Fur Real: Pound the Pavement with Your Favorite Four-Footed Friend
With Spring peeking at us from around the corner, it's that time of year when the itch to get outside is enough to make you jump out of your skin. You're not the only one feeling it. Our furry canine friends (and family) are anxious to stretch their paws in the warm sunshine too!
For some of us, the struggle is oh-so-real when taking our dog (or dogs) on a brisk walk or run. We know that fitness, for both us and our lovable canines, is an important part of living a long, healthy life, but it doesn't make getting out any easier. Here are a few tips to help ease the difficulties of walking an excited pooch, and provide some motivation to lace up and get those feet (and paws) hitting the pavement - or trails - this spring.
Be Aware of Your Dog's Limitations
I'm starting with this one because your dog's safety is important to you. Don't take this as an excuse to skip that jog in the park, but as a way to set proper expectations for what your dog can realistically do.
The age and breed of your doggie matters when it comes to running. Dogs with short muzzles that fall in the brachycephalic family (bulldogs and pugs, for example) can only run in short spurts. You'll need to take a run/walk approach with these pooches. You'll use this approach if your running buddy is a puppy too, as their bones are still soft and growing. Around 1.5 years of age is when they are ready to start running longer distances. If you have a little dog, your walking might be their jogging - tiny dogs have tiny legs. You may need to slow it down and even carry them if you're wanting to speed things up a little, or do a walk/run approach as well. Every dog has it's own temperament and personality. Play around and see what fits your specific situation.
Master the Walk
You definitely want your dog to master loose leash walking before taking them on a run. I used to have a German Shepard who weighed about 80 pounds. Because I failed to train her, I felt like my arm was being pulled from it's socket every time we went for a walk. This makes walking no fun for both parties and there was NO WAY I could safely go running with her. You'll need to train your dog to stay near you, if you want to enjoy walks and runs together. This will take some time and training. You can use treats and lots of praise to reinforce keeping that leash slack.
When training my puppy, I noticed she would dart back and forth, from one side of me to the other, sometimes tripping me. To run safely, you'll need to train those fancy free feet to stay on one side of you. Pick a side (left or right) and stick with it. Always reward on the side and in the position you want your dog to be in. Once one side is mastered, you can train to stay on the other side, but use a different cue so they know one cue (such as saying "come right") means one side and another cue (such as saying "come left") means the other side. Be patient. It will pay off in miles of enjoyable time with your best pal.
Speed and Endurance
Once your leashed friend is safely at your side, with that leash nice and slack, it's time to pick up the pace. Pick a cue for walking, like "walk time", when you want to walk and a different one, like "let's run" when it's time to go faster. This will really help with your walk/run patterns. The more you communicate with your pooch ahead of the action, the smoother the transition will be, because it gives them time to respond.
Teaching a running cue is simple, mix in small amounts of running or jogging while you're out walking at your normal pace. Before you increase speed, give the cue, and then immediately reward your dog when they catch up. Reverse this for slowing down. Pick a cue, like “whoa” or "walk time", and reward them when they have slowed and are at your side again.
Life is good! Your doggie is walking AND running by your side. Now what? To build a healthier dog (and you), you will need to build up some endurance. You can do this by gradually increasing the amount of time spent running vs walking while you increase mileage (or just gradually increase mileage if your dog can only run in short bursts, as mentioned earlier). Follow a good 5K or longer race training plan to increase endurance for both of you.
A Few Final Tips for Safe Running
Your dog is important to you. They are an integral part of your life and help with your mental health. You want them to be safe and enjoy running with you, so keep these tips in mind before heading out with your pal:
Give you and your dog time to warm up and cool down by walking a while before and after your run.
Always carry water for both you and your pooch.
Keep your dog on a leash unless you're absolutely certain it is safe and legal to do otherwise.
Running helps aid in digestion, so give your dog breaks to go potty, and recharge.
Pay attention to the weather. Dogs overheat faster than humans do, and may require frequent water breaks.
Enjoy the time together - make it fun and enjoyable.
You are giving your doggie cues, pay attention to theirs. Your dog will show you when they've had enough. Watch for lagging behind, and excessive panting. Your doggie wants to please you and may not stop when they should, so you need to be on the lookout and keep them safe.
Now get out there, be safe, and HAVE FUN! Happy Spring! :)