When I take my dog on a run with me, she is on a leash about 95% if the time. That other 5% of the time is mostly free runs in the Owyhee desert, where my husband is in charge of her. Why do I keep her on a leash the rest of the time?
- I often run where it is required
- I don’t want to risk not being able to control her around other dogs or strangers
- I understand that loose dogs are often seen as a threat
There are three main goals when running with my dog:
- I don’t get hurt
- She doesn’t get hurt
- Other people don’t get hurt
While I try not to be an alarmist, I do tend toward cautious much of the time. Trouble could come from me tripping on her leash. Or she could be injured by getting tangled, stepped on, or attacked by other dogs. People we pass might get hurt if their dogs interact unexpectedly with her, or by her moving unexpectedly in front of them. Having a leash can just help me relax and enjoy my run more.
A leash helps avoid trouble, but also introduces some things to be careful of. Sometimes other people don’t seem in control even with a leash, giving the impression that their large dogs could break free at any moment. Other times, owners try so hard to give the dog the illusion of freedom that the leash is a hazard to everyone around. A runner needs to have a better trained dog, while being prepared to deal with all the untrained dogs and people. Here are some suggestions for making running with a dog safer and more enjoyable.
1. Train you dog not to pull on the leash. The way I did this was for both my dog and I to attend classes teaching the Koehler method of dog training. (Here in the Boise area, you can look up Scotchpines Dog Training.) There is a book, The Koehler Method of Dog Training: Certified Techniques by Movieland’s Most Experienced Dog Trainer, written by William Koehler, but it is currently out of print and relatively expensive. However, it is less than the cost of classes. We have a copy and found a useful for ongoing training and problem solving new situations.
2. Train your dog to heel and stop in position as you move and stop. Again, the same training suggestions as above.
3. Spend time giving your dog commands at home as part of your regular routine. My dog seems to find comfort in knowing what I expect and that I can communicate directions to her that she understands. I find all of the training useful at home.
4. Understand your dog’s limits. If your dog is young or out of shape, don’t run too far. Run in weather that doesn’t physically stress your dog. Realize that a dog’s body doesn’t cool down well enough to go fast for very long. The trot is not just a matter of being stubborn – it is the safe, survivable speed for any significant distances.
5. Choose routes that fit your dog’s capabilities and temperament. If your dog is afraid of vehicles, run on foot paths. If she is nervous in crowds, use less frequented areas or run when it isn’t crowded. If your dog’s paws are not used to asphalt, be aware of how rocky or sharp the surfaces are. That is one benefit of me being a barefoot runner. I am very aware of what my dog’s paws are encountering. If you have longer distance abilities than your dog, but you want to take her, consider a route that lets you put her in a cool, well-ventilated car at some point in the run, while you get back out there.
6. Remember that the more you take your dog out running, the more opportunity for training in behavior and increasing her strength. You will both get better at being a team.
1. Hold the leash so that your arms can swing as naturally as possible. I do this by having one end in my right hand, leash loop over the thumb per Koehler method, and then drape the leash loosely through my left hand, which is the side my dog runs on. This keeps the leash at a good length and gives me the ready option to use both arms for “corrections” without straining one arm or some fingers. She follows verbal commands and hand signals well, but if out and about, I have to be ready for the unexpected.
2. Take time to give commands (aka directions) or corrections, as necessary in the first part of the run. My dog is usually a bit excited right at first, but it is misplaced patience to be lax of the rules of the run. It just confuses her and opens up the possibility of mishap. The slight interruption is worth it for the rest of the run, which will be more pleasant as a result.
3. If there are passing dogs or people that are out of control, or small children on wheeled devices, consider stopping a few seconds before they get to you. With your dog in a stopped heel or down stay, the situation is more under control. The dog feels this, too, and often relaxes. If you are doing MAF training, this is pretty easy to accommodate during the run. I was recently very politely thanked by a 10 year old boy for making her sit, because he was nervous around dogs.
4. Watch your dog’s reaction as people approach. My dog passes many people just fine, and gets comments from them about being so well behaved, but if someone is staring at her or their faces are obscured a lot by sunglasses and hats, it can make her uneasy.
5. If other people’s dogs are not clearly controlled, or my dog seems nervous about them getting close, I frequently try to pass in a way that puts me between her and them, but –
6. Sometimes, the safest thing to do is slow to a walk, so that there is less risk of tripping on her leash, like if the other dogs lunge and she feels protective. When a couple of large dogs on the other side of the path are growling and straining violently on their leashes, it is hard to fault her for being a little nervous. Sometimes, I am even wondering if the owners have the strength to be dealing with such dogs!
7. Your dog can learn that a run is not the time to relieve itself. To help out in this regard, don’t feed the poor thing just prior to taking her out for a run. Also, try to give her a little outside time before hand. Then, basically, just don’t stop for potty breaks for the dog. In over 7 years of running with my dog, she has only had trouble controlling events a handful of times. Most of those were in the first couple of years, when we both were learning.
8. Have some options in mind for loose dogs, like:
- Call out for an owner, even if you can’t see one
- Watch the loose dog – if you have time – for indications of aggressiveness or friendliness.
- Speak firmly, and yell if necessary, in a deep voice if you need to keep them at a distance.
- Remember to check for traffic before making any sudden moves.
- If a loose dog attacks, be prepared to let go of the leash. This is safest for both you and your dog at this point. Yes, I have had to do this.
- Look for longish sticks to wave off or swat the other dog with.
- Carry a phone at all times.
- Do not discipline your dog for defending your of herself.
9. Watch your dog for signs that she has run far enough. You are not training her for a marathon. She wants the companionship, some activity, and a little adventure, but there is no need to be a drill sergeant. Dragging your dog along is bad for your running form, anyway.
10. Give your dog positive feedback throughout the run. When she passes crazy dogs nicely. When she is heeling perfectly. When she nudges the side of your leg to say hello. When she is done with the run.
11. Some people suggest carrying water, but my dog will not have anything to do with water until after the run, and sometimes not until she gets home. The exception is the long runs in the desert, where she will sometimes drink anything she finds. Blech.
I don’t take my dog running every time I run, but she knows when I am putting on my running clothes. Then, she looks at me with those puppy dog eyes so hopefully. When I do say “come,” I do believe she smiles.