May 20, 2014
By Susan O’Dell, DVM – Kurgo Products Vet
The weather is warming up and the great outdoors are calling your name. You want to bring your dog along, but just like you can’t hop off the couch and run a marathon, you can’t expect your pup to go from snoozing near the radiator to pounding the pavement. To work up to a full running schedule in a healthy way, here are eight simple steps that you can start today.
1. Plan a Visit with Your Vet – Just as you should see your own physician before starting an exercise program, Fido needs an exam before beginning to run with you. Your veterinarian can assess his body condition, joint and cardiovascular health. They can also help you create an individual fitness plan for your pooch including an appropriate diet.
2. Don’t Start Too Young – Before starting a running program, your dog needs to reach physical maturity. When his bones are still growing, high-impact exercise could cause damage or premature closure of his growth plates. Small breed dogs may reach physical maturity at 10-12 months of age, but giant breed dogs could continue to grow until 24 months of age. Your vet can help you determine if your puppy is ready to hit the ground running.
3. Work on Leash Training – Dangerous terrain, bad drivers, and aggressive dogs are all hazards when out on a run. Leash training can help you guide and protect your pet. The leash will also protect other runners and pedestrians – remember that some folks are fearful of dogs! Use a running leash to keep him close. Do not use retractable leashes, they are easily tangled and can be dangerous.
4. Start Slowly – Just as with humans, dogs need to build mileage gradually. You can start with half to a full mile every other day. Each week you can increase total mileage about 10 percent. This will help to build muscles and endurance over time, and prevent injury from increasing mileage too rapidly. After each run, assess your furry friend’s recovery period. Note how long it takes for his heart and respiratory rates to return to normal, and if it is taking longer than normal, return to your previous mileage for another week or two before progressing.
5. Check His Paws – You have the protection of a nice pair of shoes, but your dog doesn’t! Watch out for sharp rocks, glass, and hot asphalt. Examine his paws regularly for wounds, foreign objects, or significant wear on his paw pads. Tender pads may need additional protection like Musher’s Secret wax or dog boots. You may also need to wash off sand or salt to prevent irritation after the run.
6. Read His Body Language – Is he dragging behind you? Is his tongue lolling out of his mouth? Stop running now! In fact, you have probably gone a bit too far already. He will run to the ends of the earth to please you, so if he is lagging behind, take that as a serious sign to end the run. And of course, if you see him limping, that is an indication to stop running immediately. Check his paws to see if there is an easy fix like a rock between his pads. If the limping continues, put a hold on the running program and schedule an appointment with your vet if the lameness doesn’t resolve within a couple of days.
7. Stay Hydrated – On steamy days, prevent overheating by choosing shady running routes. Make your trek early morning or after dusk to avoid the high heat of mid-day. You should also take frequent water breaks, but avoid letting him drink from the convenient puddle or pond as these could be contaminated by chemicals, parasites, or other dangerous infectious diseases like leptospirosis. Instead, bring along a supply of fresh clean water. You can use a collapsible bowl like the Kurgo Zippy Bowl or another portable device that will allow him to lap the liquid.
8. Follow the Rules – Having a loyal companion to run with is priceless, but you must be a responsible runner. Know the local laws regarding pups on the beach, rules of the trails, etc. Make sure that it’s ok he accompany you, and don’t let the courtesy stop there. Bring a bag for waste cleanup, and then dispose of it properly.
About Susan O’Dell, DVM
Susan holds a Bachelor’s in Biology from University of Michigan and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Michigan State College of Veterinary Medicine. She is currently a small animal veterinarian at the Animal Hospital of Nashua in Nashua, NH as well as the Kurgo Products Vet.
About Kurgo Products
Kurgo is dedicated to helping people get out and enjoy the world with their dogs. As the leading pet travel and outdoor products company, Kurgo makes everything from crash-tested dog harnesses for the car to car seat covers to outdoor gear like dog backpacks and booties. Go together.