By Claudia Kawczynska Editor in Chief of The Bark
Written for Runner's World
If you're looking for a perfect training partner, one who can motivate as well as entertain, who can keep up the pace no matter what, and who is always enthusiastic, look no further than a dog. Dogs have been our constant companions lo the millennia - running is in their Canis lupus familiaris genes.
Benefits for us
There are many reasons why dogs make ideal running partners. They have a natural athleticism and a joy of running that can be sources of inspiration for runners of every level. They have a work ethic that can't be beat. Their keen senses alert us to the unexpected. And as Sophia Yin, D.V.M., wryly admits, "they take your mind off the boredom" that can sometime develop during solo long-distance runs. Dr. Yin regularly runs 10 to 18 miles with her Jack Russell Terrier, Jonesy, who not only entertains her but livens up the time because he is having so much fun.
Benefits for Them
We have a responsibility to provide both mental and physical stimulation for our dogs. A well-exercised dog is not only a happy dog, but also a healthy one. Their endorphins, like ours, are activated during exercise and, as an added bonus, running is a great way for both species to drop of keep off the pounds. Dogs love doing things with us, and many come from lineages that were bred to work - hunters, herders, or guardians - and having a "job" adds purpose to their lives. Nicholas Dodman, D.V.M. has noted that most dogs required much more exercise than most people - even those who are dog-park habitues - can provide them with. They truly were born to run!
Choosing a Canine Running Partner
That being said, some breed types make better running companions than others, though it isn't simply breed that determines whether a dog would be an ideal running buddy. Temperament, socialization, and the strength of the bond with you, training, and certainly overall health are also factors. Since you are choosing a dog not simply as a running companion but as a family member, there are many considerations to keep in mind - most important, you must be committed to sharing your life with the dog. for the whole lifetime of the dog. There are wonderful purebred and mixed-breed dogs in shelters who can fill the bill perfectly; many are relinquished at about age 10 months to a year, which is also the perfect age for them to start running.
The breed type primarily depends on what type of runner you are. If you run just two to three miles at a 10- to 12- minute pace, you have a huge range of choices. If you run five to 10 miles at eight-minute pace or faster, you'll want a dog who's athletic, energetic, and built for speed. If your dog can keep up with you on a three-mile power walk and have plenty of energy to spare when you get home, then she can probably easily run the same distance at an eight- to nine-minute per mile pace. If she can do that distance and still be up for fetching and sprinting, then she can likely go faster and even farther.
The biggest issue is hear. Dr. Yin reminds us that dogs dissipate heat poorly compared with people. Dogs with long hair and/or those who are large or overweight dissipate heat poorly compared with shorthaired, smaller, and more slender dogs. Those with flat noses - Pugs and Bulldogs, for instance - have a more difficult time getting enough air as well as dissipating heat.
Dogs best suited for running, and probably easiest to run with, are those who are above your knee height. Dogs who are shorter are easier to trip over, even if they heel well. Sporting breeds such as German Shorthaired (and Wirehaired) Pointers, Vizslas, and Weimaraners make world-class runners. These dogs tend to be able to go long distances - over 10 miles - and get into the zone. They find that trot and just keep going straight ahead, oblivious of distractions. Standard Poodles and herding breeds who are 30 to 60 pounds (Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Kelpies) generally are athletic enough to run well, as are Cattle Dogs, Labs, America's most popular breed, also make good runners, but those with black coats can overheat quickly in warmer weather.
Ready, Set, Go
Your dog needs to be in good health and good physical shape. If you've never taken them running before, it's a good idea to have your vet check them out for any possible problems. Many feel that running (especially long-distance running) with a pup under a year old isn't advisable, but that, too, is a dog-by-dog consideration. They need to be trained, especially in basic heeling skills; a dog who pulls is not only not fun to run with, but also can be a source of discomfort or even injuries. It is best not to feed your dog right before or after a run, but small treats, like kibble, can be helpful enticements during the outing.
Basically, your dog needs your to pay attention to her. If he or she seems thirsty, stop for a water break; if their paws seem sore, slow down and let your dog run on grass or in the shade. Be mindful of your dog's condition as well as your own, and you'll both have a great experience.