Not every person loves to run, but just about every dog loves it.
Inviting your dog to join you on a run is a win-win: It gives you both the exercise you need, helps you build stronger human-pet relationships, and reinforces your own expectations for having a healthy life.
Dogs can be great company on a run, too. but it can be an exercise in frustration if your dog hasn’t been properly trained, and spends the whole run pulling or trying to stop and sniff.
Here are some tips from runners and animal specialists on getting your dog to run alongside you the right way.
Teaching Your Dog Leash Basics
“The most common hindrance to running together is actually your dog’s ability to stay at your side,” animal behaviorist and veterinarian Sophia Yin writes.
And to solve that dilemma, you have to get back to basics and make sure your pet knows how to walk on a leash: “You’ll want him to run either on your left or right side with his front feet even with yours or behind. Choose a side and stick with it so he doesn’t get confused.”
Sharon Maguire at the Dog Breed Info Center agrees. “If you allow your dog to walk in front of you while on a lead, you are reinforcing in the dog’s mind that the dog is alpha over you because the leader always goes first,” she writes. When a dog sees itself as leader, Sharon says the animal is unable to relax, which drains its mental energy and can lead to behavioral problems.
There’s a nice step-by-step tutorial about teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash at the Ontario SPCA site. It’s reward-based training, with short 5-15 minute sessions, where you offer treats at almost every step initially then lengthen the time between rewards. Troubleshooting tips include:
- Lure your dog past trouble spots with a reward. This will become less necessary as training continues.
- Change direction if your dog pulls out in front of you while loose-leash walking.
- Stop walking completely (and even back up) if your dog pulls ahead of you on a tight leash.
- Don’t always demand polite walking. Give your dog time to explore and sniff.
When Your Dog Pulls on the Leash
Dog trainer Zak George says one of the reasons dogs pull on leashes is that they simply move faster than humans. In his video on training your dog not to pull on the leash, Zak advises you to first expend much of your pet’s energy before embarking on a lesson, and to initially train in a familiar environment. A few other key tips:
- Your dog must pay attention to you.
- Stop moving forward when there’s tension on the leash.
- Combine and reward other behaviors your dog is good at (like sitting) often while on leash
- start working in other environments quickly
- be patient and reward good behaviors
Does Your Dog Need a Muzzle?
If you’d love to have your dog accompany you on your runs but are afraid of his possible reactions to other dogs or other runners, a muzzle might be the answer.
It’s normal if you have an initial negative reaction to the word “muzzle.” Muzzles indicate unfriendly, aggressive dogs, right? Not quite. In fact, many extremely friendly, but poorly trained large-breed dogs can benefit from being muzzled.
Sometimes, a muzzle is just a useful way to keep your big, friendly lab from exuberantly showing his affection for strangers, who might be put off by the way he takes people’s hands in his mouth or covers their faces with kisses.
When it comes to selecting the best muzzle for your dog, you need to ensure that it allows the dog to pant and drink. Dog trainer Jolanta Benal at Quick and Dirty Tips writes: “Almost always, a basket muzzle is best, because your dog can open his mouth to pant and drink while wearing it.” If you, like many dog owners, think you’d never be able to get your pet into a muzzle, there is hope. Jolanta adds that “it’s not a big project to teach most dogs to enjoy wearing one.”
In addition to a page on finding the best muzzle for your dog, The Muzzle Up Project has a two-phase training plan you will find helpful. The training starts with getting your dog to react positively to seeing the muzzle. Then, you get the dog to wear the muzzle for gradually extended periods of time.
Animal behavior and training consultant Chirag Patel at DomesticatedManners.com has a great video showing exactly how to introduce a muzzle to your dog. He explains precisely what he’s doing and why so you can see how to use the same techniques for your pet.
Above all, he says, demonstrate that the muzzle represents “fun” and is a normal activity.
How to Train Your Dog Not to Excitedly Jump on Others
Muzzle or not, there is the more common issue of jumping that you must train your dog not to do on a run. Lindsay Stordahl at the How To Dog Blog offers these four training tips to keep your dog’s paws on the ground:
- Don’t engage your dog’s excitement.
- Teach your dog a new skill that she can share with whomever she’s greeting.
- Don’t push your dog away — this can be mistaken as a reward for good behavior.
- If all else fails, “stand like a tree.”
Going Off Leash
Don’t try off-leash running unless you have a designated area where it’s safe to do so. Hiking trails are good for off-leash runs because the likelihood of meeting other groups of people or other dogs is much less than on a city’s streets.
Your dog’s safety is top priority, and just because you’ve trained him to be obedient when off leash doesn’t mean that other dog owners and their pets have reached that level of training. Your loose dog may be perceived as a threat to them.
You also need to ensure that you have great basic obedience at home and on leash, the team at The Dog Training Secret writes. That may seem like an obvious progression, but the reason is more than a simple success/fail outcome.
“If your dog learns that you have no control while he is off leash and he begins to reward himself, you are going to have a much harder time training him and getting him to listen than if you build a solid foundation and motivate him to pay attention to you and teach him that you always have control no matter what or where he is.”
Any good off-leash training should include the following:
- Teach eye contact and focus.
- Train in a safe place such as a fenced-in yard.
- Observe your unleashed dog to see if he pays attention to you.
- Play as you train, teaching your dog that you are more exciting than any distraction.
- Use two leashes when starting (for safety).
- Progress to a longer leash before graduating to off-leash running.
Because complete obedience is necessary for your dog’s safety in off-leash walking or running, many trainers use e-collars. These collars have a stimulation mechanism that is remotely controlled. The signal isn’t painful, but it does get the dog’ attention.
For example, the team at Off-Leash K9 Training wrote that it was shortly after the Las Vegas K9 patrol switched to e-collars on their service dogs that “they took ‘top dog’ and ‘top agency’ at the Western States Canine Trials! Their obedience to the commands became faster, sharper, and instant because the dogs know exactly what is expected of them when given the commands.”
Professional dog behaviorist and certified trainer Ralf Weber, who specializes in dog psychology and behavior modification, advises however, that e-collars “are very advanced training tools and should never be used on any dog unless someone really knows what they’re doing. While proper use of an e-collar can make a world of a difference when helping a dog overcome aggression, improper use can make that same dog even more aggressive.”
A Little Advice from Runners
Stephen Regenold, founder and editor of Gear Junkies, wrote about running with his Weimaraner in a 2011 article. Using a belt-type short leash system, Stephen kept his arms free and the dog running alongside him at his pace. “If you’re able,” he added, “build a section into your running route where your pup can run free.”
Lindsay Stordahl, who has a dog running business in California that sees her cover about 40 miles per week, says most healthy dogs can run about 20 miles. For you marathoners, though, don’t jump right into 20-mile runs. Instead, start out with short distances to see how your dog fares. If all is good, slowly increase that distance.
If your dog is “dragging behind you or panting heavily,” Lindsay writes in her blog, ThatMutt, “slow down to a walk, [and] bring water along on hot days.”
She prefers a six-foot leather leash to a retractable one, and gives instructions on how to keep your dog at your side during a run. These include:
- Run with your dog in a formal heel position.
- Keep the dog’s collar high on her neck.
- Hold the leash in your left hand, the slack in your right.
- Keep the leash loose.
And if the dog begins to run out ahead of you, Brad Gosser, co-owner of Kentucky-based dog running company Apollo’s Dog Runners, recommends stopping and commanding the dog to sit so you can take the lead back. This will take a bit more time with younger dogs.
Running with a dog, he says, is all about getting it to respond to your signals, which requires patience, a positive attitude and many treats. Fortunately, the act of running itself makes training a little easier.
“Running, instead of walking, helps a dog to focus more on moving and less on distractions,” Brad says. “It provides an outlet for a dog’s instincts and energy, benefiting both physical and mental health. After a good run, expect a dog to be calmer and easier to train.”