You probably already know running is an excellent workout for humans. But what has four legs, thinks you’re flawless and could also benefit greatly from running? Yep, it’s your dog.
“Since dogs, just like humans, need daily exercise, it’s like killing two birds with one stone; not only are you two getting healthier at the same time, but you’re also strengthening your bond,” says Erin Askeland, CBCC-KA, a pet expert for Camp Bow Wow.
But heel for a second, because running with your pup isn’t as simple as strapping on a leash and heading outside. There are various precautions to keep in mind, especially if your dog isn’t used to hitting the pavement. Before you venture out together, check out these six tips from the pros on how to safely run with your best friend.
1. Consult the vet first.
When it comes to running, not all dogs were born to marathon train with you. While most dogs can run short distances—fetch!—not all make the best running buddies, Askeland says. Brachycephalic dogs like pugs, bulldogs, and other short-nosed breeds, along with very large breeds and overweight dogs, aren’t physically suited for running long distances. Dogs with the potential for spinal issues (like Dachshunds), hip dysplasia (commonly found with German Shepherds), and other bone issues might not be able to handle the high-impact exercise either.
Additionally, Askeland adds that puppies who are younger than 18 months aren’t fully formed yet and shouldn’t hit the trails hard while they’re growing. Since our pet’s health is No. 1, always consult with your vet before starting a running program with your dog.
2. Start slow.
Once given the OK to start running, don’t launch into full 5K mode. “Start with a combination of running and walking for a short time until you notice that his endurance is increasing,” Askeland says. “Just as humans are, dogs are susceptible to stress fractures and heat stroke.”
Try 5 minutes of warming up, 20 minutes max of jogging, and then 5 minutes of cooling down. It’s up to us to make sure our dogs are doing a-OK. “Dogs are people-pleasers and if you want to keep running, they will often work to keep up, even if they’re in pain,” she says.
3. Check the weather.
We know that running on a brutally hot or humid day is tortuous, but that goes double for dogs, who can overheat very quickly. Askeland suggests running in the early morning or late evening when the sun isn’t scorching. (If you’re running in the dark, be sure to wear some reflective gear so drivers can spot you.)
Always feel the pavement before fully setting out to make sure it isn’t going to burn your pup’s feet. “Concrete emanates heat, which can increase the body temperature of your pet relatively quickly,” she says.
4. Protect those paws!
In addition to temperature, Askeland says we should take the surfaces our dogs are running on into careful consideration. Not only can concrete get too hot but running on it constantly can stress joints and irritate our pup’s foot pads. Additionally, running on gravel can end up puncturing their paws. The safest bets are dirt trails, grass, or sand. Askeland suggests stopping our run to periodically to check paws for burns or cuts.
5. Watch for exhaustion.
It’s important to keep an eye on our dogs—if you notice your pal is lagging behind you, seeking shade, or trying to stop and lie down, it’s time to slow down and take a rest. Heavy panting, noisy breathing, and disorientation mean you should seek medical help immediately. On that note, if she’s too stiff or extremely tired the next day, that means you probably ran too far or too fast and should take it down a level.
6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Staying hydrated seems like a no-brainer, but seriously, it’s vital for you and your dog pre-, during, and post-run. Let them drink a bowl or two of water before heading out on a run, even if you’re planning a run first thing in the morning. If you’re heading out for a good bit of time, don’t forget to pack a portable bowl or cup and a bottle of water so your pup can stay hydrated while enjoying a fun, exhilarating run with their No. 1.
Kathleen Wong is a Honolulu-based writer. If she’s not writing, you can find her at the beach.