Canine companion

Running with your dog is a great way to bond with (wo)man’s best friend. It helps to exercise your pet, and provides extra security, particularly if your dog is protective of you. Nicola Davies investigates what training is required, how you can get your dog up to your pace, and what equipment you should take with you

Dog breeds and running

Your pace and distance will determine the most suitable dog breed to accompany you. For example, medium-build dogs with strong hindquarters, like Weimaraners and Jack Russell Terriers, are best suited for long, steady runs of ten miles or more. Lean dogs like Greyhounds are the best companions for faster, shorter runs. Some of the more heavily built breeds, like Labradors, have plenty of stamina, but can’t keep up a rapid pace, preferring a slow jog-trot. This said; there have been Labs who can run as many as 25 miles at a time, as long as they have access to water along the way.

Obviously, some dogs, such as Dachshunds, Great Danes, Bulldogs and Pugs, will never have the same amount of endurance as dogs were bred to be able to cover long distances in one go. Certainly, pet owners who would like to run with their dogs need to be alert to their dogs’ needs and be ready to slack off when they show signs of tiring. The weather also plays an important role. Although Huskies are great endurance runners in cold conditions, they don’t tolerate heat well, while Rhodesian Ridgebacks thrive on hot-weather runs. Distance runner Chris Vargo regularly takes his dog along for 20-mile runs, but leaves him at home when the temperature exceeds 30 degrees.

Know when your dog shouldn’t run

Dog obedience expert, Shirley Holmes, says that the way your dog runs will tell you when they are beginning to tire and has had enough. “Your dog should run next to you with the leash slack,” she says. “If they start lagging behind and look winded rather than just panting in a healthy way, you need to slow down.” Apart from panting heavily and lagging behind, an overtired dog tends to lower their tail and ears. Dogs are generally keen to please their owners, so by the time they show signs of tiring, they really are exhausted and aren’t just “fooling around”. Pushing them harder could cause injury or even death.

Holmes cautions that older dogs, or dogs who have suffered back or leg injuries in the past, should be examined by a vet before risking long runs. However, dogs that are simply unfit can get fitter over time. She suggests starting them off with a one to three mile route and increasing the distance by around 10% from week to week. “Once they look comfortable with the distance, you can extend it. Most of the dogs I see are overweight and don’t get enough exercise.” Young pups also shouldn’t be required to run very long distances. Veterinarian Daleen Erasmus says that 18 months old is a good age to start, but warns that certain larger breeds may need to be 24 months old before they can be pushed hard without the risk of skeletal damage. “There’s nothing wrong with taking a pup on a light run,” she adds, “in fact, it’s good for them, but by a ‘light run’ I mean a jog around the park.”

Obedience

Since you will be meeting other runners and other dogs on your route, socialisation is extremely important. The younger a dog is when socialisation training takes place, the easier it is to teach your pet to get on well with other dogs and people. “You don’t want your dog suddenly yanking at the leash while you’re running,” says fitness enthusiast, Jacques Hugo, an eager runner who enjoys taking his Belgian Shepherd, Hamish, along on his daily jogs. “Hamish used to suddenly pull on the leash on seeing other dogs, and he’s had me off my feet once or twice when he suddenly jerks on the leash mid-stride. The last thing you want is your dog getting loose and a dog-fight on your hands.” Holmes agrees that leash training is an important first step and warns against letting a dog run off the leash, especially in high-traffic areas. “Even the best-behaved dogs can lose their heads at times, and a single lapse could result in your dog getting run over.

Basic obedience to voice commands like ‘come and ‘heel’ is a must, but the leash should stay firmly on, at least until you reach a park or other quiet area.” She also remarks that it is vital that people should respect wildlife: “It’s just not fair on the wildlife if you’re going to let your dog hunt,” she says. Hugo comments that obedience training made all the difference to Hamish, who used to react aggressively to other dogs. “Going to training and spending time with other dogs was helpful, and he doesn’t lose his head so easily and ignore commands. If he’s pulling on the leash, I can easily get him back to heel. He’s getting quite snobbish about noticing other dogs at all these days.” Once again, the earlier training begins, the easier it is for your dog to master the skills of basic obedience, but the breed of dog also affects just how well the lessons stick. Hugo emphasises the difference between different breeds in this respect. “My Airedale, Snips, was fairly well-behaved, but there were still times when she’d completely lose the plot because other things around her were more exciting. I think most terriers are a bit like that. As a Shepherd, Hamish is much more reliable. He sees running as his ‘job,’ and he is a working dog.”

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Choosing the right…

Leash most serious runners prefer a waist strap leash that they don’t have to hold onto. There are several designs, ranging from the basic to waist straps with extra compartments for storing doggie accessories. Leashes should be fairly short, allowing your dog to stay close and well-controlled.

Choke chains are popular since they don’t constrict the dog’s breathing unless he or she begins to pull. When using a traditional collar and lead, pet owners should ensure that they can easily slip two fingers between the collar and the neck. However, you should remember that dogs with tapering heads, like Dobermans and German Shepherds, easily learn to back out of the collar when they want to get free. Harnesses that fit around the dog’s body are particularly popular for smaller breeds; for dogs with breathing problems owing to pushed in faces; and for lightly built breeds such as

Greyhounds.

Having fun together

Even if you’ve got a dog that’s supposed to be a great runner owing to its particular breed, each dog is different. Be aware of your own dog’s reactions and physical needs when running with you, and always keep it fun for the animal as well as for yourself. Our canine companions generally want to please us, so any signs of physical distress should be taken seriously. Since taking your dog along on runs can be very new and exciting at first, runners should be patient and allow for a learning curve. Be firm with your dog, but remember to reward correct behaviour. “Hamish and I love our runs, but I’ll admit that at first I wondered if he’d ever get over making sudden stops to sniff thing,” Hugo says. “Now that Hamish knows what’s expected of him, we both love the experience of running together!”