Trail running is a wonderful balance of being sure footed and light on your feet. It is a totally different rhythm to road running as you are constantly dodging trees and scrub, running on single tracks that weave and undulate through the hills. You need to develop the art of placing your foot down with purpose but also be agile and ready to leap and dodge as you bound through the trees. Now imagine doing so with your best friend!
Trail running with a dog can be an awesome experience as long as you go into it being prepared. You no longer can just worry about your own trail needs but think about your dog’s needs also. This can include their fitness level, their enjoyment of trail running and also being prepared for emergency situations that may arise along the way. I have put together a bit of a guide on how to introduce your dog to trail running from my own experiences with Kate, so please enjoy!
1. Introduce trail running to your dog slowly
As with any new exercise regime, introduce your dog to trail running slowly and assess to see if they actually like it. Respect your dog – if they don’t like to trail run then don’t make them! Trail running is supposed to be fun for both of you, so if your dog doesn’t show excitement at the prospect then don’t force it! A great way to get an indication of if your dog enjoys the trails is to start off with small runs and access their enjoyment from these. If they do love it then gradually build up to longer distances and more technical terrain.
If you are both starting out trail running, then you can build up your endurance and strength together! Keep track of your progress using running based apps so you can see how far you come, it’s a great motivator and will help the two of you go even further!
2. Trail etiquette
Trail etiquette is an important thing. Australia doesn’t have that many dog friendly trails so to ensure we keep the ones we have open to our K9 friends, we must ensure we apply good trail manners! First things first your dog must have basic obedience commands down pat. I run Kate both on leash and off leash dependent on where we are.
Useful commands while out on the trails include:
Trail running often involves running on technical terrain and often in single track mode. Running your dog on a leash both has benefits and drawbacks. If it is a high use track, then on leash may be the best option. You don’t want your dog running up and tripping anyone over or surprising them if they appear bounding around the corner! It is also handy to have your dog on leash if they are prone to chasing wildlife, if we want to keep these tracks open to dog use then we enter and leave as unobtrusive as we can.
The drawbacks of on leash is that often trail running occurs on single track, and isn’t wide enough for your dog to run comfortably beside you. This means your dog will either run in front or behind which brings me to my second point – your dog’s comfortable running pace may not match your own! In my case Kate’s pace far outstrips my own so you need to work on your dog’s ability to either match your pace or be prepared to run a little harder!
3. Have fun!
Trail running with your dog is supposed to be fun! Learn to recognise when your dog is tired this may be displayed in slower running even stopping and flopping on the ground, even if you aren’t tired yet if your dog is then you should respect that and stop and rest for as long as it takes for your dog to recover.
The bond that is between you and your dog will only get stronger the more you run together! You will both become very in tune to each others cues and signals and the trust and relationship built on the trails will only transfer to home life and make your relationship even better!
The dangers of running off road in Australia are not dire but there are a few things to watch out for. Snakes in particular are something you need to watch out for. As you are running, ensure your dog sticks to the trails and doesn’t go wander off into the bush. As you are running, ensure you make a bit of noise in addition to the vibrations from your feet this will help scare snakes off.
The other danger of running bush trails is feral animal bait. When I see the area has recently been baited I tend to run Kate on the leash as this gives me peace of mind she won’t run off ahead and inadvertently eat some bait if I am not in sight to tell her to stick to the trail and leave it. If you feel your dog has eaten poison then immediately get them to the nearest vet for treatment.
The final thing to watch out for is a post run tick and leech check dependent on where you have run. We recently went running in wet forest and I pulled a leech of myself, so ensure you check both yourself and your dog for critters they may have picked up along the way.
5. Have the right gear and hydration
To make trail running an enjoyable experience, having the right gear is essential! Not only do you have yourself to look out for but also your dog. Water in particular is a must have item on the track. When you are heading out for a run, if you plan to take water for yourself then take water for your dog too! Poop bags, first aid kits and salt for leeches are also items I generally have for just in case situations.
I fit my gear into the DOOG mini running belt (you can see my review of the DOOG mini here). I carry my phone, keys and poop bags for Kate in this handy belt. It stays in place as I run and is actually quite comfortable to wear even while running!
Now are you thinking where do you carry the water? I get Kate to carry it! Kate has a Ruffwear Approach Pack (Ruffwear Approach review here) and it holds both water for myself and Kate for our runs. Also have a small pet first aid kit and salt in there for emergencies that live in the separate top pockets on the pack. Kate is a 17kg kelpie, and as with all dogs if they are to wear a pack the weight should not exceeed 20% of their total body weight. So for longer runs where we need water breaks along the way I get her to carry to 500ml water bottles in each pocket, therefore providing us with hydration but not overweighting her by a long shot.
A great bonus of having your dog wear a pack is this adds extra weight, it makes your dog work a bit harder on the trail and will slow them down a little so you can run easier together on leash – at least to start!
And there you have it!
Trail running with your dog can be an incredibly rewarding experience as long as your expectations of how you need to work together are realistic and you have adequate preparation for both you and your dog’s needs on the trail. So go on get out there and share with us your trail stories!