March 22, 2013

Dogs make great running buddies, but safety should come first

Studies have shown that working out with a partner helps you stay motivated, push harder and stick to a program longer. So, why not pick man's best friend?

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It's getting close to 6:30 p.m., and I'm getting ready to go for a run with my boyfriend when I get a text saying he has to cancel. Darn.

I really wasn't that excited about working out today anyway. As the temptation to skip creeps in, I look over at my boyfriend's Great Dane, Klaus.

In typical form, Klaus is leaning up against a wall across the room, tail zipping around, and he's watching me with those big, black puppy-dog eyes. He heads toward me and from his whole body wiggle-waggling, I can tell he's saying "Mom, pick me! Pick me! Let's go!"

How can I say no? I grab the leash and we set out for a jog.

Studies have shown that working out with a partner helps you stay motivated, push harder and stick to a program longer. You want to pick a friend or someone whom you like, can count on, and will be a positive force in your fitness regimen.

So, why not pick your best friend? The one that's always happy to see you, won't put up with your excuses, and, maybe most importantly, has a wagging tail?

Hannah Witten, owner of Cowtown Wag dog boutique in Fort Worth, said her 3 year-old fox red Labrador retriever named Sage loves to get out and run. "She knows what we're doing when I get my headphones out of the drawer and wiggles with excitement," she says.

To get you both started on the right foot (or paw), here are five easy tips for running with your dog.

1. Talk to your vet. There may be an underlying problem that you don't know about. You want to get a veterinarian to take a look before your dog begins any exercise program. Make sure you are cleared to exercise by your physician, too.

2. Consider the breed. Some breeds are more suited for running long distances. If you have a tiny dog, it may be better off walking. Larger breeds like Great Danes and mastiffs are prone to knee injuries, so caution needs to be taken when running with them. Your vet can help you decide what is best for your breed.

3. Start off slowly. When you start any new exercise program, it's best to build up gradually. Maybe you can run five miles easily, but it's safest to start your pet off slowly. Over time, it will build up endurance and its pads will toughen, making it easier to stay out longer.

4. What's on the surface does count. Be wary of hot blacktop, as well as any debris in the road including glass or jagged rocks. Dogs' pads are very sensitive. Avoid running with your dog on pavement after their paws get wet, as they can literally run the pads off their feet.

5. If you can't take the heat... then it's certainly too hot for your dog. "Days that are warm for us are especially hot for dogs," Witten warns. "If Sage starts dragging, it's usually because she's hot."

Keep an eye on your dog to watch for signs of overheating or exhaustion, and ensure that you both stay well-hydrated. "My workout isn't worth risking her health," Witten says.

Some final things to keep in mind: Bring a bag to clean up after your dog, and leash your dog. Most cities have laws for both, and it's just common courtesy.

A tired dog is a good dog. Witten notes that Sage is a better dog all around when they exercise together. "A lot of people tend to think that good training makes a good dog, but it's commitment and love that makes a great dog, not training," she says. "Training is a valuable tool, but you won't see any success if you don't play and interact with them regularly."

This is the perfect time to grab the leash and get outside with your furry friend.

He'll appreciate the time spent with his favorite human, and you'll never find a more faithful and appreciative running partner.

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