If you’re a keen fell or trail runner or fond of long fast and light days on the hills, you’ll struggle to find a better companion than one of our four legged friends. They never moan or complain about being tired or having sore knees, are 100% happy in the cold and wet and won’t berate you if you end up adding a few extra miles to the day due to minor navigational glitches.
Running with a dog, especially off-road, feels incredibly natural and genuinely harks back to our evolutionary past. If it wasn’t for our domestication of dogs, the human species wouldn’t be where it is today. If you’re ever low on motivation to get out of the door, then a pair of beseeching eyes and a wagging tail are guaranteed to do the trick. Also, according to vets, a worrying percentage of dogs in this country are overweight and under-exercised. Not only is this having an adverse effect on your dog’s health, life expectancy and your bank account via vets’ bills but it can also be the root cause of behavioural problems. A well exercised dog is a happy and healthy dog.
Even if your dog is a bit on the tubby side, it won’t take long to get them up to speed. When I re-homed my Finnish Lapphund Moses as a four year old three years ago, he was barely fit enough to run for 10 minutes. Now though, after a structured and progressive training regime, he’ll happily join me for 6-8 hour epics over the Peak District hills. His physique has totally transformed and, at his last annual check-up, was described by the vet as having the build of a working dog.
Start your dog off gently with 5-10 minutes of running included in their normal walk. Only run for as long as they appear to be enjoying it. They’ll run themselves into the ground to please you but, even one day over doing it, can put them off forever. Do 3-5 runs per week and build up the by duration by 5 minutes per week. By the time you’re up to an hour you’ve got yourself a running dog and can start increasing duration more rapidly. Avoid running on hot days, opt for shadier trails and try to go out late at night or early in the morning. Dogs don’t have sweat glands and can only regulate their temperature by panting. For this reason, never run with a dog muzzled or with a head collar that restricts their ability to pant. Buy a proper running harness that’ll allow freer breathing than a collar and don’t forget, if you’re out for a long one, to carry water for your dog or to include some streams or ponds en route. If you’ll be needing some bars or gels then your dog will probably appreciate some trail snacks too. Never feed a dog a large meal immediately before exercise though as it can lead to bloat or, in severe cases, a life threatening gastric torsion. Finally, don’t forget those poo bags!
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