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Autumn exercise and your pet; running with your dog

A dog runs in the third annual "Dogathon," in Mexico City, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009. Thousands of dogs took part in the races, running either 1500 meters or 3000 meters with their owners in tow along a horsetrack in the city.
A dog runs in the third annual "Dogathon," in Mexico City, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009. Thousands of dogs took part in the races, running either 1500 meters or 3000 meters with their owners in tow along a horsetrack in the city.
(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

So you're looking for a way to get your dog and yourself into shape? Here's a basic how-to on beginning exercise.

First off you need a good pair of running shoes and a leash. Take the time and money to invest in running shoes from a store staffed by actual runners; your legs will thank you. As far as leashes go use an actual leash, not a retractable one.  You'll have enough to worry about without having to manipulate buttons and control wide ranging pets; the closer the dog is the more control you'll have. Some people prefer hands free leashes that attach around the waist but realize that quick leash jerks may be required throughout your exercise to re-establish control. Never attach a leash to your wrist, be able to drop a leash quickly in case you need to. If your dog has less than desirable leash skills it may be important to perfect their manners before attempting exercise while fighting your pet.

Before exercising your pet allow them to potty and sniff their surroundings. Establish a "free time" for them to be uncontrolled before and after the discipline requiring exercise period; don't forget the reward for their hard work!

Find a suitable place for your exercise. If your neighborhood is closed off from heavy traffic it might be a good place to start. Have open land or local parks with trails away from busy roads nearby? Even a soccer or baseball field will do (If access is allowed of course!). Off road running will be easier on you and your dog's joints. Keep in mind that there may be additional exposure to wildlife but a well controlled dog may also be run off leash once they remain at a heel consistently. Extra vaccines are recommended for dogs exposed to standing water that may contain urination from wildlife. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection commonly carried by raccoons and spread by urination that can cause kidney failure in dogs and severe illness in humans.

Lets get started!

  • Start out easy, no one walks out their front door and runs a marathon on their first day. Aim for a beginning goal of 30 minutes total exercise time (this includes walking and running).  Start establishing a routine of exercise at least 3 times a week.  The best way to start is to walk to warm up, usually around 5 minutes. The cool down phase at the end of your workout should equal the warm up in time and intensity--easy. The remaining time between is split between walking and short running intervals of 1-2 minutes dependent on your level of fitness (for example, warm up 5 minutes at a slow walk, then begin intervals of a fast walk 4 minutes run 1 minute- repeat this 3 times then cool down 5 minutes at a slow walk).
  • As you improve your fitness and stamina gradually decrease your walk time. If you are new to exercise a conservative approach would be to decrease walk time and increase run time by 30 seconds each interval each week (Example- decrease fast walk to 3 1/2 minutes and increase run time to 1 and 1/2 minutes). Continue this each week until running a consistent 30 minutes.
  • Don't worry about your speed, as you improve in fitness, speed will come. As it does, begin adding additional time to your 30 minute routine. Never increase by more than 10% of your total time  (example 3 minutes). A conservative approach would be to add 1 minute every week.

As previously mentioned in the basic exercise primer ( here's where those essential discipline skills come in. As you vary between walking and running your dog should accordingly adjust their pace as they heel to you. A quick leash jerk on speed changes will notify an excited dog to pay attention. Most dogs get very excited when starting exercise due to pent up energy but with that energy released they become calm and focused.

The most important word of advice is to always know where your pet is. Keep a constant vigil and a roving eye over your surroundings at all times. Always be on the lookout for fellow exercisers, other dogs and your dogs' arch enemy...squirrels! If you see potential distractions ahead of time you can monitor your dog for cues of too much focus being applied to undeserved areas (head pointing and ears at attention). A firm quick jerk on the leash or a vocal reminder will return your dog's focus to the task at hand. Monitor your dog for signs of over exertion such as heavy panting, change in gait such as slowing and loss of focus. Always provide water before, during and after exercise. Wait on feeding a large meal until after your exercise or allow 2 hours to digest. Keep an eye on your dogs most important part, their feet. Invest in boots or pad hardener if your pet is having pad abrasions due to concrete.

Next up: cycling with your pet.

Clare Sanders DVM CCRT is the founder of Canine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine of Mississippi, visit for more information.