Can Dogs Run Long Distances?

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Introduction

If you're looking for a little extra motivation to help you start jogging, or to run further or faster, there's no better workout partner than a dog. With seemingly boundless energy and a desire to get out and explore the world, dogs are wonderful at providing the wordless encouragement we need to get those legs pumping and start working up a sweat.
However, if you're looking to tackle some long distances, you may be wondering just how far dogs can run. The answer, in some cases, is a very long way, but this depends on your dog's breed, age, health, personality, and a range of other factors. Let's take a closer look at how you and your pooch can start training to run further — ready, set, go!

Signs Your Dog is Ready to Run

Some dogs seem as if they were just born to run, and they're eager to get out and pound the pavement with you any chance they get. Most of the time, they're not too subtle when it comes to letting you know just how keen they are to get out and get active.

At the first sign of you changing into your working gear or slipping into your runners, some dogs will leap up and start bouncing around with excitement. They'll start pacing this way and that, jumping up on you, and wagging their tail furiously to communicate just how wonderfully excited they are about the upcoming jog. They may even go and wait by the front door, or perhaps go and fetch their leash for you, and be barely able to contain their impatience while you tie your shoelaces, grab your keys, and get ready to go.

Of course, when you're out running with your furry friend, it's also critical to be aware of the signs that he or she is pushing themselves too hard or is in need of a breather. These signs are usually obvious and include excessive panting and struggling to keep up. At the first hint that your dog is struggling, stop straight away and don't force them to go any further.

Body Language

Your dog's body language contains plenty of telltale signs that he or she is keen to run, such as:
  • Barking
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Pacing
  • Ears up
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

Other signs of a dog that's ready to run include:
  • Bouncing Around on Their Paws
  • Waiting by the Front Door
  • Fetching Their Leash
  • Reacting to the Word "Run"

The History of Dogs and Running

The ability of dogs to run long distances would no doubt have been a key factor throughout history. For thousands of years, humans bred dogs to hunt alongside us in a wide range of settings, from hunting and flushing out animals to retrieving prey. To participate in the hunt, dogs would have needed impressive stamina to track prey over long distances.

Many working breeds also depended on their long-distance running ability to perform important tasks on farms. For example, herding breeds like the Border Collie and Australian Cattle Dog are capable of covering huge distances day after day as they work to corral sheep or cattle wherever their masters need.

However, probably the most famous example of dogs covering massive distances can be found in the origins of the famed Iditarod sled dog race, which takes place in Alaska each March. The event is based on the "Great Race of Mercy", a legendary event which took place in 1925. With the city of Nome threatened by a diphtheria epidemic and in desperate need of antitoxin, a call for help was sent out. 

The nearest antitoxin was in Anchorage, nearly 1,000 miles away, and as planes and ships were not an option the quickest way to deliver the serum was by sled dog. The antitoxin was delivered part of the way by rail and then handed over to a team of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs, who delivered it the final 674 miles to its destination in five-and-a-half days.

The Science of Dogs Running Long Distances

It's not really possible to specify a particular figure that outlines exactly how far dogs can run, simply because there are so many factors that affect the distances our furry friends are capable of covering.

Perhaps the most important factor to consider is breed. Some breeds, especially those which were developed as working and hunting animals, are capable of covering much larger distances than others. For example, an Australian Cattle Dog or Weimaraner will generally make a much better running-buddy than a Pug or a French Bulldog. Very large dogs (like Great Danes) and very small dogs (like Chihuahuas) are generally not suited to long-distance gallops, nor are brachycephalic breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs.

A dog's age and health status can also play a big part in determining how far it can comfortably run, while it's also worth considering that some dogs simply don't enjoy running and prefer to live a lazy life. Even if they're a working breed that you'd expect to be able to cover long distances, they simply may not want to.

As for the dogs competing in the Iditarod, they're some of the canine world's ultramarathoners. Winning teams cover the best part of 1,000 miles in less than nine days — an astonishing achievement that sees some racing dogs consume up to 12,000 calories a day.

Training Your Dog to Run Long Distances

So, you want to go running with your dog? Before you head out for your first jog together, take your dog to the vet for a thorough check-up to make sure she's fit as a fiddle and ready to go.
After that, it's best to take a slow and steady approach to training — you wouldn't go from laying on the couch to running a marathon without working up to it, so don't expect big things from your dog too soon. Start with long walks of a couple of miles to build up your dog's fitness, and then move to slow runs and then normal running pace. Monitor your pooch every step of the way for any signs they are struggling to keep up or simply overdoing it and remember to give them regular days off so that their muscles and joints can recover.

Last but not least, make sure your dog can always access fresh water throughout your run. This could mean taking a bottle and a collapsible dish with you or planning a route that includes guaranteed access to ample fresh water.

Staying Safe When Running With Your Dog

  • Ask your vet. Before starting any running program with your dog, get her checked out by a veterinarian to make sure it's safe for her to run. Regular check-ups will also help you stay on top of any other health issues.
  • Take it slowly. Don't expect too much from your pet too soon — build up to longer distances and faster paces over time.
  • Monitor constantly. Always remember to monitor your dog's condition throughout your runs. If she's ever slowing down, out of breath, or simply struggling in any other way, stop immediately and don't force her to go any further.
  • Provide water. Make sure your pet has plenty of fresh, clean water throughout the run.
  • Have regular rest days. Give your dog a few days off a week so that her muscles and joints can recover from the rigors of long-distance running.