If you’re a runner with an energetic dog, you’ve probably found that running with your dog is a great way to tame that energy. So once you’ve started trail running, it only makes sense to bring your dog along on the trails, too. If you’re ready to try trail running with your dog, here’s how to get started.
Start with hiking
From your dog’s point of view, there are so! many! new! exciting! things on the trail; or maybe, depending on the dog’s personality, so! many! unknown! scary! things. Even if your dog is a pro at road runs, start with hiking so you can focus on helping your dog become comfortable with the trail environment. Some dogs will take to the trails immediately, while others will need a bit more encouragement. Additionally, hike some trails that contain obstacles like stream crossings and switchbacks so your dog can become familiar with them. (Though switchbacks aren’t much of an obstacle for humans, my dog was initially puzzled.)
Choose the right trail
I usually choose a trail where dogs are allowed off-leash, as it’s more enjoyable for both of us; but of course, practice with hiking first if you plan to go off-leash. Avoid super busy trails – dog-distraction city! And of course, start with shorter distance trail running with your dog, just as you would with road running.
Bring the right equipment
You should bring a leash even if you plan to run off-leash – you never know when you might need it. For example, I leash my dog if we’re approaching another dog who’s on a leash; if they’re on leash on an off-leash trail, I think it’s safest to assume the dog might not be friendly unless told otherwise. While I prefer a hands-free leash for road running, I think it’s essential for trail running; you’ll have better balance if both arms can swing freely. Bring enough water for your dog if there’s none along the trail. And don’t forget the poop bags!
Take it slow
Go for easy-paced trail runs when you bring your dog along. This is not necessarily for the dog – mine can certainly run faster than I – but more for safety. I know I can’t pay as much attention to my dog as I should if I am focused on a hard workout, so I stick to easy runs. Trails are an uncertain environment, so keep your focus on your dog and your surroundings rather than on intervals or pace.
Finally, prepare yourself for a tired, happy, and potentially very dirty dog!
Are you ready to try trail running with your dog? Any tips to share?