Training Your Dog to Run Alongside You
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Exercise is as vital for a dog's well-being as it is for humans. While it will depend on the ability and physical fitness of the individual, most dogs will require more than just walking. For some caregivers, this means letting them off their leash in an enclosed space. For others, there is the opportunity to go running or jogging with the dog so both parties can feel the benefit of more rigorous exercise. Although a dog may be physically capable of running, they may not have the behavior of a dog which can do so easily.
Fortunately, it is possible to train most dogs to run with their guardian. AnimalWised shows you how with our step-by-step guide on training your dog to run alongside you.
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Why go running with your dog?
It can be very difficult to get sufficient time for us to exercise ourselves. With hectic schedules, work commitments and family obligations, it can be all too easy to stay at home when we have a minute spare. When we add the guardianship of a dog and meeting their exercise needs, especially with the amount of time we have to take them for walks, it can be very difficult.
When we don't take enough time to exercise properly, our health is affected. The same happens for our dog. By running together, we can benefit from the exercise as well as meet our needs as a canine caregiver.
For some dogs, running may be an important part of their health improvement. Some dogs may arrive with us from a shelter which have been kept locked up or abused. They may need an exercise routine to help get them back to fitness. Similarly, if the dog has been overweight, we might want to start exercising more so they can reduce health risks associated with obesity.
Health, age and breed of the dog
Not all dogs can go running alongside us. While all dogs will need some form of exercise, unless their mobility prevents it completely, the levels of intensity vary greatly. For example, dogs which have gait issues or reduced mobility due to diseases such as ataxia cannot run for long periods. Doing so can put stress on their bones which can cause them severe damage.
Some dogs may have been very athletic in the past, but age prevents them from remaining so. When a dog gets older, their bodies are less resilient. Their musculoskeletal system will go through natural wear and tear. Pushing them the same as a younger dog can increase this damage.
Finally, the breed will also play some importance. Brachycephalic dogs, such as the Pug or English Bulldog, have breathing and heart issues. This means that extended periods of heavy exercise can cause respiratory and cardiac problems which can be very harmful to their health. Molosser-type dogs, such as those in the FCI group II breeds, are large and cannot tolerate high levels of exercise in many cases.
For these reasons, each dog needs to be assessed on their state of health before we can think of taking them for a run. If you have any doubts about their abilities to hand running and other forms of strenuous exercise, consult your veterinarian.
Equipment for running with your dog
Although well-trained dogs may not need any equipment for running, this is definitely not the case with dogs in need of training. Some caregivers still question whether to use a leash and collar or harness when walking. There are various types of both on the market, but it is especially important when running with a dog.
Collars should be avoided even during walks. When we put a collar around a dog's neck and then attach a leash, it can choke them easily. Some dog owners do this on purpose, but it is often unnecessarily cruel. While it is true some dogs can tolerate a neck collar fine, a harness is always preferable. The harness fulfills the same purpose, but does so more effectively.
With a harness, the dog is supported underneath the chest and front legs. This means, when you pull on it you do not choke them. Instead, you can hoist them up comfortably. Doing so can mean we pull them out of harms way more effectively than with a collar, but we do not cause them any physical trauma.
When running, a harness is essential. The dog is going to go at faster speeds than when out walking. If we are to stop suddenly or make a sharp turn when at a fast pace, we can seriously injure the dog if we pull on a collar around their neck.
Ideally, when running alongside a dog, we should use a Canicross harness. This harness has a special loop for our belt which means we can ensure the dog is safe by our side, but our arms are left free for running. To learn more about this type of canine exercise, check out our article on starting Canicross training.
Step-by-step to training your dog to run beside you
Before you start training your dog to run beside you, you will need to ensure they have received basic education. Knowing the basic commands means they will better help keep the dog safe if we come across traffic or any other problems which can pose a risk to either of our safety. Also, as with humans, we cannot expect our dog to run miles on the first day of training. For this reason, we provide this helpful guide to teach your dog to run beside you:
- If your dog has never worn a harness before, you should first acquaint them with it at home and on walks. Positively reinforce them with treats and positive attention, especially if they seem nervous around this new piece of equipment.
- Before starting your run, allow the dog to relieve themselves and to warm up. Walk for 10 to 15 minutes to allow their muscles to get ready.
- Start somewhere quiet where there is little traffic and less likelihood of meeting other dogs. These include mountain paths and secluded countryside.
- Start running at a slow pace which is suitable for the dog's level of fitness (see above). We need to allow the dog to set their own pace at the beginning so we know at what speed they are comfortable, especially over longer distances. This may even be faster than your pace, so help to guide them if they expend too much initial energy.
- Finish running after 10 to 20 minutes at the beginning, even if they seem to have a lot more energy, as can be the case with hyperactive dogs (take a look at our guide for hyperactive dog exercises to learn more). This way we can allow them to gain strength and get used to a routine.
- Increase the duration of your run incrementally each time you go out. For example, 15 minutes for the first day, 20 for the next, etc. Don't leave too much time between excursions.
- Once you start running for longer periods, make small stops every 5 minutes or so. Not only does this allow you both to get your breath back, but you can use it as an opportunity to give them encouragement. Provide water, but do not feed them treats at this point as it can make them sick.
- Once your dog starts to slow and become tired, you need to finish. Do not push them past their limits, even if this is something you would do for yourself. This is especially important in the summer when heat stroke in dogs is a concern.
- Whenever you finish, congratulate them and allow some time to rest before starting another activity or offering them food.
- All dogs will need veterinary checkups every 6-12 months. Ideally, you should take your dog to the veterinarian a few months after you start running together. This will allow the veterinarian to check how well they have been adapting to more strenuous exercise and rule out any related health problems.
Running with your dog alongside you can be a great way to both stay fit and strengthen your bond with a dog. Take a look at our article on the best time of day to walk your dog to learn more.
If you want to read similar articles to Training Your Dog to Run Alongside You, we recommend you visit our Advanced education category.