by Larry Carroll
Ultra-runners can be divided into two categories: Those who prefer a running partner, and those who prefer silence. Throughout centuries of undying companionship, dogs have earned the term “Man’s Best Friend.” It would make perfect sense, then, that the ideal state of training for many runners is alongside a 4-legged friend.
Running with a dog, however comes with so many questions. Which breeds are best equipped? How can you get them accustomed to running long distances? How much equipment will you need to add to your own? And, perhaps most importantly: How do you get them to stop chasing every darn squirrel they see along the route?
Cushla Lamen is a fitness instructor, Canicross racer and canine myotherapist — and she says the key to getting your dog out on the trail with you is simply treating them like anyone else. “Dogs need to build up to long distances slowly and steadily, just like their human companions,” she recently told Trail Running magazine ( HOW DO I TRAIN FOR A MUD RUN? ). “By taking your dog with you on training runs and building distances together, you’ll ensure you’re both race fit. Start with 5km to 10km, then add an additional 3km per week up to 20km. Overall, it’s down to the dog; if they stop, so do you.”
As much as you and your dog may come to feel like a team, it’s unfortunately impossible to sit Fido down and explain that you’re about to do a 5K, a marathon or a simple run to the corner market. Some dogs, however, may come to recognize something like a backpack you wear as an indication that it’s time for a lengthy run.
They are also likely to recognize the harness/bungee line/waist belt combos preferred by those who have embraced Canicross — a cross country sport that views the human as a driver and the canine as a sort of engine, responding to voice commands while embracing a team aesthetic that engages both the dog’s body and its mind. In the Canicross world, runners go hands-free and often use mushers terms to drive their dog, brief commands like “Go Gee” (go right) or “On by” (ignore, keep going) — but ultimately, you can use any terms you like in training your dog out on the trail, as long as they are consistent and easily understood.
If you don’t yet have a tail-wagging trail buddy in your life yet, there are certain breeds better suited to the task than others. Consider such breeds as Weimaraners (muscular, love to be alongside their masters), Vizslas (long gait, enjoys exercise), German Shorthaired Pointers (built for mileage) and Golden/Labrador Retrievers for unrivaled companionship. If you’d prefer a smaller dog — after all, at some point you need to stop running and bring the dog home, and a one-bedroom apartment might not work for a Rhodesian Ridgeback — Jack Russell Terriers are very active and eager to learn commands, Fox Terriers are great for running in heat, and although their prissy reputation may not call it to mind, poodles were bred for long, slow runs. If you’re more inclined to rescue than adopt from a breeder, dogs with any combination of the above breeds are likely to satisfy your needs.
As for equipment, if you’re not looking to go the full Canicross route you could crib some notes from record-setting trail runner Alicia Vargo. As she told Outside Magazine ( The Best Gear for Running with Your Dog ), her dog runs through Arizona’s pine forests wearing a pack that carries its own water in two 0.6-liter collapsible hydration bladders — and attaches to a quick-draw, two-foot-long leash that can be stashed for off-leash runs. “It gives him a sense of purpose or makes him feel like he is working,” she says. “He is a border collie, after all, and needs to work to be happy.”
Other products worth researching include Musher’s Secret (HDP Invisible Dog Boots Wax-Based Cream Mushers Secret )– a balm for rubbing on dog feet before they run on particularly hot or cold surfaces; Zuka Bowls (ZUKA TRAVEL DOG BOWLS) — easy to fold, holds 10 or 16 ounces of water and comes with a carabiner; and of course, you can’t run without treats to reward good behavior such as Zuke’s Mini Naturals (Zuke’s Mini Naturals Healthy Moist Dog Treats Variety Pack – 6 Flavors (Roasted Pork, Wild Rabbit, Roasted Chicken, Delicious Duck, Savory Salmon, & Fresh Peanut Butter) — small, yummy and perfect for bringing on a run. Also, you may want to consider bringing dog booties and a first aid kit in your supplies.
Much of running with a dog is simple common sense. Before becoming an ultra-runner, it’s wise to speak with your doctor; similarly, consult a veterinarian before asking your dog to become one. Just as it’s wise for us to avoid warmer temperatures, you’ll want to consider the same for your companion. Finally, don’t feed the dog just before or after a long run — just as you wouldn’t do that to yourself.
Ultimately, running with a dog is about the two of you operating as one. So be sure to take time and listen to how the dog is breathing during your run, keep an eye on their gait and make sure they aren’t showing signs of injury or exhaustion, and be prepared for some days which may go better than others — just as they would if you were running solo. The best part about running with a dog may just be at the end, when it’s time to kneel down and give out a treat and a well-deserved pat on the head — knowing that together, the two of you have just accomplished a shared goal.