(Wo)Man’s Best Training Partner

** Warning: Many cute puppy pics ahead **

We all love our four legged family members and in our minds they would all run beside us like Balto during the Iditarod. However, this is not the reality for many dogs out there. In addition to being a triathlete off the clock, on the clock I am a licensed veterinary nurse (LVT).  Specifically I specialize in horse medicine!! But when a certain ball of brown and black fur named Denali came into my life one Christmas I had to knock the dust off my small animal medicine.

When we got Denali (named after the breathtaking mountain in Alaska) I knew right away that we were going to have another adventure buddy in our pack to run, hike, swim, and explore with. This will be the first installment in a few  doggie related training posts to help you train with your pet the right way. Canine fitness has many facets to it and things to consider so keep reading to learn how to turn your fur-baby into your best training partner!

Is my dog a suitable fitness partner?

In many cases this may be an easy question to answer. Pomeranian? No. Belgian Malinois? Yes. Toy Poodle? No. Golden Retriever? Yes. For many breeds however the answer is more grey: Terriers? Newfoundlands? Great Danes? A good place to start to answer this question is to find out what ‘Group’ your dog’s breed (or predominant breeds) fall into. You can do this by checking out the American Kennel Club’s website.

Dogs that fall into the working, herding, and sporting groups are going to be your athletic dogs. Your dogs who like to run, and are good at it, like to swim, and are smart enough to handle by a bike.  Then you have groups that are a little more unclear and take some deciphering. The non-sporting group has breeds that would love to go out and run with you such as the Dalmation or the Shiba Inu. It also has breeds that will sit on the side walk and stare at you like you’ve grown a second head such as the Bichon Frise or Bulldog.

Next you have anatomy to take into consideration. Dogs that have are heavier built like Mastiffs, Bulldogs, and Shar-Peis shouldn’t be taken out on longer runs. Brachycephalic breeds (the smushed face dogs!) should not be run at all as the stress on their respiratory system could damage their air ways or lungs. These breeds can not take in as much oxygen as their longer muzzled counterparts. Those things said, just because your dog may be small like a Jack Russel or a Beagle doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from a mile at the beginning or end of your workout. 

How much volume can my dog do? How far can we go?

Doggie fitness is very similar to human fitness. You can’t take a dog from couch to 5k without a slow increase in volume. Step 1 is to take your dog to the vet and have a physical exam done to make sure there are no underlying health issues before you begin. Just like with people, if your dog is not very active or is overweight you will want to start slowly and pay attention to your dogs body language. Your dog’s annual exam is a good time to bring this up with your veterinarian to see if running with your dog is something they advise.

To start you’ll want to keep your dog at a pace that is comfortable for them, for Denali (at 2 years old) this is around an 8:30 – 9 min/mile. At this pace she trots comfortably next to me, is not breathing too hard, and her tongue is moist and still in her mouth. This pace will vary depending on you and your dog but if you follow those guide lines whatever pace you hit where your dog seems comfortable will work. All I am saying is if your comfortable pace is a 7:00 min mile there is a good chance you will need to slow it down considerably for your pooch.

When Can My Dog Start Running With Me?

Typically as puppies a dog’s bones are not completely done growing until they are around 2 years old. This will vary by breed to breed but between 1-2 years is the commonly accepted answer. You want to be careful starting running with your puppy as you can cause permanent harm. Damaging the growth plates can also lead to arthritis and joint disease as they age. For smaller breeds you could start a mile or two as early as 8 months at a slow pace. Larger breeds you’ll want to wait as they are slower to mature and develop. I think I started trail running with Denali around 11-12 months old. Always consult with your veterinarian as your puppy grows and goes in for check ups. They will best be able to advise you on when the time is right!

Environmental considerations

Working out outside with your dog can be a fun way for you both to get some time in nature and explore new trails and parks together. 

Winter

When it comes to the cold whether you’ll want to use your judgment and what you know of your dog. Clearly, Tri Dog Denali and I love some cold weather running. If the temperature is above 30 F I will take her out. But, my feeling is if its in the 20s F no one should be out! Keep in mind that if the air hurts my lungs/face it is also probably uncomfortable for her. Be sure to also keep an eye out for ice patches along the road. Remember that the salt used to de-ice the roads can burn their pads. Make sure to clean their paws well when you get back inside. So, in the winter we keep it short, keep it fun, and always make snow angles at the end.

Summer

In the summer months you want to be cognizant of the time of day and sun strength. Especially if you have a girl who never leaves home without her black fur coat like mine! Generally if the temperatures get in the upper 70’s and low 80’s you’ll want to keep the runs significantly shorter. Around 15-20 minutes is all I would take Denali for when we were on Guam. I paid extra attention to how she was feeling and if she was lagging and trying to walk – we would walk. Remember dogs can’t sweat like we do, most of their thermoregulation is done through panting.  Dogs that are excessively panting where their tongues are bright pink and hanging out of their mouths are in the first stage of heat stroke. Click here for more on heat stroke. Also consider the how hot the side walk gets in the summer. You hear every summer about dogs getting their paws burned. If possible do your runs in the early morning or after the sun goes down. I also try to take Denali on more trail and park runs when the sidewalks are super hot.

What workouts can my dog do with me?

Most dogs will love both swimming and running with you. It is the biking portion is where you may have challenges navigating with your dog. Biking with your dog can be very dangerous for both you, the dog, and other people around. I will write future posts on how to safely swim, bike, and run with your canine. Stay Tuned!

Your Dog As Motivator

The most important way your dog can be your best training buddy is by always being psyched to get out there with you. Whether 6am or 9pm Denali is always up for a run with me. Having her and knowing she needs exercise too motivates me out the door. First I think, well I will just do a mile or mile 1/2 with her. Then before I know it we’ve done 4 or 5 miles and are ready to lounge! More often than not, I use Denali as my warm up or cool down for a longer run. This way it isn’t too taxing on her but she still gets exercise. I, in return, get some quality time with my friend and get to relax the pace a bit.

Many a time I didn’t want to do my run or go do a swim but having her got me started. Unfortunately, Denali’s high prey drive (for the wheel spokes… and woodland creatures) makes it impossible for us to bike together. When on Guam we would swim in the ocean together sometimes. But, Denali always felt I was drowning and needed saving which made the swims unproductive. I’m not sure if that’s a comment on my form?? Stay tuned for more articles from this vet nurse on training with your dog!