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Leashing up your pup for some quality trail time can be a great way to get exercise for yourself, and your four-legged friend. Here are a few things to consider when you’re lacing up and leashing up.
Breeds For Speed
Not every dog is a born trail champion— and that’s OK. In general, look for dogs with long snouts, and avoid those with short muzzles like bulldogs and pugs. The optimal running-dog weights is between 30 and 60 pounds. Think about adopting, rather than shopping, because mutts and rescues make great trail companions.
According to the American Kennel Club, you should wait until your dog is around a year to a year and a half old to start running so that their bones are done developing. Be sure to check with your vet who can determine if your dogs growth plates are closed before drawing up a training plan for your canine companion, says Maria Schultz, dog trainer and author.
As the saying goes, you need to walk before you can run. Try to master loose-leash walking before taking your pup out for a jog to be sure that their comfortable and in control on lead. Use treats, toys and verbal praise to reinforce your dog keeping the leash nice and slack so that they’re not pulling when you start to run.
“Your dog has to have good leash manners. Pulling, lunging or any kind of tension on a leash isn’t safe for your dog or your lower back,” says Schultz. “Invest the time and teach your dog not to pull on a leash. Your dog’s leash should be u-shaped not a straight line when you’re moving together.”
“For all runs, a good leash is really important,” says Alex Hasenohr, a dietitian and trail runner based out of Portland, Oregon. She prefers those that offer a little stretch when your dog gets the zoomies and takes off after a squirrel. “You can typically use them with your hands or wear them around your waist, but I prefer the waist method so that if the dog tugs, I stay upright.”
Start by adding a few minutes of running into your regular dog walks, and gradually increase the distance and duration, adding a few minutes at a time to help.
“ A good beginner range is three-five days a week for one to ten minutes of running your dog at a trot. A trot is a pace your dog can comfortable maintain, by using opposite diagonal limbs. It’s an efficient gait that works both sides of the dog’s body, ”says Schultz. Then, increase that volume by about 10 percent each week to safely build endurance.
Work on developing a running cue, like, “Let’s go!” that tells your dog it’s time to run. The more information you give your dog about what’s going on, the more comfortable they’ll be and the better they’ll be at responding appropriately.
Like humans, dogs need to build strength and endurance slowly. After a few walk runs, you can increase your dog’s training gradually just as you would your own. Make sure to warm up before launching into an all-out run, and cool down with a brisk walk afterward.
Also, just like humans, not every critter will love running, particularly long distances. Pay close attention to your pup partner for signs that they might need a break, like quick, panicked panting or lagging behind.
“Like a human running partner, sometimes they might not be feeling it, or feel tired or hot, or need to pee 25 times, and that’s totally OK,” says Hasenohr. “Unlike a human running partner, they might want to stop to sniff grass or sneak away to roll in poop, and that’s OK too. I think treating your dog like you would a human running partner is key. If your partner is tired, you turn around, even if they initially agreed to a 15-mile run with you!”
The longer the distance, the more it’s up to the individual dog to decide how far they want to go. Again, be sure to check with your vet before setting out on a double-digit trail adventure, but some dogs will love long days trotting down the trail. Be prepared to slow down a bit when you’ve got your pup in tow, as you’ll need extra time for water, poop and sniff breaks.
“When you decide to run with your dog, you have to remember this is a shared activity, and your dog’s health and well-being should always come first. KOM’s and PRs probably aren’t going to happen when you start running with your dog, so maybe leave Strava off when you run with your pup!” says Schultz.
Take a cue from your pup, and embrace all the sights, sounds and smells of the trail.
“I love watching my dog explore the trails in a different way than I might be experiencing them,” says Hasenohr, “like stopping for a mid-run swim, or taking a moment to just lay in a sunny field and soak it all in. During runs like these, I’m constantly reminded to take in each moment and savor it, just like [my dog] Otto is doing!”
RELATED: Dog Days On Trails
Dogs Don’t Like It Hot
Dogs can’t handle heat and humidity as well as humans, so come prepared with extra water. A flask and a packable bowl make mid-run trail blaps quick and easy. Be careful running in temps above 70 degrees, and opt for shady, cool forest trails. Give your dog a rest day if it’s above 80. Most dogs will be fine without snacks on a run of 90 minutes or less, but for big adventures, be sure to pack some treats.
“When it’s hot, I make sure to bring dog treats that can’t melt in my pocket or his running pack, like biscuits or dog cookies,” says Hasenohr. “When it’s colder, I might bring him cheese cubes or softer treats. For longer runs and adventures, sometimes I’ll pack him a small amount of food and bring higher-calorie snacks like peanut butter and cheese.”
Dogs don’t have the ability to sweat like we do, so overheating is a concern, especially in the summer. Avoid running in the middle of the day, and pick trails where your pup might have a chance to dunk in a cooling stream or creek.
“Always have water and a water bowl with you while running in the event your dog needs water. Keeping an insulated water bottle in the car for the end of the run is also a good idea. Cooling vests like the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler are also a great way to help your dog stay cool on the trails,” says Schultz.
TIPS FOR TAILS ON THE TRAIL
- Leash up: Know and follow the leash rules on the trail you’re planning to run;
- Pack it out: There is no poop fairy. Plan ahead, bring bags and be prepared to carry out any waste your dog leaves behind.
- Filters: Dogs can get giardia, so don’t let your buddy drink from just any creek. Bring plenty of clean water or a filter just in case
Zoë Rom is the editor-in-chief of Trail Runner and hosts the DNF podcast.