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Running With Your Dog. How to train your pup to run with you

Starting out

Before you even begin running with your dog, there are three big must-do’s.

1) You must talk to your vet – Please don’t start running with your dog before talking to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is trained on assessing the health of your dog. With a combination of your understanding of your dog’s temperament, activity level, and training and your vet’s expertise on your dog’s internal health, the two of you can ensure that your dog is healthy and run-ready. Your dog can’t talk to you or communicate internal problems; checking in with your vet will ensure that your dog is healthy enough to enjoy running with you.

2) You must have your dog leash trained – This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people try to start running with their dog before their dog even knows leash etiquette. You don’t want to end up on your face because your dog saw a rabbit and yanked you down to the ground. Your dog should know what is allowed and not-allowed when on a leash.

3) Know your local leash and dog laws – Every area has different restrictions and requirements for dog owners. Know what rules you are required to follow, and please follow them. Remember, you represent all runners who run with their dogs when you are out there on the trails! (And please, please, please pick up after your dog. Nothing says “rude owner” like someone who leaves behind a pile of poo.)


Dog Breeds That Don’t Run Well

Some breeds are simply not cut out to running a marathon let alone a mile or two.  Most of these fall into the category of brachycephalic breeds. Their small faces,  flattened noses, partially obstructed airways, and smaller nostrils may make running for any distance out of the question.

These breeds such as Pugs, English Bulldogs, Shih Tzu, Boxers, and Boston Terriers would do better on a leisurely stroll.  

Breeds that have shorter legs such as Bassett Hounds, Dachshunds, Corgi are not ideally suited to running.  They are less likely to be able to keep up the pace especially if you are working on your speed.

Dig (Find the Treasure)

‘Find the treasure’ means the dog will use one or two front paws to dig at the ground. Here’s one way to teach it on command. Gather some treats and put them under a towel while your dog is watching closely. Don’t let your dog use his nose to get under the towel.

Keep encouraging him verbally and showing him that there are treats under the towel, and eventually, he’ll start pawing at the towel. As soon as he moves that paw just a little, say, “Find the treasure!” Reward your dog immediately with a treat from your hand or even from under the towel.

For dogs that are not natural diggers, this may take a while. Remember that you’re looking for that digging behavior. You can give him treats from under the towel or from your hand as encouragement. If he happens to uncover a treat by himself, then praise!

Caution! If you have a dog that digs in the garden and causes trouble because of his digging, you might not want to encourage this behavior.


Your dog should know how to shake hands before learning this trick. Face your dog and hold out your hand as if you are going to shake. When your dog lifts her paw to shake, don’t grab it, just pull back your hand, and say “Wave”. Then give your dog a treat.

At first your dog may not lift her paw very high. But once she realizes that you’re going to give her a treat if she holds it up there, she’ll get it. You may have to tease her a little with your hand so she thinks you are going to shake with her. Waving your hand a little may help to get her paw into a waving motion as well.

And basic commands

If your dog misbehaves on walks, then they probably aren’t ready to run. Teach your dog some basic commands that you can use when you run. “Leave it” is a helpful command, as your dog will learn to ignore or walk away from tempting items on the route (like trash or sticks). Teaching your dog to “Sit” and “Stay” is also very important, especially at traffic crossings.

For a safe and smooth run, your dog should also know how to follow basic commands.

Communication – The key to successful dogrunning

When out running with your dog, it is vital you communicate with him. Using your voice is by far the best way you can train, control and encourage your dog. If your dog is getting it right, praise him! If your dog is getting it wrong, tell him. If you want your dog to do something specific, command him. Your voice is an incredibly powerful tool, and using it effectively is one of the best things you can do to help your dogrunning partnership run smoothly.

Useful commands to teach your dog

Leave it – There are lots of strange things out there on running trails: leftover food, animal pieces/feces, etc.. You do not want your dog to pick something up that could be dangerous to them, or just plain gross. Train your dog to leave objects alone when commanded. Remember, this command should be a permanent command. (In other words, if you tell your dog to “leave it” it should be “leave it” permanently, not “leave it” temporarily.)

Heel – Basic leash etiquette will get you a long way with running. Regardless of whether or not you let your dog lead while you run, your dog should know how to do a tight and a loose heel. This helps you keep your dog in close proximity, in case you need to keep them away from something dangerous or keep them from shoving their nose at another runner who doesn’t like dogs.

Start and Stop – These may seem extremely obvious, but they actually come quite in handy. Teach your dog a specific command for starting running helps your dog distinguish between a normal walk and a running outing. And teaching your dog a specific stop command helps your dog know when you need to stop for any reason: crosswalks, someone walking in your path, or actually finishing the outing.

Directions (Left, Right, U-turn, Straight) – You would be surprised at the level of understanding you can teach your dog. Teaching your dog basic directional commands helps keep running smooth and interruption-free. This is helpful in guiding your dog to the direction you want to go, especially for those who run in urban areas.

Street Crossing – No matter where you run, you will more than likely run into places where you need to cross the street. It is important that your dog has some sort of command as to when it is ok to cross the street and when they should not cross the street. You do not want your partner, and friend, to run out in front of a car because they didn’t know that they needed to stop at the intersection. Teaching your dog a specific command like “Cross” can help teach your dog to stay out of the street unless directly told to do otherwise. This will be helpful for both running and normal activity with your dog.

Emergency Recall – This command is especially important to runners who live in areas that do not require leashes. Your dog needs to have a single command that means: “Drop EVERYTHING and come back to me IMMEDIATELY.” This should not be a word that you use in life. Things like “Come” or “Here” will be confusing to your dog. Do you mean “Come” when you said to your friends, “I’ll come this weekend?” Use a word that only means the emergency recall. Words some owners use include: Pronto, Stat, Vamanos. It is important that your dog knows that this command means business. You never know when this command will come in handy, so make sure that you frequently refresh your dog’s memory of this command.

Running Dogs

If you decide to start letting your dog run alongside your bicycle, determine if this activity is appropriate for your dog. Canicross is another option that allows your dog to run with you but doesn’t add the risk of a bicycle. Remember that while you ride your bike, your dog will need to run the whole time. Consider the guidelines for running with your dog:

  • Your dog should see the vet before starting any new exercise regimen.
  • Your dog must be well-trained and socialized in order to run alongside your bike without incident. Make sure your dog can walk on a loose leash and knows how to properly behave during a walk.

Which Games to Play (And Which to Avoid) Depending on Your Pooch

This headline is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not that there are certain games that you should avoid playing with your dog. However, there are certain dogs, handlers, and games who might not mix well. For example:

Situation 1: Talla the Boxer

Talla the boxer is very fearful and has a history of growling at her elderly owner when he takes her toys away. Talla and her owner probably are not good candidates for playing tug safely because of her fear, her history of growling around her toys, and his age.

Any one of these risk factors would be enough for me to think hard before encouraging tug with an owner-dog pair.

What Games Are Best? If Talla is comfortable with her owner around treats, Nosework might be a better game for them to play!

Situation 2: Slick the Australian Shepherd

Slick the Australian shepherd will play fetch until he drops of heat stroke! He also barks constantly when he wants something, jumping up on his owner and scratching her down the back when he’s excited.

His owner is a busy professional who really only has time for fetch, so she just puts up with the barking and clawing. He won’t quit the game though, so it’s a daily fiasco to balance his exercise with his behavior concerns.

Slick and his owner should probably avoid fetch because of the problems that it causes.

What Games Are Best? Again, nosework would be a great option for teaching Slick to slow down and work independently. He would likely benefit from any of the “Learning Games” listed below. A flirt pole might be a safer way to play with him, since he’s less likely to jump on his owner for this than for the ball.

Situation 3: Turbo the French Bulldog

Turbo the French Bulldog has a really hard time breathing due to poor breeding. He’s got luxating patellas and his nails are too long because he growls when his owner tries to clip them.

Turbo’s 23 year old male owner would love to compete in French Ring or agility, but that’s just too dangerous for Turbo given his health concerns.

What Games Are Best? Rally Obedience would be a safer option for Turbo that would also allow his owner to work out his competitive streak.

Situation 4: Argo the German Shephard

Argos the German Shepherd hates other dogs. He barks, lunges, snarls, and would bite if he got the chance. He also gets overwhelmed easily and has snapped when people touch his hips or startle him.

His owner has always enjoyed going to the park to play fetch and rough housing inside with her past dogs, but this isn’t really an option for Argos.

Argos is probably not ready to play off-leash at the park in case other dogs show up. On top of that, rough housing with him is dangerous for his owner.

What Games Are Best? Playing any of the “Learning Games” would be a great way to bond with Argos safely. Argos might enjoy playing with a flirt pole in the backyard or exploring various sports that keep dogs separate from others during class and competition.

How to Train Your Dog to Run with You

There are some training foundations that will help your pup be a great running partner. While these training skills aren’t necessary, they may help make running easier for both of you. Teaching your dog to run in a consistent position and not switch sides without being asked goes a long way in preventing trips and falls!

Running Heel

A good running heel will keep your dog by your side for the duration of your run. Some runners prefer their dogs be a bit ahead or a bit behind them. Choose the heel position that’s most comfortable for you. And there’s a bonus — perfecting a running heel can actually help your dog’s walking heel. Dogs naturally walk faster than people, so keeping a faster pace can make it easier for a dog to keep their leash loose.

You should be waiting for your dog to finish growing before you start running with them, but you can still work on the running heel by practicing a walking or short-distance jogging heel. Your dog will be ready to run by your side as soon as they’re old enough!

Play this Off-Leash Heel Game to Build Up Your Dog’s Running Heel

  • You can play this game indoors in a larger, open room or outdoors in a securely fenced area.
  • Have some high-value training treats and your clicker (or marker word) ready.
  • Start walking quickly around the space, randomly switching directions, speeding up and slowing down.
  • Don’t worry about trying to get your dog to follow you. It might take them a minute to get some sniffs out before they start to wonder what it is you’re doing.
  • Any time that they happen to hit the correct “heel” position that you want them to run in, click (or say “yes!”) and give them the treat.
  • Stay moving the entire time!
  • This game is teaching your dog that it’s awesome to get into the heel position and good things keep happening there! Plus, it’s less work on your part  — all you have to do is capture the right position with the click and treat.

Watch Patricia McConnell demonstrate this off-leash heel exercise in this video:

Automatic Sit

The automatic sit cue is great to teach a dog, especially if you’re running in a suburban or urban environment with traffic lights and crosswalks. When you are waiting to cross the street, your dog can be trained to sit automatically whenever you stop moving. This helps to ensure their safety around busy streets. Learn how to train the automatic sit.

Here’s a video example of what a trained automatic sit looks like:

Speed and Directional Cues

You may want to develop verbal cues that tell your dog if you want them to speed up, slow down, or which way you’d like them to turn. This is especially helpful if your dog likes to lead the way on your run. You can introduce these cues (“slow,” “speed up,” “right,” or “left”) while out on a run. It can help to be very dramatic, like slowing to a walk or speeding up to a sprint, when first introducing these cues.

  • Start with your dog on their leash outside. Have your training treats and clicker (or marker word) ready.
  • Practice at just a walking speed first.
  • Start walking one direction, and then turn one direction dramatically.
  • As you turn, say “left!” (if you’re going left) and encourage your dog to follow you. As they do, click and treat!
  • Mix up which direction you’re turning, naming the direction for your dog and rewarding for when they turn that direction with you.
  • For speed changes, just before you change speed, say the verbal cue, then click and reward for your dog slowing down or speeding up with you. Be as dramatic as you need to get your pup to speed up and match your pace.
  • Add in different directional or speed cues, making sure to give each one a name (cue) for your dog, clicking and rewarding for when they get it right.

Get Involved in Canicross

If you and your dog love running together, consider getting started in the dog sport of Canicross. This sport started as off-season training for sled dogs and has become quite popular around the world. Canicross is cross-country running with your dog attached to a webbed harness clipped around your waist. Check out how to get started in Canicross here.

You’re now ready to introduce your pup to running! Do you have other things that helped your dog be a good running partner? Let us know in the comments!