I was asked this in an e-mail today, and I thought it was a good enough question to share with the crowd:
“I’m training for a half marathon coming up this October and want to keep my dog involved. She’s a small dog, only 20 pounds, so I want to know – is there a time limit or distance limit i should take into consideration when taking her with me on runs? I want to get her energy out (so she’ll stop barking her face off all day!) but I don’t want to risk putting her in harms way. If there isn’t a rule for time/distance, can you give me some tips on what to look out for/keep in mind so that I’m not doing any damage to her?”
First of all, kudos to you for doing the training! Just like you are building up slowly as you increase your distance, the same applies to your dog. The general rule is about a 10% increase in distance a week, starting with as little as a half mile if your pet is starting out as a couch potato. Due to an immature skeleton, dogs under two should not do distance running.
I’m not aware of a hard and fast rule for upper limits on training, as long as you are increasing your activity at appropriate intervals for your dog. In the case of the person who e-mailed me the question, we’re talking about a 20 pound dog; all other things considered, a small dog will obviously tire sooner than a 60 pound dog in the same category of fitness. The dog would probably still outrun me, though.
The number one thing to keep in mind as far as I’m concerned is to know your dog. A young, sturdy, energetic larger breed dog is going to tolerate exercise at a higher level than an older dog, one who is overweight, or has underlying medical conditions. Before starting on a training program, you should have your pet given a once-over at the vet and get their OK for your activity.
As we enter into the summer months, the risk of heat stroke will increase. While brachycephalic breeds such as bulldogs and pugs are particularly heat-sensitive, all dogs are at risk for heat related disease especially during the hottest times of the day. Running in the morning or evening is safest for them. Bring water for them. It seems like such a no-brainer but I’ll tell you, I’ve forgotten water for the dogs before on long walks and had to turn around.
Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of heat stroke and stop your run if there is the slightest concern your pet is having a hard time. Dogs are people-pleasers; they tend to push themselves much farther than they should if they think that is what we want.
Run on trails if you can. Concrete is not only hard on the joints and pads, it’s hotter. I have seen sloughed pads from running on asphalt. Their pads are tough, but not immune to damage.
Dogs who run regularly are recommended to have one day of rest for every day they run. If you find your pacing is increasing faster than that which is comfortable for your dog, take her on the shorter runs and have her rest while you tackle those long runs.
And good luck! Let me know how the training goes! If any regular runners here want to chime in, please feel free to share your tips.