Leaps and Bounds: Dog Running Safety 101
Fitness buffs, competitive racers, and those of us just looking to stay in shape know that running is one of the best ways to achieve our cardiorespiratory fitness goals. Running continues to be one of the most popular sports worldwide (currently practiced by over 65 million Americans), and shows no signs of slowing down.
For dog owners with energetic canines, bringing Fido along on your daily run can make good sense and be quite enjoyable. Regular exercise helps dogs stay fit, and can reduce anxiety and undesirable behaviors. However, keeping your dog out of harm’s way is extremely important when undertaking any exercise program together, so it’s a good idea to think about running safely with your dog before you lace up your shoes and grab the leash (and those baggies!).
Dog Running Safety Tips
- Visit your veterinarian – Before starting any new exercise program, bring your dog in to see us. Your veterinarian will make sure your dog is healthy enough and physically able to run with you, as well as address any other concerns you have.
- Do obedience training – Obedience training and good leash walking skills are a must when it comes to running with your dog, as not having good control of your dog or allowing it to pull or cross in front of you, can be dangerous. Our Canine Academy offers a variety of obedience training options for dogs of all ages and skill levels.
- Build-up gradually – It is very important to gradually build your dog’s tolerance to the physiological demands of running, so take things easy for the first few weeks by starting out slowly. The following example shows how to work up to a 30-minute run:
- On week one, begin training your dog by taking short walks, such as a 10 minute walk out and back. If all goes well, add 5 more minutes each time you walk until you reach 30 minutes (this may take a week or two – go by how your dog is doing) .
- Once you know that your dog is able to comfortably walk 30 minutes, you can include 5 minutes of running and stay at this level for the next several walks (about a week). The following week, try running for 10 minutes of the 30 minute walk.
- If your dog continues to do well, you can increase the running time by 10 minutes a week until you reach your 30 minute goal. Ideally, give your dog about a month to work up to a 30-minute run, especially, if your dog has been somewhat sedentary. Dogs adapt differently to exercise, so pay close attention to how your dog is doing and adjust your workouts accordingly.
- Always warm up prior to your workouts, cool down after, and allow rest and water as your dog needs it.
- Remember, if your dog starts hanging back during a run, he or she is letting you know it’s time to slow down, walk, or stop.
By gradually building your dog’s tolerance for a 30-minute run over the course of several weeks, you will help prevent overuse injuries and other problems that could derail your dog’s fitness program. It will also help you avoid having to carry an exhausted or overheated companion back home or to your car parked at the trailhead.
- Warm up and cool down – Always warm up prior to the run and cool down at the end of the run to allow both you and your dog’s joints and muscles to adjust to the increase in activity. Easy walking or slow jogging for 5 minutes will do the trick. Never start out at a fast pace, even if you both are in top shape.
- Allow rest days – it is very important to allow your dog rest days in between running days. As in people, this will allow time for your dog’s body to recover, as well as adapt to the physical stress being placed on it. A rest schedule of every other day is a good rule of thumb; playtime or walking on these days, instead of running, are good low-impact alternatives.
- Prevent injuries – As in people, exercise-related injuries are common in dogs that are physically active, and they can be especially problematic for dogs that are predisposed to knee and hip problems. Consequently, building your dog’s tolerance to exercise gradually, allowing rest days, and staying in tune with how your dog is doing while running are all key to helping your dog stay injury-free. Avoid running on pavement and other hard surfaces, and include a warm-up, cool down and stretch time with your dog (try “downward dog” & “upward dog”). If you lay off running for any length of time, be sure to take the time to build your dog back up to where it was before.
- Protect the paws – Rough or hot pavement can be hard on a dog’s sensitive paw pads. Allow your dog to run on the grass or soft dirt trails, and stay off pavement, asphalt, and rocks – especially on hot days. Remember to always watch out for lawn edging, as its cuts are extremely painful and can require surgery to repair. Dog booties with rubber soles and fitted correctly, can offer protection in both hot and cold weather, and can be especially helpful on trails in the mountains.
- Hydrate! – As with you, your dog needs to stay hydrated, even in cooler weather. Allow your dog to drink water before the workout and take along enough water for both of you to drink during the workout. Always allow your dog to drink as much water as it wants when you are done.
- Never force exercise! – You should never force or coerce your dog into doing more activity than it can tolerate. Be patient and allow your dog the time it needs to safely adapt over time to the workouts. As in people, dogs vary in their physical capabilities and some will need more time than others. Ultimately, your time running together should be something you both enjoy and look forward to.
Running is a high-impact activity and, although, it is natural for dogs to run while playing or chasing a ball, running long distances or for long periods of time with you involves other considerations. The age, physical capabilities, and energy level of your dog are all factors in whether your dog is a good candidate for a running program. While it’s best to have your dog checked out by a veterinarian prior to starting on a running program, it is especially important for a young puppy, a senior dog or one with medical issues. Talk with your veterinarian about how your dog’s age and physical condition will affect your dog’s ability to run with you.
Protecting your dog from dehydration and heat stroke is a critical component of running safely together. Whenever possible during the warmer months, run with your dog in the early morning or evening hours when it is cooler, stick to shaded areas when possible, and take frequent water breaks. Pay attention to your dog and how it is behaving. If you see any symptoms of heat stroke, including excessive panting, stumbling, pale gums, or vomiting, stop and get your dog into the shade or indoors immediately. Dogs are only able to cool themselves by panting or by sweating through their paw pads, and this takes time. If available, place a cool towel on your dog’s back, give water and call us, as your dog may need medical attention in order to fully recover.
Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds, such as bulldogs, pugs, and boxers, can overheat very quickly due to their narrower airways. Dogs with thick, long hair coats, such as malamutes, huskies, sheepdogs, Bernese Mountain Dogs, chows, and even some small breeds, can also overheat very quickly. For these dogs during the warmer months, walking instead of running at cooler times of the day may be a better alternative.
Changes in elevation can also cause problems for dogs not used to an uphill climb or the decrease in oxygen at higher elevations. Train for elevation gain gradually! Also, use the same precautions as you would when watching for dehydration and heat stroke by paying close attention to how your dog is doing. If your dog starts hanging back, it’s a sign that something is wrong. Dogs can and do get altitude sickness, which is most common at 8,000 feet or higher and has many of the same symptoms as heat stroke. Heart problems can also occur at higher elevations and cause difficulty breathing, even in a healthy dog. With any illness that comes on during an elevation gain, you’ll need to stop, give water and get your dog down to a lower elevation! You may need to seek medical care for your dog if this does not solve the problem.
We Can Help
Your team at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center commends you for striving to provide your dog with regular exercise! Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions regarding how to keep your pet active throughout its life.