Guide to running with ROVER
By Ann M. Noser
A popular online video showcases a life-changing shelter-animal adoption in which the adopter, Eric, who weighed 340 pounds, had Type 2 Diabetes, and high blood pressure. His nutritionist suggested he adopt a dog to get him walking. Both Eric and Peety the dog lost weight and gained a wonderful friendship. Eric eventually ran a marathon.
As Eric discovered, running with your dog can benefit both parties. Here’s a guide to help keep everyone happy and safe.
Age, Weight, Breed
Puppies have lots of energy to burn, but most experts agree they shouldn’t run for long periods until 8 to 12 months of age (depending on breed) to avoid damaging their developing joints. Use these early months to develop proper leash habits while walking and participating in obedience classes.
For adult dogs, take an honest look at their waistline. Extra pounds add pressure on the joints, increasing the risk of injury. Added weight also makes it more difficult to breathe, increasing the risk of overheating. Work on slimming down before attempting to run, by decreasing the amount fed and gradually increasing the lengths of walks.
Not every dog breed, shape or size is built to run. Some might be better walking partners. Breeds with shorter noses (such as Bulldogs) are more prone to overheating. So are older dogs. I’ve met Yorkie mixes and Dachshunds out happily running, so small breeds aren’t automatically out of the race.
If you’re not sure whether or not you should run with your dog, ask your veterinarian for advice.
Once your dog is the right age and weight, increase mileage slowly to avoid injury for both of you. Consider consulting one of the many Couch to 5K programs to ease your way into running.
Hot Dog in the City
Dogs can’t sweat like humans do. They lose excess heat through panting. During summer months, leave your dog home on runs longer than one hour. Additionally, leave her home on any days of high temps or humidity. On a run, if your dog starts to lag or his tongue hangs out further than normal, it’s time to take him home.
Ensure water access for both of you, but avoid standing water. Don’t let your dog drink out of any algae-laden lakes. In Rochester, the dogs taking a turn around Silver Lake appreciate the wonderful woman who always leaves two water bowls in her yard. If there are no safe water sources available, bring a thermos and bowl in your car and return frequently for refreshment breaks.
Bike trails are great for running, but during the hotter months the black tar can burn a dog’s footpads. Hold your bare hand on the bike path for 10 seconds. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for paws.
Avoid Stomach Upset
To avoid vomiting or diarrhea, wait at least an hour after a meal before running with Fido. Some dogs will get softer stools the longer they run. If stools are normal at other times, this is just exercise-induced.
Minnesota winters are long, cold and dark. To increase visibility, wear a reflective outer layer and consider a reflective leash or collar for your dog.
When is it too cold to run outside with your dog? If it hurts to breathe or if your dog holds up its feet during a walk or run, then it’s time to go home.
After winter runs, towel off your dog’s feet to remove any road salt. If your dog starts to limp or lick its paws, stop running immediately.
Rules of the Road
Don’t hog the road. Move over and keep control of your dog when passing others. Bring along poop bags. Above all, be considerate of others and attentive to your dog.
Dr. Ann Anderson works as a small-animal veterinarian at Quarry Hill Park Animal Hospital by day, and a writer (under her married name Ann M. Noser) by night.