Trail running with your dog

Trail running with your dog

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.

Ready to try trail running with your dog? Here's everything you need to know.

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!

Trail running with your dog - the aftermath

Are you ready to try trail running with your dog? Any tips to share?

Linking up with Wild Workout Wednesday & Coaches’ Corner

22 Comment

  1. karen says: Reply

    You may have been prepared for a muddy dog, but it doesn’t look like your car was. Maybe you need something like this:

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      The back seat of the car is for muddy dog transport. Just make sure you don’t sit back there 😉

  2. I don’t have a dog but great tips. I imagine a trail run would be overwhelming for a dog so starting slow seems smart.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      My dog thinks it’s the greatest but we’ve definitely met other dogs who were a little timid starting out.

  3. Love that we are both talking about running with our pups today! You should definitely enter the Whistle giveaway–it would be perfect for you!
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…How to Turn Your Dog into a Running Partner (Whistle Review)My Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Because dogs are the best running buddies!

  4. Oh my gosh your pup is so adorable!! My Charlie does best on paved trails, but I think Ollie could have the makings of a true trail runner (once he is a bit more trained).

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I bet Ollie would love trail running! Plus it’s one of the best ways to get out all that energy 😉

  5. Now that I’m in Austin, I have access to a lot more trails! Hopefully I can get a four-legged friend soon to join me on adventures 🙂

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      How exciting about the trails! And the potential dog 🙂

  6. I wish I had a puppy to go trail running with!!! What a cutie!

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Thanks! Unfortunately she knows it 😉

  7. Rachel says: Reply

    Good call on hiking first. I took my pup out to the trail the other day to get her familiarized a bit. We stood at the trailhead for 15 minutes while she sniffed. Needless to say, we didn’t make it very far that day. Lol.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I’m sure she’ll love the trails in no time!

  8. I haven’t yet introduced my dog to running alongside me just yet, but am eager to get him out there with me. I’m always worried he’ll get too distracted to run in the same direction I’m going, but hopefully with some training we can get there!

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      The hands-free leash is actually helpful for that! It’s made of a strong bungee cord that will pull back if the dog tries to go too far. With that + a harness my 70-lb dog can’t pull me around even if she tries.

  9. What a perfect running pal you have!

    Our dogs couldn’t run even on flat ground – let alone trails 😛
    Kristy from Southern In Law recently posted…Recent Things: All Things Sweet and Hoarder ConfessionsMy Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Haha! Occasionally I think it would be nice to have a lazy dog though…

  10. Emily says: Reply

    Running with dogs makes running so much fun; our dogs aren’t usually the greatest as huskies for running off leash (we’ve never taken them off leash), but they do love trail running and hiking.

    And I had to giggle at Kristy’s comment. 😀

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I’m thankful my dog will stick close off-leash…occasionally we run on trails where we have to keep her on-leash and it’s more exhausting for both of us!

  11. Mark Burriss says: Reply

    Be advised of trail hazards like poison oak here in NorCal. My lab knows no boundaries so have mostly done beach runs.
    Looking forward to more in the hills around Santa Cruz if there’s any advice.

  12. Laurie says: Reply

    I used to run trails with my dog Benji. He’s at an age where he’s more of a hiker now. Great post!

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