How To Train Your Dog to Be Your Long-Distance Running Companion in 6 Simple Steps
Story and Photos Contributed by Becca Marx
Before I get into how to train your dog to be your long-run running buddy, I want to point out that the title of the article says “Simple” steps, not “Easy” steps. Training Barley, my 2-year-old, hyper-active Golden Retriever, to run the Columbia Gorge Half Marathon with me, was not an easy process. But looking back, it was simple.
I dreamed about going on runs with Barley the day we brought him home as an 8-week old pup. It was one of the things I looked forward to most, even before we had decided on Barley. I wanted a medium-large dog that could accompany me on runs in the early mornings and evenings, especially in the winter months when there are so few hours of daylight.
Of course, every breed and every dog is different. I am sharing my experience, and I think these tips could be applied broadly, but I fully realize this is not a one-size-fits-all thing.
1. Before you can run with your dog on-leash, you must learn to walk with your dog on-leash.
This step was absolutely, without a doubt, the most frustrating and took the longest (by far). If your dog is already “good” on leash, you have conquered half the battle. Barley was HORRIBLE on leash. He would pull and pull, choking himself.
From our puppy training class we learned the technique of: If they pull, stop walking. Don’t start again until they aren’t pulling.
Many tears of frustration were spilled as I tried to get Barley not to pull. I remember specifically attempting to go on a walk when my sister was visiting, and after 15 minutes we had barely made it out of our cul-de-sac. I thought I was doomed and he would never learn. People suggested a gentle leader, but I really didn’t want to have to rely on that.
This actually is a great segue into the next step.
2. Invest in proper equipment.
Finally, I got a harness for Barley, and that made all the difference. I am happy to say that he is now pretty darn good, albeit still energetic walking on leash (you should see his tail wag, it is a force to be reckoned with).
For running with Barley, my bare essentials are the harness and waistband leash. Once I went more than three or four miles using a normal leash, I found holding it to be cumbersome. Not only that, my shoulders were getting super tight. I felt like my shoulders were inching up on my neck.
We were doing our long runs in the summer, and I noticed Barley’s pads starting to get scratched up and cracked/bloody between running on pavement and the heat of the pavement. That is when I reached out to Ruffwear, and they were kind enough to send me a set of Grip Trex boots. I don’t use them on every long run, but they are really great! Barley took to the boots like a fish to water. They grip the pavement and protect his pads from rough surfaces and heat. I haven’t tried them on super cold pavement yet, but I plan to use them for that weather element when the time comes.
3. Core strength (and arm strength, if using a hand-held leash) and agility is essential.
Having a strong core and the agility to make unexpected adjustment is very important when running with a dog if you want to stay injury-free. They will stop or veer off course for an irresistible smell. They will all of the sudden need to go number two. They will stop to shake out their fur. Expect the unexpected. I have managed to not fall flat on my face by mastering the art of the mid-run pirouette and engaging my core to keep me upright and stable when he suddenly hits the brakes.
4. Master the “Leave It” Command.
Barley is not the most well trained dog. But, the “Leave It” command he knows and obeys. If we are running and we pass a piece of yummy garbage, dogs barking or yapping behind their fence, or other dogs being walked on leash, he will obey when I say “Leave It.” I actually have him trained to understand a clap as leave it while running, which is great when you are out of breath. The loud noise distracts him from his distraction and reminds him that he is too busy loving his run to be bothered with anything else.
5. Increase Mileage in small increments.
Once you are able to run 2, 3, and 4 miles with your dog, you can increase mileage slowly week by week. I used the generally accepted 10% rule for human runners (don’t increase your weekly mileage more than 10%), and that worked. The most important thing is to pay attention to your pup. Watch out for limping, or overly rapid panting. Remember that dogs can’t sweat like humans can, and be especially mindful of this in the heat. It is just not worth it to risk the health of your best running friend to overdo it. Always be cautious.
6. Hydrate, Praise, and Massage.
I am so proud of Barley after a long run, and I let him know it. I shower him with love in the form of sturdy pats and words of praise. I lead him straight to the water dish. And I also give him a “Massage” or rub down. He loves this, and it is a good way to check for any irregularities, swelling, or hot spots.
If you have any questions about running long distance with dogs, feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer. Wishing you and your dog many long runs ahead!