Dogs are great companions within a home setting but they can also play an important role in improving your fitness. Here, we look at how exercising with your dog can benefit you both. Running isn’t mandatory … you can choose your pace or simply walk, whichever works best for you and your four-legged friend.
Which breeds can you exercise with?
You can run with any breed of dog but breeds with a short muzzle such as Pugs can suffer from breathing problems and may only be able to run short distances at a gentle pace.
How far should you run together?
All dogs should be allowed to run short distances to start with and then you can build up to doing longer runs. Signs you are running too far with your dog include lagging behind, pulling to one side or trying to stop, thick frothy saliva from the mouth, trying to find shade or water and of course starting to limp.
What speed should you run at?
When starting out you should begin with a gentle jog. For owners with small breeds you may not be able to progress to a faster speed but larger dogs that like to run will mean you can eventually sprint if you want to!
At what age can you start running with dogs?
You can start running with your dog at any age but your dog should be fully grown. Structured exercise such as running in a harness is not recommended until dogs have finished developing. Although the idea is not for your dog to pull you along, there may be times when they are bearing some weight through the harness and this is not suitable for growing dogs.
Gentle jogging alongside you (off-lead) for short distances on soft ground would be a good way to start when they are younger but you should stop when your dog stops rather than encouraging them to do more than they are able to. If your dog is overweight you should get him checked out by a vet before you start a more strenuous exercise regime. You will need to build up the distance slowly with these dogs to increase their fitness gradually.
What to feed your dog
The source and digestibility of protein and fat is an important factor if you are serious about running with your dog. Burns advocate that animal tissue such as chicken, fish and lamb is more easily digestible than that from a plant such as soya. Good sources of fat include sunflower oil as well as chicken oil. Increasing fat is known to have a positive effect on working dogs and so it follows that dogs running often and long distances need more fat also. It is also advisable to give your dog a small snack within two hours after running. Studies show that this helps to replenish glycogen stores and is especially good for those exercising days in a row.
When to feed your dog when you’re running
Feeding four hours or more before exercise is thought to aid endurance as the dog then has time to empty its bowels before running. Running with a large quantity of food in the stomach can be uncomfortable for the dog. The food should be of high quality and highly digestible which also means lower quantities for the owner to feed it.
Watch out for ‘Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus’ (GDV) which is essentially bloating or gastric torsion. GDV can be a life-threatening condition in dogs in which their stomach twists and distends with gas.
Dogs that do strenuous exercise or drink huge amounts of water 2 – 3 hours after eating are more prone to this. All breeds are at risk, but it tends to occur more in large, deep chested breeds such as German Shepherds, Dobermans, Great Danes and Setters. The chance of GDV also increases with age and is more common in pedigree breeds.
Early signs of GDV include restlessness, increased breathing rate or effort, excessive drooling, vomiting white froth or trying, unsuccessfully, to vomit. As the condition progresses dogs’ abdomens can become enlarged, the gums become pale, the heart rate high and the dog may collapse. If you suspect GDV, you should seek veterinary help immediately.
Things to look out when exercising with your dog
Overheating can kill a dog. You should never run in hot weather and even in warm weather you should run in the early morning or evening to avoid the warmest part of the day. If your dog seems to be struggling to run or is panting excessively or seeking shade these can be the first signs of overheating and you should stop immediately. Ideally you should carry water with you for your dog (or run somewhere where there is access to water eg a stream) and carry a mobile phone in case of emergencies.
Be aware how your dog’s breed and weight may make them more prone to over – heating. Overweight, older dogs and those suffering from heart disease are more likely to be affected.
Fiona Firth is Head Nutritionist at Burns Pet Nutrition.
For tips and advice about pet exercise and fitness see our Pets channel.Last modified: June 22, 2021