This series is brought to you by our partner, Nulo.
No one is just kind of a dog person. So, if you’ve got one, odds say they’re your best buddy, big spoon, and steadfast sidekick. It makes sense then that you’d want your pooch to be your running partner, too.
“Most dogs were better designed to run than humans were,” says Dr. Abby Huggins Mowinski of Intown Animal Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. “The exercise is good for them--and your bond--in every single way.” Still, you can’t exactly hit the ground running, as the saying goes. Rather, you need to take a few precautionary steps before you start logging miles.
Here’s how to get in stride with your dog, and make the loop safer and more enjoyable for both of you.
Tips to Get a Great Workout with Your Dog
1. Check In With Your Vet
“A good vet will be able to advise you on what’s safe for your dog based on their breed, age, current fitness level, health conditions, and diet,” says Dr.Huggins. They’ll also tell you if your dog is too young to be ‘lacing up’. “You want to wait until your dog’s growth plates have started to close, otherwise running can damage their joints or bones,” she says.
Even if you’re positive your pup is okay to run, you should make a vet visit. “They’ll know which preventative medical measures you should take, based on where you live, to keep your dog safe,” says Dr. Huggins. For instance, if you live in an area with mosquitoes, he may require heartworm medicine because heartworm is carried through mosquitos.
Your vet may suggest a diet switch. “Just as I would for humans, I usually recommend a protein-rich diet for pets, especially active pets, which helps with muscle growth, recovery, and overall health,” says Dr. Huggins. Her number one recommendation is Nulo, a pet-care brand that specializes in nutrient-dense kibble, purees and treats for dogs and cats, all with high levels of animal-sourced protein.
2. Make Sure Your Dog Can Walk On A Leash
You must walk before you run… literally. “To be a responsible pet-owner, you need to make sure your dog is good on the leash before you take him running,” says Dr. Huggins. If your dog lunges at mail carriers, other dogs, or tourists on electric scooters when walking on his leash, you can bet he’s doing to do it when running.
Because you’ll be moving faster and seeing more things while you run, dangers multiply. “For your safety, your pet’s safety, and the safety of those around you, you need your dog to be able to walk right beside you, obediently, before you pick up the pace,” she says. Makes sense, no?
Once your dog is able to walk at your side and not tug or pull on the leash or bark, try running for 20 to 100 yards at a time and see if your pup misbehaves. If no, you’re good to go. If yes, continue working on commands like “leave it,” “come,” and “kneel” before trying again.
3. Start Gradually
If you haven’t been regularly training, you wouldn’t show up to a Beast and expect to cross the finish line Lindsey Webster style. Just like humans need a training plan, dogs need to build up their endurance gradually.
What does that look like? The starting point will vary based on your dog's fitness level and breed. If your pup plays for hours in the yard, you can start with a higher mileage than if you live in a city and only take him out three times a day. “Be honest with yourself about what kind of activity level your dog is getting,” says Dr. Huggins. Because breed and age play a role, she suggests asking your vet for an initial target.
How to increase? “The 10 Percent Rule says you shouldn’t increase your training volume more than 10 percent a week, and that’s the same rule I recommend for dogs,” says Huggins. So, if you run 1 mile 5 days a week during week one for 5 total accumulated miles, you can run 5.5 total miles the second week.
4. Take Frequent Water Breaks
You might be able to toss on a Camelback and sip as your stride, but your dog is reliant on you for water. Protect him from dehydration and heat-exhaustion by planning a route with a body of water he can lap up and play in. Or, stop for a water break every mile or 10 minutes, says Dr. Huggins. A collapsible bowl or container that allows your dog to lap the water up is best.
5. Think About The Weather
Your hound may be your hero, but that doesn’t mean he’s immune to the heat. “The same principles that keep humans from overheating apply to dogs,” says Dr. Huggins. Stay in the shade, drink plenty of water, and stop if your dog starts to feel (or look) crummy. (Know these top warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke).
Heat-absorbing surfaces are another watch-out. “If you put your hand on the ground and can’t hold it there for 7 to 10 seconds, it’s going to be too hot for your dog’s paws,” Dr. Huggins says. If you have access to a trail, run that instead. Or, give your pup a rest day and head out solo.
6. Pamper Your Pets Paws
“Pad, foot, and nail care is important for your dog to enjoy running with you,” says Dr. Huggins. Make sure that your dog's nails are trimmed and that the fur between the toes is short, which will limit the amount of debris that get stuck between their toes, and wound around them.
After the run, their talons may need a little TLC, too. “Check the pads to make sure there aren’t any shearing wounds, and dig the debris out between their digits so they don’t cause pain or inflammation,” says Dr. Huggins. It doesn’t have to be a full-on pedicure, but remember that while you have sneaks to protect you, your pup does not.
The bottom line? “Emotionally, physically, and mentally, exercise is great for your dog. And running together can make your bond even stronger,” says Dr. Huggins. “You just need to take the lead to make it a safe experience for both of you.” Ready, set, go!