There’s nothing like the bond between a man and his dog. But, for a runner, dogs offer far more benefits than simple companionship.
Having a dog for a running partner provides extra motivation to get out and run. And having Fido around offers a measure of protection while running, from animals of both the human and non-human varieties.
If you find yourself considering adding a four-legger to your running pack, you may be wondering where to start. Between selecting a breed, a training regimen, and even the appropriate running equipment for your furry compatriot, the options can seem overwhelming.
Fortunately for you, I’m about to help you down the road to dog running bliss (in a series of articles beginning today and continuing over the next several weeks). And it all starts by choosing the right breed for your needs.
Determining Your Needs
There are three major factors in determining which breed will be best suited to your running style: your distance, speed, and the climate in which you run. A sprinter in Alaska will be suited to a different set of breeds than a Floridian marathoner.
In addition to the factors above, you may also wish to consider a breed’s suitability to your family situation and lifestyle. Some breeds (such as poodles, collies, and labradors) are better suited to families with young children than others.
If you have a busy work schedule that could force you to skip runs, you may opt for a lower energy breed (like, believe it or not, greyhounds) than someone who is consistently able to exercise their new companion. Both discussions are worth having before selecting a breed, but are beyond the scope of this article.
Choosing A Breed
While this discussion will revolve around the so-called “pure breeds”, I happen to love me a good, old-fashioned mutt. Even when looking for a good, solid mixed-breed, it’s worth considering the breeds from which your dog may be inheriting any running prowess (or lack thereof). Also bear in mind that, on the whole, mixed-breed dogs have a lower risk of developing genetic disorders then purebreds.
However, if you have your heart set on a purebred, you can certainly mitigate that risk by selecting a reputable breeder skilled in breeding out those traits. I’ll talk more about selecting your breeder in the next article in the series.
As a general rule, dogs bred for working, hunting, and herding are going to be among the best suited to a life on the run. However, a good tempered dog of nearly any breed can be trained to run. Here, in no particular order, are some of the most popular running breeds.
Golden and Labrador retrievers are well loved for their friendly dispositions and moderate to high energy levels. A well-trained retriever can make the perfect companion for a slow, long run. However, they are generally happiest when covering a shorter distance at a faster pace. As in, “Come on! Throw the ball! Pleeease! Just one more time! Come on!”
Well-suited to colder climates, mushing dogs like Huskies and Malamutes are known for being exceptional runners. Can you say “Iditarod”? While Huskies are generally smaller and faster than Malamutes, they both share a distinctive wolf-like appearance and a knack for distance running. It is worth noting, however, that both breeds require a strong, adept trainer. While very obedient when properly trained, those looking for a naturally obedient breed should probably pass.
My personal favorites, pointer-retrievers such as Vizslas, Weimeraners, and German Shorthairs make the perfect companions for runners looking to run long and fast. With their lean, muscular builds and strong attachment to their “pack”, pointers are the perfect companions over 10 miles or longer. Just be aware that the pointers are companion dogs and, as such, tend to suffer from strong separation anxiety. If not given a proper outlet and training, that nervous energy can cost more than one piece of furniture. Just ask my armchair.
Herding dogs such as Collies, Shepherds, and Heelers can be very versatile runners. Capable of short sprints, but not unaccustomed to running middle to longer distances, herders can make very capable running partners. Just be aware that a herder, improperly exercised, may try to herd you and your family.
Keep in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive list. If you don’t mind some data correlation, Runner’s World has charted some of the most popular running breeds.
Now that we’ve narrowed down the breeds a bit, the next article in the series will look at how to select a breeder, and help you identify the disposition in the specific dog you’re looking for.
Do you run with your dog? Did I omit your favorite running breed? Tell me about it in the comments.