Did you know that simply owning a dog can make you healthier? Whereas non-dog owners walk an average of 168 minutes a week, dog parents walk an average of 300 minutes.
But this level of exercise is only scratching the surface. Your canine companion can help get you in better shape than any personal trainer or gym membership ever could.
That’s because your dog is an ideal running partner.
For starters, their bodies were designed for running:
- Like most animals with four legs, dogs can cover short distances much faster than we humans can.
- Dogs (including wolves and hyenas) are also built for long distances. They can easily gallop at full speed for 10 to 15 minutes before breaking into a loose gait that carries them for miles and miles. According to Natural History Magazine, the only other animals to fall in this “long distance group” are horses, wildebeest, and of course, humans.
But it's not simply their physical design that makes dogs such excellent running partners. It's also their temperament. Dogs are loyal work companions who thrive on exercise. Put your dog to work, and watch your social bond deepen with each successive jog.
In fact, not providing your dog with sufficient tasks can lead to a number of behavioral problems, including restlessness and aggression. In the words of Runner’s World, “a tired dog is a good dog.”
And these are just the benefits for you. Your dog also receives any number of perks from regular exercise, including:
- Weight control
- Confidence (i.e. reduced fear)
- Better digestion (and less constipation)
- Better agility
- Better circulation
Done correctly, regular jogging sessions are a win-win for everyone involved. But how do you make sure you approach these outings correctly?
How to Get the Most Out Of Your Canine Running Relationship
Your dog is a natural runner. But before you begin training for that next marathon, you need to take stock of your dog’s needs, health and ability. Use the below tips to make the transition as smooth as possible:
1. Consider Your Dog's Age, Size, and Weight
Dogs are the most varied animal species on the planet. Some breeds are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, while other breeds are large enough to take down big game entirely on their own.
- Chihuahuas can't cover as much ground as golden retrievers can. But larger dogs are more prone to joint complications such as arthritis. Respect the size of your dog and adjust your running schedule accordingly.
- Flat-nosed dogs like pugs and bulldogs often have more difficulties breathing than breeds with longer snouts.
- Age is also an important factor. Older dogs don't have the same endurance levels as their younger counterparts. But puppies younger than 18 months still need time for their bones to fully knit.
These are things you need to monitor no matter what. If your dog doesn't fall into the Top 20 Running Breeds, you'll need to pay extra close attention.
2. Environmental Considerations
In addition to monitoring your dog's health, you also need to survey external factors like temperature and running surfaces:
- Unlike humans, dogs don't sweat. In order to dissipate heat, canines pant. But they're not very good at panting while running. If the temperature is too hot or humid, consider scaling down your run or putting your jog off for another day.
- Hydration is also important. Because dogs don't sweat, they’re much better at retaining water. But you still need to give your dog a fresh drink before, during and after every session.
- Dogs were designed for running, but not necessarily on pavement. Their pads can blister easily, and leftover debris can cause irritation even after the jog is over. If at all possible, try to run on turf, grass, sand or soil. And be sure to clean your dog’s paws with a warm, soapy rag after each run.
3. Off-Leash or On-Leash Jogging
Another important decision — should you keep your dog on the leash or off?
On the leash may be the better option for legal reasons (depending on how lenient your city is about canine restraints). You also need to assess your dog's ability to obey commands. If he or she doesn't come when called, it's best to stay on leash.
Assuming your dog is well disciplined, going off leash allows it to explore and set its own pace.
The Most Important Dog Running Tip of All
Regardless of age, breed or health, it is important that you start small and then scale up. You have to ease into an exercise regimen that suits your dog’s needs and ability.
How do you know when you’re moving too quickly?
Unfortunately, your dog will never complain of fatigue. Thus, it is your responsibility as the pet parent to watch for early warning signs, such as:
- Foaming at the mouth
- Anxiety or stubbornness
- Abnormally heavy panting
- Glazed eyes
- Signs of pain, stiffness or discomfort
If you're ever unsure about how to design an exercise schedule for your dog, don't hesitate to contact a veterinarian. Together, you can map out a manageable routine that keeps your dog in shape without putting his or her health in jeopardy.
Author Bio: Ashley Arnold is the both parent to her German Shepherd running partner and a world-class protection dog trainer for Wayne Simanovich Protection Dogs.