Trail Running with Dogs: A Complete Beginner's Guide - RELENTLESS FORWARD COMMOTION (2023)

Last Updated on January 29, 2023 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS

The following guide to trail running with dogs was written by Raquel Neto, a UESCA certified running and ultramarathon coach. At any given time, Raquel can be found road tripping across the country and running on all types of trails with her favorite four-legged running partner, Leo.

Some incredible things in life are just better together—summer and rain, pineapple and pizza, running and dogs. If you’re a dog person, I probably don’t have to ask if you agree with that last one (if you loathe pineapple on pizza, we can have a conversation another time).

Having a four-legged best friend by your side is a sure-fire way to deepen that bond between you. Hello, serotonin overload!

Trail Running with Dogs: A Complete Beginner's Guide - RELENTLESS FORWARD COMMOTION (1)

I prefer running solo. Running groups are a blast and a good way to meet people—at times, though, I don’t want to go for a run where I feel pressured to talk during (introverts, unite!) or go at someone else’s pace. When I run with my collie mixed mutt, I know I’m facilitating him living his best life because I am giving him the exercise he needs.

A dog is a large responsibility all around of course, and a big part of that is going to be our puppers’ health.Trail running is a great way to keep your bff and yourself healthy, whether you’re training for a race or just looking for a stroll.

Another bonus I’ve discovered while running with my Leo—I can talk to myself whenever I want, without worry of judgement. He may roll his eyes when I stop to use the bathroom AGAIN, but I can sing aloud and know that only he will love me unconditionally and will forgive me the screeching that is me belting T Swift on our runs.

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Surely, you already know/agree that dogs make the best running partners, hands down. Whether you’re a first-time dog owner/runner, or you’re looking to optimize the time the two of you share on the trails most safely, here are a few things you will want to take into account before, during, and after your miles together.

What Are the Best Dog Breeds for Trail Running?

All doggos can run, and most love to. But if becoming a running partner is a major factor of inviting a four-legged furry friend to spend their life with you, please spend some time doing breed research.

Obviously, a cute little Corgi isn’t going to be as inclined as a German Shorthaired Pointer, for example, to go run a 10k in the woods with you.

Some dogs may be genetically predisposed to medical conditions making them less than ideal for regular trail running.

For example, German Shephards, St. Bernards, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Mastiffs, and Pugs (among others) have a greater risk of developing canine hip dysplasia (source).

Brachycephalic dogs, such as English and French bulldogs, Boston terriers, boxers, pugs, shih tzus, and more, often have breathing troubles (due to their short snouts) and short legs, making them less than ideal running partners.

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The American Kennel Club lists the following breeds of dogs as the best running companions:

  • Weimaraner
  • Dalmatian
  • Vizsla
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • American Foxhound
  • Saluki
  • Belgian Malinois

Here at Relentless Forward Commotion, we are big fans of the “adopt, don’t shop” philosophy. While the above dog breeds are considered the “best running companions”, the truth is many mixed breeds can also be wonderful, life long running partners. Consider adopting your future best friend from a shelter or other rescue situation!

Can I Trail Run with my Puppy?

The hardest part of adopting my pup so young, was that I had to wait many, many months to start running with him. As in our training, just because we may feel ready for heavy mileage mentally, that does not mean that we—nor our puppies—are ready at a physical level.

As a general rule, you will want to wait until your dog is between one and two years old before running long distances with him or her.

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According to the American Kennel Club, excessive exercise while young can increase the likelihood of a puppy developing hip dysplasia, damaging growth plates, and suffering from other joint, tendon, and ligament issues in the future.

Treat your young dog the same way you would treat a new runner. Just as when we are preparing to start a new exercise regime, you should check with your veterinarian as to when your pup can start putting in mileage and to what extent.

Below are some questions to arrive prepped with at your vet appointment:

  1. Is my dog physically healthy enough to start trail running?
  2. How much can he/she run safely?
  3. Are there environmental-specific risks in our area I should be aware of?
  4. Are there any additional recommendations?

Keeping your dog’s health a priority will ensure your pup can continue to run with you for many miles to come.

What Gear Do You Need for Trail Running With Dogs?

Another important thing to consider prior to getting out there with your furry friend, is what gear you will be using on these runs. Having the right gear will ensure success for both you and your pup.


There are many waist-attached leash options on the internet or in stores to ensure you two experience a safe run. A waist belt will provide a more natural feeling, hands-free leash running experience, while keeping your pup close.

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I know, it is very, very tempting to let our dogs off leash. If you live in an area that bigger-than-a-dog wild animals call home, I definitely suggest leashing up that pup!

Further, some trails prohibit off-leash dogs, for the safety of not only trail users, but the local flora and fauna. .

Yours may be the best-behaved dog and never falter at obeying voice commands; even still, leashing your dog will provide him or her with extra safety.

If interested, you can check your with your county’s recreation department to see if they have deemed any trails specified as “off-leash.”


When trail running with dogs, a dog harness with a handle is a great idea. A harness is likely more comfortable than a collar around your dog’s neck while running.

The handle is an added bonus for control. You may encounter tight spots where you need Fido close to pass others, or may come across another pup or person whom is less than eager to be near dogs.

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Poop Bags

I wish we didn’t need this reminder but, don’t forget the poop bags! The pathogens in dog’s poop are detrimental to the environment and no person using those trails should have to worry about stepping on dog poop.

We all know how crappy that is—pun intended—so pick it up!

And, don’t forget to carry those plastic bags back out to the trailhead, and dispose of them properly. Leave no trace!

Weather Appropriate Gear

Dependent on the climate in which you reside and the changing of the seasons, your pre-run packing will look different.

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Boots or Paw Wax

Last winter, Leo and I moved across the country. He had never seen snow and he went absolutely WILD sprinting in it. He ended up splitting one of his toe beans and I still haven’t gotten over the guilt.

He will not allow me to put boots on him—stubborn pup that he is—so I invested in some paw wax that protected his paws the rest of the winter.

If you can get dog booties on your pup, this will provide an added layer of protection, not just from snow but sharp rocks or thorns on trail that may harm your dog’s paws.

Water and Heat Protection

In the late spring and summer months, when temps are 65 degrees or over, I like to run with a pack whenever Leo joins me to ensure I have enough extra water to keep him cool and/or hydrated.

If you often run in hot weather, you may want to consider a dog-cooling jacket or vest as well.

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7 Safety Tips for Trail Running with Dogs

All trail runners should follow basic trail safety (and if you aren’t sure what that entails, check out the post “8 Trail Running Safety Tips Every Runner Needs to Know“.) But there are extra precautions that need to be taken when trail running with your pup.

1. Start Slow

Ideally, you should start with shorter distance trail runs, and allow your dog to build up over time.

I know some of us do not have the pleasure of living with trails in our backyards. You may have to drive a bit to the nearest trailhead, and driving all that way to run shorter distances may be frustrating.

You will eventually be able to take your pup for longer runs but you will need to introduce Fido slowly to the trails to ensure his or her safety, and comfort level on various types of trails.

2. Practice Commands

Trails are often narrow, so you may find it safest for you both if your dog runs in front of you. Start slowly and be sure you’ve practiced commands such as “heel” and “stop” prior to heading out on a run. These take much patience, but as they say “a disciplined dog, is a loved (and safe!) dog.”

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3. Know Your Environment & Potential Risks

Be sure to know your environment.There are many natural hazards on the trail including dangerous plants, wildlife, and waterborne pathogens.

Water Contamination

Remember: not all natural water sources are safe for dogs. I learned this the hard way.

I had never run out West with my pup. It was a beautiful June afternoon, and after a run, we stopped in Zion National Park for our first time. Of course, I was in complete awe of the blue-green water and the red rock surrounding us. I’d never seen a more zen dog as Leo ran around in the shallows. We planned to return the following day.

In the morning, Leo would not chase a ball—completely out of character. We went back to Zion to explore more, and it was then that I was warned by a Park Ranger that I should not let my pup drink the water, as the toxic algae had reached Zion’s waters.

Well, I freaked out and had a nice $400 bill at the emergency vet.

Be sure to check your local water information. I know it’s insanely difficult to not let your pup play in water, especially on a hot summer day, but some algae can be deadly, so it is better to err on the side of disappointing Fido for a few minutes.

And, be sure to bring a clean water source for your pup to drink.

Hazardous Plants

Be wary that some seedpods and wild plants can imbed them selves in your doggo’s fur, or more dangerously, their ears, noses, other sensitive areas. Some can be fatal if they reach your pup’s organs. Watch for signs and contact your veterinarian.

And while it’s rare for dogs to develop a rash from plants such as poison ivy or poison oak, they can carry the plant’s urushiol on their fur, causing the humans they contact to develop a rash from the plant.


Check your local trail for recent wildlife updates. At certain times of the year, wild animals may become more protective and aggressive towards dogs (even while leashed), such as a mama bear with her cubs.

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4. Follow Trail Running Etiquette

Before gearing up for your first run together, it is a good idea to brush up on trail etiquette, whether this is your first time or it has been a while. For example:

  • Yield to other trail users by stepping aside, and letting them safely pass.
  • Pick up waste (and carry it out!)
  • Omit the headphones so you can be most alert to keep you both safe
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you will want to be confident in your dog’s obedience level. This can save his or her life and make your future runs the safest possible.

5. Watch for Signs of Heat Stroke or Overtraining.

Dogs aim to please their owners, their best friends.This can lead to overtraining, just as humans can experience.

I like the silence of running with a four-legged friend often, but that also means my running partner won’t voice to me if we are going too hard or if they need a break. Be sure to pay close attention to your dog’s effort, and recognize any changes.

If your dog is slowing down or panting heavily, change the pace of your run or take a complete break. Try a shorter run next time, or include more breaks during. If your pup keeps lying down in shaded spots, you should end your run then. Consider carrying your best friend back to the car or home.

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6. Run With Plenty of Water

Never run without water, especially in hot weather.

I am lucky in that my pup will allow me to squirt a water bottle in or near his mouth.If your dog isn’t into drinking this way, bring along a collapsible water bowl. You can attach one to your leash with a tiny carabiner or stash it in your pack if you are running with one.

7. Bring a First Aid Kit

You aren’t the only one who may sustain a mid trail run injury! Be sure to carry the necessary supplies to treat types of injuries dogs encounter most on the trail, or tools to remove things such as splinters or ticks.

You can add these supplies to your personal first aid kit, or, purchase specific pet first aid products such as the Heeler Canine First Aid Kit or Trail Dog Kit , both from Adventure Medical Kits.

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Trail Running with Dogs: Post-Run Tips

Once you’ve finished your run with your “goodest boy/girl”, keep these post-run tips in mind:

More Water!

Always be sure to have some water waiting in the car for when you finish your run. I’ve learned from poor planning that sometimes my pup Leo will drink way more than me or waste half of our water, so I always like to have a gallon container in the trunk upon our return.

Bring a Towel

A towel is also a must-have! Even if it isn’t hot out, Leo will 110% find a puddle—almost always a mud-filled one, yay—to run through or to try and take a rolling-in-the-mud break in. “I love him so much,” I remind myself on the particularly filthy runs. The towel comes in handy post-run for paw clean up as well.

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Check for Ticks

Finally, check your pup for any freeloaders attempting to make your pup’s fuzz their new home. Perform a tick check disguised as a pup massage. I would suggest keeping a tweezers or tick removal kit in your car as well. Be sure to google the correct way to remove a tick before extraction. Grab the tick at it’s head, not body, and steadily pull up and out. Be sure not to twist, as the head can remain in your pup’s skin.

Final Thoughts on Trail Running with Your Dog:

Trail running is good for our souls, but I believe trail running with our dogs may be the best feeling. I know seeing your pup seemingly smiling while running with you is probably one of your favorite things in the whole world.

Stay safe and aware on trails, and you two will log so many happy miles while doing your bodies good. Cheers to trails and puppy tails!

Raquel Neto

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Raquel Neto, B.S., is a UESCA certified running and ultramarathon coach who fell in love with the sport a decade ago. What started as a goal of collecting bling, became a way to exemplify structure and discipline in other areas of her life. After finishing her first 100 mile ultramarathon, Raquel hopes to continue helping others dig deep to meet the goals they thought may have been out of reach.

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