We all know that dogs make for fantastic companions, but we often forget that they can benefit our health as well. Having a canine companion gives a great excuse to get out and exercise! However, just as you wouldn’t drag an untrained spouse or friend out for a five-mile run, you shouldn’t take your couch potato pooch for a 5k without training. Even though many dogs are born to run, you need to start slow. Here are six easy steps to get started:
Step 1: Wait till they are grown
Puppies should not go running until their bones stop growing. If you take a puppy out to soon you can cause changes in their joints that can lead to arthritis. A general minimum age is 9 month for small breeds, and 12-16 months for large and/or giant breeds. If you are unsure, check with your veterinarian.
Step 2: Get a check-up
Before you start any exercise program with your dog, it is a good idea to get your dog checked out. If your dog is overweight or has spent the past year lying around on the couch, start by just walking. If you have a newly adopted pet, go slowly so assess fitness and energy levels. If you dog is older or has medical conditions, talk with your veterinarian about recommended duration and intensity of runs.
Step 3: Don’t Push too Hard
Just like you do when you start running, you want to ramp up slowly and build daily. Start with 3 times per week for 15 to 20 minutes and go from there. If you add five minutes each week, you generally can’t go wrong. Don’t forget your 5 minute warm-up – it is important for the both of you!
Step 4: Watch for Signs of Fatigue and Road Injuries
A dog will tell you when he or she has had enough. Signs of fatigue in dogs include tail down, heavy panting, dragging behind you, and flattened ears. If your dog is really lethargic after a run, she might need a couple of days off. On very hot days, hot pavement can burn sensitive pads – so save your runs for early morning or later in the evening and examine your dog’s paws after running.
Step 5: Use a leash
This may seem intuitive, but unless you are running in the wilderness where dogs are allowed to be under voice control, use a leash. I recommend training your dog to use a gentle leader (head halter), which will keep your dog from pulling. You want your dog to be within 3 feet of you on one side to keep you from tripping. Reinforce this practice with a small treat or praise, and be consistent about where you want your dog.
Step 6: Practice Trail Courtesy
Don’t assume that everybody out there wants to pet your dog – not everybody is as big of dog lovers as we are! If you come across other people on a trail or sidewalk, pull off to the side to let them pass without interacting with your dog. Also – no one wants to step on dog poop during a run. Tie a small plastic bag to your leash to bag up anything your pet leaves behind, and dispose of the bag and its contents properly. Hopefully, you’ll be moving too fast for your dog to even think about doing number 2, but if he does, have a plan!