When Brenda Hawkins starts getting ready to set out for a run, which she does several times a week no matter the weather, Bella positively dances with excitement. A run for Bella, the dog, is just as important as a run for Brenda.
“She knows what clothes I run in and she follows me around until I get my shoes on. She stretches and hops around,” Brenda says. “Every chance I can, I take her! It’s not the same running without her.”
Running with a four-legged friend brings joy, and much needed exercise, for both canine and human. However, there are a few tenets to follow before heading out on a long run with your best friend.
“Proper conditioning is the key when running with dogs. Whether one is looking to acquire a running companion, or taking five-year-old Fido off the couch and training for a half marathon, there are some common points to remember,” veterinarian Dr. Natalie Bullard shares. “Mileage should be built up gradually.”
VETERINARIANS AGREE ON SEVERAL TIPS TO GET RUN-READY:
(1) Age matters. You don’t want to take a 20-week-old puppy on a run, even if she is hyper and crazy in the house—and seems like she can easily run circles around you. “For most breeds, one year of age is a good milestone to begin exercise training,” Dr. Bullard says. Bones and joints need that long to mature before being stressed by long runs. “Common sense is key when exercising with dogs, as many will over-exert themselves to keep up with the owners.” Just as you don’t want to start running with them at too young an age, remember dogs age much faster than we do, so shorter distances may be necessary as dogs reach middle age, commonly considered to be five to eight years old.
(2) If it’s taken you months to build up to a ten-mile run, do the same for your dog. If your dog is a little chubby, keep that in mind too. She’ll be better off with a short jog or even some walks to get used to running, then build up more mileage. As you’re building up mileage slowly, you’re helping build your dog’s pads, which is also very important, especially if you’re running on any of the concrete or asphalt paths that line the valley. “The pads of dogs’ feet must be built up gradually in order to avoid injury. Concrete and asphalt are more abrasive than dirt or grass, so a dog should be given time to adjust by starting with shorter distances and increasing over a period of weeks to longer distances,” Dr. Bullard explains. To make sure your dog is a happy runner, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends checking your dog’s paws and pads for skin damage, swelling or pain after every run. Bullard adds, “The best way to monitor your dogs conditioning is to observe him or her after strenuous exercise. It is normal for a dog to appear tired after strenuous exercise, but limping or unwillingness to eat or drink should be evaluated by a veterinarian.”
(3) Keep a leash on it. The AVMA suggests not to begin running with your dog until good leash manners. There is little as frustrating as trying to run as your dog leaps, bounds, licks and nips at the leash. Hawkins trained Bella on a retractable leash and now she’s under voice command.
Leash laws in Eagle County vary by town but in general, dogs must heel beside or be under voice control of the runner. When in doubt, use a leash, and make sure your dog understands who is in control (that should be you!).
(4) Hydrate. That means bring water for your dog too. Even if you’re not planning on a long run, all that panting the dog does to stay cool can certainly cause cotton mouth and worse. “Dogs can learn to drink out of water bottles and Camelbaks, and should be offered water at regular intervals to avoid dehydration,” Dr. Bullard says.
(5) Be ready to whether the weather. Don’t head out during the hottest part of the day—and know where you’re going to stop for a break if need be. Under a tree or a quick dip in a river might be just what the pooch needs to continue on, refreshed and eager to please. Similarly, a short-haired dog will be too cold in frigid temps. Come winter, avoid bitter cold runs. Consider booties or a coat for your dog if you are heading out. However, if you’re relying on a coat, make sure it fits properly and doesn’t have any loose straps that could tangle up in your dog’s legs. If you run on a snow- or ice-covered trail, clean your dog’s feet when you get home to remove any ice chunks.
(6) Consider the breed. “Brachycephalic breeds (such as pugs and bulldogs) should not be exercised heavily in the summer, as the risk of heat stroke is real. One should not purchase a bulldog for a running companion,” Dr. Bullard says.