Choosing the right running companion can be vital to maintenance of a consistent, challenging and enjoyable training regimen. But where can one find a workout partner who will love running alongside you in summer or winter, sunshine or rain, without complaint — a friend who can’t wait to work out with you, who never grows tired of your company and conversation, and who loves you unconditionally?
The right one may be at your side right now.
If not, check the nearby kennel or pet rescue and adoption agencies. Dogs make wonderful running partners.
Visit a local running trail and you’re likely to see almost as many dogs running as people, but you won’t see many dachshunds or Chihuahuas. Understanding that some choices are better than others, what should we look for in that perfect partner?
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Before you start shopping breeds, perhaps its best to ask yourself what breed of runner you are. Do you prefer roads or trails? How long do you run? Will you be running in areas that require dogs to be leashed (especially in Chapel Hill and Carrboro or in Carolina North Forest, where dogs must be leashed)?
“Most places where you run on trails, they’ll want your dog to be leashed,” said Nora Hannapel, training program coordinator for Fleet Feet Sports in Carrboro and Durham. “Your dog should be close to you, but not everyone follows those rules. ... The rules aren’t just because the dog’s going to go a bite someone. Dogs can also be harmful to the forest by not sticking to the trails.”
Conversely, Hannapel said that dogs can be overstimulated if running on town sidewalks or roads. “Distraction can be an issue,” she said.
“Out on roads I see more people dragging their dogs along on a leash than I do in the woods,” said Elizabeth Towe, trainer and owner of Balanced Movement Studio in Carrboro, and a dog enthusiast. “Most people know what their dog’s capable of out on trails, whether it’s on-lead or off.”
“I’ve personally had everything from a border collie, Australian shephard, golden (retriever) to the two (Labradors) I have now,” Towe added. “I’ve found that retrievers tend to come back better if they’re off-leash, but I also do a lot of work with my dogs before I ever take them out.”
Hannapel suggested products by Ruffwear (available at Fleet Feet), which makes items for active canines and owners.
“There’s a leash that goes around your waist where the dog’s still tethered to you,” she said. “They also make these little booties for the dogs’ paws ... and they even have little backpacks so that when you’re hiking with your dogs, they can carry their own water.”
Albuquerque-based veterinarian and runner Susan Dicks said that no breed is perfect for all runningconditions. “A dog’s personality and temperament are as important as its pedigree,” Dicks said in a Christie Aschwanden article for Runners World, which suggested looking for a high-energy dog that’s fast, agile, and energetic.
Climate can also be a consideration.
“I don’t think it’s the best idea to run with your dogs in the heat of summer in North Carolina,” Hannapel said.
“Dogs with multi-layered coats like huskies, Akitas, and Labrador retrievers can more easily handle cold weather,” trainer J.T. Clough said on trailrunnermag.com, noting that hydration is crucial.“On the flip side, dogs with thin, short coats, like Jack Russell terriers and Vizslas, are better suited for warmer climates.”
But when it comes down to choosing a breed, there are almost as many choices as there are breeds of runners.
“Similar to humans, lean, long-bodied dogs tend to run easier than stockier, heavy dogs,” Jade Belzberg said on trailrunnermag.com.
Still, pit bulls and some terriers can also make great distance running partners.
“Short-nosed breeds, like pugs and bullmastiffs, are not well suited for running,” Belzberg cautioned, explaining that these breeds have face and throat structures that challenge breathing.
“Corgi’s probably wouldn’t be a good choice,” Towe said. “But a Jack Russell will probably be just as good as any long-legged dog”
“Energy level and temperament are among the most important factors for determining whether you’ll be dragging your dog along or trying to keep up,” Belzberg added. “Looking at the history of the breed, consider whether the dog was originally bred for hunting or herding.”
Aschwanden agreed: “Some breeds, such as huskies and greyhounds, were bred to run, and most working dogs are naturally suited to running. Squishy-nosed dogs, such as pugs and bulldogs ... are prone to overheating. That’s not to say your pug can’t run, but he probably shouldn’t join you for a late-summer 15-miler.”
Once you’ve chosen a dog, make sure you’re not starting them off with too much, too soon.
“The worse cases that I see are when people take their dogs out too long, too young,” Towe said.
Hannapel suggested waiting until a puppy is at least 6 months old: “Just because they have lots of energy in the house, doesn’t mean they’re ready for a long run.”
On a personal note: The community bade farewell last weekend to a stalwart Trailhead canine companion – “Squirrelydog.”
Squirrelydog was a running community fixture, a loyal companion to Trailhead runner Bruce “Goofus” Wilks, and a friend to all who knew him. He will be missed.
While mixed breeds may make great choices as well, here are a few pure breeds that J.T. Clough lists as great running partners:
- Border Collie: energetic, highly intelligent, agile, and happy to be running circles (or loops) on the local roads or trails.
- Weimaraner: great long-distance running companions with long limbs and short coats that make them natural runners.
- Goldendoodle: family-friendly, and a great running partner for medium-distance runners.
- Standard Poodle: affectionate (hypoallergenic) and loves to run. Its German name “pudelhund,” means “splashing dog.”
- Vizsla: excellent endurance partners and great for technical trails.
- Jack Russell Terrier: spunky, athletic, excitable, and happy to burn off energy.
- Dalmatian: long and lean, dalmatians are also very protective.
- Australian Cattle Dog: loyal, smart and fearless, this herding dog will outdistance you.
- Belgian Malinois: obedient, confident, athletic, and high energy.
- Doberman Pinscher: alert and active, dobermans may actually take YOU for the run.