Top 10 Dog Breeds for Trail Runners

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What to look for when selecting a four-legged partner for the trails

Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user Tony Alter

Sometimes, the best running companions are the ones who don’t talk, and let you make all the decisions about where to run, how fast to go and how long the run should last.

Sometimes, the best running companions are our dogs.

“When choosing a dog as a running companion, look for a high-energy dog that is fast, agile and spunky,” says J.T. Clough, professional dog trainer and handler and author of the 5K Training Guide, Running with Dogs.

Here are a few other guidelines to keep in mind on which breeds are best suited to running.

Body Type
Similar to humans, lean, long-bodied dogs tend to run easier than stockier, heavy dogs. Weimaraners, for example, make great companions since their bodies are naturally muscular and wiry. However, says Clough, “Hard rules can’t always be followed. Short-bodied dogs, like pit bulls and American Staffordshire terriers, can also make excellent long-distance partners.”

Are there any breeds that shouldn’t run long distances? Unfortunately, yes. Short-nosed breeds, like pugs and bullmastiffs, are not well suited for running. Known as brachycephalics, these breeds have abnormalities in their noses and throats that make breathing difficult–especially, explains Clough, when they have a raised heart rate due to extended periods of labor. “In warmer climates,” she advises, “these dogs are also more susceptible to heat stroke.”

Energy level and temperament are among the most important factors for determining whether you’ll be dragging your dog along–or trying to keep up. Looking at the history of the breed, consider whether the dog was originally bred for hunting or herding. Labrador retrievers, for example, can make great shorter-distance trail companions due to their high energy and retrieving capabilities. But, Clough cautions, “Depending on their breeding line and owner responsibility, they can carry extra weight, making them prone to laziness.”

Climate and Fur Quality
Dogs are amazingly adaptable, says Clough, and because their sweat glands are located on their paw pads, noses and tongues, a long coat doesn’t necessarily mean the dog should be kept in a cold climate. What determines the ideal climate for your dog then? Fur thickness.

“Dogs with multi-layered coats like huskies, Akitas and labrador retrievers can more easily handle cold weather. That can also make them vulnerable to heat, particularly humidity,” says Clough. On the flip side, dogs with thin, short coats, like Jack Russell terriers and Vizslas, are better suited for warmer climates. If you do want to take your cold-prone dog on a run, Clough advises, make sure you have a quality coat to cover your dog’s torso. Ensure that there are no seams or material rubbing under the armpit; dogs hate chafing just as much as we human runners do.

While mixed breeds, better known as mutts, can make great running companions, too, Clough lists these 10 breeds as the best trail-running partners.

1. Border Collie


Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user Brida Anderson

The energetic, agile border collie was originally bred to herd sheep, but this dog is just as happy to be running circles (or loops) on the local trails. Because the border collie is considered to be one of the most intelligent dog breeds, it’s possible to train him to stay under voice control in off-leash areas.

2. Weimaraner


Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user Pedro Lozano

Described as “versatile Continental hunting dogs,” weimaraners make great long-distance running companions. Their long limbs make them natural runners and their short coats allow for warmer conditions.

3. Goldendoodle


Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user CheeseyMush

The loyal and smart goldendoodle–a mix of the family-friendly golden retriever and the graceful poodle–is a great running partner for medium-distance runners. Their strong desire to please, as well as their natural athleticism and affinity for water, make them easygoing partners.

4. Standard Poodle


Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user Tim Wilson

The affectionate, and often misunderstood, standard poodle is an outgoing (and hypoallergenic) dog that loves to run. Its name is derived from the German “pudelhund,” which roughly translates to “splashing dog,” as it was originally bred as a water retriever.

5. Vizsla


Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user 1000zen

Though not a common breed, Vizslas make excellent endurance-running partners. Built for speed but agile enough to tackle tricky trails, the gentle but robust breed is a great choice.

6. Jack Russell Terrier


Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user Frugan

Small and spunky, Jack Russells are athletic, excitable dogs that are happy to burn off energy on both long and short runs. Their size makes them a plus for runners living in smaller spaces.

7. Dalmatian

Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user Jennifer C.

The classic fire-house dog is just as much a runner’s partner as a firefighter’s assistant. Built long and lean, the vigilant dalmatian may be especially beneficial to runners looking for protection on the trails.

8. Australian Cattle Dog


Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user Nam Nguyen

The mid-sized Australian cattle dog is a herder at heart. Loyal, smart and fearless, this dog will likely outrun you in distance.

9. Belgian Malinois


Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user Olgierd Rudak

This strong, athletic breed is often used for police and guard dogs. What helps them excel at those duties are the same traits that make a great running companion: obedient, confident and high energy.


10. Doberman Pinscher


Creative Commons / Photo by Flickr user Jerry Gunner

The alert and active Doberman is often seen more as a guard dog than a running buddy. But make no mistake, these dogs are determined and will relentlessly push forward, likely dragging you along for the run!

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