Like a lot of runners, Ducky Waite gets restless and antsy without his regular run. The 4½-year-old pit bull-Doberman mix gets into the trash or rams a chew toy into his owners until he gets some exercise.
"He is a high-energy dog, and as a runner I get that," said his owner, Shauna Waite, a veterinarian in Annandale, Va. As a marathoner who logs up to 60 miles a week, she can relate. "When we run, we're both getting good exercise, and it keeps him in good shape."
Running delivers many of the same physical and mental benefits to dogs as it does to humans. It helps ward off obesity - a growing issue - and related health problems such as osteoarthritis and Type 2 diabetes. (About 54 percent of dogs are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.)
A 2012 study in Journal of Experimental Biology showed that canines get the same "runner's high" after intense exercise that people experience.
"Exercise is physical and mental stimulation," said Noon Kampani, a veterinarian with AtlasVet animal hospital in Washington. "It gives them an activity and burns energy. An exercised dog is usually a better-behaved dog."
And buddying up with Fido for runs can help you reach your goals. Dog owners are 2½ times as likely to get the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, says a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.
But running with a dog isn't as easy as lacing up and getting out the leash. Whether you're a new runner or you're considering a canine workout companion, these guidelines will help you establish a safe, healthy, lasting routine that boosts you both:
- Talk to your vet. Before you start any new exercise routine, check with your vet - especially if your dog is older or has orthopedic issues. Not every dog was born to run. Although certain breeds, such as Weimaraners and vizslas, are known for speed and stamina, other dogs, such as pugs, are not as well suited to it and are especially prone to overheating.
- Get the timing right. Young dogs might seem eager to release their copious amounts of puppy energy. But if the dog hasn't celebrated its first birthday, it's probably not a good idea. Its bones have not fully developed, and its growth plates have not closed, Kampani said. Daily bouts of continuous running can lead to fractures and lasting damage.
- Consider the conditions. In winter, clean paws after a run, as road salt can wreak havoc with paws, causing redness, roughness and a burning sensation that can lead to infection if the dog chews on the area, Kampani said. In summer heat, take it slowly, take plenty of breaks, and ramp up your distance and speed on a gradual basis.
- Plan your route. When mapping your route, consider your dog's temperament. Waite knows that Ducky gets nervous around approaching bikes, so she avoids popular cycling areas. Incorporate stops where your pup can get a drink. Or bring a water bottle with a bowl attached.
- Be flexible. Like any runner, your dog is going to have the occasional off day. Waite takes Ducky for runs when she doesn't have a strict workout planned.
- Watch the leash. Run slightly behind the dog, leaving some slack in the leash, said Bryan Barrera, founder of a professional dog-running service. Avoid having the dog trail behind you, where your legs could get clipped. Running behind your dog also gives you a strong hand and arm to hold your dog in case it lunges after an animal.
- Get the right gear. Waite uses a running halter that attaches at the waist because it doesn't disrupt her natural running form. A 4-foot leash will help you avoid tripping over the dog or the leash, Barrera said. "The closer you can keep the dog, the more control you'll have," he said. A leash that you can hold in two places can help prevent unwanted encounters with other dogs.
- Start slowly. Watch for signs of exhaustion, such as slowing, stopping or a change in gait. But be aware that dogs, like people, are prone to going too far, too fast, too soon. "One of the biggest mistakes is overestimating the ability of the dog or equating effort and desire to ability," Barrera said.