Training Partners

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I have a great photo of my dog lying down with her head resting on a pair of running shoes. She was certainly giving me a hint… she is my training partner after all! No matter whether your passion is running, biking, or hiking, dogs can make excellent training partners. Not every breed is suitable for running or biking. Some breeds are too heavily boned and risk injury or simply can’t keep up unless the pace is slower. Every breed, however, can join you on some form of a hike.

There are some hiking trails that are not dog friendly. Some are too steep, some have a lot of loose rock or scree that can damage their foot pads, and some are too narrow and have steep drop-offs.

So, when do you start training? Although puppies should not be doing any forced running until at least twelve months of age, it’s good to begin training them to walk beside you and learn a few basic obedience commands right from the start. Puppies can certainly run on their own terms and running and playing with other dogs is great exercise and teaches positive social behaviors. When dogs begin running or biking at an early age, they run the risk of developing problems in their bones, joints, and tendons.

When your new training partner is ready to head out with you, remember to take things slowly at first. Start with a five to ten minute walking warm-up, followed by running or biking for short periods of time. Finish with a five minute cool down. Gradually increase the activity time and monitor your dog for fatigue. Never train in extreme heat or cold and be sure to keep your partner hydrated. Do not do any strenuous activity less than an hour before or after mealtimes to reduce the risk of stomach problems. Head halters or harnesses that allow free leg movement can give you better control when running, particularly if you have a pulling breed. Long runs on pavement can be harmful to paws and joints and pavement can get very hot in summer, so trail running is much better suited to dogs. Just remember to always carry bear spray!

When biking with dogs, be sure to ride in a designated off-leash area or keep your dog on a leash. You should always bike at an appropriate speed for your dog, which is much slower than you might think. It is difficult for most dogs to brake on the downhills and many biking dogs develop arthritis in their wrists later in life as a result of this. I know you will want to keep your training partner safe, so bikes should go in the back of open pickup trucks on the way to the trails, but dogs should not. Injury to dogs falling out of pickup trucks is often life threatening and is easily avoided by transporting them inside the vehicle, correctly tethering them in the back of the vehicle, or safely carrying them in a kennel which has been secured to the vehicle.

So, have fun out there, and happy trails to you and your training partner!

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Dr. Karen MacMillan obtained her Bachelor of Science in 1989 and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1991, both from the University of Guelph. In 2009, Dr. MacMillan became certified as a Canine Rehab Therapist allowing her to further develop her interests in canine sports medicine, puppy development and senior pet care.