Fartlek. Yes, it is a strange word sure to make you giggle, but if you plan to start jogging with your canine pal, knowing its definition may keep your dog from incurring injuries.
“In the running world, walking interspersed with short bursts of running is known as fartlek training,” says Robin Downing, DVM, board certified in veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation at the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colorado.
You can jog or run with your growing pup, but in moderation and in spurts. It can take up to two years, depending on the dog breed, for the growth centers of their bones to fully develop.
“Puppies can run along with their owners, but ideally that running will happen in intervals of walking and short running bursts,” she says. “By using varied paces, the growing dog is not subject to long sessions of potentially ergonomically harmful repetitive concussion on the bones and joints.”
Size up as well whether you and your dog would be a good running team. There is a lot more to running with a four-legger than hitching up a leash and heading out.
To learn more, we sought savvy advice from two experts who know dogs and running: Dion Leonard and Teoti Anderson. Leonard is a world-acclaimed ultramarathon runner and author of the New York Times best seller, Finding Gobi: The Amazing True Story A Little Dog with a Very Big Heart. Anderson is past president of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and vice-president of A Dog’s Best Friend in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Factor #1: Desire
As much as you may enjoy lacing up your sneakers and heading out for a jog, make sure your dog is also game. Some dogs prefer stopping and sniffing on outings over covering a long distance. Others may become reactive to the point of pulling you off your feet when they spot a squirrel or another dog on the jog.
“It’s best if you teach your dog to walk nicely on leash before you go running with him,” advises Anderson. “Having a dog drag you down the street during a walk isn’t going to get better if you run.”
Her advice: start slow. Train your dog to walk nicely on leash in your home, then backyard, then the neighborhood as you gradually work in more distractions.
Factor #2: Grab the Right Leash in the Right Way
Anderson and Leonard recommend using a 6-foot leash or a waist leash – never a retractable leash.
“If you have a large or very strong dog and you are training him to run with you, I recommend a front-clip harness to give you more control, and it’s easier on your arms in case he does tug you,” Anderson says.
Leonard likes a leash with reflective stitching for visibility on night runs.
“The reflective stitching and even a light are ideal so you can see your dog and not trip over them while on a run,” he says.
Avoid tight grips on leashes and use treats during training to get your dog used to a relaxed “U” with slack in the leash.
“Ideally, your dog should be at your side,” says Anderson. “You don’t want him zig-zagging back and forth as that is dangerous. His head should be even with your leg and you should have a nice “U” in your leash.”
Factor #3: Size Matters
Itty-bitty breeds such as Chihuahuas and long-backed, short-leggers such as Dachshunds as well as mountain-size Great Danes and Saint Bernards don’t possess the running bodies found in retrievers, pointers, and some hounds.
“I generally guide folks that dogs whose adult size is between 35 and 80 pounds generally make good running partners,” says Dr. Downing. “Dogs with heavy undercoats such as huskies and malamutes cannot cool themselves and are at risk for overheating unless you are running in a cold part of the country.”
Factor #4: Treat Your Dog to Warmups and Cooldowns
Four years ago, a scrappy, 20-pound terrier stray named Gobi kept pace with Leonard and the other ultramarathon runners in the Gobi Desert in China. Today, Leonard and the now-six-year-old Gobi enjoy taking easy 2-mile jogs in their adopted city of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“Dogs tend to sit around most of the day waiting for their exercise time and by suddenly taking them out for a run without a warmup could create a costly injury to both dog and person,” says Leonard. “Walk your dog for at least 10 minutes first to shake out the muscles and include some short sprints before running a long distance.”
Adds Dr. Downing, “A 10-minute walk gets the blood flowing and sets the stage for a safe and fun run. Make sure you do another 10-minute walk at the end of the run to provide a cooldown.”
Factor #5: Respect Mother Nature
Some dogs enjoy runs year-round, but always take weather into account for your dog’s safety.
“Extreme heat and extreme cold are both problematic,” says Dr. Downing. “Dogs cannot sweat like humans. Dogs who are fat or even just a little overweight are insulated, which keeps their heat inside their bodies and that can lead to heatstroke.”
Anderson says to pay attention to the running surface. “Be careful of hot pavements,” she says. “You are wearing shoes, but your dog isn’t. In hot climates, blacktop or pavement can blister your dog’s footpads.”
In cold weather, dogs are at risk for frostbite of toes and more.
Dr. Downing says, “The lungs can be hurt by the very cold air rushing in during exertion. If, on a cold day, you cannot take a deep breath without coughing, please reconsider your decision to run with your dog.”
Factor #6: Look for Early Signs of Fatigue
While some dogs are good at recognizing that they need to slow down, others will keep going. Dogs need us to catch early signs that they are getting tired and it is time to stop running.
“I usually see Gobi’s tongue start to hang out of her mouth and the leash starts to feel a little heavier,” says Leonard. “If I feel a slight dragging effect, I know to either slow down and give her some water or stop to give her a break.”
Anderson adds, “If the tip of your dog’s tongue is round like a lollipop, it is a sign that he needs to slow down and perhaps take a water break.”
Sniffing Out Great Places to Jog
Finding a safe, wide-open place to run with your dog can be just a click away, thanks to an app called Sniffspot. David Adams launched this company in early 2018 as a resource for finding safe dog play areas. Hosts offer backyards and other secure areas for nominal hourly rates where you and your dog can play and run safely.
A sampling of Sniffspot places for those who run with their dogs include 17 acres with a pond in Melissa, Texas; three acres to play at a ranch in Ramona, California, and two acres with shade to run and play fetch in Odessa, Florida. Learn more at www.sniffspot.com.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Arden Moore is The Pet Health and Safety Coach. She is a best-selling author, radio show host, in-demand speaker and master certified pet first aid/CPR instructor who travels the country teaching with Pet Safety Dog Kona and Pet Safety Cat Casey. Learn more at www.ardenmoore.com and www.facebook.com/ardenmoore.