How to Train Your Dog to be a Great Running Partner

Tips to teach a running co-pilot
By Sophia Yin DVM, July 2011, Updated October 2020

You like to run, your dog likes to run. It seems like a no-brainer: How about the two of you running together? While you might be concerned about your dog’s ability to run a reasonable distance, the most common hindrance to sharing this passion is your dog’s ability to stay at your side.
 

Train Your Dog First 

Because you’ll want your dog’s front feet even with or slightly behind yours during a run, the first mission is to teach her to walk nicely on-leash at your side. For the purpose of this article, we’re choosing the left side.

Start with a hands-free set-up such as the Buddy System, or with a regular four- to six-foot leash that you hold while keeping your bent arm at your side in normal running position. You can also use a head halter or a harness with a front connection to help guide your dog. Whatever approach you choose, the leash should be long enough to hang in a U when you’re standing next to her. Have some kibble or small treats and, with your dog sitting at your side, give her several treats in a row until she’s in a stable sit/stay. Then, move forward at a power-walking pace so it’s clear you want her to come with you.

When she’s walking next to you and looking at you, reward her. If your dog’s feet get ahead of yours, stop before she gets to the end of the leash. If you’re holding the leash in your hand, be sure to keep your arm glued to your side rather than extending it forward. When she reaches the end of the leash, she’ll likely pull and pull. Stand stock still and wait her out. When your dog turns to look at you, lure her back into a sit in front of you.

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Give several treats in a row until she’s focused just on sitting and looking at you. When you’re ready, move forward again at a brisk pace. Repeat this every time she charges ahead, until your dog understands that getting in front of you causes the walk to stop, and sitting and looking at you causes the walk to resume.

Practice Turning

 Next, work on about-turns and U-turns to train her to stay by your side. For the about-turn, walk forward in a straight line, turn 180 degrees to your right so your dog is on the outside, then head back on the same line. Do this randomly when she gets even one foot ahead of yours. Make the turns more fun by jogging a few steps and then rewarding your dog when she catches up and looks at you.

The U-turn is like the about-turn, but in the opposite direction. You turn to your left in order to head back in the direction from which you started, which places your dog on the inside of the turn. Get slightly ahead of her and then cut her off as you make the U-turn. This teaches your dog that she should stay by your side so that you don’t keep cutting her off. If you have problems getting around your dog, hold a treat in front of her nose; when she stops to eat it, complete the U-turn while she’s stationary, then head in the new direction.

As you walk, alternate these three ways of training your dog to stay at your side, and reward her for sticking near you. Make sure to do this until it becomes a habit.

First run

Now, apply these techniques to your run. Your first runs should actually just be your dog’s regular walks interspersed with periods of jogging. (Because it’s important to stick to the training, don’t initially try this on your regular run.) Start by jogging a half-block at a time, and be prepared to stop or do about-turns. When she gets better at staying at your side, you can run for longer periods, adding distance gradually. Avoid feeding large meals to your dog right before the run. Small treats or kibble during the run are fine.

Rules of the road When Running

Keep your dog near you so the two of you aren’t hogging the entire track or trail and the leash isn’t creating a tripping hazard for others. If you’re running with a group, make sure she doesn’t run up on others, as clipping their heels could cause a fall. In fact, it’s often best to run between the dog and other people, since dogs sometimes veer off. If you’re on a road, run facing traffic with your dog on your left. Always leash your dog when running on a street or road.

Keeping your dog hydrated

If you’re only running a few miles, your dog does not have breathing issues and the weather is cool, you probably don’t need to carry water. Conversely, if you’d need water during a run, you definitely want to provide the same number of water breaks for your dog.

Knowing when to stop

Dogs are less tolerant of heat than humans, and their main mode of cooling off is by panting. If your dog looks alert and is panting quietly with her mouth open but her tongue is just peeking out of her mouth, then she’s probably okay in terms of heat. If her tongue is hanging out of her mouth, her mouth is open wide and the commissures are pulled back, then it’s time to slow down, or stop for a rest. If her breathing doesn’t go back to normal within a few minutes, end the run. If you’re running at a decent clip, you’ll have other signs that she’s tired: she’ll slow down and start hanging behind you instead of trying to be slightly ahead or right next to you. And if she has to lie down to rest when you stop, then you’ve pushed him too far. Finally, avoid coaxing her to go faster than she wants; endorphins can mask dogs’ pain just as they can our own.

So, that’s the recipe for creating a great canine running partner: Start with training, maintain good manners, follow the rules of the road, stay alert to your dog’s condition and, when in doubt, take a break. Now, get out there and run!

 

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 65: Jun/Aug 2011