Luckily the summer heat has disappeared, which gives me the change to train with my favorite running partner… My dog Bella!
I do not claim to be an expert on running with your dog. However, I’ve done quite a bit of training with Bella in the three years that we have had her, and I’ve learned a lot in that time. First of all, I always bring several doggie bags with me. There’s nothing worse than having your dog go to the bathroom on someone’s freshly manicured lawn and have nothing to scoop it up with… and then realizing that they’re sitting on their porch drinking coffee. Whoopsie.
We used to use one of those retractable leashes, but I found that it’s actually better to have a traditional leash. Ours is about 5-6 feet long. I can quickly pull her to my side if we encounter a cyclist or another runner, and there is less risk of getting tangled up or cut by her leash. We almost always leash her when we run, although we have allowed her off leash to run the .6 miles around our neighborhood a few times. We only started doing that a few months ago because she’s becoming a little more mature now, but when she was younger she would have never stayed by our side off leash.
In the summer months I pay very close attention to how Bella is breathing because dogs do not tolerate running in the heat very well at all. Humans have a very effective sweat mechanism for cooling, but dogs only “sweat” through their tongue. Bella only runs two or three miles at a time in the summer, and I usually run with her around our neighborhood so she can stop for water breaks. For comparison’s sake, in the winter she has run 14 miles without stopping. When she was little, she would almost always begin our runs at 6:30 pace, so I had to train her to start much slower. Now she starts off at about 7:30 pace and is able to maintain that pace for a lot longer. She’s actually a great running partner for easy days, and sometimes on other days I will start my run with her, drop her off, and then finish my workout at a quicker pace. On days when I am feeling unmotivated, she helps me get out the door because I know she needs the exercise just as much as I do.
One of the things we have to be especially careful of is to check Bella’s paws during the run and afterwards. We have these burrs that sometimes hide out in the grass, and they have this almost Velcro-like property where they stick to shoelaces and get stuck to Bella’s paws occasionally. It’s only happened a few times, but I can tell something’s up when she starts to drag behind suddenly. Those suckers hurt just to touch them with your fingers, so I imagine they must hurt her paw pads a lot. Another thing worth mentioning is that we frequently check Bella for ticks if we go running in the park or on the trails. Even if your dog gets regular preventive flea and tick medicine, it’s still a good idea to check.
Dogs make great running partners. They never complain about the pace, and they are always ready to go at a moment’s notice. I never thought our dog would enjoy running so much, but she actually helped me get out of my training rut during the winter when we first got her. Just remember to give them lots of water and lots of love, and stay alert.
Also, we found out the hard way that Bella loves Picky Bars, but don’t feed them to your dog! There’s lots of good stuff in there that dogs can have, but they also have chocolate which is a no-no for pups. Bummer for the doggies, but more for me.
(Check with your local SPCA or Humane Society for more information.)