Have you got a perfect training partner at home and don’t realise it? Nik Cook knows he has in his dog Moses. The domestication of dogs was a significant milestone in human history and without them, there is considerable evidence that we wouldn’t have progressed from nomadic hunter gatherers to settled farmers.

By guarding our settlements, protecting our livestock and helping us to hunt, human development is extrinsically linked with canines. Running with a dog feels incredibly natural and if you’re ever low on motivation to get out of the door then a pair of beseeching eyes and a wagging tail will to do the trick.

Also, according to vets, a worrying percentage of dogs in this country are overweight and under-exercised (much like a very large part of the human population). Not only is this having an adverse effect on your dog’s health, life expectancy and your bank account via vets’ bills, but it can also be the root cause of behavioural problems. A well-exercised dog is a happy and healthy dog.

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Running with your dog

It’s amazing how many people will walk their dog and then head out for a run on their own. It seems complete madness not to combine the two activities. Even if your dog is a bit on the tubby side, it won’t take long to get them up to speed. When I re-homed my Finnish Lapphund Moses as a four year old three years ago, he was barely fit enough to run for 10 minutes.

Now after a structured and progressive training regime, he’ll happily join me for 6 to 8 eight hour jaunts over the Peak District hills. His physique has totally transformed and at his last annual check-up my vet informed me that he had the build of a working dog.

Training your dog

Start your dog off gently with 5-10 minutes of running included in their normal walk. Only let them run for as long as they appear to be enjoying it. They’ll run themselves into the ground to please you but even one day over doing it can put them off forever (bit like humans then!).

Always run as much as possible off-road, as tarmac and concrete are very hard on a dogs paws and joints

Do 3-5 runs per week and build up the by duration by 5 minutes per week. By the time you’re up to an hour, you’ve got yourself a running dog and can start increasing duration more rapidly.

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Always run as much as possible off-road, as tarmac and concrete are very hard on a dogs paws and joints. And avoid running on hot days, opt for shadier trails and try to go out late at night or early in the morning. Dogs don’t have sweat glands and can only regulate their temperature by panting.

For this reason never run with a dog muzzled or with a head collar that restricts their ability to pant. Buy a proper running harness (see kit below) that’ll allow freer breathing than a collar and don’t forget, if you’re out for a long one, to carry water for your dog or to include some streams or ponds en route. You need bars or gels so your dog will probably appreciate some trail snacks too.

Never feed a dog a large meal immediately before exercise though as this can lead to bloating or in severe cases a life threatening gastric torsion. Finally don’t forget those poo bags!

If you have a puppy or a young dog then you need to be very cautious about introducing it to exercise or you risk causing lasting damage to it’s soft growing bones. As a general rule, the minimum age for focussed exercise is 12 months, but for larger and slower maturing breeds this can be extended to 24 months. Always consult with the pup’s breeder or your vet and err on the side of caution.

Top running breeds

All dogs love to run but like people some are more suited to it than others. If you’re serious about you and your dog’s running avoid short-legged breeds and breeds with squashed faces such as Boxers, Bulldogs and Pugs. Don’t rule out rescue dogs though as many crossbreeds, especially Lurcher types can make excellent running partners.

5 Great running dogs

1. Border Collie: working Collie’s in the Lake District have been tracked covering 100 miles over rough fells per day in the lambing season, so it’s no wonder they’re the fell runner’s choice. They’ll take as much exercise as you can throw at them, but will bounce off the walls if they get injured.

2. Weimaraner: a hunting breed that’ll go all day long. The short coat requires little attention, sheds mud and makes for a cool dog. They’re highly intelligent and if not stimulated and well-exercised can become highly strung.

3. Greyhound: although known for their high top-end speed (up to 45mph!) with training, they can make great distance athletes too. There are plenty of exracing dogs needing homes www.retiredgreyhounds.co.uk and they make an ideal family pet.

4. Tibetan Terrier: not actually a terrier and a surprise inclusion – they’re tough little dogs and if you’re after a smaller running breed they can be ideal. Their coat can be clipped in the summer, but they don’t tend to cope well with being left alone.

5. Dalmatian: bred to trot alongside of horse drawn carriages for mile upon mile, this well muscled breed will easily match your running prowess. Not one for novice dog owners as they have a strong guarding instinct that needs firm directing.

Cani-X

If you find you and your faithful friend take to running then there is a sport devoted to running with your dog or dogs known as ‘Cani-X’. With race distances varying from 2km right up to half-marathons there’s a full calendar of events throughout the UK and even the chance to represent Great Britain on the international stage. For information, go to cani-cross.co.uk

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Dog running kit

– Harness: you wouldn’t fancy running with a collar round your neck, so why should your dog? Designed for Skijor (dogs towing people on cross-country skis), these harnesses are supercomfortable for your dog and available in all sizes.

– Waistbelt: designed to absorb tugs and pulls and in some designs provide handy pouches for treats and poo bags. A fullon Skijor belt will set you back , but there are plenty of cheaper options including a full hands-free kit.

– Bungee Lines/Leads: an elasticated lead will absorb any lunges and pulls but not dangle too long and get caught up in your feet. Arctic grade bungee Cani-X lines are extremely good. A cheaper option that also includes it’s own integrated waistband is the Ruffwear Roamer Lead.

– Water Bowls/Bottles: collapsible water bowls are great for dogs on the go. Try the EzyDog Fold a Bowl.

– Foot Ointment: even if you avoid tarmac, running can still be tough on your dog’s paws. Rocky surfaces, salted roads, snow and frost are all wearing. Protect them with Musher’s Secret.

John Stewart was brought up running dogs form the age of five

Dog scootering

Once you’ve got your dog running, how about upping the pace and excitement with some dog scootering? I met up with scooter designer and enthusiast Chris Lamerton and his huskies for a taste of the sport. Designed as a project for his masters degree, the scooter offers an easily portable, lightweight and cheaper alternative to traditional off-snow dog sledding training and racing rigs.

It also opens up a whole new fun, fast and furious activity for anyone with a fit dog or dogs. Chris recommends that any dog heavier than 14kg can pull a scooter and even smaller dogs, such as Jack Russells can easily pull in pairs. The scooter looks like a souped up kiddies scooter with chunky tyres, disc brakes and full suspension.

The scooter’s suspension soaked up the bumps and rocs and I was soon urging the dogs on with cries of, “hup, hup”

After Chris had harnessed up three of his dogs and whizzed up and down a few times, it was my turn to take to the trail. With a shout of, “Hike” from Chris, the dogs lunged forward and the acceleration caught me by surprise. The scooter’s suspension soaked up the bumps and rocks and I was soon urging the dogs on with cries of, “hup, hup”.

It’s not just up to the dogs to do the hard work though. As the trail kicked up I pushed hard with one leg to assist the dogs and in combination with balancing and working my upper body was surprised by how quickly my heart-rate climbed.

With the huskies recovered, my dog Moses, got a turn in the team and although he didn’t quite pull his weight, he loved running with the other dogs. Chris reckoned he could soon be trained up. Just like training a dog to run training a dog to pull is a progressive process. Chris stressed the importance of keeping it fun, not overdoing it and building up slowly.

Once your dog has the basic strength and fitness and an understanding of a few simple commands you’re good to go. A full guide as to how to train your dogs to pull is available on his website.

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