If you made the decision to complete a marathon without having done any previous endurance training, you wouldn’t run headlong into the first race you came across, would you? Of course not—you could seriously injure yourself. Building up to distance running takes time, dedication and effort.
If you’re already an avid jogger and an energetic and eager-to-please GSD has entered your life—and you’re excited at the prospect of a running partner—hold up before you run off into the distance together. You wouldn’t expect your new dog to automatically keep pace with you, would you? If co-jogging is your exercise of choice and, by default, your dog’s, he needs time to work up to your level.
Wild canines don’t break out into prolonged runs like herd animals. Even during the hunt, wolves, coyotes and foxes act only as master sprinters. Other times, they move like our domesticated friends—they lope along, stop, sniff and rest.
Dogs might not choose to run like humans do, but many—German shepherds included—can be properly physically conditioned over time, making short runs safe for the dog and enjoyable for you both. (Interesting fact: According to Dr. Ernie Ward, dogs and humans both are wired to experience the “high” feeling of euphoria through endocannabinoids, chemicals produced naturally by the body during high-intensity training.)
The Workout Windup
Though exercise needs are based on age, breed, size and overall health, your dog should spend between 30 minutes to two hours on activity every day. Breeds in the hunting, working or herding groups (e.g., Labrador retrievers, hounds, collies and shepherds) need the most exercise.
Just as humans should visit their doctor for the OK before embarking on a new exercise plan, you should first talk to your dog’s veterinarian about your co-jogging plans. If your GSD is younger than 1 year to 18 months of age, the vet should caution against distance running while bones are growing and growth plates are closing.
If you’re given the all-clear, start slow and observe your dog’s response; add mileage as he gets stronger and his endurance level builds. (For detailed advice on training plans, running intervals, distance advice and more, visit active.com/running/articles/how-to-train-your-dog-to-run-with-you, poochto5k.com or vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/ready-set-go-running-with-your-dog. Google “how to start running with your dog” to view myriad webpage results, as well as follow forums for posting questions and sharing experiences.)
Allow for warm-up and cool-down periods before and after your run. Walking to the park or around the block beforehand should prepare the muscles for a decent jog. Dogs won’t naturally overdo exercise like humans, so it’s important to read your pet’s behavior and watch for signs that he isn’t up to a run. A dog with a sore limb or a stomachache, or a dog that is just generally tired won’t make a good running companion for that day. Watch his response to movement and react accordingly. Do a walk instead of a run that day, or do more frequent but shorter walks rather than one long one.
Always keep in mind your own running/conditioning process—and those days you just didn’t feel like running.
• Excessive panting during or after the exertion
• Extreme thirst
• Lagging behind
• Lameness, limping or a reluctance to move in usual ways
• Appearing overtired post-exercise or sleeping or laying down more than normal
• Reluctance to go out for a run
• Missing mastered cues or commands
Turn Down the Heat
According to Dr. Justine Lee, a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and CEO of VetGirl, the most common dangers associated with exercising with your dog are heat stroke, pad abrasions and soreness. Dr. Lee’s rule of thumb is if temperature plus humidity are greater than 150, it’s too hot for your dog. For example, if the temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity level is at 80 percent, the aggregate is 155. “In my opinion, this is too hot to run,” says Dr. Lee. “If you want to torture yourself and run, go for it. But, in general, only do intense exercise with your dog if temperature plus humidity are less than 150.
Also keep in mind that dogs overheat quicker than humans. Fur, limited heat loss from sweat evaporation, an inability to self-regulate their pace, an eager-to-please demeanor and a few extra pounds all contribute to one furry combustion engine.
“When in doubt, exercise during nonpeak heat hours—very early in the morning or late in the evening,” says Dr. Lee. “Most importantly, if you notice your dog is showing early signs of heat stroke, stop and take a break. Get your dog some water. And when in doubt, walk him home.”
Signs of Heat Stroke
• Excessive panting
• Dark red or dark pink gums
• Elevated heart rate
• Diarrhea, progressing to bloody diarrhea
• Kidney failure
• Difficulty breathing
Anything that’s good for your joints is good for your dog’s, which means running on any soft ground surface (grass, dirt trails, beach) is better than unforgiving pavement. You have protective shoes to protect your feet; myriad dog shoes and booties are manufactured to protect pads against surface heat, road/trail debris and ice and snow. Unfortunately, not all products fit great, and some dogs can’t stand to wear them.
In areas where snow and ice are common, wash your dog’s paws immediately after a run, as salt and other chemicals can be toxic—particularly for lickers. During hot summer months, if you’re not going to jog on grass, a dirt trail or at the beach, face your palm down flat on the pavement to test the surface temperature—you might be surprised by how hot it can get. If your hand doesn’t burn after keeping it in place, your dog’s pads are safe.
Abraded paws signal you need to rethink your co-jogging routine. While pads are tougher than human feet and have diminished pain sensation, abrasions and raw pads are painful!
Always check paws during run breaks and post-exercise sessions.
Feel Their Pain
Remember to adjust your expectations as your dog transitions into his senior years. His spirit makes him want to join you just as much as ever, but his body isn’t up to the task.
Dogs with osteoarthritis or orthopedic problems still need regular exercise—pets that remain trim live longer and suffer less from osteoarthritis and other physical issues. However, once a dog has developed osteoarthritis, the constant pounding of running is painful. Slow your pace so your dog can walk quickly beside you. Take walks in the park or at the beach. Swimming is an excellent alternative once your dog passes the point of “sore” return on bones and joints.