RwtB race allows runners to run with their dogs, therefore we thought getting advice from a RwtB’s runner who has run our race 2x with his canine. However, Rwtb needs to stress that our runners are required to run with a nonretrackable leash only. Thanks Dashing Dad for offering your words of wisdom!
I run with my dog on most of my runs. Luckily, my dog can run a marathon (Running with the Bears Marathon http://dashingdad.com/2015/08/27/running-with-the-bears-2015-recap/). This means I can take her on just about any run I want to do. How did I get such a great dog? I got lucky. My dog is the 3rd running dog I have had, and they have all been working breeds (border collies specifically). Working dogs have the energy to run long distances, love to please, and are easy to train.
There are many reasons to run with your dog. They provide a sense of security from other animals (or humans), they give you somebody to talk to (other than yourself), they can help get you out the door for an early run (nothing like a cold nose to get you out of bed), and it keeps your dog healthy and trim. But, you need to get the right dog and train them, both obedience and endurance wise, to match your running ability. Obviously, a German Sheppard can run faster (and farther) than a Chihuahua.
Building your dog’s endurance is the easy part. Start just like you did when you started running. Assuming your dog likes to fetch and run around, you can probably start with an easy 5k. Now, you probably shouldn’t start with a 20 minute 5k, but depending on your dog, a 30 minute or slower 5k should be no problem. Gradually increase the distance.
Watch your dog, and if they start slowing down or walking. This also depends on your dog, but you may need to take some extra walk breaks or give your dog some water. Once you start running farther, consider bringing hydration for your dog. If you need water on a run, your dog will probably need some too. I wear a hydration pack, just for the dog. I can drink out of fountains, the dog really can’t. Of course, the dog can drink out of the river or stream, while I can’t.
Obedience is the big issue. A dog that doesn’t listen will ruin a run, and possibly get you injured (or worse, sued because they injured somebody). The two things your dog should know: they should know how to heal and some version of “No.”
The “No” command is vital so your dog doesn’t dart off to go chasing squirrels, rabbits, birds, other dogs, bikers, people, or an errant tumbleweed. I use “leave it.” It was something that I taught my dogs to not pick up a toy or the piece of food my toddler just dropped. The advantage with working dogs is that they have learned that “leave it” means they should ignore whatever it is and keep doing their job.
Yes, with working dogs, running can be their job. For working dogs, doing a job is almost as fun for them as playing.
But, you also need to watch for things that your dog might react to. I usually run with my dog long before sunrise, in the dark, and one time she about killed me because of a trash bag on the side of the trail. She cut in front of me, nearly tripping me. Watch out for those type things to warn your dog to “leave it” or so you can take a wider berth.
The other primary obedience skill is getting your dog to heal, or to run by your side. Running with a dog is not a game of “pull my owner” or “drag my dog.” It should be a run with your dog at your side, preferably on your left side (or whatever side puts you between traffic and your dog).
I am a bit militant on this subject, but you should always run with your dog on a leash. Not a retractable leash, but a real leash. I use a hand-held leather leash, but I know lots of people who use the leash that ties to your waist, leaving your hands free.
The reason I am adamant about using a leash is because an off-leash dog can cause issues as they can run off or get into a dog fight if you can’t pull your dog off. Your dog may be the best behaved, friendliest dog in the world. But my dog probably won’t like your dog bothering her while she is running. With a leash I can keep her from attacking another dog that gets into her face.
All in all, once your dog is trained up, you will have an amazing running partner for years to come. They will know when you have your running clothes on and would put your shoes on for you if they could.