Doggy Bed to 5k: Turning Your Pup into a Running Buddy

Morgan helps with legs up post-run.

My new running partner makes sure I get out of bed in the morning, reminds me to appreciate being in nature, and is happy to run as far as I want to. Morgan is younger than me, but she’s great company. She’s also our new dog.

Mr. Chic and I adopted her from a rescue agency at the end of May — an Australian Shepherd somewhere between one and two years old. We don’t know her history; the rescue agency received her from a county shelter that picked her up as a stray.

Since we’ve had her, I’ve consulted online resources and talked to two veterinarians about getting her started running. This won’t surprise any other dog owners out there, but dogs are a lot like people. Some are good runners, some aren’t. While there are some breed characteristics that influence running ability, a lot of it depends on the individual dog.

I have one friend who runs with her Standard Poodles, Pimento runs with her Yorkie, and I mean pretty serious running on both counts.

But, dogs with short legs may struggle with quicker paces, and larger dogs may have issues with hip dysplasia. Flat-faced dogs like bulldogs and pugs have narrower nostrils and partially-obstructed airways, which is not really helpful for running.

Of course, the age of your dog is a factor too. Senior dogs may have joint issues or other health concerns. And you don’t want to start running with a puppy that is too young — their bones aren’t fully formed until 12 to 24 months, so running’s high impact can lead to injury.

And — just like people — you can’t expect your pooch to hop off the couch and run five miles. With Morgan, I got the okay from our vet to start adding more exercise to her routine. We went for walks of 2-3 miles, and we started adding running just like a Couch-to-5k training plan would. We did 30 seconds of running, one minute of walking for 10 minutes. Then we went to one minute/90 seconds, etc. After a few weeks, we ran a couple of 400m segments with two minute breaks. Then we went to half-miles. Now, she’s running about one and a half miles, but by the time this article is published, it’ll likely be more. (I can admit, I’d like to find her a 5k in the fall!)

Headed out with my best girl.

The key is to train your dog to run just like a person would. Give them time to adapt, and don’t forget a warm-up. We usually go for a 10 to 15 minute walk, which gives Morgan time for a potty break and helps both of us get ready. Honestly, this is probably as beneficial for me as for her. Before she came into my life, I’d roll out of bed and be running 10 minutes later, which isn’t always the wisest way to start a run.

Keep in mind how the weather will affect your pet, especially during these hot and humid months. Take your dog for a run in the morning or after sunset. If you can’t hold your hand or bare foot on the pavement for 10 seconds, it’s too hot. Make sure your dog has access to water. When winter rolls around, be cautious of ice as well as roads treated with salt. Give your pup’s paws a checkup and make sure they aren’t cracked, peeling, or otherwise damaged. Products like Musher’s Secret and Bag Balm can soothe and protect.

Watch your dog’s body language for signs she needs to slow down or stop. Excessive panting, difficulty breathing, and a blue-tinged tongue are obvious clues. If your dog starts to lag behind, tries to stop and lie down in the shade, or is seeking water, those are also cues to take a break.

If you can run off-road, the softer surfaces are good for both you and your dog. In some places, you might be able to let your dog off-leash. If you have access to a large yard or dog park, that may give you the opportunity to practice commands off-leash before trying them on the trail. But mind the trail rules; even if your dog is trained to go off-leash, many parks and other public running spots require dogs be leashed at all times.

Being able to control your dog is important whether leashed or unleashed, especially if you want to keep your arm in its socket. Teaching your dog to heel, “leave it,” sit, and stay are extra handy when running. I’m also teaching Morgan to stop and sit at road crossings, as well as to “turn” right or left. We’re also working on “time to run” and “time to walk” so she knows what’s coming. (Sometimes “time to run” is mostly a cue for me!)

I purchased a waist leash from the beginning — I actually got the idea about a year ago from Neely Spence Gracey, who was featured in Runner’s World with her Visla, Strider, using a waist leash. This allows me to run with her hands-free — genius! Look for a waist leash with a padded, adjustable waistband, a bungee middle that will allow you some slack, a short-leash handle for traffic or other tight situations, and not more than a four-foot length. This makes running easier for you, and also the people around you who would prefer to not play Skip-It with your retractable leash and your dog that’s 10 feet away on the other side of the path.

Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before starting to run with your dog. If you’re looking to add a fur-friend to your family, you can also talk to the rescue agency, breeder, or current owner about the idea.

Do you have tips on running with your dog? Share your puppy running stories with us!

Started running in my early 20s and ended up running my first marathon 15 months later. Managed to break 3 hours in my 12th marathon. Pilates instructor passionate about the importance of your powerhouse in running and the mind/body connection. One husband, zero kids, mama to one Australian Shepherd.

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  1. Excellent information! My older dog can no longer run with me, but I’d like to get my younger one started. However, he is a Siberian Husky, and his training will be waiting until the weather is more conducive to his body type and coat. I, too, have taught my dogs to wait at crossings, and never used a retractable leash (yuck). I would like to try the waist leash though. Thanks for the information!

  2. Great information! I run with my german shorthaired pointer nearly every day. When we got her as a pup, the daily exercise (sometimes twice daily) was necessary to keep her from being destructive. Now at 5-6y/o she’s still just as excited to run as she was when she was a pup, but it’s no longer a necessity. I run her 4-5 days a week still, and thankfully, the new addition of a stroller hasn’t freaked her out too much.

    I would add that some fantastic options for a waist leash are available at ruffwear. We’ve been using the same one for about 4.5 years, and it’s still going strong. One more tip – make sure the claws stay trimmed up, it affects their stride if the claws are too long and hurts their joints and feet.

    1. I have several friends who run with their GSPs! We actually thought a lot about getting one, but we also wanted to rescue so that made it a little tougher. Plus, as you say, they are high-energy non-stop!

      Good tip on the claws!