Get Your Tail on the Trail: How to Train Your Dog to Run with You

Pups always seem ready to run out the door for an adventure. Trail running with your dog is a great activity to get out and stay active together, but it requires some preparation (and the right dog trail running gear) to learn how to train your dog to run with you. 

You and your best buddy may be seasoned road runners looking to change your terrain, or maybe you’ve been waiting for your furry friend to grow into their trail legs. Before you two head off the paved paths in your best trail running shoes, make sure you’re both ready for what lies ahead.

Prep the Pup Before Hitting the Trail

port a bowl water bowl pointers

Most veterinarians suggest waiting until your dog is at least one year old — two years for some breeds like German shepherds or retrievers — before you start racking up the miles. Dogs’ growth plates need to form fully to reduce stress on their joints, which can be a result of high-impact activities like running.

Your veterinarian can make recommendations about activity and distance for your dog’s specific age, breed, or health conditions. For brachycephalic dogs or smaller dog breeds like pugs, bulldogs, and Chihuahuas, who are not exactly built to run, sticking to short distances is the best way to keep from overexerting your best friend.

In addition, be mindful of the terrain your dog’s paws will be exposed to. Dog booties are a good idea for protection against rough terrain, slippery surfaces, and hot pavement. Ruffwear is one brand that makes them.

How to train your dog to run with you

beagle running in grass. foxtails and dogs

Practice running and staying together in comfortable places first, like the backyard or up and down your driveway. Warm up with a walking pace for young dogs and slowly increase as time goes on.

Use this time to be sure your dog isn’t too easily distracted and that you can regain their attention safely with voice commands or treats.

Commands Your Dog Should Know Before Trail Running

  • Heel
  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Leave it
  • Down

When it comes to training, build up your pup’s endurance by starting with short, easy runs and slowly adding distance or mixing up the terrain. If you’re going for really tricky trails, make sure your dog has experience jumping up and over things they may come across while you’re running together.

Get the Right Dog Running Gear 

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Investing in a good dog leash and dog harness can be a lot more comfortable for your dog than a collar when running, especially if your buddy needs to be leashed the entire time you’re out. If your pup tends to pull or get distracted easily, a harness attached to a trail running leash is the best way to maintain control and shift their focus when necessary. 

Since you’ll need to bring more items with you than you would for running alone, have a way to comfortably carry the items you and your dog may need. Lots of dog owners opt for a dog backpack that can easily hold a water bottle or hydration pack, water bowl, dog treats, dog poop bags, dispensers, or even your car keys and phone to keep you both hands-free on the trail.

Best dog trail running gear: DayPak

dog go bag. dog trail running gear

The DayPak is a saddlebag-style dog backpack that allows your pup to comfortably carry extra gear and essentials. It has a D-ring so trail runners can clip their bungee leash attachment (or any hands-free dog leash) to it from a waist belt.

Because it’s a light-capacity pack, it’s great for longer runs as long as you don’t have your pup carry too much weight for him to handle. For beginners to dog packs, have your dog wear it without adding weight to the pack at first so he can get used to it.

The DayPak also features bright colors and reflective accents so you can always spot your doggy at night or in low-light conditions.

Your dog won’t get overheated either because it’s constructed with breathable mesh and adjustable straps to keep your dog comfortable and cool. Always make sure the buckles and straps fit your dog appropriately before heading out in order to keep your dog safe.

Brush Up on Trail Do’s and Don’ts

You may be sharing the trail with a number of people engaged in activities other than running, such as walking, horseback riding, or mountain biking. When people and pets alike adhere to the rules and follow trail etiquette, everyone is sure to have a paw-sitive experience. 

Many dog owners will forgo the leash while running, both for safety and ease of movement for all those legs involved. If you choose to go leash-free your dog should already be in the habit of sticking by you and following basic commands without issue. 

Respect other trail users by traveling quietly and leaving the boom box at home. Being able to hear is also a safety concern when trail running with your dog. If you like a little sound on while you run, consider using just one earbud so you can still pay attention to your pooch and your surroundings. 

Give a Head’s Up

dog wearing a backpack for dogs outward hound

Ask permission before allowing your dog to interact with other trail users or their pets. While it’s hard to believe, not all humans want to be licked or jumped on, and not all animals (such as horses or even other pups) or people are comfortable with dogs off-leash.

When passing other trail goers, do so on the left and let other trail users know when you are doing so. A simple call of “on your left” or “passing” will help avoid a collision.

Keep your dog close when passing and make sure they can read your cues to keep going past other people or animals. If they see you continuing without much interaction, they’re likely to do the same.

Uphill hikers have the right of way, so yield to those working their way up. It takes a lot more energy to get going again uphill than downhill, for people and for pups!

No 💩 Left Behind

Pack it in, pack it out, whether it’s food, trash, or poop! The Leave No Trace Center stresses that ALL waste should be packed out, but especially dog poop, as it can contain bacteria or parasites harmful to the natural environment. So don’t forget to pack those waste bags!

Stayed Fueled and Cool While Running

how to trick your dog into drinking water

You and your running partner likely have an incredible connection, but they can’t communicate the same way we do. Your pup can’t simply look up at you and say, “I’m thirsty” or “I need a snack.” Plan to eat, hydrate, and rest accordingly so you can both enjoy the run.

For any type of long-distance running or hot weather, water breaks are essential. If you don’t carry water for your dog make sure they’ll have access to drinking water along the trail. Dogs can quickly become exhausted or develop heatstroke as a result of dehydration.

Every dog loves when its owner keeps treats on hand, but they can also serve as a tool for positive reinforcement or redirection when needed. 

Take rest breaks often, especially in the heat, and find comfortable, shady places for you and your pooch to catch your breath. Dog’s paw pads can be sensitive to hot surfaces like pavement, so try to plan your runs to allow some running of soft ground.

Plan for the Path, People, and Other Pets

how to train your dog to run with you

Before you head off the beaten path with your dog, find out what the terrain of the trail will be like and whether you’re both experienced enough to run worry-free. You never know when the going can get a little ruff.

Be mindful of any obstacles you may encounter and whether your running companion can navigate them independently or will need a little boost. This also includes being aware of other trail users who may be doing different activities, potentially with other animals in tow.

Always check to be sure dogs are permitted on trails, and whether or not they need to be on a leash for part of or for the entire trail.

There are so many ways to enjoy the outdoors with your dog, and they make great running partners with the right training plan. Keep your running buddy ready for the long haul with these dog training tips. Now all you need is to get your tail on the trail!

hiking with dogs checklist