Many of us will be lacing up our running shoes to train for the whopping 26.2-mile race this year, and while you may not be able to bring your furry friend along on the big day, a great way to make your training more enjoyable is by pounding the pavement with your dog.
Running with your dog can not only be an adorable distraction from the miles ahead, but it can also keep particularly energetic breeds active, healthy, and stimulated.
So, if you’re getting ready to race in October, Michael Haigh from online pet food specialist Webbox has shared his top tips on how to start training with your pup by your side.
He explained: “Dogs may not be able to run the London Marathon with you, but our four-legged friends can make excellent training companions. If your dog is healthy, not overweight, and a breed accustomed to exercise, then including them in your training sessions can be a great way to keep your runs interesting and let your active pup burn off some energy.
“Start slow when introducing your dog to running, as they need to build up their stamina just like you do. A good way to accustom them to long distances is by bringing them on your next hike, and then starting with short runs around familiar routes. Once they’re accustomed to using kit like a waist lead and staying at your heel, you can start heading out on longer runs as you get fitter and stronger together.
“Always remember to bring enough water and healthy snacks for you and your pup when marathon training, as it can be tiring work. Similarly, know when it’s time to head out on your own, such as for intense sessions in the final days of your training or during adverse weather.”
Consider their age and breed
It’s wise to avoid running with your dog if they are still young, as puppies and young adult dogs still have developing bones. Overexercising them during their early years can therefore cause injury or lead to long-term problems like early onset arthritis or hip dysplasia (PetMD). Keeping up regular walks will help you maintain your cardio while you train for the marathon, though, so if you have a young (or elderly) dog you can still stay active together while protecting their joints.
If you are unsure whether your dog is ready to run with you, take them for a routine health check-up and ask your vet for their advice. Generally, if your dog is healthy, not too old, and isn’t a flat-nosed breed like a pug or a Shih Tzu, then it should be okay to gradually increase their daily exercise once they’re fully grown.
Unlike smaller, flat-nosed breeds, medium to large dogs like vizslas, dalmatians, Labradors, and Dobermans can all make great running companions due to their high energy levels and long strides. Their short coats also help them tolerate warmer weather and regulate their temperature better than most long-haired breeds can. However, some longer-haired dogs like collies and huskies can also be well-suited for exercise, as they were historically bred for herding sheep or pulling sleds and are therefore natural endurance runners.
Breed can be a great indication of your dog’s fitness and running ability, but their individual personality and health considerations are also key factors at play. Remember to monitor your dog’s behaviour and mood to make sure they are happy and responding well to this increase in exercise.
Find the right training gear
When starting to run with your dog, using the right gear is important to keep you both as safe and comfortable as possible. Waist leads are a great way to do this, as they give you hands-free control over your dog and allow you to run normally without unintentionally tugging at their lead. Harnesses can be a great option for some dogs but can be too restricting for others — be sure to find the right one for your dog’s size and breed or opt for a collar if harnesses aren’t working.
Running accessories like slim, lightweight backpacks can also be a great investment as you can bring enough water for you and your dog. Especially on long runs or all-day hikes to maintain your endurance before the marathon, it’s also wise to bring some sustenance. Be sure to pack glucose sachets or protein bars for you and some of your pup’s favourite treats or fruit and veg to keep up their energy levels while you train together.
Build up their stamina and obedience
Just like humans, our four-legged friends need to build up their physical fitness when they start running. If you’ve never run together before, start with a ten-minute run around a familiar area and gradually increase this over the following weeks. This allows you to fix any teething problems with different leads, running routes, and your dog’s obedience before you head out on longer training sessions.
Especially if you have a larger dog, ensuring that they are well trained on the lead is a vital step before heading out on a run together. Make sure your pup always responds well to your commands to stop, advance, and heel, or using equipment like waist leads could lead to some accidents.
Know when to run alone
While you might love running with your pup, there are certain times when it’s best to leave them at home. For example, you may be at a point in your training when you need to hit exact pace times or supplement your endurance runs with sprints. When running with your dog, you’ll need to stop and pick up after them, as well as give them enough water breaks and ensure that they don’t get too out of breath. It’s therefore best to head out on your own when you need to give a training session your full attention or are doing something too high intensity for your pup to join in.
Similarly, you may have to keep up a training schedule whatever the weather, but it’s best to avoid bringing your dog on a run during adverse conditions, such as the heatwaves we’ve been having. Remember that we humans can regulate our body temperatures better than dogs and know when it’s time to take a break. Dogs, on the other hand, can easily overheat and become dehydrated when exercising on a hot summer’s day, so sometimes a run can be too much for your pup to handle.
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