If you have a pup, you know they need exercise. If you have a dog that hails from a sporting or working breed, then you know they realllllly need exercise. Running with dogs can be a great way to get exercise for yourself and your dog. Canicross with your dog lets your dog have a job too.
I wouldn’t say I love running, but I do enjoy what it does for my mind and body. Almost never do I regret going for a run and I almost always feel better after my run.
I also know my two Springers need the exercise and they LOVE to run with me. The excited whimpers start as soon as they see me in my running gear or grab my running shoes. No need to ask “want to go for a run?”
My dogs (yes, two of them) and I typically run together 2-3 times a week. Most of the time we are running on the street or a paved trail since I am often running with kids too. Every now and then we get the occasional trail run and it is glorious!
On runs where I don’t take them, they are disappointed and I am often feeling guilty for not taking them, but I have my reasons. Before I head out the door with the dogs, I consider a few things to keep us all safe and healthy:
- Where am I headed? Are dogs allowed?
- Will the route/trail be super crowded? What are other people/dogs normally like on this trail?
- Whats the weather looking like? Too hot? Icy or slippery spots?
- What have the dogs been up to lately? Have they already put on 10 miles running around the yard today?
- Are they excited to go? (HINT: The answer is ALWAYS YES for my two!)
My Canine Partners
Reece and Lucie are both Field English Springer Spaniels, but unrelated. Reece is 7 years old and Lucie is 2 years old. They are both energetic, loveable pups. Aside from running with me, they love to swim, grouse hunt, chase each other around and follow me around.
Reece is the older and wiser one. She knows the rules and just how far she can get away with them. She LOVES to run with me and really loves when I dust off the harness and get her in it. She also has been backpacking with us and skijors with me in the winter. She even enjoys pulling our daughters around in the sled during winter.
Lucie is (still) the puppy. She is always in your space and under (or on) your feet. But, she loves you SOOOO much and is very tolerant of the girls antics. She is very jealous, you cannot pet Reece without her butting in, however, she is the happiest dog and she even smiles at you. She also enjoys being very close to Reece, like lying on or right next to her close.
What is Canicross?
Canicross is the sport of cross country running with dogs! Your dog is in harness and the human is wearing a hip belt with a tow line attached to the dog’s harness and the two run together as a team.
If all goes well, you and your dog both get a great workout and you might get some new speed PRs compared to your non dog-powered runs.
Just like running races, there are Canicross races. Sometimes these are standalone events, other times they are put on alongside other dog powered events like mushing. Check out canicrossusa.org for more information on how to find events or get started!
Do a Health Check First!
Before your start running with your dog, its important to do a health check, on both you and your pup. If you are not accustomed to aerobic exercise, or have not really run before, please check in with your physician before starting a new exercise program.
Same goes for your doggo. If your dog is a puppy (under 2 years old) or not used to running or a lot of exercise, please consult your veterinarian before starting a new routine.
If you are both new to running, a “Couch to 5K” program can be a great way to get started.
How to get started
After you have have the all clear to get started running, its time start with the basics. I’ll share some of my favorite equipment and some tips for creating a running partner.
Before you hit the trail, it’s important you and your dog and a good understanding of each others behavior. If you have a dog who can’t pass by a tree without sniffing it, has to pee on every fire hydrant, or takes off after squirrels, you are going to need to do some slow leash work first.
The last thing you want is to be dragged off trail when Fido tears off after a rabbit. Ground rules must be established at a walking pace before you start running if you want to have good running dogs.
Some good commands to start with are:
- SIT: Your dog’s butt should hit the ground instantly where ever they are (not come and sit). This is a great command to be used when your dog spots something exciting, or when greeting other runners (human or dog).
- HEEL: Your dog should walk at your side with a loose leash, keeping your pace.
- LEAVE IT: Your dog should ignore the tempting item. This works great for squirrels, food, sniffing a tree, etc.
- Hint: When training, don’t use dog treats as the “leave it” item, this could confuse your dog initially if you are using treat rewards. Use something tempting that you wouldn’t want your dog to have, like cheese puffs instead.
- A RELEASE like “OK”: This releases your dog from their current command, like “SIT”. For us, we use “OK” or “Lets go”, but you can choose whatever word works for you and your dog.
Some more advanced commands, commonly used by dog powered sports humans:
- LINE OUT: Dog leans into harness to pull out line and create create tension.
- WOAH: Dog stops where they stand.
- GEE: Dog turns to the right.
- HAW: Dog turns to the left.
- GEE OVER: Dog moves to the right.
- HAW OVER: Dog moves to the left.
- AHEAD: Dog continues straight ahead (useful at intersections).
- EASY: Slow down.
- ON BY: Dog goes by other runners/objects without interacting.
As with most outdoor activities, there is an equipment component. Thankfully, running involves minimal equipment and some you probably already have!
Hands free leash or hip belt
We are lovers of our Ruffwear leashes and hip belts and use them whenever we run. It’s nice to be able to have your hands free for water, keeping arm swing, or pushing a stroller.
I always use my Omnijore hip belt when I run with both dogs (which is most of the time). I like the quick release feature and I have them on separate lines so if I need to emergency release, they are separate. If I just run one dog, then I normally just use my Ruffwear Crag leash.
I chose the Omnijore Hipbelt so I can use it for skijoring in the winter and running year round, but, Ruffwear also makes a Trail Runner Belt, which is a little more low profile.
For canicross or skijjoring, I use an UltraPaws Bungee Tow Line. If I am just out for a run, I have two short leashes attached to the belt instead.
>>>Check out Ginny’s full review of the Ruffwear Omnijore System here!<<<
Obviously you need something to attach your leash to. If you are out, your dog should always have a collar with ID on it (some of our favorite tags are RoadID Pet ID and Dog IDs Rivet on tags.) Choose a collar that works best for you and your dog.
For us, our dogs are typically wearing two collars, their Dogtra E-Collar and a chain training collar which is what the leash is attached to. Our dogs wear their E-collars 90% of the time they are out of their kennels.
E-collars are a great way to help train dogs with general obedience and distance commands. It is important that the human understands how to properly train their dog with an e-collar so that the dog is responsive and it is used appropriately.
Even though they are wearing their E-collars when we run, I barely have to use them, but it is good peace of mind knowing that I will have control if a situation arises.
You can also opt for a harness instead of a collar to attach your leash. You can use a variety of harness styles if your dog is running by your side. The Hi & Lite is a great option from Ruffwear!
However, if your running Canicross or your doing other activities where your dog is pulling you, your dog should have a harness designed for pulling.
These types of harnesses help distribute the weight across the shoulders so your dog can pull safely and effectively. We use an Alpine Outiffers X-back harness, which is a style commonly worn by sled dogs.
Don’t forget hydration for you and your pup when you are out running. Especially during heat and humidity, its very important for everyone to stay hydrated. There are several human and dog friendly varieties to choose from or you can teach your dog to drink from your squirt bottle (mine are NOT a fan of this technique).
>>>Looking for some of the TMM team’s favorite gear for pups? Check out our list of Best Gear for Outdoor Dogs!<<<
Whether you’re hitting the pavement or trail, you might need some new running shoes before you get out. Most shoes have a mileage range of about 400 miles, but it varies on human size, running patterns, etc.
Head to a local running shoe store to get properly fitted and pick out a new pair of runners.
Things to Consider
Before I head out for a run with my dogs, I take a lot of things into consideration. What’s the weather like? What has their activity been like? How far am I running? When did they eat last? Its my job as their human to make sure we all stay safe on our run together.
It’s important to pay attention to the temperature before running with your dog. Too warm or too cold could make your dog sick. Every dog handles temperature differently, so make sure you know what your dog is capable of.
Also remember that your dog does not wear shoes like you and hot pavement in the summer or road salt in the winter can be bothersome to sensitive paws. Check out the Dog Gear Gift Guide for some of our favorite paw protectors.
There is one trail in town where I rarely go to run with my dogs since there are so many other owners who don’t feel the need to follow the leash law. Know your trails, the rules for them and the typical population. It is a less stressful run when you know you wont have negative encounters.
Also know your dog neighborhoods, is there a street where you constantly have issues with a loose dog? Might be time to find a new route.
What has your dog been up to?
If you dog has spent all morning running a round the yard playing fetch before you head out for a 6 mile run, it may be a bit much. You know your dog best, so pay attention and make sure your pup doesn’t overdo it.
If they just finished a meal, you may want to wait a bit before a run for digestion or have them sit this one out.
Just as cool downs are important for humans after workouts, its important for you dog too. When you finish your run, take an extra 5 minutes to walk around your neighborhood with your dog to bring both your heart rates back down.
If its warm out, my dogs usually head straight for the pond or kiddie pool post run to cool off. Allow your dog to drink some water but try not to let them gulp.
The Post-Workout Cool Down for Your Dog from PetMD has some great tips!
One thing my dogs are great at is not stopping. We can go for a run or walk and I can count on them to not stop to go potty or sniff everything. I often have fellow runners wondering what my trick is.
For starters, make sure your dog has plenty of time to take care of business before you hit the trail. Teach them its their “job” to run with you and there is other times to sniff and potty. Reward with good sniffing time or whatever your dog prefers when they have a good run with you!
Getting a dog to “heel” and using the “leave it” command works well to accomplish this goal.
l’ll note that is a rare occurrence where we walk our dogs with the goal of them going potty, they just free range out in the backyard. So, if you have dogs that you walk to potty, this task might be a little more difficult, but not impossible.
The downside to this is that my dogs are non-stop. They will go as long as I will go, even if its too much for them. This is why it is super important to put limitations on what you do with your dog and make sure you pay attention to how your dog is looking during activity.
Some other notes:
Here are some other resources to help you get started!
I’m a fan of the book “Ski Spot Run.” It is geared towards Skijoring, but also discusses other dog powered sports and has a lot of great tips on how to get started.
The American Kennel Club also has a good article on how to get started running with your dog. You can check it out here.
Once you get your dog trained in a harness, the possibilities are endless! In the winter Reece and I enjoy skijoring and she will also pull the girls around in sleds. We haven’t ventured into bikejoring yet, but I am hoping to get into a canicross race soon.
Track your dogs!
Something fun I have started to do is track when my dogs run with me. I have a Garmin watch and use the Garmin Connect platform, which makes it super easy! In Garmin Connect you are able to track gear like shoes, bikes, etc. which I do, but you can also track “other” gear.
The “other” can be whatever you want it to be! So, I made both of my dogs “gear”. After I run, I edit my gear for that run and select if the dogs ran with me or not.
I can tell you that Lucie has ran 205 miles with me since she has started running! Reece only has 216 recorded miles because I didn’t start recording hers until a few years ago when I started Lucie.
For all you Mother Runners out there, you could also do this for your strollers, so when you kids are all grown up you can tell them how many miles you pushed them around.
Have any other tips and tricks for running with your dog? Let us know! Happy Tails & Trails!
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