Doggone It! How To Trail Run With Your Dog

Junebug running in the eastern Sierra Nevada.

The way its ears lay back, how its tongue falls from the side of its wide-open mouth, the fluidity of its gait: a moving dog is a happy dog. Some dog breeds are built for short walks, while others are made for lightning sprints. And, still others are built with endurance any runner would envy. At whatever the appropriate speed and distance, a dog in motion is a happy pooch.

Some of us runners like to share our prized sport with canid companions. For example, my dog, a Border Collie who could run almost forever, was my running companion for eight years. She and I shared thousands of road and trail miles. Old age is getting the best of her these days, so she’s now my favorite company for a walk around the block.

Trail running with a dog is an awesome way to spend a day. I won’t forget running with Junebug on dusty, Chihuahuan Desert roads or along elk trails crisscrossing Montana’s sagebrush plateaus. Trail running with a dog can also turn terrible. This winter, a co-worker’s dog nearly died after falling into a creek and becoming lodged underneath ice. To save the dog, its owner had to go underwater to pull the dog out. When the dog turned up not breathing, they performed doggie CPR. The dog survived, but I bet its owners wished the day had proceeded differently. And, take a look at this sad story of a man who died last weekend trying to save his dog while on a hike. [Broken link to Wend Mag (RIP) removed.]

Success while trail running or otherwise adventuring in the great outdoors with a dog requires a bit of conscious effort. It’s your job, as the dog’s owner, to make responsible decisions on behalf of the environment, other trail users, and your dog.

Caring for the Environment
Most trails are located on land that’s being conserved by someone or some agency, from private lands with conservation easements to public lands under city, county, state, or federal management. And, conserved lands typically have regulations for use developed to maintain their natural integrity.

Junebug on a snowshoe trip in Montana.

Some areas may have dog-use regulations in place to prevent watershed contamination via dog feces. This is common in natural areas that serve as both popular play places as well as water sources for large human populations. Dog use is also regulated in natural areas for wildlife protection. Ground-nesting birds, animals that perceive dogs as predators, and wild canids are examples of wild animals that can be negatively affected by the presence of dogs.

If a trail system permits dogs, it is still up to you to do no harm to the environment. When passing through a delicate wetland, leash your dog so that it doesn’t trample vegetation. Follow the area’s recommendations for feces cleanup. Do not allow your dog to chase wildlife. It’s my opinion that a dog can have a negligible impact on the environment through which it travels with a little help from its owner.

Caring for Other Trail Users
Some folks love dogs, and some folks don’t. I, for one, love dogs I know. But I don’t love an approaching unknown dog. That’s because a strange dog punched its canine all the way through a piece of my hand about five years ago on a trail run.

Some natural areas have enacted dog regulations to provide everyone trail access whether they are a dog lover or not. Nearby-to-me, for example, some areas have dog days and non-dog days in alternating fashion. Other natural areas have dog leash laws in place to keep dogs under control and, thus, away from the folks who don’t want to share the wilderness with canids.

Junebug on a run in Death Valley National Park.

Beyond regulation, trail running dog owners should also possess the skills needed to keep their dogs to themselves. You should have the ability to recall your pooch under every dog-distracting circumstance. Can you keep your dog away from someone’s squeaky bike, a trail runner hauling arse, or another dog? The answer should be yes. Such infallible control, be it via a leash or voice, is founded in obedience training and practice long before you hit the trail.

Caring for Your Dog

Junebug on a hike in southern Utah.

A dog is a dog, a little creature with moderate intelligence that will do almost anything to please its owner. Some dogs know their limits. But, let’s face it, most don’t. Dog owners are, thus, more like dog governors.

When you’re planning a voyage, think about how the terrain, the trip’s length, and the area climate will affect your pooch. Will hours of repeated padding on rough terrain injure your dog’s feet? Several years ago, I took Junebug on a 20-mile run on the dirt roads of Death Valley National Park. By the end, the pads of her feet were tender and cracked. I learned the hard way the toll terrain took on my dog’s feet. If you worry about foot injuries, get a pair of dog booties and let your pooch practice wearing them around the neighborhood first.

If you’re planning a long trail run with your dog, consider its fitness level and make certain that your dog has the endurance to happily go the distance. For long trail runs or outdoor adventures, your dog needs food and water, just like you do. Sometimes your dog can drink from creeks and lakes to hydrate, while you’ll need to carry water for your dog in other areas.

Weather affects dogs. Some dogs are not made for exercise in extreme heat or cold, while other dogs don’t like stormy weather. Border Collies are notoriously sensitive to loud noises, so taking Junebug on a run in a thunderstorm would torture her. If your dog is big, black, and furry, think twice about a long run on hot day.

One last note on caring for your dog when you’re trail running: keeping your dog under leash or voice control also keeps it safe. Once, at the knife-edge top of Montana’s Bridger Mountains, about seven miles out and in rugged terrain, I encountered a couple looking for their dog. The previous day, the unleashed dog ran away from them and didn’t come back. I don’t know if that dog was ever found, but can you imagine what type of death a lost domestic dog might have in a place as wild as Montana.

 

A Couple Last Thoughts
The politics of dogs on trails is, in many geographic areas, contentious. Your dog deserves a lifetime of good play, and so does everyone else out there. Keep everyone happy, including your canid best friend, by following local dog regulations and making decisions in the name of your dog’s safety.

Do you run with your dog? If so, what have been your favorite experiences… and your toughest? Whether or not you have a dog, what do you see as the biggest issues with dogs on the trails?

Meghan and Junebug trail running in Montana.

Meghan Hicks: is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

View Comments (68)

  • I run with my dogs 50-80 miles a week year round. The set up I use is a Go-Lite waist belt, swivel with a quick release, carabiner, wrap ring, shock/bunge cord, wrap ring and 2 leads. They both wear X-back harnesses and a neck line on occasion. The dogs know the basic commands gee (right), haw (left), hike (mush) etc. The set up is inexpensive and the only thing that I have replaced is 2 shock cords over 4 years. I use a local company http://www.nooksackracing.com for supplies. There is nothing like being pulled up a hill at the end of your run. I have hounds so occasionally I get in some speed work when they pick up on a scent.

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • Oops not sure how to edit my above post -the biggest problem is unleashed dogs when others aproach. When running where other dogs are present my leashed dogs have been attacked by them, my lines get tangled around my legs and I usually end up on the ground. I can only release one, the other will run off for hours and go hunting. Last time this hapened the owner didn't even apologize she just walked up to me leashed her dogs and walked off.....

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • my jack russell ran 19:50 for 5K last fall. she's going sub-19 in '11!

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • I have a pair of Vizslas that are not quite a year old. I started taking them on some of my runs this spring. Now they go on all my runs, as they cry and carry on if I leave on a run without them. We started out running four miles at a time, then eight, then ten. Last weekend we went out for sixteen, four or five of which were off leash in a prairie area. They had a blast and sacked out on the couch the rest of the day (just like Dad). Vizslas have amazing endurance and love to run. It's been easy so far as we've been running in mild temperatures. I'll really have to watch them as the temperatures climb and be sure to take water for them on our runs. The three of us are learning what works and what doesn't, but one thing is sure... It truly is a joy to run with man's best friend!

    Tom

    Ankeny, IA

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • Love running with my dog, and I write about it often. He is a spectacular endurance athlete, I say. I get grumpy with folks who let thir dogs off-leash and do not/cannot control them. My dog stays at my heels, and has no real interest in other critters.

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • I also have a Vizsla who is a great running companion. I love running with my dog off leash-when allowed. I get extremely irritated by dog owners who don't follow the trail regulations and allow dogs to run off leash when not permitted.

    I love dogs, but I still find it disconcerting when an unknown dog approaches me and the owner is out of site. I've had unknown dogs attack my leashed dog many times, which is incredibly frustrating. I run with my dog on a waist harness, so I inevitably get caught up in these skirmishes. In one such instance, I was running up a switchback when a dog charged out of the brush from above the trail at my dog and me. My dog jumped back, tripping me and causing me to fall. The charging dog attacked my dog, and my dog tried to run away, which dragged me down the trail a bit, bloodying me considerably. This whole situation could and should have been avoided had the owner simply followed trail rules and had his dog leashed.

    Lastly, many dog owners love to let their dogs run off leash even when it's not allowed because their dog is friendly, they say, and they don't worry about it doing harm to others. I have a friend who has an aggressive dog and they take pains to keep their dog away from other dogs when on a public trail. However, when an unleashed dog keeps running up to their dog to play, they have a difficult time protecting the other dog. Again, if owners followed the rules and kept their dog on a leash, this situation would be avoided.

    Rant over. Dogs are great, just be a responsible owner and follow the rules of the trail you are on.

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • I'm with you! People not following the leash laws are flirting with danger. We have several off leash parks around here, but outside of them, my dog has been mauled and I've been bitten, both by unleashed dogs. The time I got bit the owner didn't say a word to me even when I got in his face. I ended up having to get rabies shots because he wouldn't give me any information.

      I'd love to let my dog off, but it's just too risky for him and others.

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • training collars work well too. In my opinion the best of both worlds - dog can go at its own pace and you still have control when other dogs or people show up. Other dogs out of control really bug me so I don't let my guy get close to others unless invited.

    I don't know if the a dog off leash with a training collar is annoying to others - love to hear what folks think .

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • jared, are you talking about a collar that beeps or shocks to recall a dog? If so, I'd love to hear what people think of being around a dog recalled in this way.

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • I run with my dog and she loves it other than in hot temps. She is 7 months old and going about 2-3 miles at a time. I'm pretty sure she would go longer but she's still young. She is working up gradually. What annoys me is other dogs running loose. Yes my dog is friendly but she does not tolerate dogs running up to her or me. I would rather people just keep them on a leash.

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • Jenny, thanks for your thoughts! It sounds like your pup is already learning the joy of trail running. Take heart, many of the friendliest dogs do not react well when they are on a leash and are approached by off-leash dogs. Dog obedience experts say it's well in the range of normal for a dog to react defensively in a situation like this, where the dog has no control over its personal space. Here's to many more years of running with your dogs!

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • I love my dog but also hate getting rushed at and tripped by other people's dogs on the trail. Once my husband and I made the mistake of running on an unknown dirt road and must've wandered onto private property because we encountered two very scary off-leash Rottweilers who were extremely threatening. Ever since then, when I run solo, I carry Muzzle brand dog repellent in case I encounter another threatening dog. Fortunately I haven't had to use it, but I like having it handy in my hydration pack's pocket just in case. Here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/Mace-Brand-Muzzle-Repellent...

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • Sarah, that sounds like a frightening situation! We used to encounter lots of off-leash and threatening dogs in the Sierra foothills. Bryon carried a small canister of pepper spray with him, too.

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • jcazz, thanks for your thoughts! When unleashed and leashed dogs meet, my experience is like yours, that the outcome is rarely positive. May you and your dogs have years of happy and safe running!

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • She's got wheels, doesn't she? Go lil' doggie, go!

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • You're right, Tom, dogs are awesome running companions! I hope you and your Vizslas have years of fun ahead of you.

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • Well, Ned, that's an awesome devotional to not only Bristol, but the beauty of trail running with a dog. Wow, and thank you for sending us over for a look!

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • Andrew and Adam, you both have strong feelings about dog owners who do not obey local regulation. Negative incidents that arise from these owners are at the heart of many heated debates over dogs on trails around our country. It sounds like we share the same opinion, that dogs are awesome and so are owners who respect local rules. Enjoy your runs with your respective pooches!

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • One of the greatest joys I have running is to run with my dog.

    I think the most important thing about running with a dog is owner control. I'm an advocate for the vocal leash -- train the dog to heel when other trail users are approaching. It's amazing what a little off-leash training can do. Though there are, of course, many instances when a physical leash is necessary (and I at least carry one when encounters with others are likely), I think a leash is overkill IF the dog is trained.

    And I absolutely believe that we are both safer running trails when she's not leashed to me. No tangles, strangles, trips, or flips.

    But I also recognize that the Eastern Washington/North Idaho trails that I run on are pretty lonely (I often see more moose than other people/dogs), and this affords me the luxury of running with her off the leash most of the time. I visit the Salt Lake-area often and it's quite the turn-off to see how dog-restrictive the trails are there. At this point in my life I'd rather have solitude than Solitude. :)

    Some photos of Sadie: http://www.ikeeprunning.com/p/sadie.html

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • Wow, Sadie is a beauty! She's definitely a herding dog, do you know what kind? Yours and her running relationship reminds me of the one Junebug and I used to have. Lots and lots of miles shared on some lonely trails, probably a dream come true for an endurance dog like yours. Your comment touched on invaluable advice for dog owners who run trails with their pooches: training. Happy running!

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

      • She's a border collie mix. :)

        And I forgot to mention what how pretty Junebug is too. I'm always so happy seeing active breeds owned by active people. :)

        Cancel reply

        Leave a Reply

        Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • You said it Scott! I personally do not feel comfortable at all running with Kona on leash and I do not understand why so many trails have dog restrictions. The trails here are so technical that if I run with her on leash I risk to put us both at risk for injury and accidents.

      ****** https://www.facebook.com/RunningWithKona

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • I love running with my dog Maddie, a Brittany/Border Collie mut. Only one negative incident. We jogged up a local peak after work, I planned to glissade the couloir on the way down, the dog was unprepared for this and went for an uncontrolled slide. No injuries but I was worried! She wouldn't stop licking my face when I got to her!

    Here in Anchorage dogs are excellent bear/moose repellant. A friend's icelantic sheep dog has treed a black bear. Also a very dog friendly town.

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • MikeC, thanks for your comment. This reminds me of a time I had Junebug out on an steep and technical trail. She endo-ed a time or two, then sat on the ground, seemingly stunned for a minute. She was fine, but it was a bit harrowing! I'm glad Maddie turned up alright as well and thanks for sharing the story!

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • I'd note that the repellant factor may work well for the owner, but can create a risk for other trail users. Also in Anchorage, I've had the rather frightening experience of being charged by a moose with an unleashed dog nipping at its heels on the Coastal Trail. The dog's owner was not at risk, but we were. Met the owner on our return trip, who did not particularly care in the least that her dog created a potentially dangerous situation. God knows we see enough moose on the trail in these parts, and they usually just ignore you. However, an agitated moose can get the heart rate up fast. My totally unsupported opinion is that most agitated moose got in that state as a result of an unleashed dog. Or maybe they are just moody.

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • That's a fast dog, My Plott ran Sugarloaf Marathon 3:57 in 2009. I even bought a bib for him but they DNF'd him... something about non-humans. I looked everywhere in the rules and nowhere did it say no dogs.

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • yeah, I'm talking about the training collars like this: http://www.google.com/products/catalog?hl=en&...

    They have a loud beep if the voice calls don't work, and a shock if the voice and the beep don't work. He almost always comes on the voice call, sometimes gets to the beep, but he knows never to find out what is behind door #3 even when other dogs and people are around.

    All that said, I have no idea whether other runners and dog owners are upset with him being off leash regardless.

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • jared, thanks for clarifying! I'd love to hear what others think, too.

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • My dog has done lots of runs and hikes with us, but her longest is a 35 mile run in the Wind River Range with us. We keep her off leash by using a shock collar. Dogs learn quick, and we very rarely have to use it. Our dog even gets excited when we put the collar on her because she knows that she is going somewhere fun.

    We were trying to train her to be off leash, but one time she ran off after a Moose and its calf. She chased them around for awhile until the Moose finally caught her and stomped on her. I'm still not sure how our dog survived. Shock collars don't prevent every problem though, on Monday our dog was bit in the fast by a rattle snake. She is in rough shape, but seems to be recovering OK. Dogs are pretty darn tough!

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • Wow, Gabe, your dog is pretty resilient! Hope she recovers well from her run-in with a snake.

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • Sounds like your dog has had some scary experiences (you and her, both). I hope she has quick and full recovery from that snake bite.

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • I live in Northern CA and train primarily on the Pony Express/Western States trails. I'm careful to avoid poison oak, but I worry about taking my dog with me and potentially getting the poison oak oils on her fur. Any tips?

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • Brett, after living in the western Sierra foothills for two years, I learned the best solution is full-on avoidance, keeping your dog out of poison oak. That said, take a look at this, http://www.teclabsinc.com/solution-faqs/poison-oa... Technu's advice for removing poison oak oil from dog fur. Good luck!

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

      • Thanks Meghan - that's sort of what I thought. I'd love to take Millie (our 1-year old German Shorthair) out on the trail with me, but with all of the poison oak hovering over the single tracks, it's just not worth it. Thanks for your reply! Cheers.

        Cancel reply

        Leave a Reply

        Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

  • I'd love to take my dog out on runs with me, but she's easily spooked. I don't think she would do well on the trail... and, I don't think my training would go very well, lol. However, on my rest days, I'm taking her out for 3 mi brisk walks along the quieter back roads. :)

    Btw., Meagan, Junebug is beautiful!

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

    • Tina, owners are the best judge of their dogs. Some are made for trails, some aren't. It's neat that you're finding an activity that your dog seems to enjoy. Thanks for the Junebug compliment, I'll be sure to let her know! ;)

      Cancel reply

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*