For people who want to become more active, your dog can be a great training partner! They love routine & exploring outdoors. Dogs typically are less wimpy than humans about cold weather, and it’s very hard to resist their pleading eyes & wagging tails early in the morning.
If you are thinking of getting a dog as a future fitness partner – good for you, but be sure to do your research & decide on a companion that will be happy & thrive given your current exercise habits as well. Getting a Visula for instance, with lofty goals of running 5 miles every morning is awesome, but what if you’ve never ran further than to catch a bus? That may not be the best match.
On the other hand, if you regularly get out to exercise regardless of the weather, a more active dog such as a retriever or Shepard may be a great match.
When starting any exercise with your dog beyond regular walks, it’s imperative that your dogs body is prepared to handle the jump up in exercise. For puppies this means no vigorous running or jumping before 18 months of age & preferably with your vets approval. Your vet can determine if your pup has finished growing so the added demands on his muscles & bones won’t interfere with his normal development. your dogs weight should also be appropriate for its age & breed before starting to run. While needing to lose a pound or two is ok, running an overweight dog can cause major stress on his joints which can mean lots of problems later on.
So, once your vet gives the ok…what’s next?
Here’s a list of things I’ve learned along the way with my dogs:
1. Establish good leash habits & reliable recall BEFORE you start running: Running with a dog that doesn’t understand or respect the leash is not going to be enjoyable for anyone. Treat your buddy to some basic leash training first. Be sure they know to stay beside or slightly in front of you, on one side. A dog that is zig zagging in front or behind is a big trip hazard. A dog who pulls or stops suddenly or leaps toward other people is a safety hazard. If your leash slips from your hand, having good recall (being able to reliably have your dog come to you when called) will potentially save your dogs life.
2. Check your equipment! Before you head out, be sure your dogs collar or harness are fitted properly & their leash is in good condition. I recommend using a regular 6 foot leash simply held in your hand. A longer leash may get tangled & a shorter one may not give you or your dog the room to move freely. DO NOT wrap the leash around your hand or wrist, or around your waist.
always remember to bring poop bags & clean up after your dog. Water is a good idea as well if there is no place to stop for a quick drink en route.
3. Start slow: When you began running, you probably started slowly with a bit of running mixed with a lot of walking & worked your way up from there. Your dog will need to gradually increase their length of exercise too. Start with a kilometre or so at a time & give your dog sniff & pee breaks. They love us humans so much they most likely will run until we stop, so it’s up to us to remember their needs & adjust our habits accordingly. If you want to go further than your dog is ready for, bring your dog with you for your warm up or cool down & then bring them home for the rest of your run.
4. Be mindful of the weather: once your running routine is established (which for Stitch happened in about 3 days) your training partner will want to go outside with you regardless of the weather. Remember their needs. Dogs aren’t the best at staying cool in hot weather, so adjust your run start time or length of run to account for hot weather. Let your dog run on the grass instead of pavement as much as possible to help reduce wear & tear on their foot pads as well as to keep them cooler. Watch for signs of overheating such as excessive panting, an unusually high heart rate & unresponsiveness.
In cold weather, avoid running in temperatures below -20C. Go for a quick walk instead or play some games indoors.
5. Proper cool down: remember to give you & your dog a proper cool down, even after a short run. Your dog should be cool – heart rate & breathing returned to normal – before offering them a bigger drink of water. It’s also recommended to keep food & exercise an hour apart from each other to minimize the risk of bloat.
Have fun exercising with your dog & if you have any questions, please leave a comment & I am happy to answer!
Jamie @ The Joyful Dog