Except for a few years in college, I’ve always had a dog. And when I began running, my dog came along. When you run with your canine friend, everyone wins!
Physical benefits of running with your dog
Both you and your dog profit when you run together. You’re both strengthening your bones, improving your heart health, and building other muscle, not to mention burning calories. There’s so much science behind the fact that active people live longer, happier lives. The same is true for dogs.
My original running partner, Morgan, a yellow Labrador retriever, lived to the ripe old age of 14 and ran until he was 12. Our veterinarian believes the miles he spent on the road with me added years to his life. And Scarlet, my current running partner, stays trim and strong from our regular outings.
Because my mother had osteoporosis, I’m at risk too. Running helps reduce that risk. Running also helps keeps me at a healthy weight, reduces my blood pressure, and improves my balance, all things I need help with as I age. And Scarlet makes sure we keep going!
Your mood likes it too
Because I live with bipolar disorder II, I’ll use any tool to improve my mental health. I like to say that one of my therapists gets paid in dollars, and the other in dog biscuits. I quickly found that running with my dog helped us both feel better emotionally.
Within a few weeks of beginning to run, I felt less anxious and depressed. I didn’t need to take those afternoon naps that had become normal, and I had more energy.
I also felt less alone. Morgan and I bonded in a deeper way out on the roads and trails. We knew something of each other no one else shared. I have that with Scarlet now too.
Eventually, I was also able to reduce my medications from six down to one. That won’t happen for everyone, but my psychiatrist is convinced running made the difference.
One of my therapists gets paid in dollars, the other in dog biscuits.–Nita Sweeney
Morgan also calmed. He still got the zoomies (as does Scarlet) but his bouts of chewing lessened, and he just seemed happier when we ran regularly. Nothing pleased him more than to hear the buzz of my running watch when I turned it on. He heard it clear across the house and sprinted over.
Scarlet does the same thing. In fact, she’s lying on my feet right now, ready to go since it’s nearly time for our nightly outing. She gets bored in the house all day. She needs her nightly sniff-fest out on the streets of our neighborhood. She’s a much better dog after a run.
Scarlet is growing impatient. She has moved from lying still on my feet to nudging me in the calf with her snout. There’s not much harder to resist than a furry companion who wants to play, and by play, she means RUN!
Morgan was the same way. His method was to crawl in bed with me. At first, he would curl up behind my legs and dose. But eventually, our rest was over. It was time to go. I’d wake to him standing on me or pushing his broad head against my back. Come on, Mom! Let’s run.
How to Run with Your Dog
Want to run with your dog? The American Kennel Club offers tips. Walk first, they suggest. And, check with your vet to make sure your dog is able to run safely, especially if you have a younger dog. Different breeds vary, but most puppies aren’t ready to run for more than short sprints (and zoomies much?) until their “growth plates” have closed.
It’s also important to train your dog early to run at your side or in front of you. Consistency and patience matter with teaching your dog to run with you. Neither of you need to get tangled up and fall.
Morgan was already four when we began running together. We followed Couch to 5k, but it took me nearly 20 weeks do to the 9-week program. So that eased him into it. And Scarlet followed a similar plan, walking first. I added in a few short jogs as soon as my veterinarian said she was old enough, about a year and a half, and now we do run/walk/run.
I can no longer resist Scarlet’s demands. It’s time to go out. I hope you think of us if you run with your dog.
Lace up. Leash up, and have fun!
Nita Sweeney is the award-winning author of the running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink. A member of the Still I Run Board, she serves as the editor of the Still I Run blog. Nita lives in central Ohio with her husband, Ed, and their yellow Labrador retriever, Scarlet, aka the #ninetyninepercentgooddog.