Science

Doggy joggers: Tips for taking Rover on your run

Running with an improperly trained or ill-suited dog can be frustrating and even downright dangerous for both animal and owner.
(Marshall Gorby/AP)
If you're a fitness buff and dog owner, chances are you've toyed with the idea of taking Rover for a run. Most likely it was after watching an uber-fit marathoner jaunt past with a loyal Labrador (sans leash) at his side. Perhaps you've even attempted a run with your dog.

But if your canine companion is less than co-operative, the workout can quickly turn into an exercise in futility.

Running with an improperly trained or ill-suited dog can be frustrating and even downright dangerous for both animal and owner. Here a dog trainer, veterinarian and owner offer tips for choosing, training and maintaining the health of a four-legged running partner.

Lapdog or lap-runner?

Before setting out, take an honest look at your dog. Is he a high-energy mutt who would love to run, or is he a breed more suited to snuggling at your feet?

Sporting and working breeds are the best choice for running partners, says Ben Moradian, a dog trainer and owner of K9PRO, which has locations in Montreal and Calgary. Moradian suggests retrievers, pointers, German shepherds and Dobermans are generally good breeds to look at if you are planning to run with your dog.

"But there are always exceptions to the rule," he warns.

Rottweilers, for example, appear to be a dog suited for running because of their build, but this is not the case, according to Moradian. Their body structure makes it difficult for them to cool down once they are overheated.

"So a five- to 10-minute jog would be OK, but 30 to 40 minutes would not be," says Moradian.

Heel!

After type of dog, obedience is key. After all, a run will be no fun if your dog stops to sniff every tree, or races in front of you and trips you up. Your dog should learn to heel, and a good obedience class can teach this skill.

Moradian trumpets running with your dog as a way to deal with obedience problems as well.

"When running you can establish a hierarchy and have a dog that is more calm, confident and secure," he says. "Most dogs I deal with are under-exercised. and lots of times walking is not sufficient on its own."

Dogs unleashed

Shelagh Macdonald, program director at the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies in Ottawa, has two Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers she runs with regularly. "If you're an active person, it's easy to combine your run with [the dog's] walk," she says. "It's one of my favourite things to do."

Macdonald takes her pair to areas where dogs are allowed to roam off-leash for 40- to 60-minute runs.

"It's more fun for the dog and person," she says.

Dr. Stacie Akins, a veterinarian at the Marda Loop veterinary clinic in Calgary, agrees that running with an off-leash dog is a better option.

"Ideally, you should jog with your dog in off-leash areas so that he or she can got at his or her own pace and has the option to speed up or rest if needed," she says. "You and your dog may not have the same ideal pace, and it may be difficult for your dog to match your stride comfortably or even safely."

Clean bill of health

Before embarking on a running program, Dr. Akins recommends getting the "all clear" from the dog's vet. 

And both Dr. Akins and Moradian say that dogs, just like humans, need to be conditioned for jogging.

"Start with short distances and build up endurance over time, do not force your dog if he or she is lagging behind and wishes to rest," says Dr. Akins.

Moradian recommends beginning with 10-minute sessions, twice daily, and then combining them.

Keep cool

Even if your dog is "running fit," it's important to recognize that dogs don't have as efficient cooling systems as humans do and are more susceptible to heat stroke. Especially in warmer weather, runners need to be alert to signs of exhaustion and overheating.

Santana, left, and Ali pant hard after being outside in extreme summer heat. Dogs don't have as efficient cooling systems as humans do and are more susceptible to heat stroke - signs of heat stroke include excessive panting, increased heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea and depression. (Kaia Larsen/AP))
"Dogs will go farther than they should," says Macdonald.

"Make sure you and your dog are acclimatized to current temperatures before attempting your regular jog," warns Dr. Akins. "Even moderate temperatures can be dangerous if you and your dog are not used to them yet."

Signs of heat stroke include excessive panting, increased heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea and depression.

"Since the earliest sign of heat stroke is excessive panting, which may look a lot like normal panting, it's always best to avoid running in hot weather and choose cooler times of the day for your jog," says Dr. Akins, adding that jogging should be avoided in temperatures above 25 Celsius.

And like humans, dogs need to hydrate regularly while exercising, so bringing along water, or running near a body of water like a river, is a good idea.

A final caveat — even if Fido is bred for running, and is healthy to run, it doesn't mean he's going to enjoy it. Like humans, dogs have their own personalities, and you may need to find a human running partner if your canine isn't keen.

"Remember, each dog is an individual and may not share your love of running," says Dr. Akins.

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