How To Go Trail Running With Your Dog

We all know that dogs are a man’s best friend, and if you love running, who wouldn’t want to take his or her dog with them? In this article, we’ll cover the basics about how to go trail running with your dog.

By the end of the article, you’ll be ready to suit up in your running gear and get your pooch out the door to go for a run on the trail!

Getting Ready

Before you head out the door, though, you need to make sure that your dog is actually ready and able to run. Here are some things to consider before you go trail running with your pup.

man running on sunny trail in field with dog

Age

How old is your dog? If she is 17 years old, there’s a good chance that she might be too old. If he’s four months, he’s probably too young. Make sure that the dog is physically mature enough to run and that bones have stopped developing.

And make sure that you’re not overworking senior dogs. They can’t do what they were once able to do.

Fitness Level

You need to have a good idea of how far your dog can run. This is where it’s best to talk to the vet. He or she can help you put together a schedule to slowly build up your dog’s endurance. Plus, the vet will also know a rough maximum distance for your dog.

Breed

This goes without saying, but different breeds are going to be more or less conducive to trail running. I’d be able to run half a mile with my West Highland White Terrier if I were lucky, but my friend’s Siberian Husky can go a lot farther!

And some dogs like Yorkies or teacup poodles just aren’t going to work at all, but I doubt there’s anyone who wants to take a 2-pound Yorkie on a trail run.

Commands

Your dog needs to be obedient and listen to commands. If he or she can’t do that, you don’t want to take that pup out trail running just yet. Take some time to train your dog and even go through a couple obedience classes if needed so that Fido comes when you call.

Good Trails

Not everyone is going to share your love of dogs, so it’s important to pay attention to trail signage as some trails restrict dogs. Also, do your pooch a favor and make sure that you pick a trail that has dog-friendly terrain, i.e. not a lot of gravel.

Typically, dogs aren’t allowed on national park trails, so you need to check beforehand before planning any trail runs with your pooch. You’ll likely have more success with national forests and state and local parks.

Vet Visit

Before starting up an exercise regimen, dogs should be checked too just like people! Thus, it’s important that you take your dog in and make sure that that Fido is up-to-date on all of his or her shots and medications.

The Right Gear

Just as humans have the proper running attire, so do dogs, and it’s important that you get your pups the gear that they need so you can have a successful run!

Hands-free leash

No one wants to be holding a phone…or a leash when he or she is running, so find a hands-free leash. Typically, these attach to your waist. It will keep your dog nice and secure and give you plenty of room to move as well.

Harness

If you opt to go with just the collar, chances are that it’s going to rub your dog’s neck quite a bit and start to hurt. A harness is a better option and also provides other benefits like added control if your dog is running toward a cliff or a person.

Make sure that the harness has a close-to-dog handle so that you can restrain your dog quickly if needed and make sure that the harness is secure and comfortable.

Doggy bags

While it’s true that doo-doo is natural fertilizer, it’s really not polite to leave Fido’s poo near the trail. Nobody wants to smell that. Instead, make sure that you pack some doggy bags to clean up any treasures.

Water bottle and bowl

Hydration is key for both man and beast, so you’ll want to have some water for your pooch. Unless you train your dog to drink as you pour out water, you’re going to need a bowl. Light, foldable bowls are typically the best option.

Booties

The most important part of a runner’s gear is her shoes, and that’s the same for a dog too. Even though dogs can run “barepaw,” it’s going to be much nicer on your dog’s feet if you get him or her booties.

Make sure, though, that you let your dog break in the booties at home just like you wouldn’t buy a new pair of running shoes and instantly start running in them. You can even get liner socks for your pooch if needed.

Safety light

If you’re planning to run in low-light areas or at night/in the morning, you should consider a safety light. This is especially important as you have a canine friend several feet in front of you that isn’t going to be as flexible.

And while you’re at it, you should look for doggie gear that is reflective like harnesses and leashes.

Rules and Etiquette

As is true for many things, trail running with your dog has its own rules and etiquette. The former are the things you have to do; the latter are things you really should do.

Rules

If you want to keep you and your dog safe, you really need to make sure that you follow these rules.

Limits

You need to know how far your dog can run. You might want to run 12 miles, but if you’re just getting into trail running with your dog, you might be lucky if you get 2 miles. This is just simply what is fair to the animal. Be ready to end your run early if that’s what your dog needs.

Man with a dog on a morning run

Hydration

You might be able to run for miles without hydrating, but your dog likely can’t. Make sure that he or she is properly hydrated when you’re running. If he or she is panting a lot and his or her nose is dry when you check it, your pet needs some water.

Etiquette

In addition to those two ground rules, you should also keep some basic etiquette in mind so that fellow hikers and runners won’t start to loathe the sight of you and your pooch.

Always use the leash

While it’s true that some trails will allow Fido to run off-leash, you’re just asking for trouble if you do this. Even if your dog is the epitome of well-behaved, it’s Murphy’s Law that something will go wrong. And I can speak from personal experience.

I was hiking (not running) with my best friend and her extremely obedient dog on a trail in Wisconsin. The weather was gorgeous, and the dog has literally never disobeyed in her life. She could go outside without being on a leash and was fine. She just listens.

She was doing really well, and nobody else was around, so my friend let the dog off the leash. And then she disappeared. After calling numerous times, she finally returned. You don’t want this to happen to you, so keep your dog leashed.

On a similar note, if there are other hikers, runners, and even worse, horses around, it’s best if your dog is leashed. And you don’t have to worry about your dog catching a rabbit.

Yield to others

Everything has an order when you’re out on the trail, and when you’re running with your dog, it’s your responsibility to yield. So be sure to give bikers, hikers, horses, and runners the right of way.

Throw away the doo-doo

It’s not very kind to leave dog poop near the trail. Make sure that you pick it up and pack out any poop bags that you have. If you can, try to find trails with trash cans so that you can drop the poop midway or consider running loop trails so that it’s easier to dispose of the doo-doo.

And while it seems like a great idea to use a bag to pick up the poop and then come and get it later, just don’t do it. It’s not good form, and there’s a good chance that you’re going to forget after a long run.

Trail Hazards

While many trail hazards are the same for humans and canines, your dog is going to have some dangers that you won’t have, so stay aware.

Hot weather

Particularly when it’s hot outside, you need to pay attention to your dog’s breathing. If it seems excessive, you’ll likely need to take more breaks or stop altogether. You may also have to slow things down if your dog hurts his or her paw and/or starts limping.

Just like you shouldn’t be out for too long in hot weather and should be very hydrated, your dog needs the same things. Don’t forget that you’re taking care of two “people” now. And remember that your pooch can get heatstroke.

If you keep seeing your furry friend take breaks in the shade, you need to call it quits because this could be the first sign of heatstroke. Play it safe and know what temperature is too high for you to run with your dog.

A man is running with his dog on a very sunny day at a local park.

Cold weather/snow

Because your dog can’t talk to you, you don’t know how cold he or she will feel outside in the snow. Obviously, your pooch has a fur coat, which helps, but you’ll also probably want to get another coat just to be safe.

Keep a close eye on how your dog is doing when the weather is colder just like you should be more alert even when you’re running by yourself.

Hazardous plants and animals

When you’re running on the trails, you don’t need to worry about hazardous plants and animals because you know what to do. Don’t touch the snake, and don’t eat the mushrooms. But to your dog, a snake might look like a toy and the mushrooms, food, so you always have to be alert.

Similarly, this is where a leash comes in handy. If you somehow encounter a bear, you don’t want your dog running after it. That’s why your pooch needs to be under control.

Ticks

Ticks are the bane of any trail runner’s existence, and even though Lyme disease doesn’t show symptoms in most dogs, you should still check Fido for any ticks just to be safe. Since your dog is closer to the ground, there’s a good chance that he or she might have picked up an unwelcome rider.

Conclusion

In the end, running with your dog can provide more color and life into your trail runs. Knowing that you’ll get to spend some time with your furry friend doing something you love is sure to brighten everyone’s day.

So, figure out the necessary steps you need to take to make sure that your dog is ready to run and get out there and enjoy nature with your canine companion.

The Wired Runner