Running long distance with a dog

How to run long distance with a dog

I’ve logged more than 10,000 miles running with more than 100 dogs of different sizes, ages, energy levels and breeds. While most dogs can handle running for shorter distances, what about running long distance with a dog?

The following are some of my own tips along with some advice from two others – a veterinarian and a fellow professional dog runner.

Tips for running long distance with a dog

Running long distance with a dog

For the sake of this post and helping people get started with long-distance running, let’s assume anything over 6 miles is long distance.

Slowly increase the miles with your dog

If your goal is to run 6 miles with your dog, make sure she’s OK running 3 or 4 miles for a couple of weeks. Use common sense and start out conservatively.

Running long distance with a dog

Running should be a positive experience for the dog, said dog runner Sarah Zwerin of Paws & Go in Marin County, Calif. She’s pictured holding her dog Obi.

“If the dog is looking exhausted, we’ll stop, sniff, greet others, and then get moving again for another half-mile or mile,” she said. “Eventually, their endurance will pick up, and you can go for longer stints without needing to stop.”

Once Zwerin is familiar with a dog, she said she offers up to 90-minute running sessions that cover up to 8.5 miles.

Pay attention to your dog’s behavior while running

Most dogs (although not all!) will tell you if they need to slow down by dragging behind. You should never force a dog to keep up, but sometimes it helps to use an encouraging voice – “Yeah, Ace! Come on, boy!”

Signs a dog needs a break could include:

  • Heavy panting
  • Dragging behind
  • A long tongue
  • More drool or “foam” around the mouth than usual
  • The weather is hotter or more humid than usual
  • Limping
  • The dog tries to stop or lie down, especially in shady areas
  • The dog shows more interest than usual in stopping to sniff or pee on things

Realize some dogs don’t have an ‘off switch’ while running

My mutt Ace will literally chase a tennis ball until he hurts himself or collapses. I have to physically remove the ball or put him on a leash to stop him.

Certain dogs are the same way with running as Ace is with chasing a ball. They will run until they reach exhaustion. They seem to lack the ability to stop until their bodies physically can’t go on. Until you know your dog’s limits, keep the distances a little slower and shorter than you think he can handle.

Check for sore or worn paw pads during runs

When a dog runs on pavement or concrete every day, he will naturally develop tougher, calloused paws. A dog that is not used to running on harder surfaces may have softer paws that could get sore or “scuffed.”

“Puppies have very sensitive paws as they have not become calloused yet,” said Dr. Thomas Watson, owner of Carolinas Veterinary Medical Hospital in Charlotte, N.C. “It is very easy to rub their paws raw or burn their feet on hot concrete.”

If your dog wears through his pads while running, he may not show any signs of pain until after the run. That’s why it’s important to stop and check the bottom of your dog’s paws every 10 minutes or so when you first increase his miles.

Watson recommends dog owners take their dogs running on smooth, even trails or roads as much as possible because gravel and pebbles can hurt a dog’s feet.

Running long distance with a dog

Watch for stiffness in your dog after a run

If your dog appears stiff and sore after every single run, then you should decrease his miles a bit or give him a day or two of rest between each run. You should talk to your dog’s vet if you have any concerns about injuries or joint issues with your dog.

 Speed is a factor when running with your dog

Dogs are better equipped to be sprinters than marathoners, according to Watson. “But with proper training and slower paces they are able to become distance runners.”

He said running is an excellent form of exercise for the right breeds, and some are better runners than others.

For example, Watson’s 12-year-old dalmatian mix ran 12 miles this spring when the weather was cooler. “He has been running all of his life and is used to the longer distances,” Watson said. “Just like people who are runners, they need to build up to the longer distances.”

He recommends starting out with a 10-minute-per-mile pace or slower and gradually building up speed and distance.

Through my own dog running business, I’ve noticed the dogs tend to walk fast or “trot” beside me as long as I maintain a slow pace. If the dog has to actually run (looks like a gallop), he won’t be able to maintain the pace for long.

Zwerin pointed out how a dog may do quite a bit of pulling, marking or sniffing during the first mile or so.

After that “their energy starts to become focused on running – rather than the novelty of being outside – and a rhythm is more easily achieved.”

Running long distance with a dog - Boy the pitull

Provide an opportunity for water while running

No one likes to run while holding a leash and a water bottle, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

On hot days, Zwerin said she tries to take a route that has an area for the dogs to get water, too.

“Carrying a water bottle is tricky,” she said. “It’s bulky, heavy, awkward to hold, and with up to three dogs with me sometimes, it runs out quickly.”

Of course, on really hot days, there’s no getting around it and her water bottle of choice for the dogs is called the Gulpy.

Watson said many dogs won’t drink during a run even if they need it.

“A squirt bottle works well to open their mouth and force a small amount,” he said.

Can small dogs run long distance?

Running long distance with a dog

Some can! It’s not so much about the size of the dog. It’s about your dog’s energy level, body build and endurance.

“They’re equally eager to burn their energy off, too,” said Zwerin, who regularly runs with two “sister” dogs under 15 pounds.

“I’ve pushed them to do 5-and-a-half miles a handful of times,” she said. “And though they finished, they were wiped by the end.”

Can large or giant dog breeds go running?

It depends on the individual dog. When I’m running with larger breeds, I try to let them set the pace. They tend to run a little slower than smaller dogs, and we might cover less distance.

Watson said giant breeds may not be ideal runners, but they can do OK if the distance is kept under 2 miles. He also mentioned giant breeds should wait until they are at least a year old before they start running. More details on that below.

When is a puppy old enough to go running?

Running long distance with a dog
I hesitate to tell people not to take their young dogs running. Exercise is important for a dog’s health, and it also helps with training and socializing.

Still, I often hear that dogs shouldn’t go running until they are 12 to 18 months old, so I asked Watson for his opinion.

By the time most dogs are 6 months old, their musculoskeletal systems have grown to about 75 to 80 percent of their adult size, he said.

He gave some general recommendations on when it’s safe to start running with a dog based on the dog’s predicted size at maturity:

  • For dogs expected to weigh less than 60 pounds at maturity: Start running when the pup is between 6 and 8 months old
  • For dogs expected to weigh between 60 and 100 pounds: Start running when the pup is between 8 and 12 months old
  • For dogs expected to weigh more than 100 pounds: Start running when the dog is between 12 and 18 months old (giant breeds tend to have more problems with juvenile bone diseases during their growth phase, so extra care should be taken during this time)

Of course, it’s always best to start out slowly and with short distances, regardless of the pup’s size.

Zwerin said she started running with her dog Obi once he was about 9 months old. She increased the distance to 4 miles or more once he was about a year old.

“We were at the point where when we’d go for off-leash hikes or walks, he’d run ahead of us most of the time,” she said. “I took that as a green light for running with him, and in turn, making sure he kept up with me.”

For more details: When can a puppy start running?

What advice do the rest of you have about running long distance with a dog?

Related posts:

Ultra marathon training with your dog

Training sled dogs for Yukon Quest

43 thoughts on “Running long distance with a dog”

  1. I can’t run (or don’t like to), so my dogs don’t. But we do walk a lot. Many of these tips can apply for walking too. Keeping hydrated and not overdoing it is still a factor, especially with the weather we’ve been having. I hope a lot of people read this and follow your advice. Great information!!!

  2. I’ve been running with my dog since she was about 6/7 months old (she’s about 1.5yrs now, full of GSP cray cray). She seems to handle any distance well, and i try to go places I can safely leave her off leash and we have access to some sort of water to cool her off with. There are two products I recommend:

    For the off-leash set:
    This isn’t for walking on the sidewalk, it’s for when you intend to have a lot of off-leash time.

    and for everyone in hot areas this summer:
    It is so little, it will fit in a key pocket. SO USEFUL. I have a small hand held waterbottle, with a pocket, and i can get my girl enough water with this.

  3. I love running with my dogs. My lab helped me train for a marathon last year. We ran shorter distances a few times a week, and then she would run part of my long runs with me. I didn’t feel comfortable with her running more than 6.5 miles, but really didn’t see an impact on her like Lindsay outlined, so maybe I could have taken her on longer runs! It was a bummer that she couldn’t join me at the race, considering how far she trained with me. She didn’t like to drink, even when I brought the foldable travel bowl with me. I’ll have to use the squirt bottle in the future – great idea.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Dogs are the best marathon training partners, even if they can’t go along for the whole distance. I took my dog on a 20-mile training run when he was a little over a year old. He did great! This was after he’d been training for a while already, of course. And I was no speed demon.

  4. Atlas and me have been running for about 6 months now, he’s a Australian Cattle Dog. We wear the Ruffwear Omnijore Joring system, Mainly keeping to sidewalks in town and paved paths at the park.

    It was difficult for Atlas to ignore all the cars and squirrels when we began but he’s getting much better. Takes practice and patience. We had a scare when he decided to leap off the sidewalk and into the street in the attempt to chase a car. I bought a electronic collar and ran with the remote on the lowest setting. It’s really just enough to grab his attention. Taking that on a few runs solved the problem with no fuss. It never effected his drive level or desire to run.

    I also notice that when we’ve been running on pavement for a while, regardless of the temperature, he may start to drift to the side and run in the grass. At first I corrected him for this. Teaching him we run on the right side of the path. After more time I realized his paws were irritating him and that he wanted something softer to run on. It’s just another indicator of how your dog is feeling and something to look out for.

    Great article.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks Zach. Good point about the dog wanting to run on the grass. It’s important to pay attention to what they’re trying to tell us.

  5. As a professional dog walker/runner and a rhodesian owner, I run dogs Monday through Saturday. Thanks for the awesome article! As a rule of thumb I always run at a slow enough pace for the dog to trot. My rhodesian really likes running at a fast pace so I tend to go faster with her, but that’s also in her breed! I think once you get comfortable with the client its easier to know their limits and pace! When in doubt always start slow!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yep. That’s what i do too. I start out slow until I get to know the dog and what speed/distance the dog can handle.

  6. Hi, my dogs prefer an off leash running than leashed jogging/walking anytime. A couple of times when I tried to run with them, they tired out easily and would find a grassy patch to lie down. My chihuahua seems to cope better with leashed jogging than my golden. Both are about 1.5 yrs old.

    I do not enjoy the start/stop whereby they sniff and mark. I hope one day I can pick up jogging with them again. Right now it is just letting them run free in confined space twice a day.

    1. thank you for all the invaluable tips given here, I do have a question: How do you pace the run when you have a golden retriever, a chihuahua and a cocker spaniel running together with you? And appreciate if anyone would comment which is better – the normal dog leash or the running belt that can link a few leashes to it.


      1. Lindsay Stordahl


        I prefer to hold the leashes so I can have better control of the dogs, but it’s a personal preference. Sometimes when I’m running with multiple dogs, it helps to clip the two best-behaved dogs together with a leash attachment.

        Also, when running with multiple dogs, I always have to adjust the pace to go as fast as the slowest dog can handle. It’s the same as running with a group of friends, I guess.

        1. Thanks Lindsay, I never think of the meeting the pace of the slowest dog. It makes a lot of sense. I will the next time i try to run with them.

  7. I use a Chaco leash when I run with my dog:

    The leash is awesome because the loop is adjustable. I make is big enough to slip crossways over my torso (like a sash). This keeps my hands free so I can keep good running form. Actual running leashes are too long for me (I’m 5’4″); when I hook them around my waist the extra just drags on the ground or gets caught in my dog’s legs. This leash give my dog enough distance to be to the side of behind me with some slack, without being able to stray too far if she loses concentration (SQUIRREL!) and breaks heel. The loop on the Chaco leash has a clasp on it too, so it can be hooked around things (trees, sign posts, whatever) if you need to step away from your dog for a minute.

    Also, I wear a small fuel belt and keep a few things in there for me and the dog – my ID, my car or house key, fuel blocks, some dog treats, and bags. The first time I went on a long run with her in the spring when it was nice enough to wear actual shorts, I faced a conundrum because I didn’t have pockets to put anything in! The pocket on a pair of running shorts is only so big.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Which fuel belt do you use? The one I had was just way too bulky and bouncy. I ended up throwing it away. But I need something for my keys and of course bags. Pockets are not always the best.

  8. My husband and I adopted a dog two weeks ago. He’s been really good on the leash, even though we were told he didn’t go for walks when he was fostered. When I tried running with him the first time, he started out a little rough and it got worse from there. He dug in his heels and refused to budge at a couple of points, although we did have one stretch where he trotted along in perfect heel position head down, ears back, tail down. Since then we’ve been working on walking more getting him into that “travelling” mindset. He’s more loose leash than formal heel, but he does not pull when we’re on walks. Any tips for translating the walking success into running?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Do you think he dug his “heels” in to stop because he was overwhelmed? I’m wondering if he will be more interested in running once he’s been out for more walks and has a chance to feel more comfortable in the different environments. Sometimes I will run ahead using an excited voice, like, “Wooo! Yeah, Ace! Let’s go!” This gets a lot of dogs excited about picking up the pace.

      1. It could have just been a case of too much too fast for him. He seemed a little extra energetic this morning on our walk, so I gave running a try again. It went much better this time. I did shorter running sessions broken up by walking. I also tried your tip of talking to him most of the time. I found that helped a lot for when his attention started to wander. He did have a few sections on the way back where he slowed up and dragged behind a bit, but there was no digging in of the heels this time. Thanks for your advice!

  9. Fantastic piece! Would you recommend the above information for a “fearful” do to? My dog is on the anxious side, so she’ll do the stiff-leg thing when she hears a noise she isn’t familiar with or sees a person or animal she doesn’t like. Luckily we live in a pretty rural area.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks! Just saw your tweet as well. Nice dog blog you have. I have gone running with a couple of shy dogs. I’d say it all depends on the dog. I like to slowly increase their comfort level without pushing them too far. Sometimes it helps to turn around when they are scared and head back home, but then once you get home just keep going right past the house and sometimes they have forgotten about their fear by then – at least for a while!

  10. Don’t run with your dog when it’s hot. Run with your dog only when its 70 degrees or cooler outside at the *end* of your run. I enjoy running with my dog and run early in the mornings when it is cooler, but left my dog at home as the summer weather became hotter after I observed signs of heat injury to my dog, who is large but has very short hair. It may be best to just enjoy walks with your dog in the park in summer.

    You can also teach your dog to drink from a Camelbak type pack or an inverted water bottle for hydration!

  11. Great article. I agree wholeheartedly that running is excellent exercise for a dog, so long as the owner is cognizant of the dog’s “need for a break.” I will often take our dog (2 yr old Australian Shelherd) on 8 mile mountain bike rides in the hills behind our house in Glendale, Ca, but have to slow down coming back downhill so the dog can maintain pace. She typically runs out ahead of the bike both ways if possible.

    Unfortunately I can’t go mountain biking every day, so during the work week I take her (and our other shepherd mix, but separately) on short, ~1 mile (5 minute) bike sprints on a leash around our neighborhood. I feel this is a great way to give the dogs some exercise in a short amount of time. Each morning our Aussie enthusiastically paces until I say “bike ride” and we head to the garage. She practically pulls me around the neighborhood, and I never go fast enough to the point where the bike is in front. This practice can be dangerous for me as there is the possibility of the dog cutting in front of the bike, but I’ve only gone over the handlebars twice in 5 years of running dogs, and the dogs learn quickly to stay next to me. I feel the this risk is worth it for our high energy dogs to get the exercise, and it gives the Aussie her chance to herd me on the bike once each day (her job).

    Today, however, I had an elderly woman in an SUV follow me around our neighborhood, roll down her window, and yell “stop!” I did, and she proceeded to lecture me about how I was running my dog too fast and that it was cruel to the dog. My dogs are always in front of or beside the bike, FYI. I told her that the runs were good exercise and that the dogs loved them. She told me that my dog could not talk to me, and that I was being cruel. I asked her how she knew this was a cruel practice (I have a high energy, 2 year old Aussie!) and she said that she was much older than me (fact) and thus knew that running or sprinting a dog short distances was cruel. I said thanks but I disagree and was out of there.

    Any thoughts? I do these rides for my dogs, and they are much better behaved the days they get their bike rides…as I feel they need the exercise. Does anyone think there is any merit to what the lady who yelled at me said? She said nothing about the ride being dangerous (it is, but so is driving in LA), but thought I was being cruel to my animal.

    I appreciate the opportunity to vent.

    And yes, the dogs love to drink from my camelback when mountain biking.

    1. Well, I’m no expert, but I think you were well within your rights to tell that woman to shove it! Your dogs are probably well-exercised and happy, but I kinda feel sorry for this woman. Is she so lonely and bored in her life that she has nothing better to do than chase down strangers and lecture them about their dogs? I bet she goes home at night to nothing but an over-weight, hyper, yappy, but perfectly-groomed shih tzu. She cleans the puppy pads all over her house because letting her dog outside to relieve himself would be “too dangerous”. She then tries to watch re-runs of the Golden Girls for 4 hours, but is constantly distracted because she “has to” keep looking out her window, making sure the neighbor’s children are not roller-blading without helmets.

      Well, that’s how I picture these people, anyways.

    2. I get similar comments all the time about running my miniature Pinscher. Hes about to turn 4 and he weighs about 11lbs when the weathers is nice and it goes down to 9lbs when it’s bad. (All muscle mass we live in western WA and both hate to run in the rain). I’ve taken him on half marathons and was shocked when other runners thought they had the right to weigh in on his being there. Peoples reactions ranged from making fun of us, asking if I cross trained by carrying him, to telling me to my face I was abusive. The next day we got up early and he dragged my on a 5-mile hill run :).
      I noticed though that the negative people were the ones with the most to say. We’d get passed by a good looking runner (nice stride, no stress) and they’d look is over and nod or give a short ” good dog/job” It was the ignorant jerks who couldn’t wait to spew negativity tgat wouldn’t shut up. :/
      As long as you know your pups capabilities and your vet can’t see a physical problem there’s no reason to listen to the advise that random idiots shout from their cars.

  12. Awesome article!! For those having a hard time convincing their pups to drink water I’ve found that adding a little bit of chicken broth does the trick!! My GSD loves going for our runs but hates drinking water during and afterwards. As soon as I add chicken broth you’d think I was giving him straight chicken!! It goes down beautifully!! Low sodium of course!! Also, I have to say I love running with my dog he keeps me on pace and since we run late at night after I get off work i always feel safe when he’s with me!

  13. Great post & tips. Lola went running with us A LOT last year and we participated in a 5k together. We did have to be careful on really humid days though and watch her energy level. We worked up to running about 5 miles at the most and she did amazing (it was me who was breaking down). This year we haven’t ran much mostly because I’m out of shape but we’ll be getting out soon with both Lola & Rio now!

  14. Joe Wallendorff

    I have been running with my Lab who is now 22 months old and I learned the other day what not to do. I made several mistakes: I knew he could go up to 10 miles with no trouble at all but not at race pace. During a 7.5 trail run his legs got real rubbery and I had to force him down before he twisted something. We were near a water stop and he rested about 15 minutes while I did the short out and back. Later he went down again this time without water and I had to stop for 20 minutes and fan him. We made it another water stop then he was fine the rest of the race. Each time he was wanting to start running again and would look back at me to come on. My mistakes were that I wanted to race and so did he. (he’s not had any speed work). The race was at 5:30 PM and very hot, we should have just had fun. He’s now my training partner not racing partner on anything over a 5K.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That makes sense, especially since you must run at a good pace during races. I find that most dogs are not able to maintain a quick speed. I am not a very fast runner. I typically run at about a 10-minute per mile pace and the dogs are usually running behind me after the first mile or so.

      There are exceptions, though! I have not met a Lab that can maintain a fast pace, but I’ve met some pointers and a Doberman that I was never able to tire out.

  15. a great article. I compete in endurance horse riding and my 2 dogs are my number 1 training buddies. Whether it’s beach or mountain training they always get excited about it. But having struggled to find anyone else who works their dogs hard I have always wondered if the long distances (20-40km at a time at a horses fast trot or canter) would do any long term damage and people often seemed shocked that I ask them to run that far.
    My collie x retriever copes the best and is still bouncing around at the end, while the lab x staff has taken some getting used to which due to the breeding I knew she would need to more time to adjust to the distance and speed.
    Especially since I’m on horse back and their legs are much shorter than the horses! it’s a fairly decent pace to keep up with. With breaks for swims and drinks at water crossings and such as the horse needs them too.
    But I feel better knowing that I’m not alone in this!

  16. We rescued our very first Staffy, Lulu, after another rescue, our Smittie, a Boxer mix passed after 14 years. Smittie would run with me a few times a week and since we live near the coast, could tolerate 3-5 miles at a 8-10 minute mile pace.
    Then one day, at around 5 years of age, she stopped in the middle of a run. I literally had to walk her home. It wasn’t too warm, I didn’t think at the time, but I watched her for symptoms and she recovered quickly after we got home.
    I decided to try again at another cooler part of another day And the same thing happened. At that time I realized that running is not good for some dogs with an underbite and barrel chest. I realized that it was hard for her to pant and oxygenate due to her anatomy. Try to jut your chin out past your upper palate and breathe through your mouth! Then run and do it! I thought at this point I was on to something since many boxers pass from boxer cardiomyopathy. Their bodies are simply too athletic for their facial structure so the lack of oxygenation during intense exercise is very possibly hard on their heart. Long story shorter, Smittie enjoyed zoomies and long walks but never ran distance again. She lived 14 years and was very healthy to the end.
    Fast forward to Lulu. Girl can’t get enough exercise! Barely warms up at 3 miles into a run. Her pace is CRAZY fast. She’s young and needs the exercise! SO We started training her to cycle with us in order to drain her energy.
    First, Must have a easy riding bike like a beach cruiser. I hold the leash lightly in my left hand and I do not allow her to pull. I talk to her the whole time Giving command and praising her. Leave its are in order until she gets a bit more tired. Also, Slow Down and Turning are some commands. She loves it SO much and it really drains her energy. By about 1.5 – 2 miles in, she finally relaxes and runs at an easy pace. We take frequent water breaks (riders squirt bottle). She is so calm the rest of the day! I treat her to a heeling /loose leash walk around early evening. She is really becoming balanced through this form of energy release.
    Believe me, it was scary the first few times I had her out there on a bike! It was Unbelievable how a short 50 lb dog could pull me @ 138lbs or hubs at 190lbs!!
    Maintaining the same commands while running or walking is the way we figured it works best. Pulling creates too much excitement for her. Also, we go down a shady path in a cooler time of day. We’re at the point that we can pass other dogs and she stays in her heel! That’s an accomplishment since she’s super dog social.
    She’s super relaxed for the rest of the day after this. Anyone else out there discovered this as a feasible form of exercise for their pup?

  17. @toofast ! Being in tune to your dogs needs led you to start biking with them. That judgmental lady didn’t know that part! But Maybe she’d seen people running or cycling their dogs previously where the dog was struggling and the pet parent was oblivious to it. It caught her nerve. It definitely was NOT the case with you.
    I’m glad I realized my Smittie wasn’t going to be a runner. That might have contributed to her very long life. (See my above EXTREMELY LONG POST LOL)
    NTL keep up the good work!

  18. Hi! I loved your article because a week ago a vet terrified me about running with my dog. They told me that I was doing irreperable damage because she was too young (she didn’t even saw my dog). My dog is a Rhodesian Ridgeback and she is gonna be 1 year old in 2 weeks. I waited until she was 8 months old to start increasing distace/repetition and trained her as I trained myself at the beggining (increasing 0.5 miles/2 weeks). We were running 5 miles by now. Truth is, she is so big, that she only walks fast by my side even if I run at a 9 min/mile peace. After each milage increase I checked her paws, legs and made sure after resting for a while she recovered all of her energy. It took her about 8 hours to go to the front door trying to get out again. Did I did it wrong?

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