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Running with your pooch can be one of the most rewarding activities, yet it’s important to ensure the dog days of summer don’t get the best of you (or your best friend): dogs can easily overheat, become fatigued and even run too far for their health.
Is There Such Thing as Too Much Mileage?
Yes. Some breeds of dogs simply shouldn’t run very far—regardless of its owner’s training goals.
Herding and terrier dogs, like Australian Shepherds and Border Collies are generally best suited for running longer distances, while dogs in the “toy” and “non-sporting” groups, such as Pomeranians and Chihuahuas, are probably best for neighborhood walks.
Dr. Justine Lee, a veterinary board-certified emergency critical-care specialist and toxicologist and runner, recommends considering the body type of your pet. Long and lean dogs tend to be better equipped to run. Short, low-to-the-ground and stocky breeds are more likely to get injured if they run more than a mile or two consistently.
Another indication of whether your dog is not suited for running: if he/she has a compressed nose or snores. These qualities mean that your dog is likely brachiosystolic—the nostrils are small and can’t accommodate deep breathing.
“Even if your dog has a body suited for exercise, if it snores, have your veterinarian check the lungs and trachea to assess running capabilities,” says Dr. Lee.
Growth plates in puppies join around 13 to 15 months and running before then can be dangerous. Once your puppy is old enough, start slow and short, gradually increasing the pace, ensuring your dog can keep up easily.
Professional runner, coach and race director Krissy Moehl started running with her pup, PD, at one year old. She began with 20- to 30-mile weeks and gradually increased from there. “The mileage just depends,” says Moehl. “I haven’t run her over 18 miles … I don’t think she’ll ever need to run more than that.”
Train your pet like you train yourself (or much gentler if you think pain is a sign of improvement). Because you can’t ask your pet about being tired, sore or thirsty, watch for behavior changes. If your furry friend is running behind you and not in front of you or at your side, that’s dog-speak for, “I don’t want to run anymore.”
For instance, PD “gets a little less wily” and that’s how Moehl knows she’s done for the day.
How to Avoid Injury
Learn about the common injuries associated with your dog’s breed and whether running might be an aggravating factor. For example, huskies and greyhounds are often thought to be great running partners, yet they are prone to overheating and myopathy (the breakdown of muscle and subsequent release of potassium) if they run too far.
“Remember that greyhounds are bred to race short distances,” says Dr. Lee. “When they race, it’s never more than about a mile.”
Some breeds are prone to hip dysplasia (a disease wherein the ball-and-socket joint doesn’t fit properly together), like Labrador retrievers and German shepherds. Many breeds also develop arthritis with old age.
Moehl stays close to water sources when running with PD, and if it’s extra hot she’ll encourage her to lie down in the water. She also runs during cooler parts of the day and ensures she has plenty of water to keep them both hydrated.
Dogs sweat primarily through panting, and thermoregulate with their paws, so it’s very important to keep your dog well hydrated and cool. Don’t let your dog run with a ball (or other toy) in its mouth, as it won’t be able to efficiently regulate temperature.
“If temperature plus humidity is more than 150, it’s too hot to run with your dog,” says Dr. Lee. “In Minnesota I see heat stroke in dogs at 80 degrees. Short distance is OK, but nothing too long. I’ve had friends lose dogs in 85-degree weather. Once a dog goes into heat stroke and organ failure, the prognosis is terrible.”
How can you tell if your dog is exhausted or overheating? “I encourage owners to look for whether their dog is excessively panting, if the gums are dark and if the tongue is hanging out,” says Dr. Lee. “These are signs that the dog is too hot or exhausted.”
You might also notice nasal flaring, concentrated urine (darker urine color), flushed skin on the belly or just that your dog is hot to the touch. All of these signs mean it’s time to head home.
Remember that dogs don’t have the knowledge not to push through fatigue and injury as their two-legged counterparts. So, if you dog is slightly injured or needs to recover after a long run, consider going for a few walks instead of runs and including plenty of rest time.
Off Leash and on Trail
Often, runners extol off-leash running, yet it’s an extra responsibility for a dog owner. Not only should you check the trail rules for running with a dog, but you should be sure your pet won’t disturb other runners and will safely return to you when you call.
“My general rule,” says Dr. Lee, “is if you can’t commit to two levels of puppy obedience [class], you shouldn’t have a dog. Puppy obedience will teach basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘leave it.’”
“Leave it” is one of the most important commands for trail runners. It will prevent darting, dangerous wildlife encounters, running into streets and bothering other runners. “If you don’t have ‘leave it,’ always have your dog on a leash.”