Your run could benefit from a four-legged partner

  • The Buddy System ($20-$26, buddysys.com). MUST CREDIT: The Buddy System. The Buddy System—The Buddy System

  • Bryan Barrera, founder of D.C. Dog Runner, runs 40 dogs a week. Courtesy of Nick Wignall

  • Veterinarian Shauna Waite runs with her dog Ducky. MUST CREDIT: Courtesy of Shauna Waite. Courtesy of Shauna Waite—Courtesy of Shauna Waite

Washington Post
Saturday, March 17, 2018

Like a lot of runners, when Ducky Waite doesn’t get his regular run, he gets restless and antsy. The 4½-year-old pit bull-Doberman mix gets into the trash or rams a chew toy into his owners until he gets some exercise.

“He is a high-energy dog, and as a runner I get that,” said his owner, Shauna Waite, a veterinarian at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital & Emergency Center in Annandale, Va. As a marathoner who logs up to 60 miles a week, she can relate. “When we run, we’re both getting good exercise, and it keeps him in good shape.”

Running delivers many of the same physical and mental benefits to dogs as it does to humans. It helps ward off obesity – a growing issue – and related health problems such as osteoarthritis and Type 2 diabetes. (Some 54 percent of dogs are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.)

A 2012 study in Journal of Experimental Biology showed that canines get the same “runner’s high” after intense exercise that people experience.

“Exercise is physical and mental stimulation,” said Noon Kampani, a veterinarian with AtlasVet animal hospital in Washington. “It gives them an activity and burns energy. An exercised dog is usually a better-behaved dog.”

And buddying up with Fido for runs can help you reach your goals. Dog owners are 2½ times as likely to get the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, according to a study published in the June 2015 issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

But running with a dog isn’t as easy as lacing up and getting out the leash. Whether you’re a new runner or you’re considering a canine workout companion, these guidelines will help you establish a safe, healthy, lasting routine that boosts you both.

Talk to your vet. Before you start any new exercise routine, check with your vet – especially if your dog is older or has orthopedic issues. Not every dog was born to run.

Get the timing right. Young dogs may seem eager to release their copious amounts of puppy energy. But if the dog hasn’t celebrated its first birthday, it’s probably not a good idea. Its bones have not fully developed, and its growth plates have not closed, Kampani said. Daily bouts of continuous running can lead to fractures and lasting damage. The minimum age will depend on the breed. So consult your vet.

Consider the conditions. In winter, clean paws after a run, as road salt can wreak havoc with paws, causing redness, roughness and a burning sensation that can lead to infection if the dog chews on the area, Kampani said. In summer heat, take it slowly, take plenty of breaks, and ramp up your distance and speed on a gradual basis.

Plan your route. When mapping out your route, consider your dog’s temperament. Waite knows that Ducky gets nervous around approaching bikes, so she avoids popular cycling areas.

Be flexible. Just like any runner, your dog is going to have the occasional off day. Waite takes Ducky for runs when she doesn’t have a strict workout planned. “Just like us, sometimes he is slow, and sometimes he wants to sprint,” she said.

Watch the leash. Run slightly behind the dog, leaving some slack in the leash, Barrera said. Avoid having the dog trail behind you, where your legs could get clipped. Running behind your dog also gives you a strong hand and arm to hold your dog in case it lunges after a squirrel, rabbit or other dog. I

Get the right gear. Waite uses a running halter that attaches at the waist because it doesn’t disrupt her natural running form. A four-foot leash will help you avoid tripping over the dog or the leash, Barrera said.

Start slowly. Watch for signs of exhaustion, such as slowing down, stopping or a change in gait. But be aware that dogs, like people, are prone to going too far, too fast, too soon.