How to Train for Long-Distance Runs with Your Dog

Run, pupper, run!
By: Samantha Drake

Runners are finding more opportunities to compete in races with their dogs at their sides. Many “fun runs” and walks allow dogs to participate, and some race organizers let dogs run with their owners on an unofficial basis.

The number of official timed races for runners with dogs is also increasing as people who train for races with their dogs want to compete alongside them, says Sue Foster, co-founder of Iron Doggy, a Denver-based company that makes hands-free leashes for people who run with their dogs.

Organized, dog-friendly races can include 5K, 10K and half-marathon distances. People do run full marathons with their dogs, but shorter races are generally more popular, she says. Bringing your dog on a run requires you to be more in tune than ever with your dog’s needs, recognize the signs of overexertion or injury and provide your dog with the right fuel before, during and after the race.

Running with Your Dog: The Basics

Even if you have no plans to enter a race with your dog, running can be an enjoyable way for both of you to get or stay fit. Running together also helps build closer connection with your dog, says Joe Weadick, the owner and operations manager of Portland Dog Runner, a dog exercise business in Oregon that focuses on running.

When it comes to getting started, start slow and build the distance up as you go along, says Weadick. While the Portland Dog Runner’s group runs average about 45 minutes, some clients’ dogs can only run for about 15 minutes at a time.

“Follow your dog’s fatigue level, not yours, and endurance will build over time,” he says, adding that you should be the one to set the pace.

What Fuel Do Dogs Need for Running?

Foster’s dog, Zola, runs by her side whenever possible. In addition to daily walks, Foster says she goes on a long run with Zola three times a week. When preparing for a half-marathon, they start with 5K and 10K distances to get in shape before going the whole 13.1 miles. Foster also makes sure Zola gets enough fuel for her runs in the form of water and protein.

To help dogs stay hydrated, always bring water for your dog during the run and schedule runs for cooler parts of the day. Dog owners also need to know the signs of dehydration and what causes dehydration in dogs, as severe dehydration can be deadly. Increased activity, temperature and humidity are all conditions that can cause dehydration in dogs.

Adding water to wet and/or dry food can also help increase your dog’s water intake, says Dr. Katie Grzyb of One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Dogs will often drink more when there is fresh, cool to cold water available.

The color of a dog’s gums can also be telling in terms of their hydration level, Grzyb says. A dog’s gums should be pink in color (with the exception of certain breeds that carry a normal pigmentation to their gums).

“If the gum color changes to blue or gray this means that the animal is not getting enough oxygen,” Grzyb says. “If the gums become cherry red in color this often means that the patient is overheated. Both of these instances are medical emergencies.”

In terms of diet changes in dogs that run long distances, Grzyb suggests working with your veterinarian to determine your dog’s needs.

“Each individual animal has very different requirements just like humans,” she says. “Consulting with your veterinarian who can help calculate calorie intake as well as decipher if protein levels are adequate is very important.”

Which Dogs Should Run Long Distances?

Ideally, the best long-distance four-legged running companions are in shape and one of the lean, larger breeds that have long noses, says Tim Hackett, director of Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins, who runs 10ks, half-marathons, and marathons.

Hackett says half-marathons seem to be a good limit for most dogs, though some do run longer distances. But even shorter distances aren’t for every dog, however. “Not every dog is a runner and not every dog is a multi-miler,” he says.

Some breeds simply aren’t meant to run for miles, like brachycephalic breeds, including Bulldogs, Pugs and Boston Terriers. Their short muzzles and flattened facial structure makes them prone to breathing problems, he says.

Deep-chested breeds, like Labrador Retrievers, should not run long distances or be exercised heavily after eating, as it can cause gastric dilation (stomach twisting), a life-threatening condition, Grzyb says. In addition, dogs with heart conditions should not be exercised long distances unless discussed with a veterinarian or a veterinary cardiologist, she adds.

Regardless of the breed, puppies shouldn’t be taken on long runs because their bones and muscles aren’t fully developed, says Hackett, who adds that a dog may not be fully grown until they are one or two years old. In addition, dogs who routinely run long distances may not be able to continue to do so as they get older.

If your dog is not a runner, Grzyb says, there are other activities such as agility training and swimming that can be helpful with anxiety and/or hyperactivity issues.

Monitoring Your Dog on Runs

Runners must look out for their canine companions while out on a run. This includes monitoring for signs of fatigue, overheating and injury because dogs will try to keep up with their people as long as they can.

Signs that a dog has done too much include a racing heartbeat, inability to catch its breath, and limping. Additionally, runners should familiarize themselves with their dog’s resting heart rate and how quickly the dog’s heart rate normally returns to its resting rate after a long run. A dog’s heart beat can be felt just inside the hind limb, where the leg meets the body, Grzyb says.

“Any dog can overheat in temperatures greater than or equal to 75 degrees,” Grzyb says. “It is important to carry water and cooling packs on runs, and also to know where the shaded areas are on the running routes in case your dog overheats.”

Dog owners should also be on the lookout for any signs of limping before, during and after a run. Dogs don’t have many years of running long distances in them because their joints can only tolerate such intense activity for a few years, Hackett says.

Runners should also check the pads of their dog’s paws for abrasions after running and should stay off of hot pavement or tennis courts, which can burn and tear a dog’s paw pads.

Seeing a veterinarian if you are concerned about your dog is pertinent to his health, Grzyb says, and adds that bringing your veterinarian’s contact information with you when away from home or on long runs with your dog can be helpful.