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Should you go running with your dog?

On a typical morning before work, I am out the door by 5:30. The Vancouver streets are quiet and mostly deserted, except for a regular runner ahead of me with a frisky, four legged friend at his side. The pair always look happy, enjoying each other’s company on these cold winter mornings. They were like dance partners in perfect synch, running step for step. It made a delightful picture. A dog may be the most reliable companion to share in your running journey, because they are always ready when you are.

Does this image inspire you to run or walk with your dog?

There are many benefits to running with your dog, including keeping you both fit and enjoying bonding time with your favourite furry friend. They also provide comforting security, especially for women who run by themselves in secluded areas. But, before going for that run or walk with your wiener dog, dachshund, or pug, however, knowing the dos and don’ts of running with your pet could save you both a lot of grief and injury.

According to Vancouver-based veterinarian Dr. Kathy Kramer, you can’t just decide one day to go running with your dog. Owners need to be committed to their pet first. “Running requires training, since most dogs like to sniff along the way and get easily distracted,” she said. “Not every dog is cut out to be a marathoner.  Common sense dictates that while you may try to run with your border collie, you would leave your bulldog or Chihuahua at home.”

The best runners are athletic breeds, or dogs over 20 kilograms, Kramer explained. It’s important to do your research. For example, greyhounds are sprinters and not long distance runners while labradors, golden retrievers, border collies, and German shepherds may enjoy the freedom of a marathon. Larger dogs like great danes or mastiffs won’t enjoy running because it will put pressure on their joints.

Training for any distance requires following a proper program, and it is the same principle when running with your dog.

“Dogs also require conditioning like people do,” Kramer said. “A person would be crazy to start out by running 10 kilometres, so don’t expect your dog to do it!  The same wear and tear that affects a person’s joints will affect a dog’s as well. Acute injuries, such as soft tissue sprains or ligament tears can happen quickly.  As the dog ages, the percussive forces of running can cause arthritis to start at an earlier age.”

When you and your dog encounter someone on the trail, it is best to pull off to the side to let them pass without interacting.  A dog might be occasionally spooked and one should not assume others want your dog to greet them. People will feel safer when the lead is shortened.

Some smaller breeds will love running and some larger dogs would rather be couch potatoes. A good running companion depends on personality, stamina, and overall health. Dogs with high stress levels may not be able to run in the city.  Dogs that are prone to heart disease should be thoroughly screened for starting a serious exercise program.

It is also important to remember that dogs are stoic creatures who won’t show pain or discomfort until there is real damage. Heat stroke is the biggest risk during the summer. Dogs only sweat through their footpads and can easily overheat, even in normal temperatures.  Always have water handy for your dog anytime you run. If your dog is limping, call your veterinarian. Sprains or ligament tears can be very painful even though your dog is not crying out or will let you touch the injured limb.

There is some debate about the best age to start training your dog to run. Most dogs have finished growing by 16-24 months.  Kramer says if you start slow and on a soft surface, you can start to train the dog at around 12-18 months.

Will you try running with your dog this spring? Let us know in the comments below!