Along with a love of strong coffee and microbrew beers, we Seattleites are known for being dog lovers and fitness buffs. If you’ve got yourself a window seat at the Hi-Spot Café in Madrona you’re likely to see people running by with their furry best friends. The joy and rewards of running are things that can be shared with your dog, but it should be done with care.
Running can offer similar benefits for humans and dogs. With over 60 percent of humans and at least 50 percent of all dogs being overweight, exercising with your dog may offer healthy motivation for weight loss and overall health and wellness. Running regularly can reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol and blood pressure in people, and while similar studies have not been performed in dogs, it is known that dogs that maintain a lean body condition are at reduced risk of developing arthritis and may live years longer than overweight dogs. And, we all know that a tired dog makes for a happy home!
Before getting started, a few tips to consider: People who are over 40, not accustomed to exercise or more than 20 pounds overweight should consult with their physician before taking up running. Similarly, let the veterinarians at Madison Park Veterinary Hospital assess your dog and make sure running is right for them. Both people and dogs unaccustomed to running may need to start with diet modifications and short walks before moving into full running. Additionally, your dog should be leash trained to decrease the risk of injury from coming across other aggressive dogs and street traffic if running off leash.
Before putting the leash on your running partner you should have a plan. If you are heading out towards the trails of the Arboretum, know your route and make sure there are places for the both of you to take a rest break and hydrate. Start with short distances of a mile or less and follow a run-walk pattern to assess how you feel and how your dog is handling the pace and distance. This could start with running a block then walking the next block. Building up speed and distance is best done slowly over weeks and months to decrease the risk of injury for you and your pet. It’s much more valuable to both of your health to be consistent with your exercise regime versus trying to sporadically run further or faster. Although an exact recommendation has not been established for people or dogs, a loose rule to follow is not to add running distance more of than 10 percent per week.
Even if your dog gets excited to see you put on running shoes and head out the door, running may not be a safe activity for them. Puppies should not be taken for purposeful runs until their growth plates have closed, which is on average around 12 months of age. The timing of this will vary based on the breed and age of spay or neuter (dogs that are spayed and neutered will have growth plates that stay open longer). High impact exercise during growth and development could lead to injury. If you want to walk with your puppy while getting in your running you can partner with a friend who can walk the puppy while you take turns running around the block. You can add in 10-15 squats and jumping jacks at every crosswalk to keep your heart rate elevated and build muscles to improve your running.
Brachycephalic dogs (French and English bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzu, other flat faced breeds) have significantly reduced capacity for regulating their temperature and bring oxygen in. These dogs are at a significant risk of heat stroke and severe respiratory distress, including death, and are not meant to be exercise buddies. Do not take them running with you. They can go for gentle walks, but watch for the tongue fully extended and curled up at the end — this is the end reserve of their ability to cool themselves down. Try not to let your dog get to this point. If they are there, it is time to take a break, seek shade and water, and cool down.
Regardless of breed or overall health of your dog, if you notice your dog stops wanting to go for walks or runs, or starts lagging behind, these are signs that should be checked out by your veterinarian as they could indicate orthopedic, cardiac, respiratory or metabolic disease.
Take the time to get the appropriate gear for your run. Swing by Fleet Feet Sports in Capitol Hill and let them put you in running shoes that are appropriate for your foot type and goals. Dogs need the right gear too. Don’t take dogs running with a harness that crosses in front of their shoulders. These harnesses are great for walking dogs that pull, and should be used at the recommendation of your dog trainer to help teach dogs not to pull. But when running, these types of harnesses prevent full extension of the shoulder, therefore changing the normal biomechanics and potentially leading to injury. Harnesses that can be used for running are those that allow free range of motion of the shoulder and typically the leash will be clasped over the back; this will not prevent pulling, in fact the dog may pull more (imagine a sled dog harness). But, ideally you and your dog should run at the same pace so that nobody is being pulled.
Running is an activity that can be enjoyed by people and most dogs. Taking the time to plan ahead will improve the joy and health benefits for both you and your pet.
AARON SHAW is a registered and licensed occupational therapist, certified hand therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist.
KRISTIN SHAW is a veterinary surgeon and canine rehabilitation and sports medicine specialists at
Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle.