Running With Your Dog: How to Train Fido to Run at Your Side

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By Dr. Sophia Yin
1966-2014 R.I.P.

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.

First Run

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.

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16 responses to “Running With Your Dog: How to Train Fido to Run at Your Side

  1. Hi ,
    Thanks for the fantastic blog . I like your style of posting and valuable information
    Which you constantly provide . Your post “How to Train Fido to Run at Your Side” is very knowledgeable

    Thanks Again

  2. Hi There, I’m starting my buiness as dog walker in Austin, Texas. I’m offering runs as well on my services. I would like to know which are the right questions I need to ask my clients to determine if my client’s dogs are ready to start a running routine.

    Thank you very much.

    1. You probably know this already but just in case… have your clients clear running with their vets. I have a 5 month old large mixed breed, and I asked my vet about running with him. She said that because he is so large, I need to wait until he is at least 8 months old to start running with him. She explained that his joints haven’t matured yet, so running while he is this young could cause joint damage.

  3. Very hopeful and well explained guidance. Our thanks to you on matter of running dogs. We have a six year old energetic Cairn Terrier which ponders commands before obeying. She runs aggressively after prey. She’s always on leash or contained in our yard. Question: Will your guidelines work when pet owner fast walks as opposed to strolling or slow walking?

  4. Hi I was wondering if I could ask some advice.
    I have a small Cavapoo he’s 12 months old but he broke his leg just before Christmas, he’s made a great recovery and the vet is really pleased with him. I have run with him a few times jut to see how he gets on. (I’m not very fast) and only go at a snails pace seeing he’s quite young. Saying that I decided to stop running with him for the time being. As I would like to train him properly. starting with his walking…he just wants to sniff everything and pee on everything so the runs I have done are generally not great, lots of stopping. He also wants to play with every dog he greats, although I don’t mind it I’m concerned he’ll just want to play with other dogs when we are out. We have just bought another dog a toy poodle who is 10 weeks old, this has helped him to calm down at home and given him a much needed play mate, but obviously we can’t take him out yet for another 2 weeks.
    so My main question is at what point would it be ok to start running with my older dog? (sorry for the log post)

  5. Hi,

    This is great! I’ve been slowly trying to get my 6 month old puppy introduced to jogging next to me. The minute i start to jog a little, she suddenly becomes quite aware of the leash and wants to bite/hold on to it in her mouth. How can i teach her not to bite the lease? She doesn’t do this while we are walking

  6. My orthopedic vet strongly advises against using your puppy as a running buddy until their growth plates close…this occurs for most dogs by 12 months and as late as 14 months. They are okay to run on their own in play but not to go on a run with their owner. If you use them as a running buddy before their growth plates close you run the risk of causing long term damage to your dog.

  7. Our two-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback loves to sprint around our enclosed yard, but it’s been a challenge getting her to run with me. My problem is not “pulling ahead”, but rather “lagging behind” – she turns into an anvil and I wind up dealing with tension on the leash in the opposite direction. I bring her with me on short runs (gradually working up to longer runs if she tolerates it) and I make sure she’s gone potty and hasn’t had other significant exertion that day, but despite all that, she just doesn’t seem “into it”. I bring treats with me but am also hesitant to feed her too much while running. Any thoughts/advice? I know she’s capable of running WAY faster than me 🙂

    1. Brendan,

      Have you gotten your RR to run with you? I have two whippets who are similar to your dog.


      1. I have lab retriever who won’t really run for first 1 mile like an anvil then trails behind with tension on lead, but always appears happy tail wagging but won’t let the tension out of lead. Then after 3 1/2 miles will run along side and in front for 2 to 3 miles setting a slightly faster pace than planned. Returning home appears very happy no signs of distress.
        Is she just playing me.

  8. I want to train my terrier mix to run a 5k, he has been cleared, but he wants to stop and “mark his territory” how can I teach him to stop?

  9. Although this post is older, it still a wonderful resource and is a top result in current searches so I wanted to add something for those who may not know! If loose-leash running isn’t working out and you find your dog likes to pull, there is a sport called canicross (skijoring and bikejoring are alternatives if you don’t want to run) that is perfect for this scenario! Our dog loves to run and pull and my reason for running is to exercise her, so finding canicross turned a long withstanding problem into a positive!

  10. Are there any videos that demonstrate the basics of this? I am a little confused about how the about-turn and u-turn are done. Thanks

    1. Yes. You can find it here or on Vimeo.

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