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Runners and Dogs
Do you run with your dog … on leash?
First test-drive of Renzo's running rig last winter.

I run with my dog—in my neighborhood, a nearby bike path and mountain trails. It is an essential ingredient in our lives. So I read with interest an old column from Runner’s World, forwarded to me by my editor. In “Unleashed Emotions,” John Bingham writes about reader reaction to his advice on what runners should do if they are greeted/charged by an unleashed dog. It’s a good question. Unless you are fluent in doglish, it’s not always obvious if a barking dog wants to nip your Achilles or slather your face with kisses.

Bingham’s answer, stop and yell at the dog (what I call the mountain lion strategy), earned him a healthy pile of email. Not so much for his advice but on the general subject of dogs and runners, especially the leash question. It’s probably no surprise to Bark regulars that the subject of leashes—pro and con—would provoke a big reaction. His follow-up column about that response engendered similarly passionate comments—as interesting as the column itself. From the sound of it, for many runners, dogs are a menace pure and simple, and that’s too bad.

I get why some runners don’t like to see an off-leash dog on a trail but I’m usually cheered by the sight whether I’m alone or with my own running buddy, and the only dogs ever to run after me were hanging out in a front yard not running on a trail. I use a leash attached to my waist most of the time, except on steep downhill trails where I worry about my dog getting too much momentum or leaping over a rock or tree and pulling me down. Then he’s paw-loose and fancy-free, and I have to say in those moments he bounds with a little extra joie de vivre.

What's your experience running with or meeting dogs while you run?

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com
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Submitted by JoAnne | September 2 2009 |

i run with my dogs off leash, we live in rural VT and I run in the woods on trails some of which we've made. we never run into anyone, except for the occasional hunter during hunting season and I'm glad I have my boys around! Right now I run with 2 dogs, a big, black lab mix, Domino and an Australian shepherd mix, Snickers. Our family has been as many as 5 dogs of which 4 used to run with me in the mornings.

Submitted by cowdog | September 3 2009 |

I run with my dog on leash because I live in an urban area and mine is not very good with other dogs.I don't mind when people run with there dogs offleash as long as they are behaved and don't approach me and get tangled up in my leash and trip me (which has happened) or jump all over my leashed dog (this happens way too often).

I also use a waistbelt but the one I have is not very good (its starting to fray) Does anyone have any better suggestions for waistbelts?
Also does anyone cross country ski or snowshow with there dogs on leash? It's very old and icy here in the winters and I am looking for a running alternative for my hyper active dog.

Submitted by Anonymous | September 3 2009 |

Whenever I'm out with the dogs off leash and we see a runner, I always call them and put them on leash. I have to stop running and it does kind of interrupt the 'flow,' but people seem to be much more comfortable. Some even smile and give a head nod. We've passed people abruptly w/out the dogs leashed, and even though the dogs just ran right on by, the people seemed a bit nervous about it. I just try to be courteous now, I guess.

For jogging in urban setting I use REI brand 6' leash- very light weight and I can hold or clip it and almost forget its there.

Submitted by Julia Kamysz Lane | September 3 2009 |

I'm a huge source of amusement for my neighbors when I take my Dalmatians for a run. The spots strain against their leashes and go full out for a mile. Great glute workout (!) but it's a wonder I haven't fallen or crashed into a tree. My chiropractor scolds me regularly for continuing to hold the leash. Where did you get your cool waist set up? Thanks!

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | September 3 2009 |

Julia, Can you please videotape a run with your dogs? Why should your neighbors be the only folks to enjoy the sight? My running gear is totally jerry-rigged. My "waistband" is actually an old padded Walkman belt--yes, remember the Walkman--from the late 1980s. (I even have an old working Walkman that fits in it, but that's another story.) A friend created a two-dog split leash out of very light-weight nylon rope with brass snaps on the end, which attaches to my waistband with a caribiner. It's all very inexpensive and homemade. It's ideally for skijoring. But in that case, I wear a second-hand climbing harness because I want the dogs to PULL me--at least a little. I'd love to hear what over folks use.

Submitted by Julia Kamysz Lane | September 4 2009 |

I would be mortified if a video popped up of me running the spots! Guaranteed to go viral! LOL Since I'm not much of a Macgyver (there's another old reference for ya!), I'll look into the Buddy system recommended by one of the posters. Great topic!

Submitted by Anonymous | September 3 2009 |

I like the Buddy System (http://www.buddysys.com/how_to_use.php) hands-free leash system. It's simple and lightweight. I read about it in the New York Times last year. Maybe go back and search their archives--I seem to remember several options for hands-free running.

Submitted by 3BlackDogs | September 4 2009 |

Until recently I've been walking with my guys on leash up to a nearby park, about a mile away. We've found that by leaving the house around 5:00 am we have the park to ourselves and they can run off leash. The worry has been with the sun rising later and later; it makes avoiding skunks a prayer-filled challenge.
Last weekend however all worries were eliminated. Crossing the street at a fast walking pace I ducked down to avoid overhanging tree branches and was off balance as my feet gingerly sought places without squooshed plums when one of my smaller 70lb dogs was shoved into the way by my larger Malamutt. I went down just as we were approaching the sidewalk, my ribs impacting with the curb's edge. An emergency room visit, several x-rays and one perscription later walks are temporarily on hold pending healing from a chest contusion and several cracked ribs.
We are slowly getting out of shape and going insane. Couch potatoe must be a type of DNA.

Submitted by Ron Wheeler | September 5 2009 |

"From the sound of it, for many runners, dogs are a menace pure and simple, and that’s too bad."

Well it is too bad, but many dogs are a menace, thanks to their lack of training and their people-partner's attitude towards co-existing with others.

I'm a regular runner and train to compete in my age group but I was a dog person long before lacing up my first pair of running shoes.

I would maintain that your views on this issue, as a runner will largely depend on what the dog situation is where you run. I currently live in dog heaven. I retired to dog heaven from dog hell. Dogs in my new town are plenty and I'm happy to see them, but they are for the most part well trained, well socialized and well supervised. I run 6 to 7 times a week and have never had an encounter with an aggressive dog...here.

Enter dog hell.
Before retiring to our location we lived in another state. Dogs were for the most part roaming free and would run into the street to investigate anything they saw as out of the ordinary. A runner surely fell into this category. While training for a marathon my wife and I were regularly confronted with angry dogs, off their property. My approach is always to answer aggressive dogs with a stern stance against their behavior. If the owner is visible then get them involved right away. If all else fails, spraying the dog in the face with something should work. Back away from the dog before running again. You should not run past a dog that is acting like this. Doing so greatly elevates the risk of getting bitten.

Back in dog heaven, my 2 year old Border Collie runs with me on my 3 and 4 mile slow runs. He wears a harness like Renzo is wearing in the photo but I use a very light 5' leash that I hold onto. With the attachment point being on the dog's back, I have better control over where he is in relation to me. The bottom line for us is that we have fun running together but we do our best to ensure that our running has no ill effect on anyone else's trail, path or street experience.

Submitted by 3BlackDogs | September 5 2009 |

Dog heaven...where are you refering to? Very curious although not planning on relocating.

Submitted by Christa | September 8 2009 |

For me, whether or not my pooch is on a leash depends on where we are. There is a trail system by my house that we sometimes run on that is usually deserted at 7:30 AM when we go for a run. It makes her so happy to run off the leash that I let her do so and make sure to stay extra alert for other people that might be on the trail unexpectedly. Should I run into someone else, I get her on a leash and under my control immediately.
This usually works, but there have been a few hiccups along the way. For those times, I recently got Ruffwear's Roamer leash, which I can secure around my waist, but it also has elastic in it and can stretch up to 11 feet I believe. The elastic helps absorb the differences in out paces and also means that I don't have to come to a complete stop every time she wants to investigate and interesting smell on the side of the trail.
When running on the road or in crowded areas however, we also use a leash.
That being said, as a runner, my worst nightmare is not off-leash dogs but the poorly-treated, aggressive ones that I run by. One house has what I believe in a Pyrennes that is always tied up outside. It has a very mean bark. Then there is the terrior in the house that I run by that barks incessantly and tears down the window shades if anyone walks on the street in front of the house. Those dogs are the real menance in my opinion.

Submitted by Anonymous | September 29 2009 |

The problem with allowing your pooch to run off trail at 7 a.m. is the dog will encounter other pedestrians before you do, probably scaring the bejeezus out of them. Dog owners such as yourself are so wrapped up in your animals you forget that they are just that animals, without the ability to understand social graces. You as an adherent of social rules, I hope, should put your dog on a leash.

Submitted by Jenny | September 16 2009 |

My dog gets nervous around strange dogs so I keep her on a leash just in case we run into any unleashed dogs. I have no problem with other people leaving their dogs off leash to run as long as they can control their dogs. Nothing makes me madder than when I am running and an un leashed dog runs up to mine to sniff and play, which only upsets my dog.

Submitted by Emily | September 19 2009 |

My dog is my one and only running partner. I always have him on a leash, since he can't yet resist saying hello to new people or dogs. Running with my dog is an experience that non-dog people would not understand. We have a deeper bond, I believe, because I take him for the exercise that he craves so much. I love seeing other people running or walking with their dogs whether they are on or off leash, because I assume that they know the same bond that my dog and I share. The biggest problem that I tend to have is not with dogs that are being walked, but with dogs who are loose in their yard with owners who are not paying attention.

Submitted by Jody | September 19 2009 |

One of the reasons I have such a well socialized, balanced, non-agressive dog is because he gets to spend a lot of time off leash with other dogs, children and people of all kinds. I live in an area where runners train for the marathon, so joggers are an issue. When joggers are around, those of us who are responsible owners put our dogs on leash and move away from the path until they've passed. Too many owners are irresponsible with out of control dogs, and that causes hostility towards and problems for all of us.

Unfortunately, most of us only look at the situation from our own perspectives. We all have the right to use public areas, and that means we have to share and respect other peoples rights.

That being said, I've been walking on the path with my dog on leash and had joggers scream at me to get out of the way because they had to run 3 steps around us. They come running up from behind with no warning, right on top of us, and scare the bejeezus out of people. They can be quite rude and irresponsible too.

Submitted by Brian | September 28 2009 |

I try to run with my American Pit Bull Terrier so that he is able to workout some energy. In fact, we've competed in a local Dog-n-Jog competition, and Paul pulled me to my fastest two-miles ever. (We finished in 4th overall.)

The most important thing that I think all dog runners need to remember is their dog's safety. This means that dogs should not be run on collars alone, but should be harnessed in some fashion. In the event that Paul is distracted by a squirrel and wants to dart or we're running a trail and he needs leverage through a stream or that we're running near or on roads, I want to be sure that I can have full control over him in a safe way. Running with a collar alone could injure Paul in one of the situations above.

I'm also cognizant of the fact that there must be some age appropriate guidelines for running, but I'm not sure what they are. I try to pay attention to Paul and realize that just as it takes me awhile to get back in shape, the same goes for him. So I think it is important to pay attention to your dog's stamina.

Finally, after long runs, I will put a cold damp towel on the floor for Paul to lie on, and once he's able to breath with his mouth closed--that is, no longer panting--I try to do some light stretching and massaging of his legs. Before long his out cold.

Submitted by Cincinnatisipe | November 3 2009 |

I love hiking and running with my dog on the local trails. He's been there by my side since he was a 6 month old pup. When he is off leash and runs ahead of me and sees somebody coming from the other direction he turns around and runs back to me and sits behind me.

I agree with what most people on here are saying that is if you can't keep your dog under control while of a leash then keep them on it.

Submitted by becky | January 30 2011 |

I run with my american bulldog. We just started running this month. We run through a park in town and he is always on a leash. We run in the evening and it's kind of dark. We have a very reflective leash from Nite-Brite. I think they are the best. And I am making some alterations on a construction-worker's reflective vest so he can wear it. I have a reflective jacket. Safety is very important. No matter how much control you think you have over your dog, you don't know what another unleashed dog will do and how your dog may react. We always have the leash ON.

Submitted by Anna | December 16 2013 |

I use a hands-free leash attached to a belt when I run in the streets, but when I run in the bush (that's the majority of the daily route) I let my dog off leash most of the way so she and I can better avoid obstacles and keep balance on the steep, narrow paths. She usually runs just behind me. She is not traffic safe and has a short temper in regard to other dogs barking of her, but the chance of meeting anyone is minimal, and because it is so quiet out there is plenty of time to respond to the rare occurrences (people, horses etc) and put her on leash. Also, she is very obedient and there are no roads/traffic except on one brief point.

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