“She looks like a rat. Or a gremlin. A gremlin rat dog.” My husband had just met Paloma, a Chihuahua that had happened to come to live with us after a series of unfortunate and unbelievable events. I never would’ve chosen a Chihuahua. I was an athletic person. What could you do with a Chihuahua? “Maybe she can hike with us, if I get a backpack to put her in,” I said, as cheerfully as I could muster. I searched the Interweb. “Look, here’s one that’s not pink!”
We soon learned that most of our assumptions about having a small dog were wrong. To my delight, Paloma loved running. A tiny gremlin dog who weighs just 7 lbs. (3kg) became my running partner.
In my previous post, I talked about how running with your dog can go wrong. Here, I’m going to talk about how to get it right.
Walk Before You Run
Before you run with your dog, your dog should understand how to walk next to you on a loose leash. The basic principle of loose-leash walking is this: Your dog should learn that walking next to you is more awesome than forging ahead or lagging behind. Reward your dog for getting it right! Your dog will associate good things happening to him when he walks next to you and repeat that behavior.
Though she was three years old when she came to live with us, Paloma didn’t know how to walk on a leash. She caught on to loose-leash walking quickly, as she learned that walking next to me meant that yummy cheese would jump out of my pocket and into her mouth. You can learn more about loose-leash walking/running here.
Use the Right Equipment
Never run (or walk) with your dog on a choke or prong collar. These devices stop the unwanted behavior of the dog pulling on the leash by causing pain to your dog’s neck. These aversive devices have also been associated with behavioral problems such as fearfulness and aggression. You wouldn’t want to be choked or pinched for running too fast or too slow, would you?
Suzette Nicolini (CPDT-KA)* walked her Mastiffs, dogs that can grow to be 200lbs (90kg), on a flat buckle collar. She emphasizes the importance of teaching loose-leash walking, “The size and power of a dog shouldn’t be a factor in choosing a collar—the collar is just a tool for leash attachment. Pulling is a training issue. So, we should learn how to teach our dogs to want to walk with us.”
Avoid retractable leashes. The risk for injury, to both humans and dogs, is high and they make it more difficult to control your dog and keep her safe.
Paloma runs on a flat buckle collar. If we are running on hilly trails, she wears a harness where the leash attaches at the back, right over her shoulder blades. Front-attaching harnesses should not be used for running, as the straps can compress the shoulders in a way that can cause tendonitis. Head collars should be used with caution, as stopping suddenly can wrench a dog’s neck and cause injury.
During Your Run
Pay attention to the weather and terrain. Your dog will overheat before you will, and your dog’s paws are sensitive to hot sidewalks, snow, ice, and salt. Plan water stops if it’s warm.
Remember to ask these two questions:
- Is my dog feeling safe?
- Is my dog having fun?
Cindy Rich (KPA-CTP)**, an expert in training small dogs, also offers this advice, “Be aware of what the world looks like from your dog’s point of view. Know what may startle your dog.” This is especially important if you’re running with a small dog. Your feet may look like an AT-AT Walker to a small dog.
Reinforce your dog’s good behavior and reward your dog for getting it right. These days, I run with a treat bag that holds a small bag of cut-up cheese and poop bags. If you want to skip the treat bag, cheese sticks tuck nicely in the waistband of running shorts or under a sports bra strap. Though it’s a mild inconvenience, it’s worth it to continue to make running fun for my dog.
After Your Run
Dogs are prone to the same kinds of ailments as human athletes: muscle soreness, fatigue, and dehydration. Check paws for sores or foreign objects.
You may have heard this adage in some form, “A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.” While it is true that dogs need exercise, an over-tired dog is likely to be cranky and have less tolerance for life’s little frustrations. Be careful not to over-exercise your dog.
Paloma the Un-Princess
Paloma loves running so much that once we start, she doesn’t want to stop. At crosswalks, she obnoxiously barks her head off. “LET’S GOOO! Stopping is BORING and TERRIBLE!” She loves to move and be outdoors. She’s hiked through the Gila National Forest. She’s run the rocky beaches in Oregon and the streets of Los Angeles. She’s hiked some short trails at The Grand Canyon. I never did buy that doggie backpack to carry her around. She’s not the dog I expected her to be. She’s so much more.
*CPDT-KA: Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed.
**KPA CTP: Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner.
Both of these designations are conferred by organizations that promote humane, ethical, science-based training.
Joan Forry earned her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Temple University in 2008. She is an independent applied ethicist who writes about feminism, sports ethics, and animal ethics. Her current work in animal ethics is concerned with how humans develop meaningful and mindful relationships with dogs. She is an amateur dog trainer who aspires to go pro someday. She documents the travels of her dog, Miles, at www.facebook.com/milesonhydrants.