If you’re a runner or looking to become one, you may have thought about bringing your dog along. Not only is running great physical exercise for your dog, but it can also help your dog get better at walking on-leash! But, not all dogs will enjoy running, and it may not be safe for your dog to go on a run with you.
While you might think running with your dog is as simple as attaching their leash and heading out for a run, there are some things you’ll need to do to prepare before you go.
Although it seems that dogs are practically born running, there’s a difference between a dog running while playing versus going for a structured run with you. When your dog runs during playtime, they are running for short bursts and in erratic patterns. When you take your dog out for a run, they’re running in a straight line for an extended period of time, often on unforgiving surfaces like concrete or asphalt.
Things to Know Before Running with Your Dog
Is Your Dog Healthy Enough to Go for a Run?
First things first! Always check with your veterinarian about the appropriate amount of exercise for your dog. You need to be extra careful running with overweight dogs, dogs with certain preexisting health conditions (see list below), and young dogs whose bone growth plates haven’t fully closed.
Medical Conditions That Make it Risky to Run with Your Dog
Here are some medical conditions that might mean your dog isn't well-suited for running. This list isn't exhaustive — always check with your veterinarian before making your dog your running partner.
- Brachycephalism: Flat-faced dogs, like pugs, bulldogs, boxers, etc.
- Collapsing trachea: Most common in terriers and other small breeds, they often have a cough that sounds like a goose “honk.”
- Laryngeal Paralysis: Most common in older dogs, they often have a change in bark and a “roaring” sound to their breathing.
- Arthritis: Consider swimming, an underwater treadmill, or other low-impact exercise instead.
- Excessive weight and obesity
- Luxating patellae (“trick kneecaps”)
- Elbow and/or hip dysplasia
- Shoulder osteochondrosis
Puppies, Young Dogs, and Growth Plates
Running too much with your dog before their growth plates are closed could damage their growth plates, potentially leading to shortening of or conformational problems with their legs. It may also increase their risks of, or worsen the discomfort of, hip or elbow dysplasia or shoulder osteochondrosis. These risks are different for every dog, but will be higher if you're running them too far too soon, without proper conditioning, and on unforgiving surfaces, such as sidewalks and roads.
Growth plates are the areas of bones where lengthening and other early bone growth takes place. They’re what allows a puppy (and even young human babies) to grow to full skeletal size. There are multiple growth plates throughout a dog’s skeleton, and each plate can "close" — stop growing new bone — at a different age. This depends on a variety of factors, particularly the dog’s final, mature size.
In many, but not all, cases the important “running-related” growth plates are all closed by about one year old in dogs. In some giant breed dogs, it can take up to about 18 months for all of these important growth plates to close, while in some toy and other small breed dogs these growth plates may all be closed by about 8 months.
Here again, your veterinarian is your best resource for knowing when your pup’s growth plates are all closed and no longer a factor in determining your dog’s running risks. In some cases, especially where there is concern for either early or late closure, or just to be absolutely positive when a plate is closed, X-rays may be necessary and recommended by your veterinarian.
Are Weather Conditions Okay for a Run with Your Dog?
Just like we need to consider the weather conditions prior to heading out on a run, we need to do the same for our dogs. Check with your veterinarian about your dog’s heat stroke risk and get specific recommendations of what temperatures are safe for your dog to exercise in.
- Hot Weather: Your dog is at increased risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke when the weather heats up.
And, asphalt temperatures are much higher than outside temperatures and can burn your dog’s paw pads. If you put the back of your hand against the hot surface for five to seven seconds — if it's too hot for you, then it's too hot for your dog's paws.
- Cold weather: If you live in a climate with ice and snow in colder months, be cautious when bringing your dog on a run. It's possible for them to dehydrate in cold weather, and dogs can lose their footing and suffer injury on ice, too. Ice melters can also cause damage to their paws.
When running in extreme temperatures, we recommend fitting your dog with booties to protect their paws in both hot and cold weather. Make sure they fit properly and are designed for running (see examples below), and to acclimate your dog to them before use. Watch the video below to get tips on getting your dog used to wearing booties.
These rugged dog boots by Ultra Paws are easy to size and introduce to your pup. If you're looking for dog boots specifically made for cold weather and snowy climates, these Snow Mushers by Muttluks are a great choice with their fleece lining and rubber soles. Kurgo also makes lightweight Blaze Cross dog boots that are water resistant with non-slip soles for rainy weather.
Ultra Paws Rugged Dog Boots
Muttluks Snow Mushers Dog Boots
Take Care of Your Dog's Paws
Paw pads consist of a layer of pigmented skin, usually pink or black, covering fatty tissue. They help with your dog’s balance, and provide traction, stability, and shock absorption while running. Always inspect your dog’s paws after a run. If your dog has a paw injury such as torn, blistered, or bleeding pads, give them time off from running to encourage healing. Check out our paw pad care article for tips to keep your dog’s paws in tip-top shape.
It’s important that your dogs nails are short and well maintained before beginning a running program. Overly long nails can cause a dog pain on runs. Nails should be short enough that they do not touch the ground when your dog is standing. Learn how to maintain your dog’s nails.
Start Running! ... Slowly.
Know Your Dog
Some dogs will want to sprint with you down the street right out of the gate, while others may need to take it slower and learn what’s expected of them while out for a run.
It’s important to ask yourself these three questions:
- Is my dog enjoying this? If your dog shows resistance heading out for a run (like pulling the opposite way on their leash or refusing to go outside) or their health seems impacted, they might not be suited for running.
- Are they excited to go on a run?
- Are they eating and sleeping normally?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, slow the run to a walk and give your pup a break.
Just like you need time to train and build to a mileage you’re comfortable with, your dog is the same! It’s important to note that when you’re out on a run with your dog, the run also has to be about them, not just you. So, if you’re looking at setting a personal record, you might want to leave Fido at home.
You need to be careful that you’re not making your pup take on too much at once. Start your running routine by slowly incorporating jogging or running into a walk.
A good place to start is one minute of running followed by two minutes of walking, for a total of one mile. As the weeks progress, you can add more running time while still building in walk breaks until your dog is comfortable running without stopping to walk. Just be sure to only increase the mileage a maximum of 10–20% every couple of weeks to minimize potential health and injury risks to your dog.
This 5k training plan from Kurgo is a great one to follow to safely introduce your dog to running.
Let Your Dog Set the Pace
Not only should you start slow with introducing your pup to running, but you should also run at a pace they’re comfortable with. Your dog’s preferred pace will depend on their size and stamina. If they’re barely keeping up with your pace, slow down. You may need to slow to a walk and offer a water break before beginning to run again at a slower pace.
Your dog may follow you a step or two behind to make it easier for them to track your movement and direction. If you’d rather have them at your side, take a look at the training tips below to encourage them to change their running position.
Schedule Rest Days
Recovery days are important, even for dogs! On the days that your dog isn’t running, make sure to take them on a walk to keep their joints and muscles moving and ready for the next run. An orthopedic bed, like this one from Furhaven, can be a great way to provide joint support and soothe pressure points so your pup is ready for the next adventure.
SAFETY PRECAUTION: Though it may be fine for you to “pop” some Advil® or other pain reliever following your runs, you need to resist the urge or thought to do so for your dog! Ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, and even aspirin – all common “active ingredients” in some of the most popular over-the-counter human pain relievers – can cause very serious side effects and toxic injuries in dogs!
There are far safer alternatives your veterinarian can prescribe and recommend though if needed. Here are some tips and things to look for if you’re worried that your dog might be in pain after a run (or for any other reason).
Helpful Accessories for Running with Your Dog
While you can definitely lace up your shoes, leash up your dog and run out the door, there are some things you’ll need to run safely with your dog (and make it more comfortable for both of you).
A harness is a necessity if you plan on running with your dog. Collars put unnecessary pressure on a dog’s trachea, which can cause breathing and other health issues. A harness equally distributes any pressure from pulling throughout their chest, which makes it more comfortable for your pup. This harness from Ruffwear adjusts in four places to make sure your dog stays secure and comfortable on a run.
The leash you already use for walks will likely work for running with your dog — just make sure it’s not the retractable kind. But, there are sport leashes that offer more durability for more strenuous activities. Look for leashes that are made of nylon, which stand up to water and tension. A six-foot leash works well for running, but a three-foot leash (like this one from Mighty Paw) is even better!
If you’re looking for a hands-free running experience, this leash from Tuff Mutt clips to a band that you snap around your waist. The shorter leash length helps you stay in control, and the leash slides 360-degrees around the belt, allowing your pup freedom to change pace and position.
Hands-free leashes will also help you keep a proper running form and will keep you from switching the leash between your hands, or even doing some sweet twirling moves (hello potential torn ACL!) trying to detangle your pup. A handsfree leash can give you better control with a dog that suddenly lunges towards a squirrel, but it's a good idea to always be aware of your surroundings to prevent injuring your dog or yourself.
Dogs don’t cool off by sweating, like we humans do. Dogs cool off through their respiratory system, mainly by panting. Because of this, they can dehydrate and get very thirsty when doing strenuous activities like running. It’s important to carry water and a water bowl, for your dog during runs longer than 20 minutes.
We recommend this portable water bottle and collapsible bowl, which allows your pup to stay hydrated on the go! The handheld water water bottle is small enough that it's easy to hold while running, and the bowl can clip right to your dog's leash. Note that dehydration can happen just as easily during cold weather exercise as it can during hot weather exercise.
SAFETY PRECAUTION: Dogs that don’t have access to water and regular breaks while running on warmer days can be at increased risk of suffering from heat exhaustion and heatstroke. These can be devastating conditions with some very serious consequences for your dog. Learn more about heat-related illness in dogs – including how to treat heat exhaustion and heat stroke in dogs.
If you’re planning on running before sunrise or after sunset, we recommend improving your dog’s visibility in low light conditions. An LED collar or leash will help drivers see your dog at a distance.
Get more resources to keep you and your dog visible in low-light.
Pet activity tracker
If you love tracking your own running data, you can track your dog's activity, too! The Whistle Pet Health & Location Tracker or the Fitbark 2 Activity Monitor attach to your dog's collar and will track your dog's activity throughout the day. You'll be able to track how increased mileage effects their energy level the rest of the day.
|Whistle Pet Health & Location Tracker||Fitbark 2 Activity Monitor|
|Buy on Amazon||Buy on Amazon | Buy on Chewy|
How to Train Your Dog to Run with You
There are some training foundations that will help your pup be a great running partner. While these training skills aren’t necessary, they may help make running easier for both of you. Teaching your dog to run in a consistent position and not switch sides without being asked goes a long way in preventing trips and falls!
A good running heel will keep your dog by your side for the duration of your run. Some runners prefer their dogs be a bit ahead or a bit behind them. Choose the heel position that's most comfortable for you. And there's a bonus — perfecting a running heel can actually help your dog’s walking heel. Dogs naturally walk faster than people, so keeping a faster pace can make it easier for a dog to keep their leash loose.
You should be waiting for your dog to finish growing before you start running with them, but you can still work on the running heel by practicing a walking or short-distance jogging heel. Your dog will be ready to run by your side as soon as they’re old enough!
Play this Off-Leash Heel Game to Build Up Your Dog's Running Heel
- You can play this game indoors in a larger, open room or outdoors in a securely fenced area.
- Have some high-value training treats and your clicker (or marker word) ready.
- Start walking quickly around the space, randomly switching directions, speeding up and slowing down.
- Don't worry about trying to get your dog to follow you. It might take them a minute to get some sniffs out before they start to wonder what it is you're doing.
- Any time that they happen to hit the correct "heel" position that you want them to run in, click (or say "yes!") and give them the treat.
- Stay moving the entire time!
- This game is teaching your dog that it's awesome to get into the heel position and good things keep happening there! Plus, it's less work on your part — all you have to do is capture the right position with the click and treat.
Watch Patricia McConnell demonstrate this off-leash heel exercise in this video:
The automatic sit cue is great to teach a dog, especially if you’re running in a suburban or urban environment with traffic lights and crosswalks. When you are waiting to cross the street, your dog can be trained to sit automatically whenever you stop moving. This helps to ensure their safety around busy streets. Learn how to train the automatic sit.
Here's a video example of what a trained automatic sit looks like:
Speed and Directional Cues
You may want to develop verbal cues that tell your dog if you want them to speed up, slow down, or which way you’d like them to turn. This is especially helpful if your dog likes to lead the way on your run. You can introduce these cues (“slow,” “speed up,” “right,” or “left”) while out on a run. It can help to be very dramatic, like slowing to a walk or speeding up to a sprint, when first introducing these cues.
- Start with your dog on their leash outside. Have your training treats and clicker (or marker word) ready.
- Practice at just a walking speed first.
- Start walking one direction, and then turn one direction dramatically.
- As you turn, say "left!" (if you're going left) and encourage your dog to follow you. As they do, click and treat!
- Mix up which direction you're turning, naming the direction for your dog and rewarding for when they turn that direction with you.
- For speed changes, just before you change speed, say the verbal cue, then click and reward for your dog slowing down or speeding up with you. Be as dramatic as you need to get your pup to speed up and match your pace.
- Add in different directional or speed cues, making sure to give each one a name (cue) for your dog, clicking and rewarding for when they get it right.
Get Involved in Canicross
If you and your dog love running together, consider getting started in the dog sport of Canicross. This sport started as off-season training for sled dogs and has become quite popular around the world. Canicross is cross-country running with your dog attached to a webbed harness clipped around your waist. Check out how to get started in Canicross here.
You’re now ready to introduce your pup to running! Do you have other things that helped your dog be a good running partner? Let us know in the comments!