How To Run With Your Dog: On And Off the lead: Run Training Guide

Running with your dog is a wonderful activity for both you and your canine buddy. Getting your dog outside and exercising is wonderful for their health and helps them behave better. But learning how to run with your dog takes practice and patience—just like running itself. And, not all dogs, based on factors like breed and personality, are fit for running. A certified dog trainer advises you to be honest with yourself about whether running with your dog is the right fit:“ Do they want to apply for the job as your running partner? You might think because they have tons of energy they would be into running. But maybe they’d prefer swimming, or playing fetch or tug,”? 

This doesn’t mean that you can’t train your dog to run with you but it’s important to have realistic expectations about the time required to do so.

How To Tell If Running Is Right For Your Dog

To determine if you can run with your dog, first check with your veterinarian. 

Not all breeds are a good match for running.

In general, if a dog’s legs are shorter than his body height, they’re probably not a great runner.

Dogs that are not built to go the distance (longer than a mile) include Boston terriers, pugs, big dogs such as a Doggie de Bordeaux and Mastiffs; dogs with smooshed faces, small noses or pants a lot like bulldogs; and excessively muscled dogs like pit bulls and greyhounds. 

These will overheat easily if they run too far and too fast.

Good for running dogs include Labrador Retrievers, German shepherds, Beagles, and Golden Retrievers. 

These dogs, if trained, can run up to 20 miles. If you ask me why it’s simply because their natural athletic ability is higher than the other dogs.

Other factors that can determine how fast your dog can run or for how long they can run: are your dog’s height, weight, potential natural athletic ability, and the amount of exercise in which they have been performing.

Safety Precautions For Running With Your Dog

While beneficial for both humans and dogs, running with your dog can be risky. 

Follow these precautions to keep you both safe:

Start at the right age

Do not introduce dogs to running until after they’re at least six months of age due to a growth spurt puppies have around this time. Otherwise, there is an increased risk of joint instability, hip dysplasia, and other hip and joint problems. For larger breeds, it is advisable to wait until after a year. Again, talk to your vet. 

Consider your dog’s paw pads

Dogs who have never spent much time running, they will need to build up their pads for tolerating different surfaces. 

Check pads when returning from your run, especially during inclement weather. In the winter, consider dog boots. 

Time your dog’s meals right

Feeding too close before or after a run can be dangerous for your dog in terms of bloat. This can be fatal for dogs so always ensure you leave plenty of time before a run (2-3 hours minimum) and after a run (1-2 hours minimum) to prevent any risk of this.

Keep your dog hydrated

Make sure your dog is fully hydrated before a run and take water with you if there’s no natural, safe water supply on your planned route. 

Have the right equipment

Do not run with just a collar. Invest in a harness to protect your dog’s neck. A bungee leash can also protect you from getting pulled too hard. 

How To Train Your Dog To Run With You On A Leash

Start with loose leash walking.

Start practising loose leash walking with your dog until they are very good at it. Make sure that they don’t pull on their collars, and they do not lag behind or run ahead of you instead of following your direction. Practice regularly — multiple times a week.

Start slowly and build up gradually.

If you are new to running with your dog, you should slowly build up the distances and time with your dog.

Even if you are an experienced runner yourself, it is worth using a plan like the couch to 5k to condition your dog to run in a harness with you safely.

Alternate run and walk days.

Just like with people, dogs should not jump into running every day. Alternate run/walk days until they can comfortably run for about thirty minutes.

Train voice cues on walks and runs.

Voice cues are the key to communicating with your dog. Start these as early as you can. 

It doesn’t matter what the command is if you’re consistent. The basics are heel, leave it, drop it, left, right, go on, steady, and a behind cue. 

Reward them with a treat and/or praise when they get it right. Use voice cues only when you need to, otherwise, your voice will just become white noise to your dog. 

Use a calm, controlled voice. 

Know your dog’s normal.

Know how your dog moves and behaves in normal circumstances, so you can spot when something isn’t quite right when you’re running together. 

You want to be aware of signs that suggest pain or discomfort, i.e. hunched back and shortened stride length.

Warm-up and cool-down.

Just like people, dogs need to warm up and cool down for runs to prevent injury. Start with a walk and move to a jog then run. You can also use this time to practice voice cues. Your cool down should be the same but in reverse—slow from a run to a jog to a walk.

Make a pit stop.

Allow your dog time to go potty before you start your run. This will help to minimize unscheduled stops and keep you both focused on the running. 

Don’t forget the poop bags! Bring waste bags with you by tying one on the handle of the lead. 

Off Lead Training

For your dog to learn to respond when off-leash, start by training without the aid of a leash whenever possible. 

This may seem obvious. But many of us spend weeks in dog classes working on sit, stay, down, and come with our dogs on a six-foot leash. 

When we head to the beach or woods and snap off the leash, our dogs act as if they’ve never been to training class. 

Unfortunately, on-leash training – while valuable for on-leash behaviours – can’t prepare either of you for the challenges of the off-leash experience.

This is partly because people often and inadvertently use physical cues such as a slight pressure on the leash to help the dog know what they want. 

When the dog and handler lose that added signal, their communication falls apart.

Off Lead Risks

I need to start with a word of caution: There is no way to guarantee your dog’s safety off-lead. 

I would like to think that if we trained hard enough, or long enough, or with the right methods, we could overcome all of the risks, that our dogs really could be completely reliable and safe. 

But the fact is that when dogs are off leash in an unsecured area, there will always be a chance that their instincts or desires will lead them into the path of danger. 

In addition, our environment is often unpredictable. When dogs are off-lead, there is the chance of a sudden bang, an unexpected animal, or something else that may frighten or harm our dogs.

Include Training in Daily Play

Incorporating off-lead training into daily activities can help you and your dog prepare for off-leash adventures. Your dog will learn to respond to you everywhere, all of the time. 

Simply offer big rewards for good behaviour when you and your dog play, walk, feed, or just hang out.

In addition, incorporate off-leash exercises into your dog’s favourite experiences. Think about the types of play and activity your dog finds most engaging. 

Does your dog enjoy playing with other dogs? Chasing Frisbees? Tug games? Sniffing the ground in search of gophers? Dinner time? Incorporate off-leash training into each of these activities. 

For a dog that loves playing with other dogs, you can use dog play as a reward for a fabulous recall or a great down. 

Recall Rules for Off-Leash Success

These simple rules will help you and your dog maintain a reliable recall.

1. Don’t end play by calling your dog to you. Instead, go get your dog or wait until he is ready to come to you on his own.

2. Always follow a recall with one of your dog’s favourite things, be it food, a Frisbee, or playing with another dog.

3. Do a few “high-value” recalls right away during off-leash play; let your dog know that coming to you will be worth his while. Then release your dog to play again.

4. Work on your timing. It may be very difficult for dogs to “hear and obey” when they are in the middle of greeting another dog, the moment they find a great smell, or amid a prey drive chase (after a squirrel, for example). 

At these times, you can increase your chances of success by calling him at the moment he can most easily disengage from his other activity.

For example, if your dog is greeting another dog, wait for the moment when you can see they are about to turn away from each other, then call your dog.

5. Avoid repeatedly calling your dog when you know he won’t or can’t come. Go get him instead.

6. Always (and this is a golden rule) act or behave as if your dog is the most wonderful being in the world when he comes to you – no matter what he was doing before he came.

Build a Reliable Recall

Some people might think coming when called should top the list for building off-leash reliability. 

Coming when called, or the recall is indeed the backbone of off-leash skills. A dog that will come immediately in almost any situation is safest off-leash.

The secret to building a reliable recall is to teach your dog to come when called in a low-distraction environment and then very gradually train him to respond in the face of increasing distractions. 

Increase the distractions slowly enough so that your dog can handle them.

When teaching recall, plan frequent practice times. They don’t have to be long or formal – a couple of fun repetitions in the middle of playtime is great – but do try to train a little on most days. Practice your recalls with the following in mind:

• Pay attention to what distracts your dog. This is another time when it may be helpful to make a list. 

• Practice your recall with one distraction at a time, starting with the easiest distraction on the list and progressing to the most challenging. 

Practice at the easiest level until your dog will come happily each time he is called despite the distraction. 

• Practice each level of distraction in a variety of places – the more places the better. 

• Make the value of your dog’s reinforcement match the difficulty of the recall.

The more difficult the distraction or training situation, the better the reward. 

Continue to reinforce your dog’s recall with high-value treats or games until he comes when called consistently and reliably even in the face of all different kinds of distractions.

Train for Safety, Too

When your dog is off leash-leash, two simple behaviours can add to his safety:

• Leave it or Off. 

Teaching your dog the “Leave it” or “Off” behaviour can be of great value in off-leash situations. 

Practice “Leave it” with your dogs around food, other animals, and people.

 You can use it if your dog finds a tasty piece of garbage or if he wants to visit another dog. 

It’s also helpful behaviour when you have a friendly dog who wants to meet every person she passes. 

For those happy canines that love to roll in smelly things, a well-timed “Off!” can prevent a bath later on.

• Distance down or down on recall

Teaching your dog to go down at a distance can save his life in an emergency.

Your dog should know how to do a “down” on cue when she’s near you.

“Shape” faster and faster responses, by marking and rewarding your dog’s increasingly quick responses. 

Then, gradually increase the distance between you and your dog as you ask for the down. When you are far apart, it may be inconvenient to keep up a liberal reinforcement (treat) schedule for her successes, but make sure you do. 

You want her to be highly motivated to perform the down as quickly as possible.


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