefits, such as helping to maintain weight and encouraging good behavior. “Most behavior issues are related to not having enough constructive energy outlets, so … the more they get adequate exercise, the more calm they’ll be,” says Amber Burckhalter, CEO of K-9 Coach in Atlanta and past president of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. “[Exercise] makes life with a dog much easier.”
Still, running with a dog takes a little more strategy, practice and preparedness than running with a human friend. One time, for instance, Tweed cut a run short after encountering a larger dog on the trail. Pointer’s twin sister, who runs with her labradoodle in Chicago, has to be wary of cyclists, patient when the pup smells – and retrieves – a dead animal and flexible when they hit their strides at different times. There’s also the risk of tripping over the leash, lacking adequate water or weather-appropriate gear, and misjudging what your pet can or wants to handle.
Here’s how she and other experts suggest keeping yourself and your pet safe on runs:
Not all dogs are natural-born runners. For some breeds – particularly those like bulldogs, pugs and others “with smushy faces” – distance running can be downright dangerous. “They don’t process air the same way,” which can make them more prone to heat-related maladies, says Burckhalter, who takes her French bulldog for a walk when cooling down from a run with her shepherd. Breeds such as border collies, retrievers, Weimaraners and other hunters, meanwhile, tend to make good running partners. Still, don’t judge a dog by its coat; Aramburu’s Chihuahua regularly jogs three miles with her. If you’re in the market for a four-legged running buddy, ask the breeder or adoption agency which available dogs have the most energy and enjoy human company most. If you’re looking to begin a running routine with Rover, talk to the veterinarian first.
Puppies are energetic, therefore they’re great running partners – right? Wrong, Burckhalter says, since it can harm their bone development and growth plates – especially if you run with them on a hard surface like concrete. “It can cause serious, long-term damage that you may not even know about for a long time,” she says. Instead, talk to your vet about what age is safe to begin running and how best to release puppy energy instead.
If you’re a marathoner looking for a training partner, a newbie dog is not your answer. In fact, when you first hit the pavement with a pup, “you may not actually get a run in,” warns Melissa Morris, a behaviorist who oversees the Humane Rescue Alliance’s People and Animal Cardio Klub, or PACK, a program that pairs volunteers with adoptable dogs that they take on runs in the District of Columbia area. If your pooch is stopping to sniff frequently, for instance, work on training him to go longer and longer intervals without sniffing, Aramburu suggests. “You can use that as a reward,” she says. “If they run with you for a straight five minutes, then let them stop and smell something and pee on it.”
Many of the mistakes people make when trying to run with their dogs are the same as those they make when exercising themselves, Burckhalter says. “If you adopted on a Sunday, you wouldn’t want to get up on Monday and go through a 3-mile run with that dog,” she says. “The dog has to be conditioned just like you do.” Aramburu suggests using an online couch-to-5K program (for humans) as a guide to building up your dog’s distance. Starting with walking can also accustom him or her to the leash, Morris says. “If you get a dog that’s pulling kind of erratically and all over the place, and then you try running with it, you’re going to trip,” she says. “Make sure [your] dog walks nicely on leash first.”
Your dog might not need special running shorts or energy gels, but, at a bare minimum, she needs an appropriate leash – most pros prefer a non-retractable one – to keep you both safe and comfortable. If you opt for a harness, choose one that clips in the front rather than the back, which can chafe the pup, Aramburu says. Bringing water and a collapsible bowl along is critical, too. “You don’t want to count on a water fountain that will be turned off,” Aramburu says. If you’re running in hot or cold weather, or on tough terrain, invest in booties for your companion, who might otherwise burn, cut or get frostbite on the pads of his or her paws, Burckhalter says. If it’s over 80 or under 20 degrees, dogs in the PACK program don’t go running at all, Morris says.
Contrary to expectations, overheated dogs stop panting. He or she might also vomit or have diarrhea. Dogs that are pushed too far or hard, meanwhile, will most likely stop. Don’t ignore that, Aramburu says. “If you’re going to take your dog along,” she says, “you have to let them take the lead.”