Running with Dogs

Courtesy of Dr. Nancy Katz, VMD 
Pro Canine Running Veterinarian
Katz & Dogs Animal Hospital
545 Valley Road
Upper Montclair, NJ  07043


Do you want an ideal running partner: always ready on time, eager to go makes you feel safe, always positive and makes you smile?  Look no further than your dog!  In addition, running with dogs allows them to keep strong muscle mass to support the bones and joints as long as your pooch is healthy.

Before starting any running program with your dog, here are some things to do:

  1. Check with your vet:
    • Is this in your dog's best interest?
    • Your vet will
      • listen to your dog's heart
      • assess his/her weight
      • check his/her musculoskeletal condition
    • Your vet can also teach you how to assess your dog for signs of pain and how to perform a brief at home check to make sure your dog is ready to go before each run.
  2. Consider your dog's physical attributes. Dogs release heat by panting. Brachycephalic breeds (those with shorter snouts such as pugs, bulldogs and boxers) have a greatly diminished ability to expel heat and are more prone to overheating.  Therefore, you may not be able to run with them in the hotter temperatures.
  3.  No matter how well trained your dog is, always use a leash on the road!  Find a harness collar that works for you and your dog.  The best collars and harnesses will not have buckles or clasps that abrade the skin.  Keep in mind that as you run, your hands will move and may inadvertently tug on the device.  Therefore, it is essential to avoid choke and prong style collars.  Harnesses with a leash attachment on the top are good options if your dog is not a puller.  For a puller, a harness with a leash attachment in front, such a an EZ Walk, is useful.  Flat buckle collars work well also.  If you are using a head harness, such as a gentle leader, it is important to make sure that your dog is still able to open her mouth to pant.  After running check your dog for any signs of chafing that the device may cause.  Body Glide won't work on dogs so you have to be proactive! 
    • Leashes should be 4-6 feet long:  enough to allow some slack, but not so long to trip other runners.  
    • Avoid self retracting leashes!  The thin rope is not easy to control and is a frequent cause laceration of dogs' legs and owners' hands.  
    • Leashes that secure around the runner's waist are dangerous for the human
  4. Start out slowly on soft terrain.  It may take time for your dog to build up the muscling and endurance that you have.  A gradual introduction to exercise will also allow your dog's pads to toughen up, thus avoiding abrasions on the feet.  Running on grass or soft dirt will cushion some of the forces of impact.
  5. Run on water:  Teach fido to drink from a water bottle or plan your routes to include passing dog water fountain locations.  Making sure there is clean water available will help fido stay cool and prevent the "post run runs" associated with drinking from puddles.
  6. Learn your dog's body language. Just because it is important to you for your Garmin end in point-zero, it does not mean Rover is on board.  Be vigilant for signs of fatigue: falling behind on a run, foaming at the mouth, heavy panting.  When these signs happen, or ideally before, stop and cool down.  Keep in mind if you overdo it, you will have to get Sparky home.  Carrying a phone or running with a friend (who can go for a car) will allow for someone to rescue you and your pet.
  7. Be prepared for the unexpected,  Have a plan ahead of time so you can act quickly.
    • If Mugsy overheats apply water to the feet, inside the ear flaps and "armpit/legpit" areas and let it evaporate.
    • If Mugsy cuts his/her foot make sure the wound is clean; then take off your shirt and use it to put direct pressure on the wound. Bandage it until you can seek veterinary attention.
    • Carry a few poop bags to pick up after your dog if you want other runners to like you.
  8. Know your dog.  Before starting any running program your dog should know basic commands such a "heel", "leave it", and "sit."  You should also completely know that your dog is reliably well-behaved with other dogs. 
  9. When running in low light or heavily trafficked areas make sure Skippy has lights that are not obscured by hair, leash and collar.  Drivers are used to looking for runners, but dogs are out of their usual scope of vision so that it is extra important to make them shine.
  10. Careful on the trail!  Dogs cannot get poison ivy but they can carry the urushiol (the substance that causes the rash in people) to people.  Using gloves to wash your dog off after a trail run can help diminish this problem.


 Lace Up!  Leash Up!  But most of all have fun!

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