Updated: Jan 3
We all know the feeling - it's January, time for the " new year, new me" craze to dominate our timelines, with people all around us embarking on a new fitness journey. Running has always been a popular choice for those wishing to improve fitness and take up a new hobby, and is especially attractive to those who already have a four legged partner. You've bought your trainers, got your fitbit, done your prep and know how to warm up, cool down and stretch... but what about your dog?
Firstly, you need to assess whether running is an appropriate exercise for your particular dog. Running is an absolute no-go for puppies; whilst the age of reaching skeletal maturity differs between breeds, as a general rule, most dogs will be mature after they have reached 1 year old. Over-exercising young dogs with open growth plates is a major cause of growth abnormalities and musculoskeletal dysfunction in later life (one example being Hip Dysplasia - covered in another blog post). Similarly, running won't be appropriate for an older, arthritic dog. Remember, your dog doesn't realise that they have to take things easier in their older years, so it's up to you to ensure that they are not performing exercise that will be detrimental to them. Dogs with other conditions requiring controlled exercise such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate ligament disease etc. are also not ideal candidates for high impact, long distance activities. For ideas on how to provide extra mental stimulation for dogs on restricted exercise, check out the Canine Enrichment blog post.
Let's face it, not all dog breeds will be suitable for running. Whilst a Labrador or Collie would likely excel in the field, a daschund, shihzu or bulldog will not able to comfortably jog at your pace for prolonged periods due to their basic anatomy.
Be aware of your dog's fitness levels! Like humans, dogs need to train to improve their fitness. An overweight dog accustomed to performing a 10 minute stroll around the block will not be able to complete a 10k. Start slow, increasing jogging time gradually to assess how your dog copes and improve their endurance. It's always a good idea to have your dog assessed by a Veterinary Physiotherapist to ensure their are no areas of concern and to gain advice on how to improve your dogs fitness.
How well trained is your dog? It'll be no fun to have a dog dancing around your feet and pulling on the lead whilst you're out jogging, and could result in injury to both yourself and the dog, not to mention a pooch with poor recall "doing a runner"! Consider whether your dog will be able to listen to you whilst out and about - basic obedience training would be highly beneficial if you want your dog to be an amiable running buddy.
Whilst you need your running trainers and sports gear, your dog should have a good quality running harness that does not restrict their movement. There are specific running/cani-cross harnesses available that can be attached to your waist by a bungee lead if you want to keep your dog attached. Having a specific running harness is also a good idea so that your dog knows what activity is about to be performed - normal harness signals normal walk, running harness means get ready to run!
2) Environment and Conditions
Consider where you plan to run with your dog. Spending long amounts of time running on concrete/tarmac can create high impact and concussive forces on your dogs joints, whereas soft surfaces such as grass/moorland will be easier on the body. Likewise, busy roads may pose issues for safety.
What is the weather like? In hot conditions, we can sweat - dogs can't. Dogs are at higher risk of heat stress and exhaustion, which can be fatal and should never be underestimated. Always be aware of the external temperature, and ensure that if you have water for yourself, you have water for your dog.
It's paramount to remember that a dog does not think in the same way as a human - if you come across difficult terrain, feel pain when running or start to feel too hot, you know to stop. Dogs can't communicate this in the same we we can, and some dogs will run and run until the point of exhaustion (we all know the type) - it's up to you to be aware of your dog's health, welfare and behaviour.
3) After Care
Dogs are not machines! Like us, they can suffer from sports injuries and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Think about the aching in your muscles the day or two after a long run or workout - your dog can feel this too. This is where having a Veterinary Physiotherapist on board can come in handy, to advise you on specific canine stretches, cool down methods and after care to keep your buddy in top condition.
By Tilly Wild
BSc(Hons) Veterinary Physiotherapist