I want to train with my dog to participate in a 5K this summer. We typically walk about 15-20 minutes daily. Do you have any tips to prepare for the 5K event?
We all know that regular exercise is a key ingredient for living a healthy lifestyle, and the same is true for our dogs. Fit animals are healthy, alert, and balanced (so they stay out of trouble). Regular exercise also improves their cardiovascular fitness, bone and muscle strength and weight management. But before you start hitting the trails with your pup, it is important to follow a few guidelines for safety.
1. Check with your vet
Just like humans, it is always wise to consult with a medical professional before starting an exercise programme with your dog. Vets can recommend both the length of time and intensity for the program and tailor to your pet’s special needs. Some breeds struggle with breathing (bulldogs) and may do better with shorter, more frequent walks.
2. Size up your animal
Larger breeds with longer legs can walk or run longer than smaller dogs with shorter legs. Develop the length of the walk based on the size of your dog. Again, talk with your vet.
3. Start out slowly
Just like humans, you have to start with where they are fitness-wise, and progress very slowly to avoid injury or heat-related stress. This is especially true if your dog is a puppy, older or overweight. Start with a slow walk of 5-10 minutes per day and add 5 minutes to the walk time no sooner than once per week.
4. Listen and watch for signs of fatigue
Watch your animal for signs of fatigue and adjust accordingly. Dogs are very loyal and will follow you for days if you let them. Listen to their breathing rate along the way, and if they are struggling for air or breathing loudly, slow your pace or walk it out to allow them to catch their breath. Be mindful of the heat and humidity and adjust the pace slower and bring water for you and the dog. Pay close attention to your dog’s footpads for signs of wear (excessive wear and cracking), and avoid hot surfaces and trails with sharp rocks.
Provide cool water at the end of the walk for your pooch and bring water on longer walks and on warm days. Avoid hot and humid days. Dogs cool themselves by panting, and like humans, they struggle to stay cool on hot and humid days. If they can’t efficiently cool themselves by panting, they can develop heatstroke. Make sure to exercise at cooler times of the day (in the early morning and after dusk) and avoid extremely hot and humid days altogether.
6. Run and walk
For most breeds, especially smaller dogs, walking is the perfect activity, while others prefer to run-walk or run. It also depends on the dog itself. My dog was an 8-pound poodle mix, but he loved doing a run-walk. He finished several 5K events and one where he beat a greyhound! Consult with your vet, as some breeds are better at distance running than others, and most are made to run for short durations and walk (run, then walk repeatedly).
7. Bring a leash and let them do their thing
Keep your dog on a leash and make sure they have identification. It keeps you and your dog safe. Give your dog a few minutes prior to starting each exercise session to mark their favorite tree or bush.
8. Warm up and log it
Always start every training session with a walking warm-up that begins with an easy effort walking pace and progressively builds to a brisk walk. Walk at an effort level (how you feel, your breathing rate) that is easy for the dog. Keep a Doggy Log, and track the distance, weather, energy level and mood of your dog, and anything else that happens along the way.
Participating in a 5K with your pooch is a fun time; just make sure you tune into their needs.