Running with your dog can be very beneficial for you, your dog and your relationship together, however there are lots to consider before you set off.
Is your dog fit enough to run with you?
First things first consider if your dog is fit and capable of running with you. Consider their age, breed and ability. You should speak to your vet if you have any concerns.
Next… pulling in a harness or free running
The next thing to consider, which links in to the above question, is whether you plan to run with your dog attached to you with a harness or with them off lead, or a mixture of both!
If you are running with your dog attached to you and they are pulling you along then it’s important to wait until your dog is at least 18 months old, as it is a lot of strain on their joints and muscles.
My cocker spaniel was fully grown at about 10 months old, but did a lot of filling out muscularly between 12 months and 2 years old, therefore he was at a more suitable stage to be pulling on a harness at closer to 2 years than 12 months.
Different breeds of dogs will be fully grown at different ages, so it’s always good to consult your vet and ask them about exercise during your puppies routine health checks and vaccination appointments.
If you are running with your dog off-lead then my personal opinion is that you can be a little less strict and follow the kennel club advise below, as your dog will be able to control their own pace and take breaks if needed. However it is important to pay attention to your dog and slow down or walk if your dog is lagging behind you or struggling to keep up.
A good rule of thumb is a ratio of five minutes exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) until the puppy is fully grown, i.e. 15 minutes (up to twice a day) when three months old, 20 minutes when four months old etc. Once they are fully grown, they can go out for much longer.
Consider how your dog behaves during an off lead walk… do they often run ahead, or do they tend to trot at a slow pace alongside or behind you.
If you have a ploddy dog then consider how they would feel if you suddenly ran off from them or if they were having to run to keep with you.
Get the right equipment
Now that you’ve considered whether your dog will be attached to you or off lead then it’s important to get the right gear.
If your dog is running off lead and wearing a harness then it needs to be a suitable harness that allows the dog to have freedom of movement and doesn’t rub.
This is a good article by a veterinary and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist which talks about what to do look for in a harness: http://www.pinpointvetcare.com/news/2017/3/2/harnesses
If your dog is going to be attached to you and potentially pulling you along then you need a special kind of harness that is designed to allow your dog to pull with comfort.
Here is a brilliant article talking about what to look for in a running harness:
When a dog is pulling the harness will sit differently on the dog than when they are running without pulling, therefore if your dog is unlikely to pull or if you would like to switch between having them on and off lead while running then it will be best to look for a harness that suits both (see here for some examples).
It’s amazing how much difference the correct harness makes… if Zebby pulls hard on the lead while wearing one of his walking harnesses he often starts breathing heavily and wheezing a little, but while pulling hard in his running harness his breathing is normal.
The only reason I personally use a different harness for walking is because I like to use a lifting harness for long hikes which makes it easier to get my dogs over styles and to help them up any scramble parts. Also Zebby likes to walk side to side and his canicross harness tends to spin round a little when he pulls off to one side.
The next thing to think about is a harness for you! Yes that’s right, if you are going to have Xkg of dog pulling you along then you will want to wear something comfortable which aids the dogs pull.
Your running belt should ideally sit low on your hips or around your bum to try to reduce the angle on the lead, as you and your dog should be moving forward together rather than the dog having a more downward pull.
There are a range of harness out there, some with storage areas, some with leg loops, some with more padding than others.
Again I’ll point you in the direction of this wonderful blog as it really is the best resource for making a decision about running belts:
Next you will need a lead!
If your dog plods along next to your side then you will want a shorter lead so that you are not tripping over it, whereas with a power house of a dog you may prefer a longer lead. Bungee leads also make the pull a little smoother.
It’s worth considering where you will be running with your dog and if your dog likes to go side to side, for example parkrun ask that your dog is kept on a “short lead” to try and avoid them tripping up other runners, and if you run alongside the road (not advised) or on narrow paths then a shorter lead may be best.
I bought a bright bungee lead from Pets at Home which has a grab handle on it. I personally find this lead long enough for me and Zebby and the handle is quite handy for when he is distracted by something. This lead did come with a simple thin waist band which I don’t use.
Again… there is a blog post advising about leads that is worth checking out: https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2016/12/01/k9-trail-time-a-z-of-canicross-l-is-for-line/
Where to start
So… now that you have the gear (and maybe some idea) it’s time to think about how to start. Think about how fit your dog is… how fast can they run… how far can they run…
If both you and your dog are new to running then I’d highly recommend following the Couch 2 5k program together. Over the course of 8 weeks you progress from doing intervals of 60 seconds running and 90 seconds walking to running for 5 mins with frequent walk breaks to running non-stop for 20 minutes then finally 30 minutes.
I used the NHS podcast: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/couch-to-5k-week-by-week/
While you may be capable of more, the program ensures that you both build your stamina up slowly.
Also for a dog who likes to sniff and wee a lot then frequent walking breaks gives them chance to do so, which can then help them to keep running while you are. You can also encourage them to keep running with your voice and if they are food orientated then give them small pieces of soft food while running every so often.
It’s important to warm your dog up properly before they run in their harness. One way to do this is to give them at least 15 minutes of off-lead running, allowing them to change direction and pace as they wish. This also gives your dog time to have some wee’s and poo’s before setting off for a non-stop run.
Make sure it’s not too hot
Consider the weather. Dogs easily overheat and should not be exercised excessively in hot temperatures, especially if they are a breed that is more vulnerable to heat. Consider finding a shaded route where there is a natural source of water for your dog to have a dip in and drink from. Some signs of heat stroke are excessive panting, red gums, thick saliva.
Remember… you must not force your dog to run with you! It is their time and if they want to stop and walk or wee then they should be allowed to.
If you would like to run but your dog doesn’t then you should go running without your dog.
If your dog is pulling you then you may want to teach them commands which mean slow down and stop. Also left and right commands can be useful for a dog that is running ahead so that they take the correct route.
If your dog is going to be off lead while you are running then it is important that they have a good recall and that you keep them in sight.
Guinness is normally off lead while I run but I always stop and bring him under control while passing people and dogs and put him on lead if needed, such as when another on lead dog is coming.
Most importantly, have fun!! Enjoy your time in the great outdoors together. And if you have any concerns about your dog ability or health please consult your vet.