Yesterday, the New York Times published an article highlighting the frustrations one owner experineced with her catahula mix. An avid runner, she had hoped her dog Mookie would be her new running partner. Unfortunately, Mookie preferred bumping and nipping at her instead of enjoying the exercise.
This isn’t to say that with proper re-training this dog’s natural instincts could be directed in such a way that he could BECOME a good running partner, but it does highlight just one issue dogs can have as fitness companions.
Born to run?
Some dogs are made to run, and some simply are not. But by asking a dog to go beyond his limitations is asking for trouble since it can easily cause overheating (such as in short-nosed breeds), joint problems, and other health risks that may take time to surface.
According to veterinarian Dr. Bruce Singbeil, it’s a very real issue. “I’ve seen cases where dogs have painful joint problems from running. It can wear down their cartiledge. People simply don’t realize that not all breeds were built for running five, three, or even one mile.”
So which dogs make the cut when it comes to going for a run?
I remember a 5k run I entered a few years ago to benefit a local animal welfare organization. As we left the starting line I could pick out who were the serious runners and the people simply out enjoying the morning. I, along with the woman next to me, couldn’t believe it when a young, muscular man sprinted by with his tiny pug. “That dog’s not going to make it,” I commented to my companion. “I don’t know…” she remarked with a hint of scorn. “He had that dog last year and they took first place.” Unfortunately, last year’s win was not to be repeated. Around mile 2, I spotted the man and dog on the side of the path. He was trying to coax on the dog who was wheezing uncontrollably and passed out on the grass. In this case, the dog tried his best but simply could not finish. Fortunately, he recovered and was okay.
Evaluating your dog
The most important information to find out is what your dog is bred for; If your dog is bred to run distances, sprint, or if simply playing around the backyard keep him fit. Small and toy breeds might seem like an obvious “cross out” on the running list. But you’d be surprised to see how many people decide to take them for a long jog. Herding dogs are often built for short bursts of speed, but not tests of great endurance. Even labradors may have a hard time dealing with very long runs. They tend to be built heavily and especially need to be slowly introduced to shorter mile-long runs. Farther than that may spell trouble, although American labradors are built lighter and made for more exercise. On the other hand, greyhounds love to sprint, whippets can go the distance, jack russel terriers can keep pace, and boxers seem to enjoy a good run along with some hunting breeds.
Does he have natural tendencies to make a good partner?
Certain dogs obviously enjoy the benefits of running and some, such as the dog in the New York Times story, would rather give chase than stay by your side. Are you willing to re-train a behavior issue standing in your way of enjoyment during a workout or would you rather run solo?
How old is your dog and what kind of shape is he in?
Just like humans, a dog cannot go from being a professional sofa-sitter to an athelete in one day. They need to build up their endurance over time. And while fitness might come more naturally to a dog, you still need to follow a workout routine he will be able to do. When it comes to age, different breeds age at different speeds. When your dog starts naturally slowing down, listen. And don’t try to create a middle-aged athelete that is really ready for retirement.
**Keep in mind that there are exceptions to how different breeds are built, but breed guidelines can give you a good guess at what your dog will have natural tendencies for.