Six-legged Runs

Best Buddy Workouts Go the Distance

Imagine the ideal workout buddy; one who is ready to join you at a moment’s notice without question, enjoys your company, never critiques your effort or outfit and doesn’t cancel at the last minute. Chances are, you’ll find this paragon right there next to you as you read this, watching with soulful eyes, tail wagging in hope of hearing the magic words: “Let’s go for a run!”

Your dog can be your best fitness friend. Enthusiastically joining in a regular jogging or running routine will build stamina, strengthen muscles and burn calories—for both of you. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adult Americans are obese; likewise, data compiled by Pfizer Animal Health indicate that nearly a quarter of the canine population is overweight.

“Not only do dogs need exercise, they need a lot more than we do,” advises Jack Burke, a veterinarian and chair of the Mercy College School of Veterinary Medicine. Keep that in mind to stay motivated, then turn off the tube, put the laptop on standby and head outdoors. Just heed these tips to ensure your twofer workouts are healthy and enjoyable.

Know your dog.
Sustained jogging or running benefits many dogs, although not all, and can be problematic for some, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). supplies a helpful list of dogs that can go, and enjoy, the distance.

Long-legged lopers, such as Labradors, Dalmatians and most retrievers, are good long-distance running companions. It’s wise to recognize that racing breeds, like greyhounds and whippets, are sprinters, rather than endurance athletes. It’s unfair to expect small, short-legged dogs to “pick up the pace.” Short-nosed breeds—pugs, bulldogs and boxers, for example—have trouble breathing during vigorous exercise.

Dogs can make terrific running partners, as
long as you take their physical condition and
abilities into account. Keep in mind that your
dog will need time to work up to your intensity.

Get your vet’s blessing.
Be sure your dog has a full checkup before joining you on jogs. The vet can also advise whether an animal is too young or old for sustained running, when short distances or a more stately pace would be better.

Buy a good leash.
A leash is a non-negotiable piece of equipment. Best Friends trainer Mark Renick recommends using a six-foot lead for running. “It’s long enough so that you won’t step on your dog, but short enough so you can keep him under control,” he advises. Use this leash just for jogging and your dog will soon connect it with running, rather than strolling while sniffing every tree or lamppost.

Practice obedience skills.
“Sit, stay, come,” and “heel” are commands that need to be in a dog’s working vocabulary. If they aren’t, enroll in an obedience course before hitting the pavement or trails.

Start slowly.
Begin each session with a walking warmup. For the first few weeks, alternate jogging/running with lots of walking. “Start younger, middle-aged and overweight dogs on a moderate program of walking 10 to 15 minutes once or twice a day,” advises Howard Erickson, professor of physiology at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Then, gradually add distance, as both partners build endurance. End each session with additional walking as a cool-down.

Training is key, says Dr. Gerald Pijanowski, a
veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of
Veterinary Medicine at Urbana. “It is as important to
train your dog to run or hike long distances as it is to
train yourself.”

Don’t overdo.
The Surgeon General recommends that for optimal health, people exercise 150 minutes each week at moderate intensity. The AVMA reports that “Dogs will exercise past the point of exhaustion to please a beloved companion,” and advises us to be sensitive to their health and comfort.

Be safe.
Always keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Don’t run with a dog just before he eats or after he has eaten.
  • Face oncoming traffic; this puts a heeling dog on your left, away from cars or bikes.
  • Check paw pads for signs of irritation or bleeding. Pavement is hard on a dog’s feet; grass and dirt are kinder. Summer-hot asphalt and concrete can burn sensitive feet, and snow can cause frostbite. 
  • Carry water for both of you, and offer some every 20 minutes.
  • Watch for signs of overheating, such as heavy panting or salivating, and stop immediately if you observe these, cooling your pet slowly with cool, not cold, water. The best times to exercise are early morning or evening.
  • Don’t jog daily; canine muscles and joints, too, need to rest and recuperate.

Fitness is more fun when a buddy’s along and the health benefits abound.

Learn more at and

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