Trail running – keeping you and your doggy fit!
With the arrival of cooler weather in Hong Kong, there isn’t a better time to introduce your dog to trail running. Not only will YOU benefit from the exercise with improved health, fitness and energy levels, but so will your dog.
Studies show that lean dogs live longer, on average up to two years longer than an overweight dog. And of course it’s great for socialisation, relieves boredom in your pet and increases the human animal bond.
Dogs can be great running partners as they are reliable and always ready to go. To make sure you and your dog get the best out the trails, follow our guide to hitting the hills that will help keep your pet fit for life.
BEFORE YOU START
WHAT BREEDS OF DOGS ARE BEST FOR RUNNING?
Almost any breed of dog, large or small can make a great training partner, if they are fit and healthy, of the right age and able to run. All dogs love to run and will naturally tap into their instincts. Short nosed breeds, such as Pugs, French bulldogs and Shihtzus will find it difficult to breathe during exercise, especially in Hong Kong’s heat and humidity. Always consult with your family veterinarian if running is new to your pet.
WHAT PRECAUTIONS SHOULD I TAKE FOR MY DOG AND MYSELF ON A RUN?
Having a route plan is always important whenever you hit the trails, but especially so when you are with your dog. Always make sure you have a mobile phone and have your veterinarian’s contact just in case.
Always carry plenty of water for you and your dog when you go out for a long hike, walk or run. There are packs (designed for running) that hold up to 3 litres and folding dog bowls for this purpose.
It’s also important to be aware of all the risks that come with trail running in Hong Kong so that you can spot any signs early and take action. These include heat stroke, bacterial diseases and parasites. More detail of these risks can be read at the end of this article.
Don’t forget, if you or your dog is unused to exercise, check with your family veterinarian to make sure he/ she is fit and healthy, start slowly and build up the distance that you are running.
IS MY DOG FIT ENOUGH TO RUN WITH ME?
Fitness in dogs, is like humans, it takes a long time to achieve, so don't try and push your dog too far, too early.
Consistency is important for pets, as it is for us. We recommend regular exercise for you and your pet, rather than a ‘weekend warrior’ who over does the exercise on the weekend leaving you and your pet tired and even sore from muscle fatigue. Training 2 to 3 times a week is sufficient. Even if you can’t take your pet running on the trails during the week, you can get them out for a fast walk and keep working on their fitness.
ON THE TRAIL
DO DOGS NEED TO PROPERLY WARM UP OR EVEN STRETCH BEFORE A RUN?
Yes! Running on trails means different terrain and like us the dog needs to be warmed up and stretched beforehand. Active stretches, which your dog may naturally do, should be encouraged. When you see him/ her stretch forward with their front legs and then behind with their back legs, reward this behaviour so they are keen to do this more often.
Always start your exercise with a walk for 5-10 minutes to slowly increase both you and your dog’s heart rate before moving into a jog or run.
Remember, trails can be technical for both owners and dogs. Hazards may include wet slippery surfaces including downhills and loose stones so take it slow when you need.
WHAT ARE THE BEST TIPS FOR A SAFE AND HAPPY RUN?
When you are on the trail with your dog, the most important thing is to make sure you have good control of him/her, especially if you intend to run him/her off lead. Always use a harness, not a collar, as this may restrict your dog’s breathing. If you want to run with your dog on lead, then an elastic/ bungee type lead is advised with the harness.
And never forget hydration! Stop for water breaks, maybe around every 1 to 2 km or when you see that your dog is panting, allowing your dog to drink just enough to quench his/ her thirst each time.
IS THERE ANY DOGGY ETIQUETTE I SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?
Yes! Whenever out on the trails, keep these rules in mind:
- Always maintain control of your dog and keep him/ her on a lead in urban or built up areas.
- Teach your dog to run at your pace and follow your lead, don’t let him/her drag or pull you.
- Respect other trail uses and remember that some people are nervous about dogs- give them right of way.
- All doggy mess needs to be picked up- Be sure to carry doggy poop bags to keep our trails clean!
POST RUN RECOVERY
HOW DO I HELP MY DOG TO RECOVER AFTER A TOUGH RUN?
Towards the end of your run, gradually slow down to allow your dog’s heart rate and temperature decrease. If it’s hot, pop a cool wet towel over his/ her neck and remember to allow him/ her to hydrate!!
You might even consider giving your dog a muscle rub-down or help him/her to stretch his/her limbs once you get home.
WHAT IS THE BEST RECOVERY FOOD FOR MY DOG?
Humans and dogs burn different types of energy to exercise. Humans will utilise stored carbohydrates or glycogen for fuel whilst dogs burn fat as their main endurance energy. A normal balanced commercial dog diet with 15% or so fat is perfect for dogs jogging 20mins a few times a week but if you plan for your dog to run more than that each day, then a higher fat diet may be needed. Just adding a teaspoon of quality fish oil to your dog’s daily food ration will increase the fat levels. But introduce this slowly so it doesn’t cause soft faeces. Fish oil is also high in omega 3s which is beneficial in joint support.
A final note on pet safety: Be aware of the risks for your dog.
HEAT: The main risk to dogs whilst they are running is overheating and dehydration. Always take water and a bowl with you and stop to let your dog have a drink every 1-2km and whenever he needs to. Hong Kong can be extremely hot, be sure to check the weather and plan your runs very early morning or late in the evening when the temperature and sun are not so strong. Plan your runs on trails which are shaded by trees and always carry plenty of water with you.
If your dog shows any of the following signs: vigorous panting, struggling to run, collapsing, vomiting, looking for shade, laying down, white sticky saliva (it should be runny), STOP; find shade, give lots of water to drink, saturate your dog or place them in water and contact your veterinarian for advice.
LEPTOSPIROSIS: This serious disease is very common in Hong Kong during summer. ‘Lepto’ is a bacteria which is found in slow moving or stagnant water such as rock pools and streams in Hong Kong. It can enter the dog via the gums, eyes or any small wounds. Although there are vaccines against it, there is a different type seen in Hong Kong and the vaccines are not available. So prevention is most important. Prevent your dog from drinking or swimming in any rock pools or streams when on Hong Kong trails. Always carry your own water to keep you both hydrated and cool.
PARASITES: You need to be especially vigilant about checking your dog for ticks and other small hazards after every run. Check inside the ears, around the head, under the belly and between toes for ticks and remove them. Ticks in Hong Kong carry ‘tick fever’ parasites which can cause serious problems. Ask your family veterinarian about tick preventatives.
BAITS: Take head of warnings on trails and areas where it is known for baits to have been laid. Using a harness and bungie-type lead will allow you to always be in control of your dog and prevent him/ her consuming anything hazardous. If you do see your pet consume anything during a walk, and show any of these symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, breathing difficulty, convulsions, collapse take it to a veterinarian immediately.
CHECK FEET: be sure to check your dog’s toe pads and nails carefully after running for any cuts, cracks, blisters, or dirt stuck between the toes. If necessary, wash the feet and dry them carefully before checking them over. If you see any wounds, check with your veterinarian for care instructions.