If you've ever lived with a die-hard runner, then you know how difficult, ahem, energetic, they can be if they don't get out on the road or trail for a couple days. The irritability your runner friend exhibits isn't exclusive to humans, however: Our four-legged friends, especially those with excess energy, can also exhibit all sorts of undesirable behavior when they don't get the chance to run outside.
In Charlotte, we're lucky to have some amazing resources. Convenient city routes, greenways, and steep mountain trails offer excellent locales for daily workouts while dog-friendly bars and restaurants give hard working pooches a place to socialize. We spoke with three Charlotte area experts about the benefits of running a dog, how to keep your buddy safe and healthy during your runs, and the best places around town for a workout and post-run downtime.
A Tired Dog is a Good Dog
Stephanie Moore is a professional dog runner with Ultra Dog of Charlotte. (Yes, that’s a job and yes, it sounds fantastic.) She has spent most of her professional career working with canines but her current focus as dog runner came, in part, because of the time she spends volunteering with the Greater Charlotte ASPCA.
“Many of the dogs are there because they’re barking too much, they’re digging, and the owners don’t know why they have this defective dog,” Moore says. “I’ve had fosters that were a digger or a fence jumper and I’ve taken them for a long run and it’s tired them out. That’s all they needed.”
Running a dog has even more direct training benefits than simply wearing them out. Moore explains that since dogs don’t focus on more than one stimuli at a time, they have to make a choice while they’re running.
“If you’re running a dog that’s reactive to other dogs, they can’t focus on running and the other dog at the same time. Most dogs love to run so they learn to tune that other stuff out and have a positive experience.”
Moore’s experience isn’t unique. Beth Brown is the coordinator for Dogs on the Run, a volunteer program connected to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control. She see’s firsthand the effect that exercising a dog can have. “You would be surprised that, when (volunteers) bring them back how relaxed they are, how much fun they’ve had, they have a smile on their face.”
Couch to 5K, Canine-Style
Like humans, dogs need time to build up to running. And one that comes from a shelter or kennel may not have had much time to get in their long run.
“Think couch to 5k for a person and apply it to your dog,” Moore says. “If you’re already an experienced runner, you don’t want to take them out for a 6-mile run. Let them run for 30 seconds, then walk for a while.”
“Remember your new dog does not have your endurance,” Brown adds. “And they’re little paw pads are not tough enough initially. They need to be brought up slowly.”
Moore suggests the same for puppies. Since their joints are still growing, long runs can cause some complications during the development stage. She says gradually introducing them to running and hiking, maybe even just running around the backyard, is the safest bet.
It’s particularly critical in summer, as both air and surface temperatures rise, to pay close attention to your four-legged bestie on a run. “If you’re running and you’re too hot or have trouble breathing, you slow down,” says Moore. “But dogs can’t communicate when they’re too hot. If it’s 100 degrees out, maybe opt for an easy, leisure run or run a different day.” She says that since dogs sweat through their paw pads they don’t lose salt like we do, but they do overheat faster than humans.
Moore also suggests checking their paws after a run. “Blacktop can burn paw pads. You can get home and their paws can be raw and bloody.”
Finally, don't be deterred by a hyper dog. An active dog may seem unruly at first, but that doesn't mean they can't run. Moore says that after a burst of sprinting, most dogs will tire out and settle into a nice, even pace.
Tips For Running With Fido
Understanding the best ways to get your best friend in running shape can be daunting. Luckily, there are plenty of local resources that can help.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Contol website has an impressive list of resources. You can take advantage of monthly group dog outings and community trainer time through the Shelter Pet Enrichment Fund. For times when a run isn’t in your schedule, working with a qualified dog runner will help your pooch stay healthy and well-behaved. And if you don’t have a dog, why not consider registering as a volunteer with Dogs on the Run to give a pup a break from the kennel while gaining a new running pal?
Here's some other tips from the pros:
- A 4-inch or 6-inch leash is best. Never use a retractable leash, as that extra distance can get your dog in a bad situation.
- A training collar can be like “power steering for your dog,”says Moore. Cohen likes the Easy Walk Dog Harness.
- Never force your dog to participate. If they are anxious in a social setting, let them relax at home instead.
- Take your dog to an obedience class. It’s not only about teaching the dog but it also helps create a bond.
- Talk with a trainer. Even a 2-minute chat with a qualified trainer can make a world of difference.
Paws and Pints
Charlotte is growing into a very dog-friendly city. Restaurants have opened their patios to canine guests, breweries welcome four-legged companions, and several dog-themed bars have sprung up around town. But for new dog owners, taking their new rescue to a busy business where other excited dogs are present can be daunting.
“First, it’s really important that a dog gets exercise before going to a business,” which helps reduce their energy level, explains Dena Cohen, a board member of the Shelter Pet Enrichment Fund, the 501c3 partner of Char-Meck Animal Care and Control. A big part of the fund’s mission is to help reduce the number of animals surrendered to the shelter, and helping new owners overcome such hurdles is part of that job.
Cohen also says that your pup needs a bit of time to acclimate when in a new, stimulating environment. “Review their cues like ‘sit’ and ‘down’, and then give them a treat. Then there will be an established connection and standard of behavior,” she explains.
Dog-Friendly Trails and Bars
It's almost a rite of passage for many runners: to head to a local watering hole after the run is done. Fortunately, Charlotte boasts an extensive list of trails and taverns that are great places to bring your pup for some outdoor time, and then raise a pint afterward. Here are several recommended by our experts:
U.S. National Whitewater Center: Even though there are dozens of miles of trail here, you’re never more than a couple miles from the center, so this is a great option for ramping up your distance. The USNWC restaurant is very dog-friendly, too.
Crowders Mountain State Park: A dozen miles of trail and steep uphill will tire out even the most athletic dog. There’s water available at the main trail head but remember to carry enough for the entire trip.
The Booty Loop: For in-town running, try this 3-mile loop around the idyllic Myers Park neighborhood. For more miles, connect to the Little Sugar Creek Greenway and look for the water fountain across from the Kings Road Farmers Market.
Canine Café: Retail space, frequent events, and a do-it-yourself dog spa are a nice reward for you and your dog after a tough, long run.
The Dog Bar: The safety of the off-leash environs at Dog Bar allows puppies to enjoy spirited play. The large, spacious bar allows for humans to enjoy spirits.
NoDa Brewing: It’s common to see a dozen dogs in the large taproom of NoDa Brewing, especially after their popular Wednesday night run group.
Shuffletown dog park: With a wooded area and water stations, the dog park at Shuffletown is popular when summer heat is at its peak. There’s plenty of room for larger dogs in the 4-acre area and a separate space for smaller dogs.
Four-Mile Creek Greenway: Nearly 6 miles of wide, smooth path allow lots of room for a nerve-calming run. Interesting scenery keeps the run interesting for the humans as well.