Assess Your Dog’s Health and Fitness
You’ve probably heard it’s recommended that we consult our physician before starting a new exercise routine. The same goes for our four-legged friends. If you’re thinking about taking your dog for a run or jog, schedule an appointment with your local veterinarian.
Your pet’s doctor will examine your dog and check for medical conditions, such as arthritis, heart disease and obesity that could make running uncomfortable or even dangerous. Also, be prepared to answer a few questions about your dog’s current activity level: How often do they get out for walks, and how far or how long do you go? Does your dog do any other types of exercise, such as swimming or hiking?
Making sure your pup is in good health is a great first step in starting a fun and safe exercise routine.
Master Leash Manners
It’s important to make sure your dog has good leash manners before you hit the pavement. Ask yourself how your dog behaves on walks, and how they act around other dogs and strangers. Are they easily distracted? Is your dog known for chasing squirrels and cars? Do they weave from side to side, causing you to stop suddenly or trip over them?
While running with your dog is a great opportunity to practice leash manners, it’s important to master the basics. This will help ensure everyone’s safety. The last thing you want to happen on a run is injury. If your dog runs after another person or animal, or has a hard time staying in their lane, both of you could end up hurt.
If your pup needs to brush up on leash training, practice commands such as “heel” to help avoid tripping over them, as well as “leave it” if they go after other dogs or people on walks.
Get the Right Equipment
Neck collars, especially tightening collars (e.g., choke chain collars), can cause damage to your dog’s trachea, larynx or vertebrae if they pull strongly or suddenly. That’s why it’s best to fit your dog with a body harness. Wearing a harness not only minimizes the risk of injury for your pup, but it also allows you to control your dog better if they pull. Make sure your dog’s body harness fits well (not too tight) to prevent chafing.
When it comes to leashes, hands-free leashes are okay for seasoned runners and well-trained dogs; however, novice runners and city joggers are better off using a short hand-held leash. A short leash ensures your dog can’t get too far ahead of you, and keeping the leash in your hand gives you maximum control of your pup. For example, if your dog takes off after a stray cat, you can pull back instead of getting yanked by the waist.
Collapsible Water Bowl
Staying hydrated is key to a safe run for both you and your dog. As a rule of thumb, if you need to bring water for yourself – especially in the summer months or on long runs – you should also pack water for your pup. Pack a light-weight, collapsible water bowl that you can quickly break out when your dog needs a water break.
Even if your dog is in great shape, it’s best to start a new exercise routine slowly. Start out by jogging a half mile, and if your pup appears comfortable or interested in going farther, continue for another half mile. Do this for up to two miles when you’re first starting out. This will help ease your dog into running, as well as prevent injury.
Watch for Overheating and Injury
Did you know that some dog breeds are more prone to overheating than others? Short-nose (brachycephalic) dogs and dogs with long, thick coats are more likely to experience overheating, especially if you live in a hot or humid climate.
But no matter where you live or your dog’s breed, it’s important to monitor their behavior when you’re working out together. Look for excessive panting, an enlarged and flattened tongue, and sluggish behavior. These are all signs that your dog is getting too hot and needs a rest. Avoid dehydration and overheating by taking frequent water breaks.
If your dog is struggling to keep up with you, or shows the slightest sign of pain, it’s time to call it a day. Forcing your dog to push through the pain could make a small injury a big deal. If you suspect your pet is suffering from injury, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
Think About Their Paws
As you lace up your running shoes, think about your dog’s paws. The undersides of your pup’s feet are thick and resilient: They help absorb shock, give traction and protect against extreme temperatures. Your dog’s paws are pretty amazing, but they can experience injury, including burns, cuts and irritation from chemicals.
Signs of Paw Injury
When you’re out running with your dog, pay close attention to their gait. The telltale sign your pup’s paws are bothering them is limping. Other symptoms of paw injury include:
- Excessive licking of the paw pad
- Reluctance to put weight on the paw
Take care to avoid surfaces with hot temperatures, such as concrete or asphalt, in the heat of summer, streets littered with broken glass and sidewalks that have been treated with chemicals (e.g., salt to prevent ice from forming).
Cuts and Punctures
If your dog’s paws get cut or punctured on your run, clean the wound by removing debris, such as glass, and rinse with water. Also try to stop the bleeding by applying pressure with a bandage or paper towel. Even if your pet’s injury isn’t severe, it’s always a good idea to follow up with a visit to the vet as soon as possible.
Soothe burned dog paws by running cold water over them with a garden hose or in the bath tub. You might also try using cool packs, but take care to wrap them in a hand towel or paper towel to avoid direct contact with the paw pad. Contact your veterinarian to discuss the severity of the burns and the proper treatment.
The best kind of exercise is the type we enjoy doing. Going the distance with our furry friends not only motivates us to keep healthy and fit, but it also gives us another opportunity to bond with them. With patience, the right gear and a few safety tips, you can make running with your dog a fun experience for both of you.