In this guest post by ultra-runner Peter Koraca (human) & Kai (whippet) we’ll be sharing some of their tips on how to get started running together. Peter loves running long distances over 100km across mountainous terrain, such as in the K24 challenge in the Alps (Slovenia) or tackling technical sky running and scrambling of the Lakes Sky Ultra in the Lake District in UK with more than 5000m of elevation gain. Kai doesn’t do ultras, but can beat pretty much any human on earth in a full-out 100m sprint. You can regularly find them fooling around Hampstead Heath (North London) and if you spot them, join them for a run.
Running with your dog can be one of the most fun things to do outside. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want to be. Whether you are seasoned runner or just starting out, here are five tips that will make getting into running with your dog a much more enjoyable experience:
- Teach your dog some basic navigation
- Grab the essential gear
- Add some diversity (and fun) to your runs
- Don’t get caught out by the weather
- Hit the trails and stop following paths
Caution: Running with puppies
It is not advisable to run with puppies as their bones are still growing. Most vets suggest that you don’t even walk them too much in their first few months. General rule of thumb is five minutes of exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) until the puppy is fully grown. F.ex. We didn’t run with Kai until he was well over 6 months old.
Teach your dog some basic navigation commands
Make running much more mentally stimulating for your dog and safe for you by teaching him/her some basic dog tricks and commands that will help you navigate the streets, parks and trails with ease. There are many dog training methods you can use – below I’m outlining the ones that worked for me and Kai.
“Go go go”
Let’s start with the easiest command. “Go, go go!” lets Kai know I’d like him to get going, pick up the pace or start sprinting. This one seemed quite easy to learn.
- Start walking or running and as soon as your dog picks up the pace
- Issue the command (“go, go, go”)
- Reward him/her with a tasty dog treat
- Repeat this as many times as needed. When your dog is comfortable with getting going, you can start to teach him/her to start sprinting using the same method. Some dogs are easier to get hyped up than others.
Don’t shout at your dog as he/she might get the wrong idea and become fearful of you (you will also look like an idiot in the park). Use excited, happy and encouraging body language. “Go, go go!” Make sure to reward your hound with plenty of praise (especially after a tough sprint).
“Slow & Stop”
Now that you’re off trekking or running it will be useful to teach your dog to stop. This is especially important if your dog is in front of you and pulling, and you get to a road. The easiest way to teach our whippet Kai slowing down was again, with a treat. He’s very food driven.
- As we were running I would call his name
- I would show him the treat
- I Start slowing down towards stopping
- As he slowed down and got next to me and stopped, I would give him the treat.
- We would repeat this quite a few times. It’s important that you try starting and stopping in variety of situations, such as on the road, on pavements, in the park, before/after gates, cattle grids, etc. There were a few running sessions where we would intentionally do only start and stop training.
We started with learning the “left” command first. This is crucial because Kai is usually on my left side and if he doesn’t turn left when I need him to, we could both trip and fall.
- Start: I would have Kai on my left, next to me. We would start to run/walk slowly directly towards a single tree in the field/park (as little distractions around as possible).
The nudge and The command: Just before the tree I would (initially) gently nudge (not kick!) Kai to the left (with my hand or leg) and turn left. We would repeat this a number of times, turning back around and approaching the same tree in the same way until he started to turn left on his own. At this point I started introducing the command.
- I would say “left” just before the tree.
- We would both turn
- The hound would get tons of praise and a treat
- We would repeat this a few times.
- Have a short break. Let him/her sniff around, throw the ball a few times.
- Generalisation: Now we would find another tree, a bush, a pole, a gate, a human, etc. and repeat the same exercise. Before approaching, I would issue the command and we would both turn. When it didn’t work, we would simply go back to the same object (or person) and repeat until it did.
Once we mastered the “left” we would repeat the steps for “right”. Kai on my left side, approaching the tree, this time we would turn right. The important thing here is to do only one command at a time not to confuse the dog. So when you’re teaching him/here to go left, always turn left at the tree. When you’re teaching “right”, only go to the right of the tree.
Mastery: Now that your dog knows left and right separately it’s time to put them together in a sequence. We would find a sequence of trees (or poles) and simply go left around the first one, right around the second, left around the third and right around the fourth. We would repeat this sequence a few times.
Graduation: We have mastered left, right and the simple sequence. Now it was time for some random fun. Any tree, anywhere it was time to go around it (•
To pull or not to pull?
There are ways to teach your dog to pull. However, as they almost always require a partner or another dog we’ll leave them for another article. Kai, f.ex., will pull when running in the pack with other dogs – when we do canicross. We'll also leave the topic of how to stop your dog from pulling for the future.A lot of dogs are natural pullers. Kai isn’t one of them. This sighthound has been taught from a puppy to walk right next to us instead of pulling ahead. When we’re running on our own, I’m quite happy that this is the case. I like technical terrain and I feel much happier with him being beside me or slightly to the back instead of jumping in front of me, potentially tripping us both. However, the “Go, go, go!” command will often wind him up into a sprint and since he’s much, much, … …, much faster than me he will naturally start to pull me. This does not work when going up a hill (•
Grab the essential gear
No matter what your goal, distance and running experience is, I find the four most important items for running with your dog are:
- A good, comfy Dog harness that provides your dog with full range of motion
- A dog lead that stretches and ties around your waist
- Trail running shoes for a better grip and running experience
- A Water bottle (or vest) to keep hydrated on the run
Dog running gear Essentials
A good dog comfy dog harness will make running a much better experience for your dog than simply using a collar. Just imagine what it would feel like to pull someone (or to be pulled by someone) by the neck or by a vest that hugs you around your chest.
By far the best harness we’ve found for our whippet Kai is Dogsnug’s running harness. We’ve been through all sorts of dog harnesses from the traditional hard webbing ones, adjustable, none adjustable, slip-in, clip-on to canicross specific ones, etc, you name it.
Dogsnug’s running harness is strong (but not hard), light, and cooling (it can be dipped in water to cool Kai down in the hot summer months). This harness for dogs stretches when either of us pulls instead of janking. It is machine washable, so when Kai goes off rolling in fox poop, I just throw the harness into the wash afterwards. They’re not cheap, but they are durable. I highly recommend getting one as it will make your running experience way more pleasant.
Bungee Elastic Lead That Ties Around Your Waist
I find it much more comfortable to run hands-free so a lead that ties around my waist is my preference. There are lots of dog lead options out there, but getting a bungee lead that can stretch a little will give you both an additional cushion when your dog abruptly stops for a pee/poop/squirrel! Trust me, I have ended up on the wrong side of the tree with Kai a few times and it’s not fun. Especially on a fast downhill.
We use the EzyDog's road-runner. Again, it’s not the cheapest, but it lasted us through years of running so far.
Trail Running Shoes
This goes without saying, but it’s a good idea to get some running shoes. For you. Not for your dog. If you’re going to run with your dog on trails, over grass fields and through the mud (and you should), then getting a good pair of trail running shoes will be much better than your road shoes. I would suggest the ones designed for soft ground (such as the Inov-8 Mudclaw or Roclite or Salomon S/Lab Sense 8 SG) as this will give you much better grip in wet grass or mud and more fun when playing with your dog.
I prefer to use these instead of the standard dog water-bottles when running with a dog. The soft flasks are just made for running and are much more comfortable to carry.Take twice as much water with you as you normally would. Keep yourself and your dog hydrated on the run. This might be even more important on hot, warm days out. When it comes to water bottles that you carry, our absolute preference are the Hydrapak’s soft flasks as they’re light, don’t add a plastic taste, and the water doesn’t slush around them. We use the 500ml ones. I can easily squeeze water out of them for Kai and they’re super simple to refill.
Dog running equipment nice to haves:
This one is again more for you than for your dog. It will allow you to carry plenty of water hands-free. You can also use it for storing your phone, selfie stick, small tripod and gopro – how else are you going to document your adventures?
Running vests can also store clothing for you and your dog – f.ex. In the winter, when we’re running in the snow covered mountains, I’ll carry a jumper for Kai. An essential piece of equipment I also have in the vest is the first-aid kit, just in case. By far the most comfortable one I've found is Salomon's ADV Skin Set 5.
Foldable water bowl
Cupping the water for your dog is much easier with a foldable water bowl than with your hand. Although this adds a bit of luggage to your vest/pack, it’s a useful one to take on longer trips. And, you can also use it for food.
Canicross harness/Waist belt for you
If your dog likes to pull (lucky you), wearing a canicross-specific harness/belt on you will be sooooo much more comfortable as they will pull you from your hips and bum rather than your waist. The belts usually come with a small pocket in which you can fit some additional poop bags in. We use the Dogfit's canicross belt. One thing to consider is that they are much more fiddly than a simple bungee lead. If your dog doesn't pull, like Kai most of the time, I would recommend the lead over the belt. It's just much less faff. (•
Kai is a whippet and he gets hot really quick. I found Dogsnug cooling bandanas to help cool him down quite well. In addition to the cooling harness he wears, they’re easy to take off and run under a tap in the park (as they simply tie around the neck). These are light, keep him cool and look amazing.
Add some diversity (and fun) your runs
Do you find running a bit boring at times? Break the run down into a more structured running session and you will make it much more enjoyable and engaging for both yourself and the dog. The general rule of thumb is you should start with a warm-up and end with a cool-down.
However, the part in the middle doesn’t need to be just plain, boring, steady pace running. Break it up with playing with a ball, doing some intervals/chases, perhaps even playing hide and seek. Below are some ideas for different running based games you can do with your dog.
A simple run format suggestion:
- Dog Game (like playing with the ball)
- Dog Game (like a chase or intervals)
- Dog Game (playing with the ball)
- Cool Down
Warm yourself and your dog up with a bit of easy, slow running on the way to the park. Once you get to the green, get his/her mind working by asking them to sit, weave between your legs or play tug-of war with them. You can do some squats to warm your quads, and some lateral steps left and right to get those glutes engaged. With Kai we like to do a few short jumps for the ball, weave left and right between trees and then get into the run.
Simple, steady pace
This is the simplest thing to do. Just run with your dog at a steady pace. You can make it a bit more interesting by doing some lead work and work on your dog’s navigation skills (left/right, start/stop commands).
Run 90% to full-out for 30 secondsThere’s a lot to be said about interval training and its benefits to you as a runner. Use them to improve your speed and strength (short intervals) or improve your aerobic capacity (middle distance). The idea is simple: run very fast or hard for a short period of time then run slow (to recover) and then repeat. A short interval block might look like this:
- Recover (run slowly or walk) for 1-2 minutes
- Repeat 5 times and you’ve got yourself a good interval block.
- Do these with a sighthound and try to chase them down for some extra motivation. Repeat as many blocks as you want and you’ll be knackered by the end.
Hill Repeats (or as Kai calls them: Hide and Seeks)
The idea with these is similar to intervals. You run up a (short) hill as fast as you can and then run or walk down very slowly. Emphasis being on running or even walking down slowly (less impact on your knees). You repeat this a few times and you’ve got yourself a good hill-repeat block. Do some easy running in between or playing with the ball. If your dog is Kai, and he’s off the lead, he will let you run up the hill and wait (hide) for you somewhere in the bush at the bottom for you to find (seek) him there.
The Chase or Chase-me-downs
Let him/her get occupied by sniffing stuff.This is a really fun running game to play with your greyhound, lurcher, whippet or iggy. You will need to be able to let him/her off-lead.
- You go and run ahead, preferably behind bushes, through windy paths
- Call your dog and let them try to find and chase you down
- Try to run away from them (as if you stand a chance) (•
- Reward and praise plentiful when you’re caught
Another version of this game is great for training your dog’s recall
- In a large open field tell your dog to stay put (or have your partner/friend hold him)
- Run ahead across the field slowly
- Call your dog’s name and start sprinting away from it
- Have them chase you down and reward them plenty
Run and Fetch the ball - aka intervals for your dog
You run in a large circle, your dog is off the lead.Simple, classic game to play with your dog. Here’s our running version with Kai:
- You throw the ball in the opposite direction of your run or to the middle of the circle.
- You keep running and when your dog brings the ball back you continue going in the circle
- Give your dog a short breather (let him run with you for 20s) and then repeat
- You’ll get quite a bit of running in this way (providing your circles are big) and your dog will be knackered by the end.
It’s important to cool down at the end of your run instead of just abruptly stopping and jumping on the sofa. For us with Kai that usually means taking the last few minutes of the run quite easy. We’ve done our exercise, job well done.
When finished, it’s time to give your dog some water and for you to stretch. Calfs, thighs, quads and the upper back is our standard routine. Simple 20s each leg, each muscle group (roughly) and you’ll feel much better afterwards as well as be ready for more sooner.
Don’t get caught out by the weather
Just like us, dogs will get hot and cold. Some sooner than later (looking at you Kai). Learn how to read your dogs’ signs of overheating or getting cold. As dogs can’t sweat the same way we do (they’ll sweat through paws and by panting), it’s even more important that we help with their temperature regulation.
Preventing dogs getting too hot
I will usually carry an extra water bottle just for him if we’re in the woods. In the summer he’ll also be wearing a Dog running Harness with cooling properties or a Cooling Bandana (both mentioned above), which cool him down by evaporation – so simply wet them in cold water and they’ll hold it for hours. We don’t like the gel filled ones as they’re often heavy, ugly and I’m worried about Kai potentially eating them.When dogs are overheating they’ll start to pant, their breathing will speed up and you might see changes in behaviour. For example, our Kai will try to roll himself in tall grass to cool himself down. He’ll also try to lick grass or wet bushes and start gently pulling towards shade.
If we are near ponds or other bodies of water the whippet might jump in, but only if he’s really hot (he hates water with passion otherwise).
Keep the hound warm
He’s worn them through snowstorms in the alps, relentless downpours in Brecon Beacons and the Lake District whilst running up the fells with me. The only time we had to put a coat on top was in the Alps on a very cold and slow moving day.Some dogs will also get very cold quickly (looking at you Kai, again). This is usually not such a problem as overheating as they’ll naturally warm up, just like we do during the run. However, if you’re running in the mountains or through windy rain-storms, you still might want to put a coat or a jumper on them. I find the Dogsnug Water-repellent Jumpers to be a perfect mix of warmth, water-proofness and snug fit. Unlike the dog coats, these allow Kai to move naturally whilst keeping him warm and dry.
Hit the trails and stop following paths
Don’t get yourself and your dog stuck in the rut with your headphones on, doing the same 5K route around the asphalt of your park. Repeating Strava segments might be fun for a bit, but there is so much more that running can give you. Not only are soft, grass-covered terrain of parks, fells and mountains usually much gentler to your and your dog’s knees, ankles and hips but there is a freedom to be discovered out on the trails
One of the secrets fell-runners know very well is that picking your own path across a field and up that fell (hill/mountain) is often much more fun than simply following a trail. Many of us forget that freedom of choosing your own path that running gives you over other sports like cycling. When you’re out with your dog, switch it up by going off the path, diving into that woodland section, coming back out, weaving around some trees and then back on the trail. Don’t worry about getting lost for a little. You can always retrace your steps, or consult a map. Enjoy the time you have with your four legged friend/partner/son/daughter while you can.
It’s not just about you
Just like different dogs like doing different things, play differently and communicate in a number of ways, their running styles will vary. If you’re looking for “the best dog breed for runners” – this isn’t it. Although pointers, vizslas and collies often rank high on those lists, you can run with almost any dog. Just don’t expect a schnauzer to scale mountains with you or a sighthound to do ultra-marathons. Try different ways of running with your dog, play with him/her. Find out what your dog likes. They’ll tell you if you listen. And you will both have a much better run together.
In the end of the day, it’s about having fun with the beautiful creature that is part of your life and your run. Outside, in the wind and rain, sun and heat, snow and cold. And inside, on the sofa.
Peter & Kai