I want to start with a disclaimer, lest anyone think I’m some super-serious runner: This morning, I ran for just shy of three miles without walking. That’s the longest I’ve ever run without walking at some point in the middle. My goal is to run a 5k this Sunday without walking (we’ve done a ton of 5k races, but I’ve always, always walked a few minutes in the middle). That said, I’ve set my sights on finishing a 10k and have downloaded the C210k training app for my phone. It actually starts with the C25k trainer, which marks my third time through that program.
My point: I’m no running pro. Nor am I a vet or a medical pro or a nutritionist or a trainer or anything other than a writer. This post is for informational purposes only and just chronicles my experience. The reason I’m writing this is because I have gotten SO MANY questions about running with Cooper that I thought I could assemble them into one monster “running with dogs” post.
If you’ve sent me Qs about running with your dog, I hope I addressed them here. If not, or if this sparks more questions, please do leave them in the comments so I can provide the best info possible!
OK, lace up those sneaks and let’s get going!
How do I train my dog to run with me?
Just like you train your dog to do anything else: slow and steady! You have to start with your dog’s fitness level. Way back when I did my first round of C25k, I was in terrible shape and recovering from a year of chemo. I was in worse shape than my pups, probably, but we started ever so slowly. I highly recommend that app (thank you, Erin, for the initial recommendation) as a starting point.
Taking a big step back, though, I think it’s super important to train your dog to walk well with you first (see the next big point), so if your walking skills aren’t yet solid, go back to that basic foundation and start working on loose-leash walking. If you need to review some tips to achieve that, check out these two posts:
Loose Leash Walking from Victoria Stilwell
How to Teach Loose-Leash Walking from Karen Pryor
OK, so speaking of which…
Running with a Dog That Pulls
Without a doubt, the number-one question has been: How can I run with my dog that pulls?
Cooper keeps a loose leash. He’s usually slightly ahead, but he’s got his automatic check-in down pat. He is a great walker.
Except for when he isn’t.
When he isn’t = when we spot a dog, a bunny, a squirrel, some weird patch of wind, a person surprising him in any way (getting out of a vehicle, saying hi, etc.) OR when he anticipates those things happening. That last one is the real problem for us because he knows where every single electrically-fenced-in dog is in the three mile radius around our house.
That said, the rest of the time he really is great. He’s better, actually, when we’re running because he has a purpose. His ears are back. He finds his pace. He just goes, and he loves to run more than anything.
So, for us, our reality is this: We ensure our equipment works great. We run routes we know inside and out. We always have an escape plan. And when he starts to pull? We just “power through,” which is basically reeling him in tightly and sprinting past the perceived threat as quickly as we can.
That’s my best advice for reactive pulling. If your dog only pulls when threatened, well, you can and should keep desensitizing to those threats and then accept some degree of pulling when you’re out for a focused run.
If your dog is just a puller on leash, the best option is to go back to basics: Go back to those loose-leash walking tutorials and work on that like crazy because, for some dogs, running increases that desire to pull (“C’MON LET’S GO, HUMAN!!!!”) so you have to have it down pat.
Gear for Running with Your Dog
I mentioned ensuring our equipment works great. I honestly can’t stress this enough. If you’re running with your dog, your running gear is critical to your and your dog’s safety.
No matter the dog, no matter the distance or terrain, no matter the weather, I strongly recommend running with your dog on a harness rather than a collar. It’s safer. It alleviates pressure on your dog’s neck, and since he’ll be breathing hard, that’s extra important. The type of harness is up to you and your needs.
Cooper has a ton of different harnesses. He has one we use primarily for hiking and another that has saddlebags. The one with the saddlebags is his absolute best harness, and he walks and runs with purpose with that thing. It’s way too hot right now to use it, though. So, we’re currently running with this para-cord one because we’re going so early in the morning that I wanted something reflective, and it’s light without much body coverage to cause him to overheat. Some people prefer front-clip harnesses for runs. They’ve never worked for Coop because he pulls really freaking hard in the opposite direction to counter the drag. Choose what’s best for you and your pup.
As for the leash, you don’t need bells and whistles. I wish with all my heart Cooper could get accustomed to a waist leash so that I could be hands-free, but we’re not there yet. Right now he’s using just a thick, six-foot nylon lead. Nothing fancy. It works perfectly.
All that said, I prefer and recommend metal hardware instead of plastic. Plastic snaps, the end.
There’s a ton of other running gear for dogs out there. If it’s too hot or too cold, you might want to look into boots. Coop has a set we use when the roads are salted. Sunscreen is another great product to consider. Beyond that? If you’re a distance or trail runner, think about water on the go, and everything else is sort of extra that you may or may not need–just use common sense!
And poop bags. Everyone needs poop bags.
Best Dog Breeds for Running
“Can I train my fill-in-breed-here to be my running buddy?”
Probably, but maybe not. Some dog breeds are predisposed to running (just like some are predisposed to water or herding), but not every individual of those predisposed breeds will like/can do the activity. And, I honestly don’t think this is the right question to ask with a few exceptions: Like, your basset probably isn’t going to complete a 10k with you, and it’s really unsafe to run with brachycephalic dogs like pugs and bull mastiffs.
In my opinion, the right question to ask is: “Can I train my dog to be my running buddy?” And you should ask that question of your vet.
Here’s why: Focusing only on your dog’s breed ignores individual variations. You want to make sure your dog’s hips and joints are healthy and his heart is good, and those aren’t breed-specific health checks. Thinking at the individual level, Emmett was a pit mix and wouldn’t run unless it was to a cupcake. Cooper is a pit mix and wouldn’t stop running if we didn’t make him.
You’ll see all sorts of advice on the internet–get a Weimaraner for trails and a Vizsla for long runs, etc.–that may or may not be good advice for you and your dog. That said, if you’re looking to adopt a new dog, be sure to tell the shelter staff that you want a running partner! They can point you to the dogs in their care who will be the right fit, regardless of breed!
When is it too hot to run with your dog? Or, when is it too cold to run with your dog?
General, often-touted rule of thumb: Hold your bare palm to the cement for 15 seconds. Too hot or too cold to do that? It’s too hot or too cold to run with your pup. That said, use common sense. If you have the right gear, you can run in the heat or the cold. Heat requires extra precautions against overheating, so shorter, less-intense runs during the coolest part of the day, or purposefully choosing courses that are shaded can help.
Honestly, though? This is a common-sense issue. If you’re not sure if the temps are too extreme, just assume they are. Better to be cautious than sorry.
How long can I run with my dog?
Sort of like the question above, this depends so much on the weather conditions and your dog’s fitness level. Start slow, like with the C25k program, so that your dog slowly builds endurance, then be cognizant of your running conditions.
Cooper, for example, started the C25k program with me several years ago. We completed it, then lost our momentum. When we started back up, he was in better shape than I was, and then he started to train with John. One of John’s big bucket list goals was to run a marathon, so he first did the C25k program with me years ago, and he downloaded that same app but in the marathon version. It started incrementally and gradually built distance and duration. He took Coop along from the beginning, though at some point in the training Cooper topped out at eight miles. And that’s the key: John recognized that 8 miles was as far as Cooper could safely go. Would Cooper go longer? Yep. If John let him, Coop would run until he dropped, but… We monitored his recovery after each run, and that was the point we identified as far enough for him. I do believe he could probably complete a half marathon with John, and he definitely would if given the chance, but we’re also cognizant of the fact that he’s turning eight this year and we need to protect his joints. Will he run more? Maybe. We’re going to start him with chiropractic care soon and may do a sports medicine consult, but we’re happy with him at eight miles (unless it’s too hot, obvi).
The Bottom Line: Running with your dog is an awesome way to bond!
I don’t particularly like to run. Sometimes I hate it. Most of the time I don’t even want to go. Then I harness up Coop, and his tail starts to wag. His ears go back. And he is happy–genuinely, joyfully happy–which makes it worthwhile.
The only thing you need to do to start is to lace up your shoes, leash up your dog, and head outside. No fancy gear required.
If you need a little more inspo, here are a couple posts I’ve written about running with Coop:
Otherwise, get out there and have fun! And if you still have questions about running with your dog, leave ’em in the comments below! Or, if you think I’ve missed anything here, please add your tips!
BTW, I’m thinking about trying some trail running with Coop, so if anyone has any suggestions there, I’m all ears!!! 🙂