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Distance Running + Dogs: How Far Can a Dog Run?

Distance Running + Dogs: How Far Can a Dog Run?

If you’re a runner with a dog, chances are you like to bring your dog along with you. Long distance runners might wonder how far a dog can run.

Is it safe for their four-legged pal to join them on their 20+ mile runs?

My dogs have always trained with me for my races, which have ranged from half marathons to 50Ks. Sometimes, that means they put in 50+ mile weeks.

Running with your dog is a great way for you both to get exercise and bond. Doing so safely is key to avoiding injuries and pain in your dog.

Do Dogs Like Long Distance Running?

There are some breeds of dogs that are bred more for running long distances over others. They’re naturally athletic, built for long days of travel on their feet, and have a lot of energy.

Some of the best running breeds include:

  • Alaskan Huskies (i.e. sled dogs)
  • Herding breeds like Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, and Cattle Dogs
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks
  • German Shorthaired Pointers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labradors
  • Mutt mixes of these breeds

This isn’t to say that these are the only breeds of dogs that should be running long distances. Just look at Gobi the Desert Dog, a small terrier-mix who ran 77 miles of the 155-mile Gobi Desert Run in China.

What is most important to look for is how your dog is holding up and whether they seem to enjoy running.

Less enthusiastic dogs will lag behind, run slowly, and injure easily.

Owners of brachycephalic, or short-nosed dogs should exercise extreme caution if they choose to run with their dog. The shape of their face prevents them from panting efficiently, making it impossible for them to properly cool down in certain conditions.

How Far Can a Dog Run Safely?

As you probably know, sled dogs competing in the Iditarod run 1,000 miles averaging eight to 10 miles per hour, pulling a sled. They’re mutts bred specifically for distance running, endurance, appetite, and speed.

It’s unlikely that you’ll ever see the average pet dog competing in the Iditarod!

Fortunately for those pet dogs who love to run, humans run far fewer miles. 

I asked Dr. Dalton Webb, a veterinarian at East Bend Animal Hospital in Bend, Oregon, if there was a maximum distance dogs should run and he said no.

He said that as long as the dog is keeping up, hydrated, and not limping, then they were ok to keep going.

As a reference, Sitka’s longest run with me so far is 23 Jen miles (because dogs always run a little more) and Sora’s was 20 miles, including during her final year at age 13.

I have friends who have run 50 miles with their dog in a day.

Dr. Webb said that at the veterinary clinic where he works in Bend, a city with a high rate of endurance dogs, that they don’t see conditioned dogs come in for issues, only those who have not built up their endurance.

How to Condition Your Dog to Running Long Distances

Just as a person wouldn’t go out and run a marathon, or even 6 miles on their first ever run, dogs shouldn’t either.

Just because a dog can seemingly run forever or “needs to burn off energy,” subjecting them to endurance activities too fast can lead to injury and dislike of the sport.

They need to build up their mileage slowly. The general rule of thumb is 10% each week, which is the same in most training plans for humans.

If you start a new plan with your dog, then perfect! You can build your mileage together. 

If your dog joins you midway through a training cycle, then bring them along on your shorter runs and leave them home on the long runs until they’ve built up the endurance.

Endurance dogs also require rest days, the same as humans do. This helps their bodies recover and prevents overuse injuries. 

On rest days, Sitka and I go for short walks, or we do more enrichment activities.

Is It Safe to Run with My Puppy?

There is a lot of conflicting information circling around about puppies and exercise. Because puppies are not skeletally mature, too much exercise can cause damage down the line. “Too much exercise,” however, is a bit subjective and depends on the breed and size of the dog.

Dr. Webb’s rule of thumb is to “let them set their own pace.” He said it’s ok to go on some hikes with young dogs, but don’t commit to a certain number of miles and allow for frequent rest. I’ve also heard this called “forced miles.”

Dr. Webb did say that he is most concerned with giant breed dogs who receive too much exercise before they are skeletally mature. They are genetically predisposed to orthopedic issues and high impact activities can cause significant damage.

Puppyhood is a great time to work on basic training skills, like loose leash walking, which will prepare you for a future trail dog.

Safety and Running Long Distances with Your Dog

As mentioned earlier, dehydration is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to dogs and running. 

I always bring Sitka his own water and on hotter days or longer runs, I choose trails with water access and more shade.

He wears a Ruffwear Singletrack hydration pack on such runs because I am not able to carry sufficient water for the both of us.

The other main safety concerns for dogs who run long distances include:

  • Torn paw pads
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Hypothermia

Always carry a first aid kit with you that includes, at a minimum, the following items for your dog:

  • A soft muzzle
  • Vet wrap
  • Gauze
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories
  • Benadryl (dogs can have 1mg per pound; round to the nearest 5 to 10 mg for dogs that are in between doses)
  • Dog booties (for torn paw pads; dogbooties.com boots are perfect and super cheap)
  • Optional: Emergency rescue sling, like the Airlift from Fido Pro

Taking a pet first aid course will ensure that you know how to react in the event of an emergency. They’re very affordable and could save your dog’s life.

Supplements for Dogs who Run Long Distances

A vet tech friend of mine said it’s a good idea for dogs who engage in endurance sports to start taking joint supplements from a young age.

Here is what I give to Sitka on a regular basis:

Wag Worthy Natural Joint Supplements

These joint supplements help build healthy joint tissue thanks to chondroprotectives like glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and Hyaluronic Acid. These ingredients help promote the formation of healthy cartilage and joint fluid and inhibit cartilage degradation.

Green lipped mussel powder

Green lipped mussels (GLM) are cultivated off the coast of New Zealand and found to have high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as other compounds that support healthy joints and reduce inflammation. They are also found to contain other fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals that benefit the skin and organs and help prevent diseases. 

Golden paste 

Turmeric is well known for its health benefits. It’s great for dogs, too! The bright orange spice is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, can help prevent cancer and reduce arthritis, and so much more. It’s really a super spice!

Here’s an easy recipe I use. I just make a big batch and freeze the rest. 

If you plan to bring your dog along for your training runs, just be sure to ease into the mileage and keep an eye on your dog for signs of fatigue or disinterest. 

Done properly, you and your dog can enjoy thousands of miles together!