Dr. Yin’s Animal Behavior and Medicine Blog
Running With Your Dog: How to Train Fido to Run at Your Side
Posted On: Friday, May 18th, 2012
By Dr. Sophia Yin
You like to run, your dog likes to run. It seems like a no-brainer. How about both of you run together? While you might be concerned about your dog’s ability to run a reasonable distance, the most common hindrance to running together is actually your dog’s ability to stay at your side.
Intro to Training Your Dog
The first mission at hand is to teach Rover to walk nicely on leash. You’ll want him to run either on your left or right side with his front feet even with yours or behind. Choose a side and stick with it so he doesn’t get confused. For the purposes of this article I’m choosing the left.
Start with a hands free leash, such as The Buddy System, or with a regular 4-6 foot leash that you hold by keeping your bent arms at your side in a normal running stance rather than extending your arms out. Bring a portion of your dog’s regular meal or small treats which you can carry in easily accessible pockets or a treat pouch. The leash should be long enough to hang in a “U” when you’re standing next to your dog. With the dog sitting by your side, give him several treats in a row until he’s sitting stably and not likely to get up on his own. Then start walking forward at a power walking pace so it’s clear to him that you want him to walk with you.
If he’s walking next to you and looking at you, reward with treats periodically. If his feet get ahead of you, then stop immediately and well before he 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 your arm forward which just teaches him to pull. When he reaches the end, he’ll pull and pull because it’s worked before. But, if you wait him out, he’ll eventually figure out that he’s not going anywhere. When he turns to look at you, lure him into a sit in front of you. Give several treats in a row until he he’s focused just on sitting and looking at you, and then briskly move forward when you’re ready. Repeat this procedure every time he gets ahead until he understands that getting ahead causes you to stop, and sitting and looking at you causes the walk to resume.
Next, work on about-turns and “U-turns” to help train him to stay by your side and help decrease the amount of treats you’ll need. With an about-turn, you walk forward on a straight line, turn 180ª towards your right so that the dog is on the outside, and the head back on the same line. Use this randomly as well as when the dog starts to get even one foot ahead of yours. When you turn, you can make it more fun for Fido by jogging a few steps and then rewarding him with a treat when he catches up and looks at you while continuing to walk.
The U turn is like the about-turn but in the opposite direction. You turn to your left in order to head back the direction you started. That means your dog will be on the inside of the turn which means you’ll have to be slightly ahead of him and then cut him off as you make your “U turn.” This teaches him that he should stay by your side so that you don’t keep cutting him off. If you have problems getting around your dog, you can place your hand with a treat right in front of his nose so that he stops to eat the treat, then you’ll complete your U turn while you have him stationary and then head in the new direction.
Alternate between these 3 methods for keeping him at your side and rewarding him for sticking near you. Make sure you do this for his entire walk until it becomes a habit. Then apply the same techniques to your run. If you have any problems at all, using a head halter such as a Gentle Leader or, for short-faced dogs, a Snoot Loop can really help. You’ll do things the same way so they don’t just learn to pull on the head halter.
Now apply these techniques to your run. You first runs should actually just be your dog’s regular walk with periods of jogging thrown in. If you try this on an actual planned run, you’ll probably be more interested in getting your run in and consequently won’t stick to the proper training. On this run, you’ll start by jogging ½ a block at a time. Be prepared to stop or do about turns. When he gets better at staying right next to you you can run for longer periods of time.
Rules of the Road
When running make sure that your dog is near you so that you and his leash are not hogging the entire road. If you’re running with a group, make sure he doesn’t run up the back of other runners because dogs can easily clip their heels and make them fall. In fact, it’s often best to run between the dog and other people since dogs sometime veer off.
Keeping Your Dog Hydrated
As with humans, if you’re only running a few miles, have a dog with no breathing issues, and the weather is cool you probably don’t need to carry water. But if you’re doing a run where you would need water, you definitely want the same amount of water breaks for your dog.
Signs to Stop
It’s also important to realize that dogs are less tolerant of heat than humans. Their main mode of cooling off is by panting. As a result, panting is one of the best ways to determine whether you should stop. If your dog looks alert and is panting quietly with tongue completely inside his mouth, then he’s ok in terms of heat. If his tongue is hanging outside of his mouth, mouth open wide, and the commissures of his mouth are pulled back, then it’s time to slow down and even rest. If his breathing doesn’t go back to normal within several minutes, then it’s time to end the run.
If you’re running at a decent clip, you’ll have other signs he’s tired too. He’ll slow down and start hanging out behind you instead of trying to be slightly ahead or right next to you. He should not get to the point where he has to lie down or you’ve done too much. Avoid coaxing him to go faster than he wants.