Running With Your Dog: An Interview With Rehabilitative Medicine Veterinarian Dr. Lindsay Seilheimer

If you’re a fan of running, chances are you’ll want to take your dog along at some point.

However, running with your dog can be risky unless you know how to prepare Fido for the run ahead.

To learn more about precautions—what to do, what not to do—we talked to Dr. Lindsay Seilheimer, DVM, CCRP, a Rehabilitative Medicine Veterinarian at the Veterinary Specialty Center (VSC), a Chicago based specialty clinic and emergency hospital.

THK: When it comes to running, are all breeds the same or are some breeds “born to run” while others are “born to take a stroll”?

Lindsay Seilheimer: All breeds are not the same! Labradors, Retrievers and Terriers are examples of dogs that make good running partners. Dogs who are low to the ground (such as Basset Hounds) will have a harder time keeping up. Dogs who have a short nose such as French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, Pugs and Boston Terriers are often born with narrow nostrils, long soft palates and narrow tracheas that cause them to have a hard time moving air into their airways. These breeds may not be able to tolerate going for a run. And of course, even within the same breed, there are some dogs (like people) who just won’t enjoy it.

THK: Is there such a thing as “too young to run”? What’s a good age to get your dog started in running with you?

LS: You should never run with a puppy before the growth plates have closed. For small breeds this is around 10-12 months and for large breeds it can take as long as 14-16 months. Your regular veterinarian will be able to help you know when your dog is ready. Start all exercise programs slowly and make it fun for your dog with a lot of positive reinforcement!

THK: How about “too old to run”?

LS: Age is not a disease so as long as your dog is healthy and without joint issues there is no reason not to run. If an older dog is slow to stand up from laying down or seems sore after a run there is probably some underlying joint discomfort—many owners mistake these signs for the dog just generally “slowing down” due to age but typically, it’s joint pain that will slow your pet before just “old age.”

THK: What about running on cement and roads in general? Any precautions to keep in mind?

LS: It is best to try to avoid paved surfaces and stick to softer areas such as grass if you can. Hard surfaces will put more force on the joints. Paw pads can become injured on rough surfaces so owners should check them frequently. If you would be uncomfortable on a surface your dog will be too. During summer, pay special attention to the temperature of the pavement as well—if you can’t keep your hand on the pavement for longer than a few seconds, your dog shouldn’t be on it for long periods either.

THK: What precautions should you keep in mind regarding the weather?

LS: You should avoid running on hot days with your dog as you will put them at risk for heat stroke. If you run with your dog in the summer it is best to go early in the morning or later at night. And again, pay attention to the temperature of the running surface.

In the winter, ice balls and salt can irritate the paws so a boot with good traction may be helpful and be certain to rinse your dog’s paws when you get home. For very cold days you will want to consider a jacket.

THK: Any tips on safely training your dog to run? Is this something you should do over time to help train his cardiovascular system?

LS: You should start gradually just like any training program and gradually increase the length of your runs by ~10-15 percent each week. You should always start with a warm up and end with a cool down. I also recommend incorporating core exercises for your dog on days that you don’t run with theraballs, walking in an underwater treadmill and swimming. If these are not available, there are plenty of exercises that can be done using items around the house such as couch cushions to help develop core strength.

Lastly, and most importantly, you want your dog to be well trained to stay by your side. Until they are trained, you should begin your outings at a walking pace using a short leash to train your dog to stay with you. Clicker training with positive reinforcement will enforce the desired behavior. You should never use a harness that puts pressures on the dog’s shoulder joint or a retractable leash since these will lessen your ability to control unexpected squirrel chasing or darting into oncoming obstacles.

Meet the Author: Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia,snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at www.dianabocco.com

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