A Philosopher's Blog

Running With a Dog

Posted in Running by Michael LaBossiere on June 11, 2008

I’ve been running with my husky, Isis, since 2004. While running with a dog does present some challenges, there are many good reasons to do so.

One common reason to run with a dog is that a dog can provide protection. People are usually more reluctant to bother someone with a dog, even if the dog is not particularly fierce. Of course, it is unwise to think that a dog makes you invulnerable so good sense should still be used when selecting when and where to run.

Another reason to run with a dog is companionship. While dogs are short on conversation, they can be good company. For many people, having a companion is a key motivation to sticking to a workout routine. Since dogs are almost always ready to run, they can be a great motivator.

Another reason to run with a dog is that it can be very good for the dog’s health. Apparently, just as American humans are getting more obese, so too are American dogs. Running helps keep the fat off and also has other health benefits as well. In general, the good things that running does for you will also be the same benefits your dog will receive.

Before hitting the trail or road with your dog, there are some important things to consider.

First, there is the dog. If you are getting a dog to run with, be sure to select the right body type. The ideal is a medium, short furred dog with normal legs. Very small dogs and very large dogs are generally not well equipped for long distance running. Specific breeds are also more inclined to run long distances. For example, labs and huskies love to run long distances. Bulldogs generally do not.

You will also want a dog with the proper behavior. A dog that is disobedient, aggressive and easily distracted can pose serious problems for you and others while running. Fortunately, almost all dogs are trainable-given time, patience and the right methods.

Naturally, you will want to make sure that your dog is healthy. Just as they say that you should see your doctor before getting involved in running, your dog should be checked by a vet for various problems. Although running improves health, it can be very stressful to the body and hence you will want to be sure that your dog is up to the challenge of running.

There are also some important differences between you and your dog that you will want to take into account. Since dogs are (usually) coated in fur and vent heat via their paw pads and mouth, they cannot handle the heat as well as we can. As such, you will want to make sure that you watch your dog carefully for signs of distress and be sure to take steps to make sure that he is properly hydrated. I run through a park that has water spigots and stop by them regularly to see if Isis is thirsty.

While it might surprise some people, humans are generally much better runners than dogs. While dogs are faster in a sprint, humans are built for endurance running. If you are a long distance runner, the odds are that your dog will not be able to match your endurance, especially in warm weather. I’ve found that Isis can run 10-16 miles with no problem in the winter, but this drops quickly in the spring and summer. As such, you will need to plan your running to match your dog’s endurance. I solved this problem by running a loop near my house in the spring and summer. That way I can get Isis back to the house when she is tired and then go on to finish my run.

As with humans, a dog also needs to be old enough to run. Puppies should not run long distances (even if they can). Check with your vet to see if your dog is ready to run.

Second, there is the matter of transforming your dog into a runner. While many people think that dogs will just run naturally and hence there is no need of any special preparations, this is not true. Like humans, dogs need to build up to running. As such, you should start your dog off gradually and get him accustomed to running. Since individual dogs will vary, you should watch your dog to see when he starts to tire and then allow him to rest. In general, some people recommend starting your dog out at a mile and then working up gradually from there.  It can be useful to talk to your vet about this. Some vets are also runners and run with their own dogs and hence can give you excellent advice.

Third, there is the matter of where to run. While you can buy things to protect your dog’s feet, you probably cannot get running shoes for your dog. As such, you will want to run places that are free of sharp debris (like broken glass) and places that have softer surfaces. As such, trails and grass areas are perfect for dogs. Be sure to check your dog’s paws after running to make sure there are no injuries or other problems. While dogs will often let you know when they are hurt, they sometimes show no signs of distress. Grass and trails are also cooler for the dog.

You will also want to run someplace that has low or no traffic. A dog’s nose tends to be at the same level as car’s exhaust pipe, hence they will be exposed to more pollution than a human. There is also the obvious danger posed by traffic.

In general, you should not bring your dog to run in races (unless it a race that allows that), to tracks (most tracks forbid dogs for obvious reasons), or on group runs without informing people that your dog is coming along.

Fourth, there is the question of the leash. Some people are pro-leash while others let their dogs run free. I’m pro-leash. One reason is that most places have leash laws. While I’m not in the habit of obeying just because someone says so, I think that leash laws are a good idea because they compel people to do something they should do. A second reason is that dogs do not recognize many dangers such as broken glass, spilled chemicals, cars and scary people as threats. A leash allows you to control your dog and keep her away from such things. A third reason is that even a well trained dog can be distracted (perhaps by a squirrel) or decide to wander away. A leash prevents this.

Dogs vary in their behavior and strength and you’ll want to take these two factors into account when selecting the way you’ll leash your dog. If your dog is well behaved, then a normal collar can work just fine. If your dog is strong and tends to pull, then a control collar or a harness can be a good idea. I favor the harness approach since it controls a dog better without causing discomfort (which is how choke and control collars work). Of course, dogs vary a great deal so you’ll need to find what works best for your dog.

I use a traditional style leash, as opposed to a retractable leash. I find the normal leash more comfortable to run with as well as easier to use.  SInce Isis is a husky, I bought a strong leash and check it before running to make sure that the metal parts are not wearing out.

I’ve heard of leash belts that you can wear, but I prefer to use my hand to hold the leash.

When running with a dog on the leash, you have to be very aware of what your dog is doing. In addition to watching to make sure that your dog is not running into your legs, you also have to make sure that you don’t get entangled in the leash. A dog will sometimes lag behind you and then surge ahead. If you are not ready for this, you can get tripped or have your hand painfully yanked.

Dogs do not seem to get that we are very unstable compared to them and they tend to treat us like other dogs. To be specific, they don’t get that if they bump into our legs, we will probably fall over. Dogs happily slam into each other when running, so they probably just do the same thing to us by nature. As such, you’ll have to watch for than until your dog is trained as a runner. Dogs are often prone to sudden stops (bathroom breaks, interesting smells, something nasty on the ground) and you’ll have to watch for those as well.

If you run with other people, you’ll also have to watch your dog and them as well to avoid any dog related problems.

While running with a dog poses many challenges, it is well worth it. If you can run, you should run. So should your dog.

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2 Responses

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  1. Anonymous said, on November 6, 2011 at 4:46 am

    So, which breed is good as a running companion?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 6, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Huskies are, in my opinion, the best running dogs. As a breed, they tend to love running and have excellent endurance. Labs and many mutts (look for long legs, a long body and a long nose-short dogs are usually poor runners) are also good.


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