How to Run with Your Dog: On and Offleash Run Training Guide

Running with your dog is a wonderful activity for both you and your canine buddy.

Getting your dog outside and exercising is wonderful for their health and helps them behave better.

But learning how to run with your dog takes practice and patiencejust like running itself

And, not all dogs, based on factors like breed and personality, are fit for running. 

Joan Hunter Mayer, a certified dog trainer at The Inquisitive Canine, advises you to be honest with yourself about whether running with your dog is the right fit:

“Do they want to apply for the job as your running partner? You might think because they have tons of energy they would be into running.

But maybe they’d prefer swimming, or playing fetch or tug,” she notes.  

This doesn’t mean that you can’t train your dog to run with you but it’s important to have realistic expectations about the time required to do so. We’re here to help!

In this article, I will cover: 

  • How to tell if running is right for your dog,
  • How to know how far your dog can run with you,
  • Safety precautions for running with your dog,
  • What running dog gear you need to run with your dog,
  • How to train your dog to run with you on a leash,
  • How to train your dog to run off leash,
  • How to run with more than one dog.

Ready?

Let’s jump in!

how to run with your dog

How To Tell If Running Is Right For Your Dog

To determine if you can run with your dog, first check with your veterinarian.

Not all breeds are a good match for running.

In general, if a dog’s legs are shorter than his body height, they’re probably not a great runner, advises Andrew Garf, editor and chief of Train Your GSD

Dogs that are not built to go the distance (longer than a mile) include: Boston terriers, pugs, big dogs such as a Doggie de Bordeaux and mastiffs; dogs with smooshey faces, small noses or pants a lot like bulldogs; and excessively muscled dogs like pit bulls and greyhounds. 

“These will get overheat easily if they run too far and too fast,” Garf notes.

Dogs that are good for running include Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, beagles, and golden retrievers. 

“These dogs, if trained, can run up to 20 miles. If you ask me why, it’s simply because their natural athletic ability is higher than the other dogs,” says Garf.

Other factors that can determine how fast your dog can run or for how long they can run: your dog’s height, weight, potential natural athletic ability, and the amount of exercise in which they have been performing.

Related: What to do if a dog chases you while running 

how to run with your dog

Safety Precautions For Running With Your Dog

While beneficial for both the human and dog, running with your dog can be risky.

Follow these precautions to keep you both safe:

Start at the right age

Garf says not to introduce dogs to running until after they’re at least six months of age due to a growth spurt puppies have around this time.

Otherwise, there is an increased risk of joint instability, hip dysplasia, and other hip and joint problems.

For larger breeds, it is advisable to wait until after a year.

Again, talk to your vet. 

Consider your dog’s paw pads

For dogs who have never spent much time running, they will need to build up their pads for tolerating different surfaces.

Check pads when returning from your run, especially during inclement weather, says Hunter Mayer. In the winter, consider dog boots

Time your dog’s meals right

Feeding too close before or after a run can be dangerous for your dog in terms of bloat.

“This can be fatal for dogs so always ensure you leave plenty of time before a run (2-3 hours minimum) and after a run (1-2 hours minimum) to prevent any risk of this,” says Hunter Mayer. 

Keep your dog hydrated

Make sure your dog is fully hydrated before a run and take water with you if there’s no natural, safe water supply on your planned route, adds Hunter Mayer. 

Have the right equipment

Do not run with just a collar. Invest in a harness to protect your dog’s neck. A bungee leash can also protect you from getting pulled too hard. 

how to run with your dog

What type of equipment do you need to run with your dog?

Speaking of equipment, it’s very important to invest in the appropriate gear for running with your dog, including a collar, leash, water bottle, waste bags, and identification tags.

You also want to get the appropriate harness.

You should not run with a dog in a collar! You might be thinking: 

Why can’t I run my dog on a collar and lead?

Because it is dangerous for your dog AND you.

“Your dogs’ neck is one of the most sensitive parts of the dog’s anatomy and if you are encouraging them to pull, or they do pull, even occasionally, you can injure their neck with any pressure on the throat,” explains Emily Thomas, founder and director of K9 Trail Time

The second injury could be to you. 

“If you are holding a lead and your dog pulls suddenly, you have less chance of being able to stabilize yourself which could lead to your dog pulling you over or you dropping the lead.”

Thomas advises uses a harness, belt and/or bungee line to have hands free control with comfort for both and your dog—use all three especially if you are trail running. 

Here’s what you need:

Dog harness.

A dog harness MUST be a specific sports harness or at least one which is designed to be non-restrictive, advises Thomas. The dogs’ shoulders need to be free to swing forward and backwards. There are many shapes and sizes for breeds, so it is worth asking your vet or a dog trainer for a recommendation. 

Human belt or canicross.

A human belt aka canicross looks like a climbing harness, with leg straps to keep the belt in place. 

“The canicross belts are designed to distribute the pull of your dog away from your lower back and keep you comfortable and stable, leaving your hands free so you can keep a more natural running style,” says Thomas, adding that they come with pockets for keys and poop bags.

Bungee line.

Bungee lines come in a variety of lengths and sizes but the standard can be stretched for 3 meters.

There are shorter options for when you need more control. 

“The purpose of the bungee line is to absorb the force of your dog pulling and protect you both from potential injury caused by any sudden increase or decrease in speed,” says Thomas. 

how to run with your dog

How to train your dog to run with you on a leash

Just like when a human learns to run, you want to start running with your dog by walking:

Start with loose leash walking.

Start practicing loose leash walking with your dog until they are very good at it.

Make sure that they don’t pull on their collars, and they do not lag behind or run ahead of you instead of following your direction, says Hunter Mayer.

Practice regularly — multiple times a week!

Start slowly and build up gradually.

If you are new to running with your dog, you should build up the distances and time slowly with your dog.

“Even if you are an experienced runner yourself, it is worth using a plan like the couch to 5k to condition your dog to run in harness with you safely,” says Thomas. 

Alternate run and walk days.

Just like with people, dogs should not jump into running every day. Alternate run/walk days until they are able to run for about thirty minutes comfortably.

Train voice cues on walks and runs.

Voice cues are the key to communicating with your dog. Start these as early as you can, says Thomas. 

It doesn’t matter what the command is if you’re consistent. The basics are heel, leave it, drop it, left, right, go on, steady, and a behind cue.

Reward them with a treat and/or praise when they get it right. Use voice cues ONLY when you need to, otherwise your voice will just become white noise to your dog.

Use a calm, controlled voice. 

Know your dog’s normal.

Know how your dog moves and behaves in normal circumstances, so you can if spot when something isn’t quite right when you’re running together, says Thomas.

You want to be aware of cues that suggest pain or discomfort, i.e. hunched back and shortened stride length.

Warm-up and cool-down.

Just like people, dogs need to warm-up and cool down for runs to prevent injury.

Start with a walk and move to a jog then run.

You can also use this time to practice voice cues. Your cool down should be the same but in reverse—slow from a run to a jog to a walk.

Make a pit stop.

Allow your dog time to go potty before you start your run. This will help to minimize unscheduled stops and keep you both focused on the running, says Hunter Mayer. 

Don’t forget the poop bags! Bring waste bags with you by tying one on the handle of the leash. 

how to run with your dog

How to train your dog to run off leash

Learning to run with your dog off-leash is similar to running on a leash except the dog needs to be a REALLY good listener.

Voice commands are key for running with your dog off leash, as is knowing your dog’s normal.

Start with loose leash walking.

Start the same as you would with walking and then running with your dog on a leash. 

Gradually drop the leash.

Practice dropping the leash at various times throughout your runs. Practice commands. Use high-value treats to optimally train your dog’s obedience. 

Try new environments.

When your dog is consistently listening to you and running well in quiet areas, practice in different environments where there are distractions like squirrels, people, or cars. 

how to run with your dog

How To Run With More Than One Dog

Running with more than one dog can be tricky, but it is possible! Here’s how:

Make sure the dogs are a match.

If you’re going to run with more than one dog, you need to make sure they have similar physical conditions, are well trained, and get along with each other, advises Thomas. 

Teach them to run separately.

Just like when you train a single dog to run on a leash, work with the dogs separately starting with loose leash walking and moving to running.

Ease into running together starting with a “fido fartlek” says Hunter Mayer. Walk some, jog some, sniff some. Work up to a mile, and then continue to progress.

Train the dogs to walk on different sides.

Dogs should walk on a different side of you, i.e., the first dog on the right, the second on the left, or vice versa. When you walk with them separately, train them to walk on their specific side. 

Experiment with leash tightness.

You can test if your dogs run better with loose leashes or tighter leashes. How ever you run with your dogs, keep them close together. 

Reward your dogs for good behavior.

Be sure to offer treats or praise for dogs when they listen to you. 

Keep an open mind.

Never force a dog to run with you. Be in tune with how they are feeling. If they seem overwhelmed, slow down. If they seem unhappy, try running with your dog on a different day, advises Thomas.

Remember to stay relaxed and don’t run too fast. Running with your dog is supposed to be enjoyable for both of you, so keep it fun and have patience with their pace. 

how to run with your dog
Whitney Heins
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the 2024 US Olympic Trials marathon.

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