Running with your dog is a great way to provide regular exercise, prevent obesity and also bond with them.
Dogs are truly the best running partners, and as long as you approach the training correctly, they can join you for your regular runs without issue.
I’ve put in thousands of miles on the trails in the decade that I’ve been running with my canine companions. As long as they are physically able, my dogs will train right along with me for my ultramarathons.
Before your furry friend starts to join you on the trails, there are some important details to consider. The following tips will help get you started on the right foot and help ensure long term health and enjoyment for both you and your dog.
At the surface, running with your dog is as easy as putting on your shoes and heading out the door.
However, there are some considerations, like obedience training, health and fitness, and conditioning to be aware of before you get started.
The Best Dog Breeds for Running
While I personally believe that most dogs can run as long as they enjoy it and build up the stamina, there are some breeds are better suited for running long distances, while others should stick to shorter runs.
Among the best dog breeds for running include naturally active, high-energy dogs, like:
- Australian Shepherds
- Border Collies
- German Short-Haired Pointers
- Rhodesian Ridgebacks
Smaller dogs and those with short legs like Corgis, Terriers, Dachshunds and Papillons can still join their humans on runs, but may prefer to stick to shorter distances of 2-3 miles. That said, ultrarunner Catra Corbett famously runs long distances with her Dachshunds!
Great Danes, because of their extra large size should generally also stick to shorter runs.
Brachycephalic dogs, those with short muzzles, are not ideal candidates for running.
Their respiratory system does not allow for long term heavy exercise and they can overheat easily or may have difficulty breathing with intense exercise, however, that doesn’t mean that they can’t join you for shorter runs!
Short-nosed breeds include:
- French Bulldogs
- Boston Terriers
- Bull Terriers
Health Issues that May Prevent Running with Your Dog
Depending on the age and health of your dog, there may be some medical conditions that will prevent you from being able to run with your dog. Some may be reversible, while others may require you to find alternative activities to enjoy with your dog.
The following are a few common conditions that may mean that your dog is not the best candidate for running:
- Hip Dysplasia
Make sure to do regular check ups with your veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions before you start running together.
When Can I Start Running with My Dog?
It depends on the age and size of your dog. If you have a puppy, the general rule is to wait to start running until the dog’s growth plates have completed development.
You may be able to do some shorter distances, but use this time for training to hone your dog’s obedience skills.
Depending on the size of the dog, this can be anywhere between eight and 18 months. Small dogs will be able to run earlier, whereas those with larger dogs will have to wait.
Before hitting the trail with your young dog, check with your veterinarian and get the green light. They’ll probably take some X-rays to determine whether the bones have finished growing.
Starting before a dog’s bones have not finished growing can damage a dog’s joints and bone development and lead to serious medical problems later in life, including early arthritis, hip dysplasia, and fractures.
Training Your Dog to Run
Before starting to run with a dog, the first thing you need to do is teach them how to walk nicely on leash. Running with a dog that pulls is not fun, and it’s dangerous if you are on trail.
Your first several runs should not really involve much running at all.
Start out slowly and increase speed and distance over the course of several weeks. Change your pace frequently during your structured training so that your dog understands that heel means heel, whether you’re walking or running.
Start out by jogging around a park with few distractions. As your dog becomes fluent in what you’re teaching, increase the distractions. Head to a busy park, a multi-use path, a popular running trail.
You eventually want to reach a point where both you and your dog feel comfortable running together without worry of distraction or reaction toward other dogs or people. The goal is to show your dog this is a version of walking, only at a faster pace.
Running with Your Dog Off-Leash
If your goal is to run off-leash with your dog, it’s important to ensure that your dog is trained and under voice control at all times.
Running (or hiking) off-leash with your dog is an earned privilege, not a right. Keep your dog on a leash until they prove to you that they are reliable off-leash.
It is not OK to allow your dog to approach other humans or people without permission, no matter how social they may be.
I can’t recommend working with a professional dog trainer highly enough. It completely changed the way I run with my dog and I was able to train Sitka for off-leash reliability, thanks to e-collar training.
What are the Essential Commands Your Dog Should Know for Running?
Good trail etiquette will ensure that all users have an enjoyable experience out in nature.
Teaching your dog these basic obedience commands before you hit the trail will avoid any unwanted and potentially dangerous encounters with other people and dogs.
- No or Leave it
- Follow Me/Back/or Behind – This is great for single-track trail runs or for those with reactive dogs
How Far Can My Dog Run?
According to my vet, dogs can run pretty much any distance, provided they follow a proper training program.
Even as a senior dog at age 12, Sora regularly joined me on my long runs, up to 20 miles. Sitka’s longest run so far is 23 miles.
To keep my dog’s joints in tip top shape, I give him a daily joint supplement from Wag Worthy Naturals that contains glucosamine and chondroitin as well as regular green lipped muscle powder.
The key is building distance slowly over time, just like you would for yourself. If you’re three months into marathon training, don’t take your pup out on that 20-miler just because they have endless energy.
Like any training, gradually build up distance, no more than 10% per week. Look for a training plan that involves running and walking, like Jeff Galloway’s training plans and pay close attention to your dog’s stamina as you begin. Take note of whether they’re panting a lot, limping, or slowing down after a certain distance.
If you’re just starting out with your dog, follow a plan like a Couch to 5k. Or, if you’re already training for a half marathon or marathon, have your dog join you on your warm up or on your easy days, starting with once or twice per week.
Be sure to incorporate rest days, especially after a tough run. These are crucial for recovery and longterm health.
Gear for Running with a Dog
I have a fully detailed about my trail running gear set up, but the list below includes basic items.
- Hands-free running leash. I personally only run hands free for better balance and use of both hands. Avoid using retractable leashes for running, unless you are working on off-leash recall.
- Running belt or running vest. I include several options in my hands-free running post linked above.
- Poop bags
- Updated ID tag. I use a Road ID.
- Water + Collapsible bowl
Check the Weather Conditions
Depending on the time of the year, the weather may not be ideal for your dog. Extreme temperatures can cause medical emergencies in dogs, so be aware before you head out.
Running in Hot Weather
During the warm weather months, your dog is at increased risk for various medical issues, such as:
- Heat stroke
- Heat Exhaustion
- Burned paw pads
To avoid veterinary emergencies in hot weather, follow these tips for keeping your dog cool. Pay attention to your dog and keep an eye out for any signs of concern, including:
- Excessive panting
- White gums
- Excessive drooling
Plan your runs for the early morning and, if you can, run near a river or lake so your dog can hop in and cool off if they like. Bring extra water along to keep your dog hydrated and avoid the pavement, which can burn your dog’s paw pads.
Running in Cold Weather + Snow
At the other extreme, winter cold can affect your dog as well.
Jackets – Dogs with short coats or who feel cold easily may require a jacket. When running in the snow, check for ice balls accumulated in your dog’s paws or snow balls on their fur. If you notice them limping, that’s probably the cause.
Paw Protection – There are a couple of ways to protect your pup’s paws from the winter elements. The first option is a boot, like the Ruffwear Polar Trex booties. The Vibram sole provides traction, and the insulated softshell fabric offers breathable, weatherproof protection in cold and inclement weather.
Above All, Know Your Dog
Not all dogs are going to be as excited about running as you might be. Never force your dog into a sport they don’t enjoy.
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