With the recent news of Ludivine the hound dog running a half marathon in an astonishing time of 1:32:56, many pet owners are wondering whether or not their own dogs could be good running partners. After all, not only is exercise good for the health and well-being of both dog and human, but dogs that regularly engage in physical activity display less behavior problems and have a better quality of life. Before lacing up your shoes and bringing your dog along for your next long run, there are a number of things to consider.
Have a veterinarian evaluate your dog for running
Just as a human should visit the doctor before starting an exercise program, a dog should be checked by a veterinarian, as well. The vet will listen to your dog’s heart, check his body conformation, and discuss safety precautions that may be necessary for your dog. Not all breeds can handle vigorous activity (such as pugs or other short-nosed dogs), and a veterinarian will alert you whether your dog is a good candidate for vigorous activity. For puppies or young dogs, your veterinarian will also give you a timeline of how much exercise your dog can handle before he is finished growing.
Invest in a comfortable harness and leash
When running with your dog, never attach a leash directly to his or her collar. Some breeds, especially greyhounds, whippets, and dachshunds, have fragile necks and esophagi, and can become seriously injured from excessive force placed on a collar. A harness not only evenly distributes pressure across the dog’s body, but also gives the owner more control over the dog. Leashes are available in a wide variety of styles for running. Some runners prefer a leash with a cushioned handle, while others like the “hands-free” option, which loops around the owner’s waist.
Dogs, just like humans, need time to transition into an exercise routine. Notably, dogs need to develop calluses on their paw pads if planning to run primarily on concrete or asphalt. Start with a run/walk routine, where you and your dog alternate running for 1:00 – 3:00 and walking for 1:00 – 3:00. As you and your dog build endurance, increase the amount of time spent running, and decrease the amount of time spent walking.
Remember Your Dog just Wants to Be a Dog
Everyone has seen the runner on the bike path, begging his or her dog to keep running, to no avail. Don’t forget that your dog will want to stop and sniff the roses, take potty breaks, and occasionally stop running for no reason. Try to avoid becoming frustrated, as your dog is just happy to be outside with you and has no concept of “workout” or “exercise.”
Never Feed Your Dog Immediately Before or After Running
Be aware that feeding your dog before or immediately after exercise can lead to a serious and fatal condition called “bloat.” The intake of excessive air into the stomach, in addition to food or water, can cause the gasses in the stomach to become trapped, causing serious intestinal distress. For this reason, veterinarians recommend waiting two hours to feed a dog before or after vigorous exercise.