How to exercise with your dog as recommended by a running coach and a pet nutritionist

Experts share top tips for working out with your dog

Young fit man getting ready for a run with a golden retriever by his side
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Unlike during the colder months, when people only go outside if absolutely necessary, now that the warm weather is here (kind of), more runners will consider spending more time outdoors with their pets, primarily dogs. However, before you put the leash on your border collie and drag them out for a tempo session, you should take into account the below expert tips.

Although it may seem like a great way to add an extra element of fun to our workouts, it’s important to consider animal welfare and safety before getting your pets involved, particularly if you’ve not participated in this sort of activity before.

Those looking to get in some extra bonding time with their four-legged friend, Ian Scarrott, Running Coach and Personal Trainer at PureGym, and Emma Lee, Nutrition Expert at Burns Pet Nutrition, have put together some top tips for safely working out with your dog.

It doesn’t take too much to get started, but it’s important to consider your pet’s specific requirements – are they already fit and healthy? How often should they be participating in this activity?

But before you head out for a run, consider upgrading your running gear with the help of T3's expert running guides: check out the best running shoes, best trail running shoes and best running watch guides. 

Ian Scarrott: "Some dogs are more suited to intervals; others may love a long-distance run"

“If your dog is a little fitter than you, find ways to creatively channel the energy to give them the workout they need whilst giving yourself a bit of a breather", suggests Ian Scarrott' "For example, you could run to a park together and get some rest for yourself while keeping them active by playing a game of fetch."

What kind of running tempo to go with depends on the breed you have, as well as their individual preferences: "Some dogs may be more suited to intervals of short sharp bursts of speed, others may love a long-distance run”' he adds.

Ian has three pieces of advice and suggestions you should consider:

  • Try hands-free running: You may want to try hands-free running where you are connected by a secure waistbelt which means you are free to concentrate on the route, it also means your hands are free if you should take a tumble. It can help to avoid being pulled around uncomfortably, especially at speed. 
  • Get kitted up correctly: Make sure the harness you use is comfortable for the animal and doesn’t restrict their breathing or cause them any discomfort. Above all you want this to be a fun experience for you and your pet. 
  • Teach your pet new voice commands: This can be a bonding experience for you and your pet, and if it’s a dog you’re training for example it may be helpful in them learning new voice commands, meaning you are more in sync not only when running but also in everyday life.  

Small dog looking in the distance

(Image credit: Future)

“Working out with a pet can also help to increase your motivation", Ian says, "Your animal requires a walk so why not add in more intense exercise, it can certainly help you increase your activity levels and help you maintain a level of accountability in your training."

Training with your pet is a win-win situation for all parties involved: physical exercise benefits your heart, physical and mental health. Ian says you can even strengthen your core by taking the dog for a run: "Whether it’s the increase in cardio-based activity, the extra core strength you are developing from working with a canicross cable, or even the bonding experience of spending time with your pet. "

Emma Lee: "Dogs are susceptible to similar types of skeletal and muscle injury that we are"

“Taking part in a sport with your dog can be beneficial for your furry family member and should be encouraged more often", Emma says, "It helps to increase and maintain fitness and physical/mental health and can also strengthen the bond between caretaker and pet."

But is it only dogs that can benefit from this? Research suggests not. For example, a study found that fish can recognise and form attachments with their primary caregivers. "Move your workout in front of the fish tank!” Emma suggests.

"If you lack the motivation to keep up with your fitness routine, why not mix it up and try including your pet in action", she adds, "Take it slow at first to make sure they’re comfortable with the activity, eat and drink sufficiently, and enjoy this unique bonding experience that both you and your pet are bound to enjoy."

Emma recommends considering the following:

1. What's your dog's breed?

Potentially any healthy dog can be trained to run with people. There are, however, some considerations that must be made when deciding to start any sport with your dog.

"Caution must be taken with brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds", Emma warns people, "These dogs often have problems with breathing and will struggle in the hotter weather as they are not able to cool down effectively. Being able to lose heat will also be an issue for some of the double-coated or heavier-coated breeds such as Siberian Huskies."

She says that some breeds are more prone to orthopaedic issues and should be treated with caution. Dachshunds, for example, are genetically prone to IVDD (disc disease), and a lot of larger breeds may be more predisposed to conditions such as hip dysplasia.  

2. How fit is your pet?

Emma suggests that many dogs will need their fitness built up, much like humans. You must also consider the terrain; running is a high-impact sport, so take care when running on firm ground. Also, be careful on uneven terrain.

"Dogs will be susceptible to similar skeletal and muscle injury types that we are!" she adds, "Make sure you watch for signs of pain or discomfort in your dog when you run. You must also allow your dog time to warm up and cool down. There are many stretches and exercises that you can get your dog to do that will help with reducing the likelihood of injury."

water being poured into a glass

(Image credit: Brendan Church on Unsplash)

3. Monitor food and drink

Emma advises you to feed your dog at least one hour before exercise, ideally earlier than that, to give them enough time to digest the food. She recommends feeding two hours before and not feeding for two hours after exercise: "If you try to feed your dog too much, or too close to active exercise, this can lead to issues such as bloating."

Hydration is also essential, particularly in warmer weather. "A loss of just 7% of your dog’s body water can lead to severe dehydration, and a 15% loss can be fatal", she adds, "It is important to remember not to let them drink too much in one go, however, make sure they rehydrate steadily rather than drinking too much, too fast."

Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is T3's Fitness Editor and covers everything from smart fitness tech to running and workout shoes, home gym equipment, exercise how-tos, nutrition, cycling, and more. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar and Fit&Well, and he collaborated with other fitness content creators such as Garage Gym reviews.