Running with dogs is so much fun. Yes, it can be trying on the nerves at times. But most often it’s incredibly rewarding. Here’s how to get started!
I’ve been running with a dog or two for a few years now. It’s not always easy and it’s not always fun. But more often than not, it’s rewarding and I look forward to the next run I get to do with my girls.
If you’re a dog owner or have been considering a dog as a running partner, you’ll probably find this post fairly useful. I’ve filled it with answers to the questions I’m asked most often. But it’s certainly not the end-all, be-all of dog running. There are so many tips and tricks that I haven’t covered below which I’m happy to expand on if there’s interest in the topic.
Running with dogs is very personal not only to you as the human, but also to your canine companions. You’ll learn what works best for you and your partners over time.
Running with Dogs — How to Get Started!
First things first, recognize that running with dogs is not just as easy as lacing up and going on your merry way. There are things like proper gear (for you and pup), appropriate training, and discipline. Since I’m not a dog trainer, I won’t be touching on the discipline aspect, but remember that consistency is key. So however you choose to train or discipline, stick with it!
1. Belts and harnesses
There are a gagillion different belts and harnesses on the market. It will take some trial and error to see what works best for you and your doggos. Some key points to keep in mind while searching for belts and harnesses: you’ll want to make sure your dog has unrestricted movement of their legs. Keep an eye out for harnesses that cut across their shoulders and restrict movement. Also make sure they can’t slip out easily.
Belts and Leashes
For a long while, and when I was only running with one dog, I was simply holding the leash in my hand. This became very uncomfortable and I would loop the leash through my running belt more often than not. I finally gave in and purchased a belt and it was the best investment I’ve ever made in the dog running world.
But that was when I had one dog. Now I have two. I still use the leash part of the belt/leash combo, but I’ve since added a new belt with much more padding and leg loops. The leg loops give me more control over the dogs and my own body, and the padding gives my back a break from all the strain. I currently use the Caniski belt from Howling Dog Alaska. It’s comfortable, functional, and well made. And it didn’t break the bank.
Because I run with two dogs, I also run with a leash splitter. This is something I’m still playing around with, though, because it starts to feel pretty cumbersome, especially in the later miles when the dogs aren’t pulling quite as heavily. The hardware tends to drag all of us down and sometimes I end up tripping on it as the dogs get tired.
We’ve tried a bunch of different harnesses — some cheap, some reeaaaaally expensive — and finally found the ones that work for us. Because I have two very different dogs, I’ve had to play around with the harnesses quite a bit. For my husky/lab, who is a puller and who I encourage to pull, we use the Howling Dog Alaska Distance harness. It gives her space to move and pull accordingly. For my terrier-poo, aka the escape artist, we use the Kurgo Journey dog harness. It’s well-constructed and she can’t shimmy easily out of it (which she has done in other harnesses).
A key tip here is to try to designate a harness/leash especially to running. That way your dogs will know when it’s time to run (work) and when it’s time to walk (sniff and meander).
Dogs get thirsty just like humans do. And this is especially true when it’s more humid, warmer, or when you increase distance. My dogs can last about three miles without water but then they start turning their heads looking for my hydration pack.
My terrier-poo is well-trained. When we first started running together, I ran with the Nathan Trail Mix and when it was time for a drink, she would turn her head and nudge the bottle. She still does that even though I rarely run with those bottles anymore. She does enjoy a little sip out of my Orange Mud pack, though — and doesn’t discriminate between bottles or a hose!
My lab/husky is less interested in water but I try to encourage her to drink when we’re out. It doesn’t always work and your dog may not take to drinking out of a water bottle or hydration pack, either. But it’s important to offer it.
Another option, which I have yet to try myself, is the collapsible bowl option. I know my terrier-poo wouldn’t drink from it but my other dog may so I might test it out this summer.
The bottom line here — make sure you’re keeping your dogs hydrated just as you keep yourself hydrated. They’ll appreciate it!
3. Train like you train
A key point that people often ask about is training. How to start, how to continue, appropriate age of the dogs, etc. The important part here is to train your dog the way you would train yourself. So for example, if your dog is a brand new runner, you’ll need to train your dog like a brand new human runner. It may seem like dogs can run farther and faster than humans, but their speed and distance is not the same as ours. We typically run long, slow distance which they are not accustomed to. You wouldn’t expect your non-running neighbor friend to rip off 5 miles on their first run ever, would you? No, that would be unreasonable. Well, the same goes for dogs. Just because they can run farther and faster than us by nature does not mean they are ready and able to right off the bat.
Start low and slow. A half mile here and there. Work up to a mile. Continue building the mileage and stamina as you go. Gradual distance, gradual speed.
As far as the appropriate age of the dog — that’s a highly controversial topic that I won’t touch with a ten-foot pole. My advice if you have questions: consult your vet and not the court of public opinion.
4. Give yourself — and your dogs — grace
Running with dogs is not easy! It can, and will, be frustrating at times. There will be times you’ll want to run farther than they want. Some days the dogs will want to run fast and essentially drag you along. And early on in the process, you’ll be getting used to each other’s body movements and signals. Recognize that it’s a learning process and there will be days you’ll feel angry or annoyed. And that’s totally okay. Just don’t give up.
When you do feel angry or frustrated, it’s okay to can the run. There have been so many times I’ve gotten so incredibly stressed out from running with my dogs that I’ve turned back and taken them home. Sometimes I finish the run with one dog, sometimes no dogs, and sometimes I don’t even finish the run.
To make it easier on yourself, be consistent with whatever commands, disciplines, rewards, etc., you decide to use. It will make your life so much easier in the long run. We use mushers commands for the most part. But you can use whatever you want — gibberish if that’s your thing! Just make sure it’s the same every time and your dogs will begin to understand. Plus, as an added bonus, they’ll start to recognize your routes and will likely need very few commands. And a funny added bonus is that eventually they’ll start to recognize when you turn on/off your watch and their ears will perk up when they hear the alerts!
5. Keep it fun and safe!
The most important part of all this — the harnesses and leashes, and mushers commands and the slow build of mileage — is to HAVE FUN. If it’s not fun, don’t do it. And don’t ride your dogs hard. They’ll do anything for you, including running themselves into the ground. As a responsible dog owner and runner, it’s your job to recognize when the run becomes unsafe or unfun.
Signs or reasons a run can be unsafe include, but are not limited to,: glass or debris in the roadway or on the trail; too hot (or too cold) conditions — this includes the temperature of the ground on their paws!!; is the run too far?; do you have enough food/snacks and beverages for the duration of the run?; you’re feeling frustrated or annoyed early on; you’re dragging your dog behind you in order to get him/her to run.
There are endless reasons a run can be unsafe or unwise. Use your best judgement before heading out with your pups.
And seriously — make sure the run is fun for both of you. If your dogs aren’t having fun or you’re getting too annoyed during the training process (trust me, it happens!!), there’s no shame in taking the dogs home. It’s better to start again when you’re less stressed out and it can be enjoyable for all involved.
I love running with my dogs. And there are certainly days I can’t handle both of them at the same time, and there really are days I just want to run my own run. But overall, I’m so happy I have my girls. I think my favorite part of running with dogs is getting to explore new places. We always find the best trails and things to sniff along the way!
Do you run with a dog or two?
What’s the farthest you’ve run with your canine companion?