Many runners enjoy running with their dog – not only do you get that dog walk out of the way while you exercise at the same time, but many dogs actually enjoy running and provide runners with companionship and safety. If you are running with your dog in shoes, why not run with them on your barefoot runs too? After all, your dog goes barefoot – or ‘bare-pawed’ – every day!
Dogs are the ultimate barefoot runners, and you can learn a lot from them. If you haven’t been running with your dog before, then common sense and responsible pet ownership will tell you to take it slowly. Your dog’s fitness, and its paw pads, will need to adapt gradually. If you are just starting out barefoot running, then taking your dog with you will let you both adapt gradually together. If you’ve been barefoot running for a while, but your dog’s been staying at home, then drop back your mileage and start out on softer surfaces until your dog has caught up with you.
Running barefoot with your dog means taking the same precautions for health and safety that you take for yourself. If you run in cold or snowy weather, and you decide to wear a minimal shoe, then maybe your dog should do the same. Snow booties for dogs are readily available, as are cold weather coats. Some dogs won’t need them – if you have a Husky chances are it can cope with snow and cold winds, but lighter breeds may need some cold weather protection. Likewise in hot weather, don’t run on surfaces that are too hot for your feet, because they won’t feel good for your dog either.
You’ll also need to carry extra water for your dog and a collapsible bowl unless there is safe drinking water for your dog along your route. The benefit of running barefoot with a dog is that it is unlikely that you will be running so far or so long that your dog will ever suffer the same risks as if joining you on a long hot summer hike, but even so, always be prepared if you run in any weather extremes with your dog. Larger dogs and working breeds can carry some of their own provisions in special doggie back packs – my chocolate lab really enjoys carrying her own belongings! Just be sure that the weight of the items in the backpack doesn’t exceed 10% of the dog’s body weight.
Avoid surfaces that are really tough for bare feet, at least in the beginning. Just as when you first started barefoot running, it took time to get used to different surfaces. When you get back from a run, just as you wash your feet, wiping of your dog’s paw ads with baby or antiseptic wipes will keep your dog’s paws clean and help protect against any infections from minor cuts and scrapes . It will also give you a chance to check over its paws for any injuries or embedded objects too.
Only run with a dog that you can control. Pay attention to leash legislation, and never let your dog run off the leash unless you are in a designated off-leash area and are certain your dog will always return to you when called. If your dog tends to pull or lean on the leash, then spend some time training your dog before going running. Good barefoot running form is essential to avoid injury and get the maximum benefit from barefoot running – if your dog is leaning on the lead and pulling you off balance it will inhibit your technique. This is also why elastic leads that clip to your waist aren’t advisable for barefoot running, because even a gentle tug from your dog will pull you off balance and cause you to take poor or heavy steps. A strong lead about 7 or 8 feet long is best; keep a loop of a foot or so of lead in your hand as a ‘reserve’ that you can let out if your dog pulls so it doesn’t tip you over.
One last thing – running with a dog means picking up dog poop. It may seem obvious, but watch your step! Stepping in dog waste – even your own dog’s – is no fun, especially when you are barefoot. Bring your baggies, pick up your dog’s waste, and watch where you put your feet when you do. This is another place the doggie backpacks come in handy; even on short runs my Labrador carries her own poop baggies, and even her own poop if there isn’t a dog disposal unit nearby! In practice, dog waste is one of the easiest obstacles to avoid, as it usually gives you a sensory warning!
Running with your dog is fun, saves time, and your dog will love it too and be all the healthier for it. Just because you are setting out for a barefoot run doesn’t mean you need to leave your dog at home; so why not take your dog along and learn from the original barefoot – or bare-pawed – runners?
Photo Credit: mysza831 on Flickr