How to Run with Your Dog (or Dogs)

16 Nov

Disclaimer: I wouldn’t consider myself a dog expert by any stretch of the imagination. Our dogs are mostly well-behaved not because I know what I’m doing as a dog owner/trainer but because I’ve learned through trial and error, as well as sheer stubbornness. 

So as I offer advice about how to run with your dog, keep all of that in mind.

When we got Katy back in August of 2009, it was a completely new thing to me. I had never owned a dog before, or even been around one for an extended period of time. I really felt like I was shooting from the hip and had no idea what was normal, right or good. {Yes, having dogs has been good preparation for being parents.} It helped, though, that Katy was a very well-behaved dog from the beginning (but has somehow gotten more mischievous as the years go by…).

Back then, I worked less than 10 minutes from home so I went home everyday at lunch to walk Katy. For several weeks, I tried to train her to “heel” but eventually gave up on that. I didn’t have the time or the muse for it and she didn’t pull on the leash, even though she walked in front of me. If that makes me a bad dog owner, sue me.

Since I took her on a walk at lunch, I didn’t feel the pressure to take her on runs as often as I do now but I like to combine my run with a dog walk whenever possible to conserve time, so I would usually still take her out for the first 1.5 miles, drop her at home and then finish the rest of the run. The longest run I ever did with her was 5 miles. She actually did really well.

Then we got Charlie. It was tricky just mastering how to walk 2 dogs, let alone run with them. (It helped that they were only 80 lbs combined, though.) Once Charlie was doing fairly well on the leash and I wasn’t getting tangled up very often, I started running intervals with her (and Katy) to build her endurance up. But who am I kidding? Charlie could outrun me – speed and distance – any day! Although she does have ADD – she makes it about 1.5 miles before she’s done moving in a straight line and wants to sniff everything and anything.

Around the same time we got Charlie, I started working full-time 30 minutes away from home. So now, since my post-work run is the only time the dogs get walked, I take them out for part of my run about 99% of the time.

So this is what I’ve learned from running these beastly little dogs:

1. Teach them to run on a certain side.

My dogs know to stay on the side of the road opposite traffic, or on the grassy side of the bike trail. I can’t tell you how many owners I see who let their dogs walk right down the middle of the bike path. That is very dangerous, for both the dog and the bikers. So keep your dog either in front of you, or to the opposite side.

It didn’t take my dogs very long to learn this. Dogs are smart and they learn fast. A few different methods I used were pulling them (gently) to the side when they were running in the wrong spot, or shortening their leash so that they had to run by my side (this is one reason why I think it’s best to avoid using retractable leashes). Every time they did something right, I praised them. I’ve also used intimidation – instead of actually touching them, I get up alongside them and use my body space to steer them in the direction I want them to go. I’ve done this on a busy street with Charlie, who used to always want to walk on the street. I get up alongside her now and she moves over automatically.

This is how excited they are to go on a run – they can’t stay still.

2. Bring poop bags with you.

If you think running makes humans have bowel movements, multiply that by 100 and you’ve got dogs’ bowel movements. You never know when the urge is going to hit and the last thing you want to do is to stop your run to look around for a bag. I like to tie our bags on their leashes. Easy access and if they magically don’t do #2 on our run, the bags are there for next time.

See the bag tied to the leash?

3. Figure out where the garbage cans are. 

The greenway I run on the most often has a few different garbage cans, each about a mile apart. When my dogs poo, I estimate which garbage can I’m closer to. If it’s the one I’m running toward, I’ll take the bag with me to throw away. If it’s the one I just passed (and will pass again on my way back), I put the bag on the other side of the trail and get it on the way back. That way, I’m carrying the poo bag for the least amount of time possible.

4. Expect to stop.

Katy, and especially Charlie, will stop to go to the bathroom or sniff something with no warning. There have been times I’ve yanked Katy as she squatting to pee but I try to keep one eye on the dogs so that I know when they’re going to do something. This is easier with Katy because she has a very predictable routine – she’ll move over to run in the grass with her head down, sniffing everything. After 15-20 feet, she’ll find her spot and do her thing. Charlie, on the other hand, is an enigma. Completely unpredictable. I swear she doesn’t even know she’s pooping until a turd is coming out and landing on the sidewalk (like last night). But still, I almost always stop at least once during a run for them.

5. Pay attention to your dogs.

Things to watch for are if your dogs slow down, get a burr stuck in the pad of their paw, or get tangled up in their leash somehow (Travis did this once and Katy was somehow so tangled up she had to stop running – I honestly don’t know how they do that).

If it’s really hot outside, they get overheated really fast (remember, they can’t sweat like humans do). Two leashes is enough for me to deal with without involving water and dishes, so I keep their runs short if we’re out when it’s hot. If I think they need more exercise, I take them to the dog park where there are water dishes galore. Even on short runs in the heat, though, I pay attention to them – if they’re slowing down and seem to be having a hard time, I slow down or walk with them. Completing a run is never more important than your dog’s health.

If it’s really cold and snowy outside, their paws can get really sensitive. I took Katy running a couple years ago during a 5 degree cold spell in Denver and even before we reached a mile, she was hobbling with one paw up because her paw had gotten too cold. I didn’t know what was wrong at the time so I actually ended up carrying her home the last .5 mile! I bought little booties for her but when we put them on, she walked around like Frankenstein. It was hilarious to watch but we knew she couldn’t run like that. I’d recommend either waiting until the temperature warms up or run somewhere without snow (that’s the coldest part for them).

6. Pay attention to people around you.

Dogs like to socialize and sniff strangers. This doesn’t change when you’re running. Whenever I see other dogs or other people coming, I choke up on my dogs’ leashes to keep them near me until the dogs or person have passed by. This prevents me from having to stop if when they run over to the other dogs and it prevents the person from getting freaked out by my dogs.

I was once riding my bike on the greenway and came up on a dog and owner. The owner was not paying attention and the dog was walking right down the middle of the bike path. As I passed by, the dog bit me. It must’ve gotten scared and thought I was too close but still. I wanted to ride back and give the owner a piece of my mind. But I didn’t – I kept going because the dog hadn’t actually hurt me, just ruined my favorite capri pants.


To sum it up, running with my dogs has generally been a positive experience for me. It’s not exactly relaxing and sometimes it’s hard to settle into a rhythm when they’re stopping every 5  minutes. But it’s worth it because I love my dogs and they LOVE going on runs. And how can I say no to those faces?

Do you run with your dog(s)?

2 Responses to “How to Run with Your Dog (or Dogs)”

  1. Heidi Nicole November 17, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    I have no dogs but as a fellow running I’m totally agreeing with the plastic bags and paying attention! There is nothing I hate more than dodging dog poop and having to avoid the dogs whose owners are oblivious to people around them or what their dog is doing!

    Thanks for being a good dog runner! 🙂

  2. Lisa November 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Yup, I take Calvin running w/ me from time to time. He actually looks very much like your Charlie! He can now roam at the farm mostly unsupervised without getting into trouble, so I don’t take him with me on every run anymore. I have tried the whole “carrying a water dish with me” and it’s a pain. I don’t blame you for avoiding it.

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