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How to start running with your dog safely

Fur baby, we were born to run.

A runner bends down next to their dog on a wooded running path Credit: Getty Images / andresr

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If you’re a runner or you’re thinking about getting started, you might consider bringing your best friend along. Running with your dog can be a great way to get into shape while having fun.

A little extra exercise might even be necessary if your household’s eating habits changed within the past year. Research shows that some humans turned toward comfort foods during the pandemic, and some pet owners said their animals gained weight while they were stuck at home, too.

But before bringing a new running partner on the road, make sure your canine is healthy enough for this type of exercise. You may also need to invest in some gear such as a hands-free leash—then, get to training!

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Check with your veterinarian

A runner in a yellow jacket jogs with their dog on a rural trail
Credit: Getty Images / AleksandarNakic

Check with your veterinarian before running with a dog.

“Running is a high-impact exercise that requires healthy joints, a healthy heart, and a healthy respiratory tract,” says Dr. Katy Nelson, the senior veterinarian at online pet supplier Chewy. So at your next visit, check with your veterinarian to confirm that your dog is healthy enough for this new exercise regimen.

Your vet should do a full physical exam and may order orthopedic and chest radiographs to help gauge whether your dog is finished growing. If your dog’s bone growth plates aren’t fused yet, running will cause repetitive pressure that may lead to damage and health problems, Nelson says. Growth plates are typically closed when the dog is about 1 year old, but it may take up to 18 months with some large canines.

It’s also important to consider your dog’s breed. Some make fantastic running companions, but others aren’t so well-suited. Nelson offers some general guidance:

  • Ideal breeds suited for running include dogs with longer noses such as greyhounds, German shepherds, and Labradors.

  • Non-ideal breeds for running include brachycephalic dogs (or short-nosed ones), such as pugs, Boston terriers, Shih Tzus, bulldogs, and boxers.

Dogs with health problems such as hip dysplasia, knee issues, and shoulder or elbow issues should also avoid prolonged runs. If your dog’s age or a health condition prevents them from running, ask your vet if they’re better suited for a gentler form of exercise, such as short walks.

Get the right gear

A portable dog water bottle, dog leash, and jar of ointment for dog paws on a green gradient background
Credit: Choco Nose / Tuff Mutt / Musher's Secret / Reviewed

Pet owners need gear like a water bottle and dog leash for their new running partner.

Once your dog passes the health exam, it’s time to stock up on key items that make running safer for your pet.

  • Harness: Your dog may pull while running, so it’s important to dress them in a comfortable harness that distributes pressure over their chest. This is much safer than using a collar, which concentrates pressure directly over the trachea and major arteries and veins. When we tested the best dog harnesses, we landed on the Dogline Unimax multipurpose harness that’s made of a padded, water-resistant neoprene and easy to maneuver on and off.

  • Leash: A regular dog leash might work while running, but a hands-free waist leash like this one from Tuff Mutt might feel better for you and your dog. These leashes rest securely on your waist and have segments of bungee built in, which “reduce the ‘whiplash’ feel if the dog gets too far away, too quickly,” says Amy Roberts, a certified running coach, dog owner, and a managing editor at Reviewed. “I would suggest the human wear a long enough shirt to prevent skin chafing from the leash’s waistband,” she adds.

  • Portable water bottle: Unlike their owners, dogs don’t cool off by sweating, so making sure they stay hydrated on hot and cold days is a must. There are several options to choose from, including the convenient Kurgo Gourd travel water bottle, which allows you to drink from the bottle, then pour water into a detachable bowl for your dog. You’ll have to see what works best for your pooch though, as they may prefer drinking from a squirt water bottle or portable water bottle during your exercise session.

  • Accessories: Wearing the right running shoes is also important—for you and your canine. Depending on the weather, the surface, and the running conditions, your dog might need booties and paw balm to protect their toes. And if you plan on taking evening runs, you’ll want to make sure your dog is visible to cars and passersby. We like using the Vizpet reflective dog vest or clipping a simple LED safety light to the dog’s harness.

Start training your dog to run with you

A black, tan, and white dog sits on a sidewalk grate on a New York City street next to his owner's feet
Credit: Getty Images / krblokhin

On hot days, avoid concrete and asphalt as much as possible during walks.

You would never plan to run 10 miles on your very first day hitting the pavement, so you shouldn’t expect too much out of your pet, either. Dogs, like humans, need to train and build up their tolerance before they start running long distances.

If your dog is already used to walking on a leash, start by taking a slow, 1-mile run on a cool day. You might start with a shorter distance for smaller or less energetic dogs. Then, “increase the mileage slowly over a period of weeks or months to longer, more endurance-building runs,” Nelson says. Consider using a dog-specific 5K training plan.

As you increase mileage, never push your dog too hard or too far, and pay attention to their energy level. Worn paws, extreme panting, diarrhea, and purple, red, or white gums mean you should stop exercising, Nelson says. Your dog might also communicate this by lying down.

But with the right gear and training plan in place, running with your furry friend can be an enjoyable, safe experience for both you and your dog.

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