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How to Train for a 5K Run With Your Dog

Your dog could be the best training partner you’ll ever have. Here's how to get her road ready, from assessing your pup's fitness to outfitting her with gear.

J.T. Clough  |  Sep 16th 2015


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our August/September issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

So, you’ve decided. It’s time. You want to do something really good for your dog and, of course, really good for you. You’re going to train for a 5K with your dog and then actually run one.

A 5K equals 3.1 miles, or 5,456 yards, or 60 city blocks, or 12 1/2 laps around a track, or 90 laps around your apartment, depending on the square footage. It’s totally doable. Whether your goal is to run three miles without stopping, to lose weight, to have super sexy legs, or to run your fastest 5K ever, your dog can be the best training partner you’ll ever find.

Woman running with dog by Shutterstock.

Woman running with dog by Shutterstock.

1. Find your “why”

Why would you want to train for a 5K with your dog? Your motivation may be different than mine. Most likely, it’s one listed above, in combination with the fact that there could be some guilt that your dog doesn’t really get enough exercise.

I get motivation to run with my dog for a few different reasons, and I’m sure you will too when you think about some of these. For instance, I have lots of people ask me how I eat like I do. Granted it’s usually pretty healthy, nevertheless, I’m always eating and still maintain a no-excess-fat-allowed physique.

My go-to answer is “tapeworms.” That gets a laugh and on occasion an odd glance of “for real?” I usually follow it up with the fact that I run with my dog. I’m a nine-time Ironman finisher, and when I say I run with my dog, I’m only talking three to five miles max at a time, approximately four times a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. So it’s nothing overboard. It’s just consistent, and it keeps me fit and in shape. It does the same for my dog.

Which brings me to another good reason to find the “why” in committing to run a 5K with your dog as your running partner. Mine is called Weimcrimes. When my Weimaraner doesn’t get enough exercise, she does things she’s not supposed to.

Over my years of dog training, there is a common denominator in good dog versus unruly dog every single time. It’s called exercise. People have paid me a lot of money to figure that one out. You can just take my word for it here and save yourself a whole lot of complication.

Man running with dog by Shutterstock.

Man running with dog by Shutterstock.

You want your dog to be happy and more chill about everything in your life? Run with your dog. Exercise. Most days. And don’t forget my favorite part: Have fun with it. Believe me, once you start your dog on a running habit, the wagging and joy you’ll see creates a little play-every-day factor for you, too.

Yet another big reason to take up running 5Ks with your dog — it keeps you looking and feeling young. No joke. I get the jaw drop when people ask me how old I am, and I tell them 51. “What?! No.” Personally I love that response. I can’t quite believe I’m 51, but it’s true, and I attribute it to something as simple as running.

And guess what that means for my dog as well: Yep, people ask how old she is. I say 9. They say, “What? No way.” She looks so young. I like to keep it that way. I want her around as long as possible.

2. Assess fitness levels

Assess your fitness level as well as your dog’s. Many times these don’t match, so take that into account when you start training.

If you’ve been couch surfing for a while and your idea of exercise has been to drive your dog to the park and throw the ball endlessly for him, it’s guaranteed your dog’s fitness level far outdoes yours.

Woman running with dog by Shutterstock.

Woman running with dog by Shutterstock.

If this is the case, don’t try to keep up. Acclimation is key to your success. Start with a little warm up walk, then break into a 10-minute run. That’s it. Honestly, you shouldn’t add more than 10 to 20 percent at most to that time each week. Build your fitness level over time to get to your desired distance.

Should your dog happen to be in way better shape than you are, no problem. Do a nice game of fetch first. Walk back and forth, picking up the ball to throw it for your dog. While you’re at it, touch your toes a few times and add some jumping jacks between ball sets.

Don’t go overboard so your dog has had too much before your run, but if over-exuberance in your dog is a problem, this is a great way to warm up for both of you.

On the other hand, if your dog has been lying around lounging for most of the last year, build the training load for him as well. Too much too fast isn’t good for the fun factor, nor the possibility of injury.

3. Running equipment

The great thing about running is you don’t need a whole lot of expensive gear to get started. Some breathable running gear found in any sporting goods store, a running watch, and a good pair of running shoes will do it.

Notice I did not say sneakers, Converse or — in the tropics where I live — flip flops, better known as “slippahs.” I said a good pair of running shoes. Find your local running store and tell them what your running plans are. You’ll be set up in a jiffy.

Greyhound in harness by Shutterstock.

Greyhound in harness by Shutterstock.

Your dog needs a whole lot less: a collar and leash for the most part will do it. I’m much more prone to a harness instead of a collar since there is significant evidence that pulling on the neck could be harmful to your dog’s physical structure.

4. Stay hydrated

Huge to how you feel before and after, how you recover, and how much fun you have while running. It’s not a myth: Eight glasses of water a day rules. And for your dog, make sure there is always access to water before and after training runs and all day long.

5. Wag more

That’s all you really need. Don’t do too much too fast. Get some good running shoes, breathable running gear, a collar or harness and a leash for your dog. Go! It will be good for you and your dog. I guarantee it.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do check with your physician and vet to make sure running is A-OK for you and your dog.
  • Do warm up with at least a five-minute walk or a game of fetch with your dog before you take off at whatever you consider a full running pace.
  • Do carry poop bags with you at all times. The fastest way to get dogs banned from the coolest running places ever is not picking up after them.

Now that you know what to do, don’t forget what you should not do:

  • Don’t assume all dogs should run. Some should walk like the flat-faced short-nose type, known as brachycephalic (Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzu, Pekingese, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels). They can’t get enough air fast enough.
  • Don’t start your dog too young. A puppy has soft bones, and the platelets aren’t fully closed until at least a year, usually 18 months. Walking is best for this age.
  • Don’t feed your dog right before a run. It doesn’t feel good for him and there’s evidence it can cause bloat, which can be fatal for your dog.

Read more about exercising with your dog:

J.T. Clough is a lifestyle dog trainer, dog trainer business coach, and author. Finisher of nine Ironmans, she teaches people to train dogs through health and fitness and A Life Well Played. Follow her at her website jtclough.comInstagram and Twitter @dogstreetschool, and the A Life Well Plaed Facebook page.