By Fiona J. Kirk

Dogs make the perfect running companions: they’re happy to head out in all kinds of weather and, unlike some human partners, they don’t have a tendency to gab the entire time. Even if you’re not in the mood to exercise, the happy look on your dog’s face as your lace up your sneakers, along with his barks of anticipation, will get you out the door and on the trail in no time. And, as the weather warms up, there is no better way to take you workout outdoors than with your furry friend in tow.

Getting started. Before you begin any kind of running program with your pooch, be sure to check in with your vet first to make sure that your pet is healthy and ready to go. Certain breeds – like Pugs, Bulldogs and Pekingese – can’t breathe or pant as well as other dogs and so shouldn’t run at all. Others, like Jack Russell terriers, Border Collies, Labs, Dalmatians and German Shepherds, have the stamina and endurance to happily keep up the pace.

According to Dr. Amy Coppola, associate veterinarian at the Bedford Greenwich Animal Hospital in Bedford, NY, small breed dogs shouldn’t run until they’re 9 to 12 months old, while large breeds can start running around 14 months old. As she explains, “Their joints aren’t fully formed before then, so you can cause damage if you run with them too early.”

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Running Guidelines. Be sure to warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before each run and the same goes for cooling down. Build up the distance slowly, in 10- or 15-minute increments, running no more than three times a week to start. Don’t feed your dog three hours before you run and wait 1½ hours afterward to give them food. Give your dog small amounts of water before you head out the door and wait until after your cool-down to give them more, again only in small amounts (if they’re panting and ingesting air, they’ll start to bloat, warns Coppola). An hour after you’ve finished, allow your dog free access to water.

Coppola stresses the importance of training your dog well before you start running together. “You don’t want your dog to lunge after other dogs or people – they have to stay at your side,” she says.

On the Surface. Dogs can run on many different surfaces, from dirt paths to blacktop, but make sure the pathway isn’t too rocky or gravelly or your dog may damage his or her pads. In the summer, test the surface out first: if you can walk on it in bare feet, it’s OK for your dog. If not, the heat could cause inflammation. Likewise, avoid running with your dog in the extreme cold or his or her footpads and nose can crack and even bleed.

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Signs of Stress. If it’s hot out and your dog starts drooling profusely, it means that he or she is starting to overheat. Other signs of discomfort include tucking the tail under the abdomen, backing up and lying down. Keep an eye out for any signs of limping and don’t run when it’s really hot outside as your dog can suffer seizures and severe heat stroke.

The health benefits of running apply to both you and your dog – you’ll get fit, rev up your metabolism and sleep well at night. So, on the next nice spring day, grab your dog’s leash and start up a running program you both can enjoy.

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