How to train for a marathon with your dog

With the London Marathon 2022 just weeks away, it might be too late to get your dog ready to run it with you this year, but they can still make great training companions.

Whether you want to take your dog to the next big marathon with you or you just want a buddy to jog alongside, you and your pet can have a great time running together.

That being said, there are plenty of caveats and things you’ll need to do to make sure your dog is happy, comfortable and safe doing so with you.

From checking whether their breed is well-suited to running to getting the right kit, Michael Haigh, from pet food brand Webbox, has shared his top tips on how to train for a marathon with your four-legged friend.

Make sure your dog is the right age…

Puppies might be absolutely full of beans, but they won’t have a marathon’s worth of strength in them.

‘It’s wise to avoid running with your dog if they are still young,’ says Michael, ‘as puppies and young adult dogs still have developing bones. Overexercising them during their early years can therefore cause injury or lead to long-term problems like early onset arthritis or hip dysplasia.

‘Keeping up regular walks will help you maintain your cardio while you train for the marathon, though, so if you have a young (or elderly) dog you can still stay active together while protecting their joints.’

Yes, you’ll also want to be careful about pushing an older dog too far.

‘If you are unsure whether your dog is ready to run with you,’ said Michael, ‘take them for a routine health check-up and ask your vet for their advice.’

…And the right breed

Some dog breeds aren’t going to be suited to this kind of heavy exercise – in fact, it could even be unsafe for them if they are, for example, flat-faced.

‘Generally, if your dog is healthy, not too old, and isn’t a flat-nosed breed like a pug or a Shih Tzu, then it should be okay to gradually increase their daily exercise once they’re fully grown,’ advises Michael.

‘Unlike smaller, flat-nosed breeds, medium to large dogs like Vizslas, Dalmatians, Labradors, and Dobermanns can all make great running companions due to their high energy levels and long strides. Their short coats also help them tolerate warmer weather and regulate their temperature better than most long-haired breeds can.

‘However, some longer-haired dogs like collies and huskies can also be well-suited for exercise, as they were historically bred for herding sheep or pulling sledges and are therefore natural endurance runners.

‘Breed can be a great indication of your dog’s fitness and running ability, but their individual personality and health considerations are also key factors at play. Remember to monitor your dog’s behaviour and mood to make sure they are happy and responding well to this increase in exercise.’

Build up their stamina with practice

You didn’t dive straight in with long-distance runs when you got started, so don’t expect your dog to do the same.

Michael says: ‘If you’ve never run together before, start with a ten-minute run around a familiar area and gradually increase this over the following weeks. This allows you to fix any teething problems with different leads, running routes, and your dog’s obedience before you head out on longer training sessions.

‘Especially if you have a larger dog, ensuring that they are well trained on the lead is a vital step before heading out on a run together. Make sure your pup always responds well to your commands to stop, advance, and heel, or using equipment like waist leads could lead to some accidents.’

Get the right kit

It can be tempting to save money and not buy extra running gear, but safety and your dog’s comfort should come first.

‘Waist leads are a great way to go, as they give you hands-free control over your dog and allow you to run normally without unintentionally tugging at their lead,’ recommends Michael.

‘Harnesses can be a great option for some dogs but can be too restricting for others — be sure to find the right one for your dog’s size and breed or opt for a collar if harnesses aren’t working.

‘Running accessories like slim, lightweight backpacks can also be a great investment as you can bring enough water for you and your dog. Especially on long runs or all-day hikes to maintain your endurance before the marathon, it’s also wise to bring some sustenance.

‘Be sure to pack glucose sachets or protein bars for you and some of your pup’s favourite treats or fruit and veg to keep up their energy levels while you train together.’

Know when it’s time to go solo

As fun as it may be to run with your dog, there will likely be times when it’s best to leave them at home.

‘For example,’ Michael adds, ‘you may be at a point in your training when you need to hit exact pace times or supplement your endurance runs with sprints.

‘When running with your dog, you’ll need to stop and pick up after them, as well as give them enough water breaks and ensure that they don’t get too out of breath. It’s therefore best to head out on your own when you need to give a training session your full attention or are doing something too high intensity for your pup to join in.

‘Similarly, you may have to keep up a training schedule whatever the weather, but it’s best to avoid bringing your dog on a run during adverse conditions, such as the heatwaves we’ve been having.

‘Remember that we humans can regulate our body temperatures better than dogs and know when it’s time to take a break. Dogs, on the other hand, can easily overheat and become dehydrated when exercising on a hot summer’s day, so sometimes a run can be too much for your pup to handle.’

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