By Rachel Kirby
Recently, I have been asked a lot about my running habits with Oakley.
“How did you get started?”
“How far do you run?”
“What leash do you use?”
“What do you do with your phone?”
All extremely valid questions and ones I am thrilled to compile in to one easy place for reference. I am not a vet or pet professional by any means, but I have discussed things with my vet, have experience running (with and without a dog), and have learned some tips and tricks I am excited to share through my own research and experiences. First, please remember every dog is different and you know your dog best. When in doubt about anything, please reach out to your trusted veterinarian. So with that being said, let’s get into it starting at the beginning…
My name is Rachel, and I grew up playing soccer which turned into running after high school in order to stay in shape. I’ve run two half marathons—and plan for another in December 2020—as well as countless 5 & 10ks. I run with my dog Oakley, affectionately known as Oak. I got him at a year old in June 2018 and I started running with him shortly after that. He was 15 months when I started running with him and max we did was 1.5 miles at that time (If your dog is under a year, I caution you to discuss with your vet whether or not they are ready to run and what distances are appropriate. Puppy’s need time for their joints to fully develop so running long distances usually aren’t safe for them). I needed an outlet for him to utilize his energy and I knew I would want him to be a running dog in the long run, so I wanted to start training proper running etiquette.
Progression… it’s all in the details…
I initially started with running half of a mile and walking another half. I used a regular hand held 5-6ft leash and Oakley at my left side. When starting a running program, it’s smart to start small and work your way up in small increments. Making sure the dog can handle it, and you can handle the dog. Oak needed some help with heeling so starting small also allows for learning how to remain with you and safely on your left side out of the way of traffic. Oak is trained with a prong collar, and at this point probably doesn’t need it anymore, but starting out I wanted some assurances that I wasn’t going to lose control of a 90 pound dog who got excited seeing a cat! If pulling is an issue or dog reactivity, I urge you to seek a training professional before starting a running program in order for you and others to be safe (especially if you do have a big dog!).
Personally, I did the half mile for a few times and felt he could do more and then made the jump to 3/4 of a mile run with a half mile walk. After several runs at that distance, we would up it again to 1 mile run and 3/4 mile walk. Each progression was only 1/4 of a mile added to the run, per my vet’s recommendation. It’s important to make sure the dog is able to remain with you and still have energy without a huge lag time to recover once getting home. Note that the recovery time in the summer will be different due to the heat and taking more time for their body temperature to lower. Due to his age, I kept him at 1.5 mile run and 1.5 mile walk for several months and was only running 2-3x a week allowing for recovery days in between.
In January of 2019, when Oakley was over a year and a half, I started building using the same formula of 1/4 mile increments. My goal was for Oakley to be able to complete a 5k! Once we hit that goal, we went for a 10k. After some research and discussion with my vet, we have decided that Oak will not run more than 6 miles at one time. Being a lab, he is prone to hip issues, and it isn’t wise to stress his body over that amount at one time. I’m thrilled that he has achieved 6 miles and we have completed a 10k together. On any given day, we run 3-6 miles and he no longer needs a day in between (even though, I still prefer to give him that!) and we run 3-4x a week.
If you’re starting to run for the first time, I advise the couch to 5k app! It gives you set days and times to run and walk and eases you fully into running. As always, listen to your body and keep an eye on your dog, if you need to complete “Day 1” multiple times before moving to “Day 2” then that is okay! Running is a progression for us and the dog. It takes time! I have a friend completing the app right now with her dog and is doing well!
With it being summer, choose your days and times carefully—heat exhaustion or heat stoke can happen easily in dogs. Attempt to run early mornings or late evenings in shaded areas. If you are in a very warm part of the US, carry water with you on the run and stop if need be. Being in South Carolina, we run in the evenings and I keep an eye on the humidity level. Oakley can tolerate temperatures in the 80s, but if the humidity level is high, he will be staying home.
Below are 2 different articles on the signs of heat exhaustion and what to look for:
I am a therapist by trade, so I can’t write this blog without telling you all the benefits a running/walking program has for you! It helps your cardiovascular system by reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease, death from a heart attack or stroke, and it lowers your risk of developing cancer. All while increasing your muscle strength, making your bones stronger, and helping you maintain a healthy weight. For dogs it’s very similar. It keeps them at a healthy weight, keeps their heart and lungs strong, and helps reduce arthritis, cancer, and diabetes. Running is also a huge help with mental health for humans and canines alike helping to reduce anxiety and stress. Dogs are also expert motivators and will want to keep running with you—helping keep you accountable to a sustainable lifestyle!
Gear… what you’ve been waiting for…
Now that you’re running and feeling good about it… what will make it easiest and safest for you? I run with a lot. I feel like I suit up everytime I go for a run with Oakley! Here are a few things that make our runs much smoother and safer:
I stumbled upon the small business, Pacific Hound, through Instagram and read a blog post from a runner about their “Hands Free Venture Lead”, so I had to try it for myself. It’s a biothane leash and belt combo, where you can choose the length of your lead and the belt is adjustable. I personally use a 4-foot lead just because I want him close during the run. I trust this brand over some of the bungee leash combos you see, mainly because, like I said, I run with a 90 pound dog and do not want any give! I loved it so much, I bought a 6-foot lead for hiking!
Now you might not need mace where you live, but I run some rural roads and have come in contact with many different animals. Also, being a female and running alone, I feel safer knowing I have mace with me. If I need it, I can use it on a threat to Oak or a threat to me (I will say, I do feel safer running with a big black lab than when I do alone. Hey, they don’t know he won’t bite!).
I like to listen to music while I run and as I’ve previously said, I don’t like to carry things, so I have a belt that carries my mace, house key, and phone. It has two pockets and is adjustable. It is awkward at first to wear a belt, but I’ve gotten used to it and feel weird without it now!
As I’ve said, I live in South Carolina. Even if I run in the evenings, there is still sun! The best running sunglasses are from Goodr. They make polarized rubber sunglasses that don’t slip during your run and keep your eyes protected. As awesome as they are, they are not for water. If they get heavily wet then the lenses are ruined. I only use mine for running and learned the hard way by getting caught in a storm. Luckily, they do have a year warranty and you can receive new glasses. For only $25… they are worth it!
I use AfterShokz Aeropex because they allow your ear to be open. Yet again, it depends on where you are running, but I do run the road and I like to make sure I can hear when cars are coming up behind me. Also, now that it’s summer, they allow me to keep an ear out for Oakley’s panting cadence and if I need to knock it down a notch for him.
No matter if I let him out before or not… accidents are bound to happen. Be courteous and pick it up! I have a free little bone case I got from some event that I keep clipped to my belt! You could also just tie one bag to your belt before each run. I have a usual route I take and I’ve learned his spots; therefore, I can usually leave it bagged and run back by and pick it up on my way home. Know your area before you do that though! Don’t want any neighbors calling the HOA on you!
On our longer runs, we travel to a site in our town with a longer paved trail. Therefore, in my car I carry water and a travel bowl for when we finish! I honestly, don’t even know what brand bowl I have, but it is important to remember if you drive somewhere else to run that you take water with you!
In the winter, I have a lot of LED lights that we don in order to be seen! I have an LED collar for Oakley and a headlamp and LED belt for me. I haven’t found a specific brand of any of these that works better than another, but all were ordered off Amazon and are rechargeable.
I hope this post helped with some questions you had or maybe even motivated you to attempt running with your dog! It is something that has personally helped me so much mentally as well as physically. Oakley loves running, so even on the days when I don’t want to, I know he does and it urges me to lace up anyways. The biggest takeaway, is to be safe and active with your dog, and reach out to your trusted vet if you have any concerns! Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about anything or to share your running milestones! I love hearing about friends running with their dogs!
– Rachel & Oakley
*Feel free to follow us @tills.and.oak and keep up with our running on our Running Highlight