Born to Run?
Dogs are our best friends and many people enjoy taking their dog with them when they run, roller-blade, bike or hike. While most dogs will be thrilled to have their leash hooked on and will explode with joy over the upcoming outing, they may or not actually be able to handle the task.
Before engaging in any type of endurance exercise, your dog should have reached maturity and his growth plates should have closed. Although it depends on the breed, 18 months can be a good benchmark. The breed of your dog will factor as to the level of exertion that is safe for him. Short-nosed dogs (e.g. pugs) and giant breeds (e.g. Great Danes) are not the best choices for endurance sports. Some typical examples are:
· Golden and Labrador retrievers have moderate to high energy levels and will be happiest covering shorter distances at a faster pace, although can be trained for a slow, long run.
· Huskies and Malamutes are both exceptional runners and are well known as Iditarod dogs, although they will not do well in warm weather.
· Herding dogs, such as Shepherds, Collies, and Heelers are great for short sprints but are not distance runners.
· Pointers (e.g. Weimeraners, Vizslas) love to run for long distances and can run very fast.
· A common misconception is that Greyhounds are good runners. They are in fact, a bit lazy, and can run very fast for 2 to 3 miles and then will nap for the rest of the day! Sprinters, yes. Distance runners, no.
· Boxers, although short-nosed, are actually quite good runners, but because of their short muzzle, breathing issues can arise in the heat.
· Pitbulls are very active but not bred for long distance running; however they can be ideal for 5 to 10 mile runs.
It is important to remember that there are individual differences within breed types and regardless of the breed, it is up to you to monitor your dog’s health throughout the process – that is, both during the exercise and while your dog is resting. Do not assess your dog’s state based on how you feel. We cool ourselves through sweat, but dogs can only pant and use small sweat glands in their feet. Panting is a dog’s natural cooling system, but panting uses an internal water reserve so it makes dogs easily susceptible to dehydration. There is a loss of water to the blood as a result of increasing body temperature and this places a strain on the circulatory system which can lead to organ failure and death. The result can be permanent organ damage even if a dog survives from overheating.
Panting is the first sign that your dog is working to cool itself. The tongue will become fatter and brighter the longer and harder your dog works. It may begin to curl at the end or look like a paddle. Signs of dehydration are the thickening of saliva, loss of coordination, and/or wide, glassy eyes. Vomiting, diarrhea, and listlessness are more serious signs to be aware of. Eventually a dog will become unresponsive and slip into a coma.
It is important that you do not push your dog beyond its limits as most dogs will keep going beyond exhaustion to keep up with their owners. By the time your dog has slowed down, tongue hanging out and heavily panting, it may be too late.
Always check with your vet before beginning any new exercise routine and slowly ease into running or any long distance activities. You have to build up your dog’s endurance gradually. Start with a half a mile, up to a mile, every other day and do not add more than 10 percent distance every week.
When you do go out with your dog for any length of time, always bring water and allow your dog frequent water breaks. Also bring along high-protein treats that contain fat (a dogs’ endurance is fat based fuel). And always closely watch your dog. Pay attention to what his body is telling you and even if he is running right along with you, if he is showing signs of heavy panting, stop and take a break. It could save your dog’s life.