When you hit the trail for a long, rejuvenating run, sometimes six legs are better than two. Your dog is a great companion and an inspired running partner. He's always available and almost certainly won't mind an impromptu workout. Actually, he'll probably be overjoyed when you drag his leash out of the closet. Whether he's taking point, bringing up the rear or matching your pace, Max (or Sparky) won't embark on a longwinded story that will require your attention, worry that his thighs look flabby or ask to stop for ice cream on the way home. Better yet, taking him along is a healthy move for both of you if you keep a few important things in mind.
Get a Checkup First
Any increase in physical activity can create stresses on canine bodies, as well as human bodies. Before you start a new physical exercise routine, including running, get a checkup with your doctor and take your dog to the vet for a once over. Some dogs, like pugs, may have respiratory, overheating or joint-related issues that should be understood before you attempt to run with them.
You should also get legal. That means making sure your dog is current on his inoculations and is licensed in accordance with the laws in your state.
Know Your Dog
You live with him and take care of him every day. Don't shortchange him now by neglecting to take his nature into account when you decide to make him your running partner. Most dogs are great sprinters but aren't superstars when it comes to long distance running. Knowing the specifics of your dog's breed (or your best guess) and recognizing his limitations will help to insure a safer and more productive run for both of you. Very young, overweight or geriatric dogs may just need frequent breaks. Other dogs may lack social skills and need a slow, planned introduction to the rules of the road and a little tutoring in good neighbor practices when dealing with four-footed and two-legged strangers.
Keep Your Dog on a Leash
It's tempting to let your dog run free when you think the risks are minimal, but situations can change in an instant. The presence of other animals, unexpected vehicles, or hazards like glass or metal shards in your path can create conditions that may lead to injury or worse. When presented with new situations, animals can react unpredictably, so don't assume that your well-behaved pet will always take the safe choice when presented with a set of unfamiliar circumstances. When tethered, you have control of your animal and can guide and protect him. You'll also be protecting others, which is why in most areas there are stringent leash laws in place.
Create a Routine
Weekend marathons may work for your schedule, but they aren't the best approach for your dog -- at least not initially. Shorter runs and more of them will benefit your dog and your cardiovascular system. Just make sure to be consistent. Actually, your dog will help. When he's waiting by the door with his tail wagging, it'll provide added motivation and keep you from backsliding. Once you've both built up some stamina by increasing the length of your runs over a number of weeks, you can take more of those longer, weekend runs in stride -- no pun intended.
Your dog needs water as much as you do, maybe more, so carry plenty and offer it to him often. Keep it cool, but not cold. Pay attention to the weather, too. On hot days he'll need more water, just like you. Don't be tempted to let him drink from the gutter or a convenient puddle. Chemical hazards, like antifreeze, can contaminate outdoor water, so take a supply of fresh, clean water for both of you, and don't forget to share.
Watch Your Dog's Paws
You're wearing shoes, but your dog isn't, so be mindful of hazards like hot asphalt, broken glass, pebbles and other dangerous objects in the road that may hurt his delicate foot pads. Your dog will likely go wherever you lead, so taking a dog's eye view of things couldn't hurt. Watch out for even a slight limp and if you detect one, slow down or quit for the day. Even benign street residue like salt on roadways can cause digestive problems for your dog if he licks his paws after a run. Pay attention to what your dog is doing and encountering, and inspect or wash his feet if you have any reason for concern.
Play it Safe
You don't know what types of hazards you'll encounter on a run, so be prepared. Run with your dog in familiar areas, and know where you are and how to find help at all times. Carry a cell phone for emergencies.
Feral animals or pets that are roaming unattended can be dangerous, so recognize the potential problems and act swiftly to get your dog and yourself out of harm's way. You can provide added protection by carrying a large stick with you, and even keeping a few dog treats on hand to direct a threatening dog in the opposite direction and buy time to make a quick getaway. It also pays to carry gear like pepper spray, a loud whistle or other handheld devices that may be legal in your area.
Most public areas, like streets and parks, require you to clean up after your dog, which means carrying a plastic bag around with you to handle the occasional mess. No pet owner likes it, but it's the law -- and just simple courtesy. There are fancy scoops on the market that take a more hands free approach to this chore, but no amount of pink plastic or creative marketing is going to change the fact that poop happens and it's your responsibility to deal with it.
Obey the Rules
Running tracks, public parks, dog runs and city streets all have established rules of conduct. They may limit running hours, stipulate that dogs aren't allowed, expect runners with dogs to take a specific path, or require that runners with dogs provide proof that the dog is licensed and his shots are current. Some venues only allow members; some expect runners to bring only one dog at a time. Wherever you run, there'll be rules, and that's a good thing. They're in place for everyone's protection.
Socialize Your Dog
A friendly, laid-back dog is easier to control and more fun to have around. It's never too late to start socializing your dog to accept the presence of other animals and strangers, but the younger he is, the more effortless the task will be. Start by teaching him to trust and obey you, and invest the time and effort to take some professional training lessons with him. Knowing that your dog is reliable and obedient will make running less stressful for you and safer for him.
These tips for running with your significant other can help bring you closer. Visit HowStuffWorks to find tips for running with your significant other.
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