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The perfect motivation to renew your resolution has four legs

Posted on Friday, February 14, 2020
Two women running with leashed dogs

The hardest part of any workout is simply getting yourself to the workout! But, what if I told you there was a great way to keep you motivated—and that motivation involved a special someone working out alongside you? Who is the special someone I am talking about? The answer is simple: your dog! Having a canine companion who enjoys physical activity accompany you on your run can be a wonderful and healthy bonding experience so long as you consider a handful of factors to keep your pet safe and having fun.

Take stock of your companion’s condition

To start, it is always important to be aware of any preexisting conditions that could compromise the well being of your pet while he or she keeps you company while exercising. Preexisting conditions, along with your pet’s physical characteristics, will determine your dog’s abilities when exercising. For example, brachycephalic dogs like pugs and French bulldogs are better suited for walks due to their shortened snouts, which compromise their breathing. You also want to make sure you are considering your pet’s age, as running young dogs who are still growing can cause issues with their joints and muscles, while older dogs may be dealing with ailments like arthritis, which could make running a painful activity. Another important factor is your pet’s weight and size. While aerobic exercise is a great way to shed the pounds, overweight dogs will have a more difficult time building up to runs. A quick check up with your veterinarian can help you determine if running is the right sport for your dog or if maybe other options like walking or swimming would be best.

Though Stephen Carter has cats at home, he gets his “dog fix” and extra miles by volunteering weekly to run with dogs at the Richmond SPCA who are in need of exercise.

Take time to build pace and endurance

Once your dog has a green light from your veterinarian to run, do you and your dog a favor: Take it SLOW to start! Give your dog time to build up his or her stamina. If you have not run in years, you wouldn’t try and run a half marathon straight out the gate, right? In my experience with running new pups, starting off at a slow pace, alternating walking and running, and sticking with shorter distances at first allows me to closely observe my dog in order to respond to his or her unique needs. This will also help you and your running partner find a rhythm together. Additionally, be sure to have proper gear as this can make or break a good run. Avoid the temptation to weigh your dog down with unnecessary items—you want him or her to be comfortable and not carrying extra weight.

  • Fixed-length leash (never a retractable or flexi-lead)
  • Flat collar or harness
  • Reflective item or light (when running at dusk or dark)
  • Water for you and your dog
  • Poop bags to clean up after your dog

External factors can cause some of the biggest hurdles when trying to run with our canine buddies. Planning ahead is key to a successful run. On days when the temperatures are going to be really hot, get out with your pup in the early morning or later in the evening when temperatures will be cooler. Keep in mind that when the temperatures are high, pavement will be hot. If you cannot hold your hand down to the pavement for five to ten seconds, it is too hot for your dog’s paw pads. Consider going on a trail run instead. Not only is this safer for your dog’s feet, but the softer ground is easier on your dog’s joints as well. Be sure to give your dog regular water breaks while running, however, do not let him or her tank up because too much water at once can cause issues such as vomiting and bloat. If at any point during or after a run, you feel concerned that your pet is having a hard time cooling down or seems in distress, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Lisa Alonso ran the 1-mile Dog Jog with a dog who was available for adoption in 2019. Active volunteers in the Running Buddies program have the opportunity to run in the event with Richmond SPCA dogs.

Take out a shelter dog instead

If you don’t have a dog of your own to run with, or your four-legged friend is not the best candidate for running,  consider coming to the Richmond SPCA and joining our amazing Running Buddies program! This volunteer-based running group offers the opportunity, multiple days of the week, to take shelter dogs in need of exercise out for runs of various mileage. This program at the Richmond SPCA is a staff and volunteer favorite and is essential for the welfare of the dogs currently residing at the shelter. There is no better feeling than taking a high-energy or anxious pup out from our humane center for a run and returning him or her to a kennel relaxed and happy.

Set a goal you can accomplish together

Now that you and your dog (or maybe a handful of shelter dogs) are ready to get out and run, don’t you want to run with a goal in mind? Sign up for the Richmond SPCA’s 18th Annual Dog Jog and 5K Run taking place on Saturday, March 21 at our Robins-Starr Humane Center. You can show off your training in the people-only 5K Run, and your beloved best friend can join you for the 1-mile Dog Jog that follows. This lifesaving event is the perfect opportunity to show off all of your and your canine companion’s hard work and training.   

Brittany Pierri is the manager of internal veterinary services at the Richmond SPCA. She is an avid runner who just finished her first marathon in November 2019. She has worked at the Richmond SPCA for more than 11 years and currently shares her home with two senior canines, two feline leukemia positive cats and a flock of chickens with her husband Ben. All four of their four-legged babies are Richmond SPCA alumni of course!

Outside of work, Brittany spends her time gardening, fostering our pets with more involved medical needs. While her own dogs prefer to spend their late years lounging rather than running, she is known to occasionally run shelter dogs.

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