Is It Safe to Run With Your Dog?
Before you put paws to pavement, brush up on the safest way to exercise with your pup
When you see someone running or Rollerblading with their dog in tow, do you ever wonder if that strenuous exercise is good for the pooch?
It’s a question all dog owners should ask themselves. Just as not all humans are cut out to be runners, not all canines are designed to log mile after mile. After a point, your pup may stop having fun — and start hurting.
Many dogs do make good running companions, says Chris Frye, DVM, a resident in sports medicine rehab and clinical nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “In general, canines are good at running long distances. That’s what they’re made for. Their physiology enjoys it. But they are eager to please their masters, and that eagerness will sometimes trump injury. So it is really important to make sure that you are careful with your dog before asking too much of him or her in terms of running.”
What to consider before running with your dog
Before you hit the trail or pavement, stop and think about these factors.
Your dog’s age. “When you have a growing dog, and its bones are still developing, keep them off high impact activity such as running on pavement until they’ve matured skeletally,” says Frye. On the other end, if you have an aging dog, know his limits and look for signs of arthritis such as being sore after exercise. Be sure to tell your vet that you want to run with your dog, and ask if your dog is a good candidate for such exercise. You dog should have a full physical examination, especially focusing on her heart, lung, orthopedic and neurological function. “Get a good assessment of the pet, and get a plan,” Frye urges.
Your dog’s drive for activity. Different breeds have different activity levels, Frye says. “A beagle wants to just sniff stuff and bolt. Other breeds will want to jog along with an owner, and never stop for a sniff.” If running is what you and your dog do together, Frye says, it’s probably a good idea to walk a short way so your dog can do what dogs do outside — sniffing, eliminating, and greeting other animals — before starting your run.
The temperature outside. If it’s really hot out, just don’t do it. “For a dog, it’s like running in a fur coat,” Frye says. And if you’re planning to run on pavement, forget it. “The street can be very hot on your dog’s paws.” Frigid winter air? There are risks to cold weather, too. Dogs frequently slip on ice and injure themselves, and salt pellets in their paws are painful. It’s probably better to avoid extreme weather, Frye adds.
Your exercise schedule. Just as human “weekend warriors” often hurt themselves by doing strenuous exercise when they're not conditioned for it, dogs can hurt themselves if they aren't used to regular runs. “Don’t go on a five-mile run with your dog spur of the moment,” Frye says. “Make sure your dog is conditioned and that the conditioning is maintained to a degree.”
Your dog’s weight. If your dog is too heavy (check with your vet about that), running may be dangerous and cause injury or heart problems. If you want exercise to be part of a weight loss program for your dog, consider swimming, Frye says. “Water exercise might be better."
Your dog’s face. Yes, look at your dog’s face. Those adorable “squished-face” breeds — like pugs or English bull dogs — often have impediments to breathing, Frye says, and so may become truly distressed by running long distances.
Warning signs of trouble
Stop if your dog begins to pant excessively or if his breathing seems labored.
Watch his collar, if he's wearing one. "Are you putting excessive pressure on the windpipe?" asks Frye. "A harness is more ideal than a collar, and a better way to control your dog and keep him or her from running into the road or wrapping a pole and injuring you.”
Is your dog limping or pulling up a leg? “This can be subtle, but if the dog is acting gimpy at all, you should see a veterinarian,” Frye says. “Dogs want to be with you and they will often ignore injuries or hide them — they’re better at that than humans, but we have to look out for them and be their guardians.”
Keeping exercise healthy for your pooch
Exercising your pet is an excellent idea, but, warns Frye, “there’s a fine balance between getting that mental and physical stimulation and bond with the pet and making sure that they’re healthy and safe.” He offers a few general tips for keeping Fido healthy while exercising:
- Warm up. It might sound silly, but don’t whisk your dog out of the house first thing in the morning without letting her stretch a little first. Dogs do it naturally, so give them time to work out their kinks. Walk a little before you start out. Trot slowly before breaking into a run.
- Cool down. Finish your run with a period of walking — at least five minutes, says Frye, to allow your dog to cool down and catch his breath.
- Pile on protein. If your dog is healthy runner, his food should be a balanced and complete high-end diet with a greater proportion of high quality protein. “It’s difficult to look at the back of a bag of dog food and know what’s really in it,” Frye says, noting that the ingredients are not as easy to understand as human food. You can give your dog a cooked egg a few times a week, but if you want to be sure that he or she is getting optimal nutrition, a veterinary nutritionist (or your vet) can recommend the best food for your active dog.
Related: The Downsides of Homemade Dog Food