Dear Running Bloggers: Stick to the fartleks and shoe guides and leave the dogs to the animal experts

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A couple years ago I ran across a Runners World article titled, A Breed Apart: Can your dog go the distance?, which attempted to prescribe specific breeds of dogs to runners as though they were shoe brands for underpronators with high arches and a heel strike.  The article left a bad taste in my mouth and I did my best to ignore it.

Then, yesterday morning, my Active.com email update appeared, touting an article titled, 17 Paw-fect Dogs for Runners.  (Clearly someone was desperate to fill some online print space before a deadline.) Sadly, this piece is even more inaccurate, misleading and poorly researched than the Runners World piece.  So, as a dog-owning runner, I thought I’d take a moment to weigh in on the subject.

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Runners are selfish, particularly serious runners.  And when I say selfish, I don’t mean selfish with a capital “S.”  I mean to say that runners who take running seriously have to be selfish when it comes to their running time.  They may be busy, hard-working, offensively generous and selfless people in every other aspect of their lives, but when it comes to their runs, that’s their time.  They’re the priority.  After all, there’s a reason that marathon training clubs divide runners into minute-mile groups:  Because as much as I’d like to think otherwise, I ain’t gonna be in Deena Kastor‘s pace group anytime soon.  And I’m sure she greatly appreciates that.  So the whole concept of adding a dog into that equation has always struck me as odd.

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This is not to say that running with your dog isn’t great and that lots of people–including myself–aren’t able to go out and enjoy a run with their dog and successfully attend to both their dog’s needs and their own.  But keep in mind . . . people who regularly follow magazines like Runners World and sites like Active.com are usually focused on what THEY need for their running success.  Which is why these articles are setting both dogs and runners up for failure by suggesting that dogs can be just another product like a pair of shoes or an energy gel pack designed to best fit your needs whether you’re hitting the trails or running a half.

I grow weary of saying this, but what the heck, I’ll say it again:  DOGS ARE INDIVIDUALS, not to mention living breathing creatures as opposed to inanimate piles of leather and lace (Stevie Nicks reference fully intended).

I have met plenty a labrador retriever happy to go for a 5-mile run.  But I’ve also met just as many labs who would rather endure having their eyes clawed out by an ornery cat than be dragged on a leash for 6 miles while their “best friend” works on his 10k split times.  Yes, your dog is overjoyed every time you get out the leash and your running shoes.  But that’s not necessarily because he enjoys running on leash for many miles until you’re happy with your workout.  He’s excited when you get out that leash because it means he gets to go somewhere with you, and won’t be left home alone.  Equating that with “my dog just loves to run” is kind of silly.

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A few years ago I took Peaches (an American Staffordshire Terrier mix, theoretically “built” for endurance activity and athleticism) to a 5k and had to finish the last mile at a slow trot because she didn’t enjoy running on leash, despite months and months of successful leash training and interaction at public events. She was more interested in kissing and hugging the runners after the event.  Knowing your dog as an individual and not just a piece of genetic material bred for a specific purpose is key for any semi-conscientious dog owner.

Among the many problematic statements included in this particular Active.com feature, there are a couple that really blew me away in terms of their complete and total inaccuracy.

Let’s explore . . .

Dogs love to run. They were born to do it.

No, actually, dogs were not born to “run.”  And what do you mean when you say “run”? Because running looks very different for a human than it does for a dog.  Here’s what dogs were born to do in terms of running:  They were born to run incredibly fast (faster than you can run) for very short distances when chasing prey or fleeing a predator.  Otherwise, they were born to cover varying distances very slowly with multiple stops along the way to smell, explore, dig, burrow, munch and urinate, all of which is affected by the dog’s size, shape, genetics and individual temperament and physiological characteristics.

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Additionally, dogs typically choose to do most of their moving around during ideal weather and cover. If it’s on the warmer side, they’re going to snooze in a cool, covered place most of the day and only go out to exert themselves late at night or early in the morning.  So you hittin’ the pavement for a hot afternoon run because that’s the most convenient time for you is not good at all for your dog, who lacks both protective footwear and the ability to sweat in order to cool themselves down.

I’ve also observed far too many dog owners who seem to be blissfully unaware that while salted sidewalks in the winter are great for them, they’re absolute murder on a dogs bare paws.  If you’re going to run your dog in the ice and snow, be humane and don’t run on salted sidewalks and streets.

Other great long distance breeds:  Ibizan Hound, Greyhounds, Weimaraners, and Vizslas

The author of this article must have had a very unique experience when/if she ever visited a dog race track.  Because long-distance running is exactly what Greyhounds do NOT do.  They run ridiculously fast for a very short distance and then they’re done.  They are most certainly not endurance dogs.  Selecting a Greyhound for a running partner is akin to choosing a honeybadger for a soulmate.

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The rest of the content included in both the Active.com piece and the Runners World article are honestly too comical to even continue commenting on.  They include all of the absurd, unfounded breed stereotypes we all know through evidence-based research to be anything but true.  And of course they both completely ignore what is hands down the best way to find a running companion:  Go to your local shelter, talk to the caretakers who work there and ask them to help you find a companion who best matches your lifestyle and activity level.  Most of the time, your perfect match will be some random mixed breed.  Or as Runners World’s Christie Aschwanden likes to call them, “mongrels.”

When you run with a dog, you have to be willing to prioritize and attend to your relationship with your dog, not your own personal exercise needs.  You need to be willing to take regular breaks to stop and let your pooch shove their nose into a pee-laden hedge along the road or urinate and kick out excessively over some other dog’s recently-laid scent.  You need to give them multiple chances to stop and cool down, and realize that they cannot do so as quickly or as efficiently as you can.

You also need to realize that dogs will not let you know when they’re in pain or uncomfortable, and that you tending to their physical and emotional welfare is essential during your run.  Whereas your average runner might stop to whine a bit when a blister or sports bra rash forms because they forgot to slap on their Bodyglide that day, a dog is going to endure as much physical discomfort as they can for as long as they can until they’re well past the point of intense physical distress.  This is because, unlike humans who “are born to” whine, dogs will hide their pain for as long as possible for fear of appearing weak.

But more than anything, let’s keep in mind that the whole concept of “running” looks very different for dogs than it does for us.  For our four-legged, furry friends, running more often looks like this:

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About emily douglas

Emily Douglas authors The Unexamined Dog blog and writes regularly about "pit bull" advocacy, humane education and the parallels between the education field and the dog world. Emily and her dog, Peaches volunteer as a registered therapy dog team in the Southeast Michigan area, where their visits are affectionately known as Peach Therapy.
This entry was posted in Advocacy, Animal behavior and training, Animal Welfare, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Dear Running Bloggers: Stick to the fartleks and shoe guides and leave the dogs to the animal experts

  1. Toni says:

    Emily, I have recently started running. I have two dogs and I would never run with them for exactly all the reasons you mentioned in your blog and especially for one you did not. I would end up with an injury. On almost every walk, these two little guys practically trip me at some point. I can just imagine what would happen on a run. I will leave their running to chasing balls and running after imaginary bad guys in the yard.

  2. Beautiful! I myself am not a runner, but I am the proud owner of two German shepherd dogs, one of which trains in herding, the other of which has a severe neurological problem. They both have extremely different needs when it comes to running. Panzer (neuro boy) adores chasing his ball and would I am pretty convinced, do it until he collapsed. Because of his spine, we are very careful to only let him chase his ball for a set amount of time and monitor him while he does so, depending on weather and if it’s a good day or a bad day. And he swims, swimming we let him do to his heart’s content, lol. Shelby, on the other hand, is in training to be a herding dog, which doesn’t involve “running” per se at all, but working the stock for a very long time at a slow, controlled trot. But she was conditioned to do so over time, ten minutes on, thirty minutes off, then next session, fifteen minutes on, thirty minutes off, etc. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing people with their six month old GSD puppies taking them on 5 or 6 mile runs and saying that it’s good for them. It’s not, they need to be conditioned for that kind of thing, shepherds are not bred to run, they’re bred to trot, and the pups are growing and their pads are soft and…I’m going to stop now, but lovely article! Thanks for writing it!

  3. Mados says:

    I totally agree with you that dogs are not built for endurance running, and should under no circumstances be pushed beyond their limits whereas humans is a different story… We really are built for long distance running, and can sweat through our skin which makes it easy for us to get rid of excess heat, and can usually handle just fine to push ourselves beyond our current limits.

    I run with one of my dogs for about an hour early every morning. That is a fantastic start of the day:-) just me & her in the bush. She is the first dog I’ve had that is actually a great running buddy (now), and I am grateful I found out she works. She is something like Ridgeback X American Staffy (just guessing based on her looks & temper), weighs about 32 kgs and has a magnificent physique. Athletic but lighter and more elegant than an American Staffy, fast & strong & agile. Despite being pretty much perfectly built for the job and obedient & OK with running, she does need plenty of breaks under way, she is a bit slow, and she doesn’t have anything like the endurance of a human. I don’t think any dog does.

    I have resigned to leaving my second dog at home when I go for runs. She is a working dog X (Australian Cattle Dog X supposedly Kelpie… but now we think more like ACD X Greyhound X Dingo) We thought she would be a great running buddy because “working dogs love to run, right!” Wrong. She thinks that running PAST lots of interesting stuff is idiotic, and if I don’t get the hint then she’ll just lay down on the ground and refuse to move until we go check out whatever she thinks is worth checking out.

  4. Lovely. I have lots to learn

  5. Pingback: How to give yourself and pet dog an exercise? | Mulefool.orgMulefool.org

  6. Pingback: Weltweites Wissen am Wochenende – Outdoorbeschäftigungen | Chakanyuka

  7. mobepartner says:

    Thank you for some great mythbusting and fun, too! Love the pictures!

    Also love the honeybadger and bodyglide links! 🙂

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