Dr. J on Running

Running With Your Dog - The Sequel

2 January 2010

A dozen years ago I wrote about running with man’s best friend and a runner's worst fear, a dog. Since that time, both the running world and the dog world have experienced changes that are worth mention.

First, the benefits to humans of canine running partners used to outweigh the disadvantages. Dogs provided a sense of protection for their human partners. While the proliferation of electronic fences prevents many suburban dogs from straying, the use of invisible fences has decreased the amount of time owners spend socializing their dogs with humans and other dogs. Doggy day care centers provide structured social experiences and some pampered pets see other dogs only from a DVD. We are experiencing a decline in appropriate dog social behavior among dogs and with humans, and among dog owners with each other. Unless you have access to private trails, keep your dog on a leash so you can prevent any misunderstandings.

Even with these misgivings, a canine running partner continues to offer benefits unmatched by humans or high-resolution videoscapes. A dog wants to run and will push a moderate runner to run faster – even if it is to avoid hearing the same story about missed PRs or food fetishes. A dog does not stress about politics or fashion. A dog enjoys running the same route every day and may even resist a change, although a dog will not mind exploring new routes if the reward is to meet someone with appropriate dog treats.

I offer the following updated guidelines based on a review of the September 1998 list:

  • The ideal running dog has a medium-build with neither too thin a frame or too large a body; it weighs 50 to 70 pounds and has a well-groomed coat free of mats that can lead to hot spots and accumulated debris. Climate plays a key role in the suitability of a dog for running. Vizlas, Dalmations and Labrador Retrievers are well-suited for running in temperate weather conditions; German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, and Border Collies enjoy cold seasons and certainly tolerate shorter distances in warm weather.
  • Dogs with extreme body proportions may enjoy bursts of speed but they cannot be expected to tolerate much beyond a half mile. Don’t expect giant and toy dogs to be good running partners.
  • Engineered breeds have physical characteristic unsuitable for intense aerobic activity -- reproduction or running. The Bulldog comes to mind. However, designer or hybrid breeds like the Airedoodle or Labradinger are emerging as attractive alternatives to AKC breeds. Mixed breeds with good dispositions and good body types are good choices, especially those with hunting breed foundations.
  • Hip dysplasia is a degenerative disease that is a critical factor in the suitability of a dog to run. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) registers hip conformation for purebred dogs. See OFA.org for more information about hip dysplasia and other heritable canine diseases.
  • Puppies – regardless of breed, size or disposition -- should not run long distance because their bones are developing and are vulnerable to malformation. Puppies enjoy bursts of exertion followed by intense rest throughout their growing years, which lasts until age two. By four months of age, your puppy may begin to trot half a mile within long walks. Increase the distance by 10 percent each week. Give the dog a day off running between those long (two mile) walks. Wait until the dog is two years old to begin distance training.
  • Dogs also need protection from heartworm disease (mosquitoes), Lyme disease (deer ticks), intestinal parasites (dog feces, water and fleas), gunshot (deer hunters), concrete surfaces, broken glass, hormones, vehicle exhaust, road salt, and a growing number of infectious diseases.
  • Migrations of cougar, coyote, and wild boar bring new threats to trail running and deer often graze in urban recreational areas. A six-foot leash secured by a belt – like the DawgByte Dog Belt® -- gives your dog room to run and gives you a tug of authority.
  • Be smart about weather conditions. Dogs dissipate heat through their paws and mouths. Long-haired dogs feel the heat as much as short-haired breeds suffer in the cold. In hot weather, plan for safe drinking stops and allow your dog to run through puddles. In extreme cold weather, consider protective footwear for your partner and if necessary, a wind barrier or coat.
  • Obedience training makes for good dogs. Your partner should be socialized with all kinds of humans and animals, and be respectful of any distractions, including moving vehicles, wild animals, sharp, sudden noises, terrorist attacks, and bad grammar.
  • Speaking of protection, spay or neuter your dog to prevent embarrassment to yourself and your dog. While your dog is under anesthesia, have your veterinarian take care of any dangling dewclaws, have a microchip embedded for permanent identification, and register your friend with Home Again®.
  • Enter a race with your dog partner? Sure, but only events specifically designed for dogs and their runners. Dog Run Dog [http://dogrundog.com/] lists appropriate venues.

Even in 2010, it is possible to be one of the lucky runners who enjoy long partnerships with a canine running partner.

Dr. Marla A. Jabbour shadow writes for her husband on topics outside his expertise. She enjoys taking their German Shepherd puppy Lady Godiva on daily hour-long walks. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever the endorphines call.

© 2010 Dr. Marla A. Jabbour