Taking your dog trail running is the ultimate way to further strengthen the bond you have with your canine companion. What could be better than running free together in the wild? Trial running with your dog is guaranteed to make them love you even more, and you’ll get loads out of it too. Your pup not only offers company, and a welcome distraction when the going gets tough, but they are also motivational experts, offering endless amounts of enthusiasm for the task in hand.
It goes without saying that your hairy hound will absolutely love coming running with you. But to make trail running with your dog as fun and safe as possible, it’s important to consider their needs when choosing your routes, gear, training and distances etc. You want them to keep coming back for more, right?!
13 tips for safe and fun trail running with your dog
So to make sure you both have the best time running on the trail together, take a read of these top tips for trail running with your dog:
01Consider the breed and age of your dog
Before you even think about taking your hound out trail running, it’s important to consider whether your dog is up to it, or not. You wouldn’t take your Gramps out on a 10-miler if he hadn’t put his runners on for a decade. Nor would you expect your sprinter buddy to keep up with you for more than a few hundred metres. Exactly the same applies to your dog. If you’re not sure if Fido is fit for the trail then consult your vet. And certainly don’t head out trail running with a dog before it is fully grown.
02Build up slowly
Once you’ve got the go-ahead from your vet to get out trail running with your dog, try not to get over-excited and jump straight into a long and difficult run. Most dogs are used to running for a bit, stopping for a pee, running some more, stopping to sniff, trotting until they find something else to sniff and pee on, etc, etc. Sustained running with limited sniff and pee stops will be a shock to their doggie system. So build up the distance slowly. And gradually decrease their stopping frequency too.
03Opt for a harness instead of a collar
Harnesses are generally more comfortable than a collar for your dog to wear when used with a leash — especially if your dog is a puller! They also allow you to have more control over your dog if they are prone to running after rabbits and other dogs.
04Use an appropriate leash system
Very well trained dogs do well leashed to a belt system such as this Ruffwear Trail Runner System. The quick release system adds an important element of safety. However, a hand-held leash is generally a better option than a waist leash for most dogs. Hand leashes allow you to have much more control over your dog. And you are much less likely to get dragged over if your dog takes off unexpectedly.
05Keep your leash short
It’s tempting to give your hound some freedom when trail running, and opt for a long leash. But this opens up a whole load of opportunities for chaos. Your dog can easily stop suddenly, or run in the opposite direction to the one you are running in. This is less than ideal when you’re flying downhill! Keeping them close to your side makes it clear to them what’s going on. They are also less likely to get distracted by smells and animals on the sides of the trail.
06Take treats and reinforce the positives
A good way to get your hound used to sticking by your side is through positive feedback — and treats! Carry a few in your pocket and they’ll be much more interested in you than any of the trail smells. Plus, if you’re getting some good miles in, the treats will help give a good energy boost.
07Choose a dog friendly trail
Be sure to check that the route you choose to go trail running with your dog is safe and appropriate. Just like hiking with your hound, some trails restrict access to dogs for their own safety, as well as for the protection of wildlife etc. And some trails are just not fun to run on with a dog — especially if there is dense foliage or the risk of running into a dangerous animal. Opt for wide routes in relatively open areas, away from natural hazards like cliffs.
08Give them a chance to rest
Most dogs would run themselves to exhaustion given the chance — stopping to rest is simply not on their agenda. So it’s important that you give them opportunities to take a break — even if they think they don’t need one.
A well planned route will have plenty of places for your pooch to rehydrate. However, allowing your dog to drink from wild sources of water can pose the same risks as for humans. Carry a bottle with you if you are worried about what’s in the water. Or bring a small water filter.
10Prevent your dog from overheating
Just as dogs don’t know that it’s important to rest every now and then, they also don’t know how to regulate their own body temperatures. They’ll keep going, regardless of the temperature. So avoid running in the hottest parts of the day and opt for shady routes that follow streams or lakes. If you can, make them lie down in the water to cool off, or give them a good splashing!
11Deal with the poop!
Some people plan their run around disposal bins so that they only have to carry a bag of poop for a short distance. However, this is not always possible and it can also be highly restricting to your route planning. An excellent solution to this problem is bagging out the poop in a Turdlebag. Secure the bag on a belt around your waist with zero chance of leakage!
12Train them to stay behind
This allows you to set the pace preventing your pup from charging off ahead and either pulling you faster than you’d prefer, or running out of steam early on in the run. It also helps to keep your dog safe from any potential dangers on the trail.
13Respect other trail users
As dog lovers, it’s easy to forget that not everyone feels the same way about our four-legged friends as we do. Be sure to keep your pup on a leash around other people and dogs, and always yield to other trail users. For more information on respecting the trail and its users, take our Leave No Trace Principles Quiz.
Going trail running with your dog is a wonderful and joyous way to enjoy time together in an environment that you both love. Plan well and stay safe, and you’ll be an unstoppable trail-blazing dream team for many years to come!