I have never been a dog-lover; I’m not automatically drawn in by their slobbery, furry faces, and big, unleashed dogs scare me. So in March last year my friends were shocked when we got a Yorkie puppy. Scout joined our family of not-dog-people, with my attitude made more negative by my breedist belief that he was destined to be a purse dog who couldn’t even run with me. What was the point?
Flash-forward to now, and somehow this seven-pound scruffy little creature has become one of my best running companions. He is always available, always excited, and never complains. At first he rode in the stroller with my daughter, and when he wanted out so badly that I finally let him, he shocked me by keeping up for miles at a time, his tiny legs moving so fast he seemed to fly. He has gone up to 10 miles so far and can hang at any pace from 6:30 per mile and up.
I built up his endurance over a matter of months and now the second my running dresser drawer opens, he sits underneath it, wagging his entire body in utter anticipation as I get dressed. When the winter weather kept me on the ‘mill for weeks on end, his doggy depression was obvious and I found him curled up on my sweaty running clothes more than once. This little dog is a runner with the heart of a champion.
Being a first-time dog owner and converted dog-lover I decided to talk to a vet to get more information about bringing your dog along on runs, picking a breed if you’re in the market for a running dog, how to know if you’re pushing your pup too hard, and whether or not Bowzer needs a Gu mid-run.
Tips and more, Salty Dogs, after the jump!
Although I first considered talking to Scout’s regular vet for running advice, in the end I chose a vet who also happens to be a runner. Marejka Shaevitz just finished her fourth year of vet school last week (congratulations!) at Oregon State University. After June 12, she will officially be Marejka Hansen Shaevitz, DVM, M.S..
Tell us a little about yourself; do you run with any of your dogs?
I have run with my dogs as long as I have had dogs in my adult life, about 15 years; I’ve been running for about 23 years. My first running buddy was a golden retriever named Kimball (longest run 20 miles), then a shepherd-lab mix named Nala (longest run probably close to 15+ miles), and now a four year old golden retriever named Hana. Hana has run up to 12 miles at about a 10-10:30 pace, and will run 8:30’s for shorter runs of 3-4 miles. She could probably go faster … but I can’t at this point.
Can any dog become a running dog?
Just like humans, dogs come in all abilities and all levels of health and fitness. Most dogs naturally have the potential to do some running, but their activity needs to be tailored to the individual. And, just like us, they need to train if they want to go further or faster than their current ability. Also, just like humans, some dogs absolutely love it and some just prefer other things like playing ball or swimming. I would think that most dogs that are generally healthy and free of orthopedic issues can become running dogs with some training.
Are there any breeds that are known for being particularly good running companions? Any breeds that definitely shouldn’t/can’t be runners?
Some breeds are definitely known as great runners. Vizslas, Weimaraners, Italian greyhounds, are known for having the lanky runner’s build and for being naturally athletic. But so many breeds, from little ones like Jack Russels, to medium-sized ones like Australian Cattle dogs, and bigger ones like Labs and Goldens, can be great running dogs! Some breeds may have more difficulty running, particularly brachycephalic [short noses, broad skulls] dogs like pugs or French bulldogs … they can have difficulty breathing because of the conformation of their noses and upper respiratory tract. That said, it all depends on the individual … some of these dogs are great runners.
I don’t want to forget the mutts/crosses, of course, these can be some of the best running dogs! Some shelters even screen dogs for who might be a good running companion! Finally, in most cases a well-exercised dog is a calmer, more obedient, happier, healthier dog.
What age is the best age to start bringing your dog on runs? Can an older dog become a runner, or do you need to start with a younger dog?
Appropriate age for young dogs to become running companions depends critically on the closure of their growth plates, and age of growth plate closure correlates with size of dog. Recent studies coming out of Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (Sarah Nemanic, DVM, DACVR in conjunction with Wendy Baltzer, DVM, PhD, DACVS-SA, DACVSMR-Canine, and Britton Nixon, DVM ) show that Giant breed dogs such as Great Danes, Newfoundlands, and Bernese Mountain Dogs may not show full growth plate closure until 1.5-2 years of age; whereas most small to medium sized breeds have all growth plates closed by one year of age. Running dogs, particularly running them on typical hard surfaces like sidewalks and paved paths, before growth plates close puts them at risk of injury or damage to these crucial growth plates. This can have severe consequences in terms of grown abnormalities (stunted growth in particular bones or angular limb deformities). These changes in growth rate or conformation not only affect the animal now but can also lead to early degeneration of joints and osteoarthritis.
In terms of adult dogs, it really should depend on the health of the dog. Age in and of itself is not a disease. If your dog has any known medical condition, consult your vet before you begin running with them. However, if your dog is cardiovascularly and orthopedically healthy, then I would say she or he is a great potential candidate for running!
Are there any physical concerns that you should be aware of when raising your dog’s mileage/endurance?
Some basic things to think about are that dogs need to have their daily calorie intake balanced with their exercise and they definitely need hydration on long runs just like we do, especially if it’s hot. Dogs don’t have as efficient cooling systems as humans do; the only places they really sweat are their paw pads and nose. Otherwise they rely on processes like panting to dissipate heat. So, on warm days it’s important to make sure they get enough water and have a chance to cool down if they need it. Plus, since most dogs don’t wear shoes, their paw pads can take quite a hammering on a long run. If you’re running your dog long, you should check his/her paws after to make sure they’re not showing signs of overdoing it, like bleeding, abrasions, etc.
And, special things to think about as summer is approaching: 1) Sidewalks and asphalt can heat up in the sun and burn your dog’s paws. Touch the sidewalk with your hand or bare foot, if it’s too hot to the touch for you, you don’t want to subject your dog’s paws to it. 2) Be super cautious about leaving dogs in cars before or after runs. Even with the windows cracked, the temperature in a car can raise to 20 degrees above the outside temperature in 10 minutes. So if your dog’s in your car and it’s 70 degrees outside, she or he is in an 90 degree environment easily in 10 minutes. Dogs can suffer heat stroke very quickly if left in a hot car.
Is endurance running as good for dogs physically as it is for humans?
With respect to real performance canine athletes, I would refer you to the research that has been done on racing greyhounds and iditarod dogs. At the general level, we do know that exercise has great benefits for animals just like it does for humans in terms of weight management, cardiovascular fitness, and staving off obesity-related health conditions, and in improving behavior.
Do dogs need to fuel mid-run for particularly long runs?
People more expert in this than me would say that dogs fuel their running differently, burning more fat than glycogen as their primary fuel during exercise. We run out of glycogen in our muscles and changing over to burning fat is hard for us… which is why we enjoy having the quick fuel boost from a gel or block. Dogs, not so much… but their overall caloric intake and nutrition plan needs to be balanced with their exercise to ensure they’re taking in adequate calories and balanced nutrtion. Research on sled dogs suggests that endurance canine athletes do well on a diet that contains 90g protein, 60g fat, and 25g carbohydrate per 1000 kcal.
In terms of hydration, dogs need access to water to stay hydrated, but thus far it doesn’t appear there’s a scientific benefit to providing electrolyte drinks or sports drinks to dogs during exercise. Here’s a fun NYTimes article about dog run fueling: “Feeding Your Canine Athlete.”
How do I know if I’m pushing my dog too hard?
Pay attention to your dog! If he or she is falling behind, stopping, collapsing on runs, these are all signs that it’s too much. If your dog wakes up sore or lame from runs later that day or the next day, this is NOT normal and they likely have some osteoarthritis or other medical condition that is making them painful. Even if they behaviorally seem like they want to run any time you pull out your shoes – if they’re getting sore or are at all painful, they should be looked at by a vet. That doesn’t necessarily mean they can never run again, but definitely have it checked out. Also, there are wonderful resources for canine athletes recovering from injuries including physical therapy and acupuncture. Consult a veterinarian if your canine athlete has an injury to work through.
Any other advice, concerns, things to watch out for?
#1 – ANY puppy that shows an acute onset of lameness (limping), whether it happened running in your back yard or jumping off a couch needs to be seen IMMEDIATELY by a veterinarian.
#2 – Running with your dog takes time, patience, and training. It’s really important that your dog knows how to walk calmly on a lead, stay by your side, etc… because that will all translate to running. Running can be hard when you have a dog that pulls because it can change your own gait and get you out of alignment if you’re constantly being pulled on by a dog. You’ll be so much happier as a runner with your dog if you’ve trained your dog to run by your side and not pull.
#3 – Use a leash and go hands-free. There are lots of leashes that you can fasten around your waist and work great for running hands-free! Ruff Wear makes great ones, so does Chaco and Stunt Puppy, just to name a few. It’s so nice not to have to hold a leash in your hand for a run… I can’t imagine running without one.
#4 – Be smart if you’re going to run with your dog off leash. Know that it is 100% your responsibility whatever he or she does, no matter who he or she runs into on a trail. Don’t assume that other dogs are friendly, don’t assume humans are dog-friendly, and don’t assume that just because you think your dog is friendly that something bad can’t happen. Don’t assume that it’s ok for your friendly dog to approach any other dog, especially another dog that’s on leash – that dog may not appreciate it! Don’t be defensive if something does happen, ESPECIALLY if you chose not to leash your dog. Take responsibility.
#5 – Pick up poop. Duh.
#6 – Running with my dog is absolutely one of the best parts of my day every day that I get to do it!
Like Marejka, I agree that running with Scout is always more fun than running solo. Thanks to her for all the great information!
Lastly, an important part of running is recovery, so I offer a nod to the best recovery pets … cats. Always down for an off-day, a post-run massage, or a recovery nap.
Do you have a four-legged running partner?