Whether or not you’ve been running your whole life and now want to run with your dog, or if you are taking up running as a way for you and your dog to get necessary exercise, you need to be prepared to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Dogs can often make great running companions, but they aren’t born knowing how to be the best running partner. Proper training for your dog, as well as the right equipment, is key.
1. Use a Harness
Just as you need the proper shoes for running, your dog needs a properly fitted harness. In the event that your dog suddenly stops, or you otherwise end up with your dog’s leash suddenly tight, a harness will protect their delicate neck from damage.
It’s important to find a harness that allows for complete freedom of movement. Some harnesses, such as those that cross in front of your dog’s shoulders, can damage your dog’s shoulders if they are used all the time.
These types of harnesses can be great for teaching a dog not to pull in certain scenarios, but your running companion should already have a good loose leash walking behavior before you set out together.
Instead, consider a harness that fits around your dog to allow complete freedom of movement, without restricting how far their shoulders can reach. It’s also important to find a harness that doesn’t chafe your dog or rub them wrong in any places.
2. Train for Loose Leash Skills
If you and your dog can’t take a walk together on a loose leash, you’re not ready to run together. Your dog needs to be able to run with you at a steady pace without pulling on the leash or stopping frequently to sniff.
Start by teaching your dog how to walk nicely on a leash in the house or backyard, and then take the skills out in public.
Teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash in a two-step process. You need to:
- Reward the dog for walking at your side and on a loose leash.
- Teach the dog what to do when they feel tension on the leash.
Taking your dog’s favorite treats with you is a must when you are training, and frequently reward them for staying at your side. The more good things happen when they are at your side, the less likely they are to stray elsewhere!
However, your dog also needs to learn how to react when the leash does tighten. Many dogs only lean in harder to any tension on the leash unless taught otherwise.
You’ll want to teach your dog instead that if they feel the leash become tight, they should turn back to you.
Start by lightly pulling on the leash. If the dog steps into the pressure, reward them!
If you’re on a walk and your dog pulls towards something, turn around and walk the other direction. When they stop pulling backwards and catch back up to you, reward that choice.
With practice, your dog will learn that they shouldn’t pull on the leash, and you’ll be able to go running without worry of being pulled over.
3. Follow the Code of Conduct
Royal Oak of Michigan has published a Code of Conduct for Running With Dogs in the Park that should be followed in all situations.
The code of conduct is simple, if you’re a responsible dog owner. Follow the laws and rules for your area, clean up after your dog, and run within your dog’s limits.
If you run with your dog off leash, fail to pick up their poop, let them cause conflicts with other dogs or people, or disobey other local laws, you’re likely to make it harder for everyone to run with their dogs.
Trails become closed to dogs when there are too many incidents. In order to allow everyone to enjoy running with their dog – as well as those who don’t love dogs to continue running – it’s important to be kind and courteous.
4. Consider Going Hands Free
When you run, it’s normal to move your arms as you go. Having to hang onto a leash, treats, or a poop bag is often cumbersome and unnecessary.
Instead, set you and your dog up for a hands free run by investing in a hands free leash and carrying anything you need in a pouch around your waist.
What I love the most about the hands free leash option is that your dog always has the same amount of leash. When you pump your arms as you run, your dog’s leash is constantly getting longer or shorter with your movement.
This makes it easier for your dog to trip over their leash, or for you to accidentally pull your dog.
The running belt that I personally use has a built in pouch that allows me to carry my keys, dog treats, and poop bags for the run.
It also contains elastic in both the leash and the belt, ensuring that you don’t feel any sudden jolts.
I even use mine for longer hikes where my dogs get to sniff and explore, exchanging the short running leash for a ten foot lead. In the cold Midwest winters, getting to keep my hands warm in my pockets instead of holding the leash is a huge plus!
5. Teach Skills Specific for Running
Besides teaching your dog to walk nicely on a loose leash, there are several other skills that you should consider teaching your dog to make runs with your dog easier.
It’s especially helpful to teach your dog a cue that means it’s time to move on and run, such as “let’s go!” or “time to move!”
With this cue, you’ll be able to let your dog know that it’s time to start the run, or to disengage anything that they find interesting and want to stop and sniff.
A cue to teach your dog to slow down and stop is also helpful, such as “woah!” or “easy.”
General basic obedience skills will also always serve you well, such as teaching your dog to ignore distractions, to watch you when asked, and to sit and wait when you stop to take a break.
Some runners also find it helpful to teach their dogs directional cues, such as “left” and “right.” This can be especially helpful if your dog often runs out in front of you, as you can cue your dog which direction to turn without any extra hassle.
6. Wait for Growth Plates to Close
When your dog is young and still growing, their joints are especially susceptible to damage due to the open growth plates.
These growth plates are found in their legs, and are a soft area of cartilage from which the bones of their legs continue to grow.
Because this area is soft, repetitive and harsh exercise, such as running on pavement, can often lead to injuries.
Instead, you should wait to run with your dog until their growth plates have closed, or solidified with the bone, so you don’t cause them any damage.
This occurs for most breeds by the time they are a year old, although larger breeds may have growth plates that remain open until they are 18-24 months old in some cases.
7. Keep Your Dog’s Health a Priority
Finally, if you decide to take up running with your dog, it’s critical that you keep your dog’s health and well-being a top priority. People often run to improve or maintain their own health, and the goal should be the same for your dog.
If you’re already an established runner, you’ll want to start by only taking your dog for short runs to get them used to the new exercise.
It’s also recommended that you consult with your dog’s veterinarian before beginning a running regime, to ensure your dog is healthy enough to run.
One of the most common health-related reasons to leave your dog at home instead of taking them on a run is obesity.
As of 2020, the American Kennel Club notes that over half the dogs in the United States are overweight or obese.
This means that there’s a good chance your running partner isn’t ready to start running yet.
When your overweight dog engages in a high-impact activity, such as running, they can often do more damage to their joints than good.
Instead, if your dog is overweight, it’s time to consult with a veterinarian on the safest way for them to lose weight before you begin running.
Don’t forget to also note the surfaces that you run on with your dog. If your dog isn’t wearing boots, they may be susceptible to burns from hot pavement (or even chemical burns from the salt used to melt ice on sidewalks).
Keeping all of these health-related factors (and more!) in mind, you’ll be able to keep your dog happy and healthy so they can run with you for years to come.