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Ten Tips for Running with Dogs

How to keep your four-legged training buddy safe and happy on the run

A furry BFF can be your best running partner - an enthusiastic companion even wagging his or her tail when you suggest a pre-dawn run in the snow. Here are some great tips on how to incorporate you dog into your running routine.

By Tim Shuff

To see me run with my garbage-loving mutt Ranger is like Marley & Me for cardio junkies. While I'd dreamed that my adopted hound would fit seamlessly into my exercise routine, Ranger had different ideas, like setting his own pace, preferring energy bar wrappers to their contents, and stopping to roll in dead things.

Ranger doesn't do speed work or hot weather, can't be trusted off leash anywhere within two weeks of a past picnic or 500 metres of a dump site, but he runs by my side for every step of my 30-k wilderness trail epics and smiles the whole way. He is my only training companion who will never say no, the one unconditional supporter in our busy family of my running addiction, and my ever-dependable excuse to lace up my shoes and get outside.

Because we run together, Ranger is as fit as I am, a barometer of my own physical and mental well-being. His visible pleasure at the end of a big running day is a wonderful thing to be around.

Crisp days and dry trails make early winter the prime season to run with a canine pal. Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Take a test run
Try running with a friend's dog before you get your own. Novice runners have an advantage. If you're a serious runner, be realistic and make sure that a dog won't cramp your routine.

2. Pick a winner
The best running dogs are usually light-coated working breeds: hunters or herders like labs, pointers and collies. Hounds like mine have good fitness but are easily distracted by smells. Avoid toy breeds and giant breeds, as well as brachycephalic dogs (flat-faced dogs like pugs and boxers). Check out www.dogbreedinfo.com's list of excellent jogging companions.

3. Learn new tricks
Teach your dog at least two things: to heel and to come when called. Use treats or toys to reinforce that running is fun. Once your dog can walk on a slack leash without pulling or crossing over, build up to running and try going hands-free with the leash around your waist.

4. Get a checkup
Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Sound familiar? Fido's no different. Extreme exercise before a dog's bone growth plates are fused - one to two years depending on breed - can cause long-term injury. See a vet to get the green light.

5. Harness up
Sudden stops at speed cause jarring pulls on a leash which can injure a dog's neck, says Dr. Tom Gibson, an orthopedic specialist at the Ontario Veterinary College. He recommends using a harness instead of a neck collar. Look for a no pull harnesses which has the leash attachment in front of the dog's chest.

6. Build stamina
Remember how you felt when you first started running? Introduce your dog to running gradually, starting with short distances to build stamina. Try doggie hill training: throw a toy uphill and have your dog retrieve it.

7. Compromise on pace
Dogs run long distances at an energy-saving trot that may be slower than your gait if you're a fast runner. Their next gear may be too fast. Learn your dog's pace and plan your runs accordingly. I'm faster than my dog on the roads, but we're an even match on trails.

8. Mix it up
Include your dog in the parts of your runs that suit their fitness level and pace. Stick close to home, take them out for a slow warm-up or a burst of speed work, then drop them off and continue on your own.

9. Pause for paws
Pads toughen with use, so build them up to running on hard surfaces and inspect them regularly for wear, or opt for doggie running shoes. In winter, road salt causes dry, cracked and irritated pads. Use neoprene booties or a protective ointment such as 100% Natural for Pets Invisible Boot and rinse paws with fresh water. If your dog has furry toes, trim the hair to reduce snow and mud buildup.

10. Avoid hot dogs
Dogs can't cool off as well as we can, and faithful canines will run themselves to collapse to keep up with their owners, so you need to be their common sense. Slow down, shorten your route, stick to shade, or leave Fido at home on hot and humid days. Avoid running between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Encourage your dog to pre-drink by adding a treat or meaty broth to its water. Watch for the signs of heat stress: heavy panting, an extended tongue, red tongue and gums, and a slowing pace. Treat heat exhaustion with rest, shade, clean drinking water, a cooling hose-down or a 15-minute swim.

Tim Shuff is a Toronto freelance writer and marathon runner who runs with his adopted hound, Ranger.

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