I'm lonely in quarantine and I'm thinking about getting a dog. Is a dog a great running partner or will my new four-legged friend drive me crazy?
~ Don G.
Our answer, a.k.a., My Liberal Stance on Running with Your Dog
Running with your dog can be the best! I know this from my personal experience with my Alaskan Malamute, Molly. I consider myself a normal middle of the road person, so if you are an extreme rule follower it might be best for you to stop reading or take what I say with a grain of salt. My mentality is a more laissez-faire approach in that I follow most of the rules, but like to remember that this is supposed to be fun for both you and your dog. In the risk vs. reward spectrum I aim for the higher return.
I’ve compiled some key points to take into account below. Some are rather obvious, some not so much.
1. Take your Dog’s Breed into account.
The average dog is capable of running 2 to 5 miles, but make sure your dog’s breed can handle longer distances before attempting anything farther. Some of the best breeds for long distance running include, but aren’t limited to, Border Collies, Australian (and German) Shepherds, Weimaraners, Vizslas, Huskies (and Malamutes), and Labs. Terriers are great for short quick runs of 3 miles or less. But don’t be held back by stereotypes, maybe your dog just loves to run.
2. When can you start running with your dog?
Molly’s Vet told us that she could start easing into runs once she was 8 months old. I had heard all these stories about how larger breeds are more likely to develop hip dysplasia and arthritis so I was a little paranoid at the beginning and decided to wait longer. I elected to spay Molly after she had her first menstruation cycle to make sure that she was really done growing (this ended up being at about the 1 year mark) and we didn’t start running seriously until afterwards.
I’m glad I waited and in general I would say if you intend to do some serious running with your dog later on, it’s worth the wait. I’ll also add here that your dog should know some basic commands while walking before attempting them while running. At bare minimum, “Leave it”, “Come”, and “Stay” are good ones. I am also VERY glad that I taught Molly “Left” and “Right”. This was easier than I thought. I started when she was a puppy helping her to differentiate the different sides of her body by asking for her “Left Paw” and “Right Paw”, by pulling her left ear and right ear while saying the side out-loud, and then by announcing “Left” or “Right” every time we turned on a walk.
3. Ease into mileage.
My aunt was a runner, so one day she took her sister’s 200lb Saint Bernard for a run. A very long 6 miles later he returned home, drank a ton of water, and fell asleep. The next time my aunt tried to take him on a run they didn’t make it to the end of the driveway before the pooch laid down and wouldn’t move. He had decided this running thing wasn’t for him and I don’t blame him!
You wouldn’t have someone who has never run before go on a 6 mile run. You would have them ease into their training and increase mileage and frequency gradually, everyone needs rest days. Well do the same for your dog. I suggest using the 10% increase rule since you want them to LOVE this!
4. Throw your watch out the window…metaphorically because those are expensive!
Expect your run to take longer than normal. Depending on your dog, they will have to pee several times or 100 times to mark their territory. Either way it means stopping a ton. Just go with the flow 😏and enjoy being outside with your dog. I usually save runs with Molly for easy days in my training or have her join me on my warm ups and cool downs. When she was little she would howl every time I ran by on the track, but she’s gotten used to it and a good treat usually does the trick.
5. Pick up your dog’s poop.
Seriously. Please. These days there are plenty of trash bins along routes to toss it, and if there aren’t maybe this is the perfect opportunity to plan a new route. I tie about 3 bags around the leash or if we’re off-leash around her remote (I’ll get to that in a bit). However, I do have a caveat here. IF you are in the woods, standard good ole fashioned woods, not conservation lands, wildlife sanctuary, or reservoirs, then as long as your dog poops off the trail you’re good to carry on in my book.
6. Follow the Rules.
If dogs are allowed then you’re golden…and extremely lucky since these places don’t come around often. If however you drove by a sign saying No Dogs on your way to the parking lot, saw one in front of your spot, and then walked by one on the way to the trailhead, don’t be a dummy. Leave your dog at home or, as I would do, drive to another venue.
If however, you know from looking on the website that dogs are not allowed but there is no signage at the actual location…plausible deniability is a real thing. Just be prepared to pay the consequences. I have been known to risk a $50 fine, but we get back in the car for a $500 fine.
7. To leash or not to leash.
Same goes for the leash thing. People get very uptight about this issue. My dog is trained to be completely off-leash 90% of the time. She has gone on countless off-leash runs including through Boston’s busy streets, stopping at each light with me and my athletes.
On more isolated trails I leave the leash at home and use her remote collar - (I have Garmin’s Delta XC). But when a leash is absolutely necessary, i.e. there are a million signs indicating the leash law, I Love my Adjustable leash by Found My Animal. If your dog is a puller you might be better off with a bungee version such as Tuff Mutt’s Hands Free Leash to save your knees and hips.
8. Pay attention to the weather.
Molly is an Alaskan Malamute so I don’t have to pay as much attention in the colder months since we have yet to experience a day too cold for her. But for those of you with smaller dogs or dogs with hair/no fur should consider a coat or limiting your time outside.
If you are in a more populated area pay attention to the salt being put on sidewalks, streets, and driveways during the winter. The pet friendly version is becoming more and more popular, but more often than not standard salt is used which can irritate your dog’s paws, and it’s poisonous if they lick them afterwards. Some dogs accumulate ice in their paws as well so booties are a great option. I like Ruffwear’s Boots. If you aren’t a dog shoes person then Musher’s Secret Paw Wax is a good solution as well. I typically just rinse Molly’s paws in warm soapy water when we get back home.
Summer is a different story for my winter breed. I only take her out in the early mornings or late evenings due to the heat. By keeping the runs slightly shorter and making sure she has plenty of water she’s able to run year round. You can run with a water bottle, or as I prefer, find a loop that has several water stops. Remember these aren’t your ‘hitting a time’ runs so there’s always time for a quick dip.
When humans get overheated we drink water and put ice cubes on our pressure points like the neck and inner wrist. Dogs have these spots in their armpits and inner thighs, so even just standing in some deeper water cools them down immediately. Depending on how hot it gets where you are, booties might be a good idea as well if you’re running on pavement. No-one likes the feeling of feet melting on scalding pavement or sand, dogs included. You can determine if the pavement is too hot by placing your hand on it for 5 seconds.
9. If you’re wearing reflective gear, so should your dog.
Yes, they make fancy LED and reflective collars and leashes. I especially like Ruffwear’s Track Jacket Reflective Vest since it’s orange and great for areas where hunting is allowed. One night years ago I put my reflective vest on Molly spontaneously for a run and it’s been hers ever since.
The more I train the more I eat. Keep that in mind for your dog as well. Our resident Chaski nutritionist might cringe if she saw my diet -- let’s just say I’m less structured than many elite athletes that I know. But I do try to have something small when I finish a run and the same goes for Molly. On our longer run days I give her a scoop of peanut butter or one of her jerky treats afterwards for some protein. During the summer her mileage goes down, but in the winter she runs a lot more so I typically add a half cup of food per day to her diet.