By Joseph Hahn
(Univ. of IL, College of Veterinary Medicine)
Many people enjoy running or hiking with their dogs. "Training is the key," says Dr. Gerald Pijanowski, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana. "It is as important to train your dog to run or hike long distances as it is to train yourself."
Dr. Pijanowski recommends starting out slowly, putting the dog on a training schedule similar to your own. Begin a training regime by running or walking your dog around your neighborhood increasing the distance as you and your dog become conditioned. Once properly conditioned, trips on running or hiking trails can be attempted.
Nutrition is another consideration in training your dog. A complete and balanced diet will allow your dog to keep its energy up during a hike or run. The advice on feeding from Dr. Pijanowski is, "Do not run on a full stomach. Feed after the run and make sure your dog is rested and cooled down." This will help avoid an upset stomach during the exercise.
The biggest threat for your dog while running or hiking in the summer is the heat and humidity. "The early morning is the best time to run or hike with your dog. If the evenings cool off, then that can be a good time as well," says Dr. Pijanowski. "Dogs can quickly overheat, especially if they have a dark or heavy coat." If overheating occurs, Dr. Pijanowski suggests hosing down your pet with cool water and offering cold water to drink. It is important not to force feed your dog water, it will drink when ready.
The most common type of injury suffered by dogs that are running or hiking with their owners are footpad injuries. Dr. Pijanowski advises owners not to run with their dogs on hot pavement as this can easily lead to burns. Those hiking in the woods can get cuts and scrapes. While these are difficult to avoid, leather boots are available for those dogs that will be exercising on extremely rough ground or ice and snow. If your pet gets a cut or scrape, proper first aid care should be administered immediately. Finally, those dogs that run in grass can catch a nail on grass leading to any number of soft tissue or joint injuries. Keeping the nails trimmed is a good way to prevent this last type of injury.
Dr. Pijanowski encourages pet owners to, "Leash their pets and keep them under control at all times, especially in the woods." This will help your dog avoid trouble and out of the path of others. Good obedience training builds a solid foundation for the control necessary to run or hike with your dog. Dr. Pijanowski also suggests a short leash (4 to 6 feet in length) to help maintain control.
When should you start exercising with your dog? A dog can start running at any age. However, if you can start with a puppy, it will have an easier time with the training.
Are certain breeds better suited for this type of activity? While the larger, long legged dogs will have an easier time keeping up, some of the smaller active breeds, such as the Beagles, Shelties, and Border Collies, do very well running or hiking long distances.
When should a dog discontinue running or hiking with its owner? "If the dog is showing no signs of lameness and is willing to run, there is no reason to quit," he says. However, lameness can be something as simple as muscle soreness which is gone in one to two days or as complex as arthritis which will continue to worsen as the dog ages. It is important to visit your local veterinarian to determine the cause of the lameness and your dog's ability to continue exercising.
Using common sense when hiking or running with your dog will make it an activity that can be enjoyed safely for a long time. For further information contact your local veterinarian.