Jogging with your dog is an incredibly rewarding and beneficial activity for both you and your dog. It can help establish a strong bond, reduce stressful or fearful behavior issues, and improve overall health. In my most extreme case, rehabilitating Tigger, it meant I could walk her around the neighborhood.
Before jogging, Tigger would fly to the end of her leash in a sheer panic upon hearing anything, anybody, or seeing any moving item (car, bag blowing in the wind, a leaf falling to the ground, a person two blocks ahead of us). Jogging meant that she was distracted enough to deal with everything, within two outings. She would be mildly aware of the things that made her panic, but she would just look at them and keep moving. Eventually, she would be relaxed and wouldn't be the least concerned about them. Eventually (about four months later) this transferred to walking, too.
I believe that fearful dogs, especially ones that panic, can benefit the most from picking up the pace and jogging. It distracts them enough that they can learn to pass by the triggers without panicking. Repeat this enough times, and they can adjust to the world without the need to panic.
One more note - speed wise, I barely jog. I'm not good at running. I think some particularly brisk walkers might pass me! But it's just fast enough for my dogs to "canter" and for me to work up a sweat. In other words, it's not an awful lot and very low impact - so it's quite do-able! And if not, there are dog-joggers around offering this service too.
Note: I am not a veterinarian, so please check in with a professional vet for any health specifics concerning jogging your dog.
Advantages for the dogs
Jogging particularly helps fearful dogs and dogs who are poor leash walkers. Moving at a faster pace helps distract a shy dog from perceived threats (other people, loud noises, other dogs, and so on). The dog concentrates on the direction, speed, and movement of the jogger more than the environment around them. This same reason means that jogging can also help poor leash walkers (pullers, stubborn walkers, rampant “sniffers”), as they should move more consistently and pleasantly on the outing.
The additional exercise can also help dogs become more balanced behaviorally, and reduce overall stress and boredom levels. Dog guardians have reported having fewer issues with barking, “OCD” like behaviors, digging, fearful behavior, and more.
Lastly, dogs have a natural affinity for an increased pace (such as jogging or running). For many dogs, it is a natural and easy gait that they enjoy to move at, and they will greatly enjoy activities where they can exercise at this speed. Not to mention, it can help file down their toe nails a bit (or a lot, with soft nailed dogs!)
Tips for jogging and equipment:
The following tips should help you get started with your dog.
Note: Please check with your veterinarian if you are not sure about the first two bullets regarding your dog’s age and health! These are general recommendations I have found listed by a variety of other sources.
- Should be approximately 1 year (small breeds) to 18 months (large breeds) or older. In other words, a fully developed bone structure.
- Should be in good physical health (no illness, injury, chronic issues, heartworm, or too old)
- Should not be jogged during extreme heat (i.e; midday during heat-wave or particularly hot weather)
Starting out with a new dog:
- Slowly increase the speed of jogging, if you normally run at a fast pace.
- Change direction frequently to “teach” the dog to follow your lead.
- Keep the leash somewhat short and in your hand until you understand the dog’s behavior.
- Watch for any signs of stress (excessive panting, for example), exhaustion, or injury.
- Should be off of the street (such as on a sidewalk or path), facing traffic, with the dog on the inside (away from traffic).
- Stop and wait at all traffic crossings, even if not lit.
- Even if using a jogging (hands-free) leash, always hold the leash when cars, people, or other distractions approach.
- Always verbally praise good behavior.
- Do not use food treats while jogging! One of the best benefits of jogging is getting into a rhythm or flow, and treats themselves are a distraction. The reward is in jogging and movement, and your verbal praise, so no treats are needed during the activity. Use verbal praise while jogging, and save food treats for before and after the jog to reward good behavior.
- Try to “potty” the dog before the jog, and provide water after they have cooled down somewhat (and only in small amounts before this).
- At night: Use lots of reflective or lit material, such as lighted vests. See this post for more information!
- Leashes: Jogging leashes can greatly improve the overall exercise. However, because shelters are working with unknown dogs, it would be best to keep the jogging leash also in hand when new to the dog. The leash should also be held when close to any traffic, other dogs/humans, or unpredictable elements.
- Other equipment: It is often helpful to invest in a jogging belt that can hold your personal and volunteer items, such as keys and poop bags. This keeps your hands free to tend to the dog.
What about shelter dogs?
Shelter dogs can also take advantage of these benefits. Please see the following sections about how jogging can improve your shelter, and some tips on starting such a program.
Advantages for the shelter and shelter dogs
- Improves dog behavior and leash skills (see above)
- Could stabilize behavior issues, improving adoptions
- Increased variety in daily activities for dogs, possibly reducing shelter stress
- Exercise that can benefit the dog physically and emotionally
- Dogs meet more potential adopters, being outside of the shelter
- This new program will attract new volunteers, and may increase commitments from existing volunteers
- Volunteers/staff learn more about dogs, and can add skills or behavior improvements to dog profile
- More space within the shelter for volunteers, and more available shifts for volunteers to choose from
Your shelter would need to initiate a new program for jogging dogs. It may need to include the following elements, which can be easily implemented using volunteer help. If the shelter has an existing “outing” process, this program could easily fall under the same guidelines with minimal modifications.
Jogging program requirements may include:
- Identify dogs who are qualified to jog (acceptable age and health)
- Recruit new and existing volunteers for the program.
- Orientation for joggers to review dog selection, tips for jogging, dog safety, shifts, weather limitations (when it’s too hot to jog), and jogging routes.
- Map or identify jogging route options online or in volunteer area (whether volunteers can drive dogs to different areas, or would need to be around shelters).
- (Optional) Additional equipment, such as jogging leashes
- (Optional) Dog report card, for volunteers to outline the dog’s jogging style, limits, behavior, or advice.
- Sign out a qualified “jogging” dog, read the dog’s profile or report card, and identify jogging route to staff (if applicable).
- Equipment: leash, adopt me vest/bandana, poop bags.
- Optional evaluation upon return, such as:
- location and timeframe,
- how the dog did,
- what were their limits if any,
- improvements or set-backs (etc)
Jogs may begin from the shelter, or the volunteer could transport the dog to a nearby dog-friendly trail or park if this is more conducive to your location. It is ideal, although not mandatory, to limit street crossings as this benefits the behavior modification of fearful dogs (who operate best when you don’t stop!)
Does the volunteer have to be a jogger?
No. They may want to take a brisk walk instead, and optionally work their way up to a faster pace. If the volunteer is not an experienced jogger, they should start slowly and read tips about beginning to jog. The volunteer does not need to jog fast for the dog to experience the physical and behavioral benefits of this exercise.
Does the dog have to be experienced at jogs?
No. The dog only needs to exceed a minimum recommended age, and should not have any ailments or physical limitations that would be aggravated by jogging. Most dogs will be quite, often more, comfortable and natural moving at a faster pace than they are at a walking pace.
Do shelters have these programs in real life?