Is It Safe for Your Dog to Run (or Bike) With You? Here’s the Farthest Experts Say You Should Go
The Chief Veterinary Officer of the American Kennel Club, and other veterinarians who love exercise!, list exercise rules to help keep your pet safe.
Nothing reinvigorates the spirit quite like a walk outside…made better only, perhaps, by the company of a four-legged friend. When people and dogs exercise together, both can reap health benefits: According to the American Kennel Club (and most any veterinary expert you ask), canine fitness is an important component of your pooch’s health.
But for those of us who like to step up the pace, you’ve got to consider whether running or cycling with your dog is safe for you both. As one example (slight trigger warning here): One young woman our editors heard from needed to have a finger amputated after her dog got scared of traffic and caused a crash while she was biking with her pet on a leash alongside her. Says veterinarian Beth Turner, DVM, with Preventive Vet: “If your dog is attached to a bike—or to you via a leash—both of you can become injured.”
That’s just one of several points Dr. Turner and her colleagues say you need to consider. The Healthy @Reader’s Digest fetched opinions from a few animal wellness experts on how to determine whether your workout is too aggressive for your furry companion.
Tips to consider before you run or bike with your dog
According to the experts, there are several considerations you should make before hitting the roads or trails with your dog.
“No dog should ever be made to trot for any extended period of time until the dog’s growth plates have fully fused,” advises veterinarian Jerry Klein, DVM, chief veterinary officer of the AKC. “In large to giant breeds, growth plates fuse as late as 14 to 18 months of age. ”
Dr. Turner adds that in general, dogs should be at least 1.5 years of age before safely running or cycling with someone.
Klein says that before starting any running or athletic activity, all dogs should be checked by their veterinarians to make sure they don’t have underlying medical problems that would interfere with running safely. For example, he explains, dogs with cardiopulmonary issues or osteoarthritis should not be made to physically overexert themselves.
Dr. Klein of the AKC says that not all dogs can or should try to run or trot for any extended distances. Small types or breeds of dogs can have a hard time keeping up with a runner or cycler because they have shorter legs. Fellow veterinarian Stephanie Austin, DVM, with Preventive Vet, adds that generally speaking, brachycephalic dogs (the flat-faced breeds—think pugs and French bulldogs) shouldn’t go for runs because they have a harder time breathing. Their facial configurations can cause them to overheat very quickly.
Level of training
The experts explain that one critical factor to consider before heading out for a run or cycle with your pup is their level of training. “Your dog must know basic commands,” Dr. Turner says. “If not, when other people or dogs approach, your dog may bolt or lunge.”
The American Kennel Club, which describes itself as “the country’s leading authority on all things dogs” since the 1800s, recommends that your dog should be a pro at loose-leash walking before trying to cycle or run with them. The organization also recommends training your dog to run on one side of you and always sticking with that side.
Here’s how far experts say you can safely run or cycle with your dog
Dr. Austin, who runs and hikes with her dog, says when it comes to how far your dog can safely run alongside you or your bike, consider factors like your dog’s fitness level, breed, age, time of day, and the season. (A lunchtime jog with a fluffy Bernadoodle on a sunny July day is not a healthy move for the dog.)
Dr. Austin explains that it is important to condition your dog prior to going for strenuous or long runs or cycles. She suggests to start running or cycling with your dog slowly for short distances, and as they gradually build up their strength and endurance, slowly increase the distance and speed of your excursion.
Dr. Klein recommends starting off by going one or two blocks to adjust your dog mentally to the notion of what is expected of them, and to praise them as they achieve short-term goals. He points out that every dog is an individual, and if a dog seems to enjoy this activity, you can gradually extend your run by one-quarter of a mile every-other day. He says many trainers feel that running two miles every other day is an ultimate goal to work toward.
Special tips for biking with your dog
There are several additional factors to consider before cycling with your dog.
“Bikes can be scary to some dogs, and there is a learning curve that comes with running along with a bicycle,” explains Turner.
To safely cycle with your dog, Turner says not to hold a leash while riding the bike, as this can increase the risk of injury to you, your dog, and others. “Use a special bike leash,” she says, “and do not connect the leash to their collar, but rather a comfortable harness.”
Dr. Klein says that in countries like America where traffic travels on the right side of the road, you should walk on the left-hand side to face oncoming traffic, and the dog should run or trot to the left side of you.
Do dogs even like to run with their owners?
Dr. Klein says dogs tend to like to please their owners and in many cases will do whatever they can to do so. But while running or cycling, he says it’s the owner’s responsibility to ‘read’ the dog’s expression and body language to ensure they’re not becoming tired or uncomfortable.
Dr. Austin adds that dogs don’t always know they should slow down and stop, so it’s up to you to understand their limits. She says if your dog is panting a lot or laying down, they’ve likely reached their exercise capacity and they need water and a rest.
Turner adds that for some dogs, contact with other dogs, runners, and cyclists can cause stress and anxiety, so be very certain your dog is comfortable with these interactions before taking them or a run or cycle.
Risks associated with running or biking with your dog
The experts say there are several risks running with your dog or having them run alongside your bike can pose, such as:
Skeletal damage to joints, due to repeated concussive activity, such as trotting long distances, especially on hard surfaces. Turner recommends asking your veterinarian about joint supplements your dog can take to help prevent inflammation and cartilage damage.
Blistering or damage to paw pads, from abrasion, contact with sharp objects, or exposure to hot pavement or road salt. Turner says dog booties can help protect paw pads, and paw salves or balms can relieve sore pads.
Coming into contact with dangerous wildlife, such as snakes, bears, coyotes, and others…
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which Dr. Turner says can display itself as weakness, disorientation, changes in behavior, muscle twitching or tremors, vomiting, collapse, pale gums, or seizures.
Sun burns. Dr. Turner recommends applying pet-safe sunscreen to your dog’s vulnerable spots, like the tips of the ears, top of muzzle, belly, or any furless areas.
Physical injuries. Dr. Austin says a dog could trip you or another person or they could get caught in your bike tire and injure themselves or you.
Overexertion or sore muscles. Just like for humans, always have your dog warm up prior to heading out, and cool down after strenuous exercise.
Dehydration. Carry water and be sure to give your dog water breaks frequently.
Is walking with your dog a better choice?
Klein says that when it comes down to it, the most recommended exercise for dogs is walking. To benefit canine health, he recommends:
• For dogs in good shape: Walking at least 30 minutes five times per week for a total of at least 150 minutes per week for at least 3 months.
• For dogs who would benefit from a shorter walk, like senior dogs: Walking at least 15 minutes per session at least 10 times per week (around two 15-minute walks per day) for at least three months.