Trail Running with your Dog (Beginner’s Guide)


Trail Running with your Dog

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You’ve decided you want to go trail running with your dog. Awesome! Getting to be out in nature, attacking the trail with your best friend can be a great bonding experience and great cardio for you both. There are a few things that you want to prepare for, both before and during your run and a few things to be mindful of.

90% of having a great trail running experience with your dog comes to down to preparation. Make sure to research the trail to make sure it’s appropriate for your dog. Make sure to bring the proper gear your dog will need on the run. Finally, be alert to your surroundings, other people and other animals.

In this article, let’s look at each of these aspects a bit further so you can be prepared to have a great run with your four-legged running mate!

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Trail Running with your Dog


Know Your Dog

First things first, take an honest assessment of your dog’s fitness level and general love of running. Our older dog, Chompers, absolutely loves trail running. In fact, I’m pretty sure she loves it even more than I do. However, Chompers is 15 years old now and while she can still run with the best of them, she doesn’t do as well with long runs like she used to.

Chompers after a trail run
Taking a well-earned break after a great run to enjoy the view!

Because of this, I’m very mindful of picking trails that are a little bit shorter so she can still enjoy them. On the opposite end of the spectrum, puppies are not quite ready to be trail runners until they’re about a year old. (Our tips for hiking with a Puppy) When in doubt, check with your vet.

Is your dog’s fitness level ready for a trail run? Does she run at the park? Do you go for runs around your neighborhood? Being a mile out into woods on a trail is not when you want to find out that your pup tuckers out 15 minutes into a run. If you’re not sure, go for some practice runs around your neighborhood and see how they do.

Most all trails mean going into the woods. Going into the woods means ticks. Make sure your dog has some form of tick protection whether it’s a pill, spray or collar.

Lastly, does your dog love to run? Let’s be honest, most dogs do love running, but not all do. If your dog isn’t a runner, don’t force it to do something it doesn’t want to do. It will only lead to frustration for both you and your dog. Instead, find an activity that you both can enjoy. Maybe trail running isn’t your pooch’s cup of tea, but a slower paced hike might be.

Research the Trail

As someone who has personally shown up to a trail only to find out that dogs were not allowed on trail, I can’t stress this part enough. Do some research on the trail you are going to visit. First and foremost make sure dogs are allowed on the trail.

Are there any restrictions to dogs on the trail? Certain time of day? On leash and/or off leash? Restrictions on length of leash? All of these answers are usually pretty easy to find with a quick google search and can save you a lot of headaches.

Trust me, it is not a good feeling to drive 45 minutes with two dogs only to end up doing a couple laps around the parking lot.

Also, like I mentioned with Chompers earlier, make sure the trail is an appropriate difficulty for your dog. When in doubt, start with an easy trail your first time out and work up from there.

Trail Running Gear for your Pooch

One of the most important aspects of trail running with your dog is making sure they have the proper gear! Things like making sure they have their own water bowl and a proper running leash will help ensure your runs go smooth and are enjoyable for BOTH of you!

Collapsible Water Bowl

Although you won’t need much, especially for a shorter 30-60 minute run, there are some gear considerations for your pooch that will make trail running with your dog a smoother, more enjoyable experience.

My biggest recommendation is a collapsible water dish. Your dog needs to stay hydrated just like you do and getting a drink out of a stream may seem like a good idea, but dogs are susceptible to the same pathogens in water that humans are.

Mia drinking out of a water bowl
We’ve had collapsible water bowl for years. It’s one of the best and most used purchases we’ve ever made.

However, if you’ve ever tried to have your dog drink from a water bottle you know what a disaster that turns into and your dog bowl from home isn’t probably something you want to lug around in a knapsack for an hour. Collapsible bowls are lightweight, small and soft – 3 important qualities for a trail running bag item.

Newer models like this one even have a carabiner attached to them. With that you don’t even have to put the bowl in your pack. Just hook it on and you’re good to go. Brilliant.

As an added bonus, not only are they great while you’re out on the trail, but they also are great to have once you get back into the car for the ride home!

Leash for Running

Next is the leash you use. What leash you end up using is going to be highly dependent on your dog. Does your dog pull? Are they going to want to stop and sniff every few minutes? Is passing other dogs on the trail going to be an issue? These are all things to keep in mind and need to go into what type of leash you’ll want to use.

If you have a dog that will do a good job of running right with you, then you may want to look into a waist attached leash. My favorite is one made by a company called SparklyPets. The waist belt allows you to not have to hold a leash, giving you the ability to run more naturally. However, built in handles gives you control over your dog if needed when passing other dogs and humans.

If your dog does take off after a squirrel, the built in bungee will help you both from yanking the crap out of each other.

Finally, the reason I really like the SparklyPets leash is because the bungee actually connects to two steel hooks that are integrated into the belt itself. I just don’t fully trust a plastic buckle being the only thing securing my dog from complete freedom in the woods.

Poop Bags

This may not be the most pleasant thing to discuss, but it’s even more unpleasant seeing your pup’s number 2 on the trail. Even though many trails will actually provide waste bags at the trailhead, always make sure to bring your own.

And for the love of everything holy, don’t leave your used bags on the side of the trail. We see this wayyyyy too much, especially considering how many waste basket stations we have on the trails near us. Throw your bags away!

Paw Protection

Most of the time, most dogs are just fine running “barefoot” on the trails. However, in harsh weather or on particular trails you may want to consider something to protect your dog’s paws. Musher’s Secret wax ointment can be applied to your dog’s paws and it will add a layer of protection.

You can also go with booties too, as long as your dog won’t immediately do everything in their power to take them off their feet and will be so completely consumed with removing them that you can’t get them to do anything else. (Does that sound like speaking from experience?)

Treats

Last but not least, treats! Did your dog do a great job sitting when you stepped to the side of the trail to let a big group pass by? Did they listen to their “drop it/leave it” command when they picked up something you didn’t want them to? Make sure to reward them for their great behavior! It’s also a nice calorie bonus to help them stay charged up for the run.

This is, of course, only if your dog wants them. When we’re out on the trail, Mia will take a treat, but Chompers has no time for them. She’s too concerned with getting back on the move!

Doggy Backpack

Don’t feel like carrying all this extra stuff for your dog? Have them carry it themselves! I first started using a pack when Chompers was younger. She had a ridiculous amount of energy as a younger dog and I found that having her carry her own water helped burn a little extra energy.

Honestly, now that she’s much older, I’d be very hesitant about adding any extra weight to her, but our other pooch Mia is more than happy help out!

If you’ve never seen a ‘doggy backpack’, here is a great example of what one looks like.

Things to Watch Out For When Trail Running With Your Dog

There are a few things you need to be more aware of when you’re trail running with your dog. One I already mentioned. Dogs are not somehow immune to water pathogens. When you come across a water source, if you wouldn’t drink the water yourself, you shouldn’t allow your four-legged friend to either.

Other Dogs

The most common thing to be aware of when trail running with your dog is, well, other dogs. You know better than anyone how your dog reacts to other dogs. Always err on the side of caution. Trails can sometimes lend themselves to tight passing spaces. If you need to stop or step out of the way to allow someone else to pass – do it.

Worry about breaking that PR some other time.

Chompers and a Horse
Chompers isn’t sure how to react to horses when we pass them on a trail (which isn’t often). Do I bark? Am I supposed to chase this thing?

Other Animals

Be on alert for animals that may cause your dog to veer off course. Squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and deer are common for us here in Georgia. Also, stay alert for snakes that may be hanging out on the edge of trails, especially if that’s where your pooch is spending most of their time.

Know what animals you may run into where you are. Everything from the minor distraction (squirrel) to the major potential issue (bear).

Finally, depending on the trail you’re on, you always may across the occasional horse. Our girls are always very perplexed when we come across a horse.

Plants

The easiest way to guard against pesky plants like poison ivy, poison oak, foxtails and anything with a thorn is to try to keep your dog onto the trail and not “trailing off” into the neighboring plants and trees. I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be an expert on which plants could be a particular problem for your problem and the truth is, unless you’re a full fledged wilderness expert, neither should you.

If you notice your dog excessively sneezing or itching or find a rash after a run, take your furry friend to the vet and have them checked.

Final Thoughts

With a little bit of preparation and planning, trail running with your dog can be one of the most enjoyable things the two of you can do together. I’ve been trail running with Chompers for years and she is never more excited than when she knows we’re taking a car ride to the trail. If it’s something you’ve been thinking about, take some of the tips in this article and go for it!

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Ryan H

I love hiking and being outdoors with Jen and our two rescue dogs, Chompers and Mia. I also enjoy a good weekend trail run. I'm also really enjoying sharing some of the knowledge we've learned along the way here on Zenful Hiking!

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