Running with your best friend


Written by Alain Howes

Running is a sport that can be done year-round and enjoyed by young and old alike. Many enjoy it so much that they do end up running every day. However, if you are like me, it’s not always possible to get in those regular runs – my best friend is very demanding, not to mention her smelly breath and flatulence, and insists on going for hour-long walks at least three times per week. This certainly impacts on my available time to go for leisurely runs through the greenbelts and forests.

Instead of those regular walks, why not take your dog running with you? You’ll get to enjoy all your runs and your buddy gets his or her regular exercise: a win-win situation.

So, how do you get your best friend running?

In my household, mention the word ‘squirrel’ and my furry friend starts quivering uncontrollably, barking excitedly, interspersed with the occasional whining and then the obligatory running around the garden looking for the elusive said ‘squirrel’. This might work for the first few hundred metres of your run, but it won’t be long before your dog realises it’s been had. Your dog will refuse to go any further and you will end up having to carry your dog home. No one really wants to do that, especially if your dog is a Great Dane.

Veterinary surgeons at St Francis Veterinary Hospital, a non-profit US-based organisation, strongly recommend taking your dog to a vet for a check-up before starting any strenuous exercise programme. They also offer some valuable tips and advice for getting your friend up and running. Amongst other things, one should consider age, breed and social skills of the dog, as well as the dog’s well-being while on the run.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

Most things mature with age and that is not always a good thing. Just like humans, dogs can encounter problems with their heart, joints and muscles as they age. If your dog is almost approaching its twilight years and has never done this kind of strenuous exercise before, now might not be a good time to start. Common sense should always prevail. After all, your dog is old and this is a new trick.

Does size matter?

Contrary to popular belief, size doesn’t always matter. Admittedly, if you have a small Wiener or Sausage, you may find that you are unable to go the distance. However, keep in mind that Dachshunds are bred to scent, chase and flush out badgers and other burrow-dwelling animals, which make them quick and suitable for very short distances around the neighbourhood. At the other end of the spectrum are Jack Russell-type terriers that have well-muscled hind quarters and are of small build; if fit, they can run longer distances. Large and giant breed dogs can tend to have hip or joint problems and may tolerate less long-distance running than smaller dogs. Irrespective of size, each breed of dog has its own specific traits which will determine the pace, distance, temperature and environment for which they are best suited. If you are unsure of what your breed of dog is best suited for, call your vet and enquire.

“Walkies!”

The ‘W’ word creates far more hysteria in your dog’s world than, say, that of the word ‘squirrel’ or even the rustling of their favourite treats packet – or yours. And just as it is necessary for you to instill certain social skills and obedience for your dog during a walk, the same would be required when taking your dog for a run.

No one likes a snout thrust into their crotch – or their rear, for that matter. Before venturing out on that run, make sure your dog has sufficient social skills to be able to interact and accept the presence of strangers and other animals. Furthermore, a few basic obedience commands will go a long way to making your run less stressful for you and a lot safer for your dog. It goes without saying that, in most environments, your dog should always be on a leash. This will help you to steer and manoeuvre your dog around obstacles and dangerous situations, as well as being able to have more control over them while running.

Even though you may run the same route every day with your dog, they will always be excited. To them it’s different. There are new things, sounds and scents to explore and if you were to throw in a squirrel or two, they would be in heaven. Don’t yank them along, be patient and allow them to stop every now and then to smell the proverbial roses.  

Don’t put that in your mouth, you don’t know where it’s been!

Most people run in shoes. Zola Budd and dogs don’t. Different running surfaces will have varying impact on your dog’s joints and foot pads. Monitor your dog during your run. If you notice even a slight limp, slow down or call it a day. During the run, your dog’s foot pads will be picking up all sorts of residue from the surfaces that they are running on; dogs like to lick their paws and it would not be amiss to wash their feet after a run. This will give you an opportunity to inspect their feet, as well as avoiding any digestive problems that may occur from ingesting the surface residues.

When it comes to eating and hydration, the general rules that apply for you on your run would apply for your dog. Do not feed your dog an hour before or after the run. Hydration is very important. Just as you need to stay hydrated, so does your dog. Take a collapsible water bowl and plenty of water to be offered to your dog at regular intervals. Be cautious of running on hot days – aside from the risk of heat stroke, hot tar/pavement can burn paws.

Those are some of the basics that you need to consider when you want to include your best friend in your running activities. Unlike those warning messages that you see on television programmes, do try this at home – your dog will thank you for it. But, remember: first consult your vet before emBARKING on this journey. Lastly, one thing I’d like to say in order to get you and your dog running: “Look! There’s a squirrel.”

Note: Puppies love to run, but long running/jogging sessions are not good for developing joints and you could end up with a dog with serious joint problems as a result. As a general rule, puppies under six to eight months (the larger the breed, the longer you need to wait) should only go for short walks on softer surfaces like grass; as they get older, you can gradually increase the distances and pace. Always confirm with your vet, particularly if your pup is set to be a large or giant dog or has come from a possibly malnourished background.

This article was inspired by my best friend, Dixie, who was adopted from the Karoo Animal Protection Society.