By Brie Staker
My every day running buddy and BFRF (best furry running friend) is my Golden Retriever Cecil. He loves to run and accompanies me on nearly every run. He does hill repeats with me, long runs, speed intervals, everything. He even oversees my strength training exercises with a watchful eye, sometimes jumping in on planks or lunges to provide a little resistance encouraging stronger form. He is always game for whatever Coach Michele has on my training plan, and I call him Coach Cecil, my on-site motivator. We’ve had an incredible bonding experience running together just he and I. We’ve run in snow, through rain, mud, and sunny warm days. He never says no to a run. He wears a huge smile on his face when we’re out on a run together, bouncing along, and simply enjoying it. He brings me so much joy on our runs together.
He is the first dog I’ve had that has enjoyed running and as my challenges get bigger so does my training, which got me thinking. I know what I need to do to support my body and how to recover after big miles but what should I be doing for him? So, for those of you with a four-legged running buddy I hope this article provides some good tips on how to keep your BFRF healthy and by your side through all the miles to come.
First and foremost, consult your veterinarian for guidance and what’s best for your dog. Just like humans, each dog is different and his/her needs will vary based on their individuality and health. Most dogs are happy to run and run and run. Knowing how far they should run is up to you and your veterinarian. Keep a watch on the dog as you’re running for warning signs that he/she has had enough or is going too fast. This extends to post-run as well as you monitor how they are recovering. Runner’s World published a great article by Ben Vaught “Super-Distance Dogs” with the following tips:
Tip No. 1: A dog can run itself to death.
Respect the warning signs that you're pushing Fido too hard: If you need to resort to pushing, pulling or dragging a leashed dog, you are on the edge of abuse. "Just because you can train them to run doesn't mean they want to," says Jeff Young, a veterinarian in Denver.
Tip No. 2: Bring water.
Hydration is as critical to the furry friends as it is to all other runners.
Tip No. 3: Don't Stereotype.
Certain breeds aren't necessarily good or bad runners. Your dog's attitude can guide you. If Rover is clearly enjoying the experience, gradually allow him to do more. Just like humans, dogs need to build mileage at a safe rate to condition themselves.
Tip No. 4: Read body language.
For example, if the mutt's ears and tail are down, she's had too much, Young says.
Tip No. 5: Protect the paws.
Ultra dogs are most likely covering some brutal terrain. Emily Harrison likes to put cream that is used on sled dogs on her dog's paw pads. Young also recommends dog booties, although most canines won't tolerate them for such long distances.
I run through the winter and so does my furry-guy Cecil. He doesn’t have the benefit of shoes and socks to protect his feet so I put something called Paw Butter on his feet. It keeps his pads from cracking and helps reduce the amount of snow balls that stick to his paws during a snowy run.
I am lucky enough to have a private area where I can run off-leash with my dog. But for those times I need to have him on a leash I use a running leash. I used to use just a normal leash but found it pulled my shoulders and made my body feel un-even based on which hand was holding the leash. The running leash was a game changer. It’s easier on my dog and on me and allows me to run hands-free. You can find them on Amazon or your local pet store.
When I’m doing a long run, I will carry food and water for both my dog and I. I keep him on the same schedule as me so we’re eating and drinking at the same time. This helps me make sure he’s getting the hydration and nutrition he needs. If we do a really long or big day, I’ll increase his usual amount of food that day to compensate for the calories he needs.
Lastly, as much as he hates rest days, I make him take them. Just as my body needs to rest and recover so does his. He is a ball of endless energy and can’t stand not running every day but I know it’s what we both need (I do not have his endless energy). We still get in a walk every day though.
If you have a young dog or want to get a dog into running who hasn’t done it before, consult your vet first. Get your dog a good checkup to identify any potential issues that could be caused or exasperated by running and perhaps your vet will recommend some supplements they should take such as fish oil or glucosamine. Each dog and breed are different so knowing at what age you can start running with them is important. Running a pup too soon could cause bone or hip problems. You should also start slow and short with your dog. Just like a human, a dog needs to gradually build up his/her mileage. A run/walk program is a good way to start. Also pay attention to your dog’s body language and behavior to tell if something is too much. The article, “The Ultimate Guide to Running with a Dog” by Jen Sotolongo is a good one with tips on getting started.
Some other resources if you want further information can be found at: https://www.pawculture.com/pet-wellness/exercise-and-fitness/how-to-train-for-long-distances-runs-with-your-dog/ and https://www.outsideonline.com/2139371/definitive-guide-endurance-training-your-dog.
Enjoy your four-legged running buddy and keep him and her safe and happy in the process! It’s a great healthy exercise for your dog both mentally and physically and a wonderful bonding experience too. Happy Running!