Running With Your Dog: Tips for a Healthy Partnership

After my second child was born, I knew I needed to get healthy again, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it fit in my family’s lifestyle of nearly full time travelling. I was 75 pounds overweight, starting to have health problems, and I never imagined I could ever run. Since we were at one polo club or another for 8 months out of the year, I needed a simple, no-fuss way to exercise. A walk/run program seemed the best option. With the help of a couch-to-5k-app, I tried it and was hooked. So was my German Shepherd, Rolo.

For a small adoption fee, I got a running coach, emotional supporter, and faithful companion.

When I found my dog online, I called the shelter, and begged for them to hold her until the polo season ended in Northern Michigan and I could make the 1000-mile drive home to get her. No one else seemed interested in her, so they agreed. For nearly two weeks I called every day to ask about “my” dog. The morning after I adopted her, I took her running with me. She loved it as much as I did, and the bond we have was instantaneous. After four months in a shelter kennel, her vibrant personality lit up. My husband calls her Sombra, which is Spanish for “Shadow” because that is what she is to me. The leash is just a formality. She and I are a team — good days, bad days, and everything in between.

Want to run with your dog? Here are some tips to get the most out of your run/walk partnership:

  1. If you don’t have a dog yet, do a search on Petfinder.com. You can narrow your search by age, size, breed, and more. It’s important to do an honest assessment of your ability, lifestyle, and exercise goals and adjust your criteria accordingly.
  2. Define your “Why”? Why do you want to get fit? What do you want out of sharing it with your dog? Go as deep as you can with this. Getting in touch with the emotion behind your motivation is crucial for maintaining motivation in the long term.
  3. Once you get the go-ahead from your doctor and veterinarian, go for it…slowly and progressively. If maintaining motivation has been an issue for you in the past, go for a foundation of emotional wins. Try starting out with workouts that are physically easy and then build slowly over time. Consistency beats intensity and by building up slowly, you’re less likely to suffer an injury.
  4. Understand that you and your dog will occasionally have off days. You’re not a machine and neither is your dog. If you have an off day, notice it without judgement and try again tomorrow.
  5. Your dog would do anything to please you, so be especially sensitive to their comfort level and be honest with yourself about their ability. Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. If your fitness exceeds your dog’s ability to keep up, explore options to keep him active within his comfort zone.
  6. Go every day (unless you are ill or injured). If you’re not in the mood to work out, use the 10 minute rule: commit to exercising for 10 minutes. If after the 10 minutes you don’t feel like continuing, then it’s perfectly okay to call it a day. Nurture your motivation by dialing back the intensity on your run/walk to the point where you and your dog can look forward to it daily.
  7. Feet matter: Buy well-fitting shoes for you and check the pads of your dog’s feet every day — especially if you are running in a new area. The right shoes can help you reduce joint pain and prevent injury. When it comes to your dog, protect his pads at all costs. Not only are pad injuries incredibly painful, but they take a long time to heal.
  8. Don’t put up with unwanted behavior from your dog. Instead, respond to it quickly and efficiently. Often a session or two from an experienced dog trainer can resolve the issue and make for a more comfortable, relaxed workout. Obedience training isn’t a bad thing. It helps your dog to relax knowing that you are in control of the “pack”. Your goal is connection and partnership, so find a trainer who will work with you and your dog together.

To call Rolo my sidekick would be a ridiculous understatement. She has been right there with me through silliness, transformative experiences, heartache, and personal discoveries — not to mention my 75 pound weight loss journey! My dog is my companion, supporter, and friend. I am grateful for every mile we have shared and I wish you and your canine friend all the best in your exercise endeavors!

Dr. Kelly Morrow-Baez and Rolo
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