how to do it correctly

Walking your dog can be a great way to cross two things off the list and connect at the same time. It can be time consuming to fit in a run and a walk the dog, so combining the two is an enjoyable and efficient way of training.

Dog ownership along with participation in running has risen sharply in recent years, and exercising together can be a really effective way to help with weight loss as pet and human obesity rates rise. It is also scientifically proven that owning a dog makes you a better runner.

Running your dog, known as canicross, is also beneficial for a dog’s mental health and can address issues such as separation anxiety, stress, destructive behavior and boredom.

But what many people don’t realize is that walking your dog the wrong way on a leash can be potentially harmful to both your dog and yourself.

We spoke to Paws 4 Running dog walking expert and canicross trainer Louise Humphrey about how to safely and properly walk your dog on a leash.

Why you shouldn’t walk with a normal leash

There are three main problems with walking a dog on a leash attached to the collar. Dogs are strong animals, even small canines, and when they run, they’ll probably be faster than you. This means they pull on the leash which can choke them if attached to a collar. It is uncomfortable for the dog and is highly recommended by canicross professionals.

The second problem is that running with a leash in hand can lead to imbalance and poor running form. Unilateral pulling can cause concussions that can cause wrist or shoulder injuries. It also means you are unable to run efficiently because you have limited arm drive on one side.

There is also less control when walking a dog on a leash attached to his collar. It makes it easier for the dog to pull you aside, especially if he’s reactive or suddenly sees something that piques his interest.

Get your dog a harness

A much safer alternative is to use a Canicross harness. These are specially designed to give your dog as much exercise as possible. They’re comfortable to wear and don’t restrict shoulder movement, meaning your dog is less prone to injury.

There is a wide variety of canicross harnesses, but by and large they can be divided into short and long. The difference is where the train movement comes from. If your dog has a strong pull, it will likely suit a long harness as this spreads the load over the dog, while a short harness encourages a dog to pull from the front legs.

It is important to ensure that a harness is properly measured and fitted. DogFit offers excellent starter kits and offers taster courses to fit your dog in a harness. They also have a directory of canicross instructors across the country who can offer free customization.

Get a belt

Once you have a harness for your dog, the next step is to get your own harness or canicross belt. The benefit of a human harness is that it puts less strain on your lower back, especially if you have a strong pulling dog. In comparison, a regular hip belt is less supportive and could potentially lead to back injuries.

Instead of sitting around the waist, a human canicross harness sits on the pelvis and is usually fixed with leg straps. This takes the load of the dog’s pull from the strongest part of the body – the pelvis – rather than the lower back.

Wearing a harness also gives you better control over your dog as it won’t yank your arm. Instead, they are attached to a solid core via a special cable. This allows you to run hands-free, driving your elbows back for momentum, but also using your arms for balance on rough trails.

Invest in a bungee lead

The crucial component between your dog’s harness and your own canicross harness is a bungee cord. This is a springy leash that helps absorb shock from your dog and prevent jarring or sudden dramatic movements.

Bungee leashes come in a variety of lengths and the one you need will depend on your dog’s size, height and strength. The longer the leash, the more space there is between you and your dog.

Run park run with dog

Earlier this year, parkrun changed the rules for running with a dog, citing safety issues for runners.

You can no longer walk with a dog attached to a waist belt or canicross harness. Dogs must now be walked on a non-retractable hand leash that runs alongside their owner, not in front of them.

To make this safe for dogs it is advisable to use a hand leash but attach it to a dog harness rather than a collar. This is allowed within parkrun rules and is more comfortable for your four-legged friend.

To learn more about walking your dog, listen to Louise Humphrey’s podcast Canicross talks which she moderates with running coach Michelle Mortimer.

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