What is the correct way to run with different types of dog leads?

running with a dog lead how to do it correctly
How to run with a dog on a leadPaws 4 Running

We all known it can be tricky to find time to fit in a run, and if you have a dog to exercise, even more so. So combining them is clearly a pawsome, efficient way to exercise (for you both) and a great way to bond.

Dog ownership has rocketed in recent years, and ten million - an incredible 34% of households - now share their space with a dog. But alongside that, obesity rates in pets have also risen sharply, and it's estimated that 40% of dogs are overweight or obese. Humans aren't doing too much better - the 2021 Health Survey for England 2021 estimated that 25.9% of adults in England are obese and a further 37.9% are overweight. So getting out and doing some exercise together can only be a good thing. Besides, it is also scientifically proven that owning a dog makes you a better runner.

Many of us will know firsthand the mental health benefits of running, too, but did you know dogs can also benefit from it? Running with your dog, known as canicross, is also beneficial for a dog's mental health and can address problems such as separation anxiety, stress, destructive behaviour and boredom.

However, what many people don't realise is running incorrectly with your dog on a lead can be potentially harmful to both your dog, and to yourself.

We spoke to dog running expert and canicross instructor Louise Humphrey of Paws 4 Running about how to safely, and correctly, run with your dog on a lead.

Why you shouldn't run with a normal lead

There are three main problems with running with a dog on a lead attached to the collar. Dogs - even small ones - are strong, and when they run they are likely to be faster than you. This means that they will pull on the lead, which may cause choking if it is attached to a collar. That is very uncomfortable for the dog, and strongly discouraged by canicross professionals.

The issue for you - the human runner - is that running with a lead in one hand can cause an imbalance in your running form. Being pulled on one side may lead to jarring, which can cause wrist or shoulder injuries. It also means you are not able to run efficiently, because you have limited arm drive on one side.

There is also less control when you run with a dog on a lead attached to its collar. It makes it easier for the dog to pull you to one side, particularly if they are reactive or they suddenly see something that piques their 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 movement as possible. They are comfortable to wear and don't restrict shoulder movement, meaning your dog will be less prone to injury.

There is a variety of canicross harnesses, but broadly they fall into short and long. The difference is where the pulling motion comes from. If your dog has a strong pull then they will probably suit a long harness because this distributes the load across the dog whereas a short harness encourages a dog to power from their front legs.

It is important to ensure a harness is properly measured and fitted. DogFit provide excellent starter kits as well as offering taster sessions to help fit your dog with the right harness. They also have a directory of canicross instructors across the country who can offer free fittings.

Get yourself a belt

Once you have the right harness for your dog, you need to get yourself your own harness or canicross belt. The benefit of a human harness is that it puts less strain on your lower back, particularly if you have strong-pulling dog. Normal waist belts are not advised as they are 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 in place with leg straps. This means that the load of the dog pulling is absorbed by the strongest part of the body – the pelvis – rather than by your more vulnerable lower back.

Wearing a harness will also give you greater control of your dog, because they will be attached to a solid core via a special lead. This allows you to run hands-free, driving your elbows backwards for momentum and able to use your arms for balance on any uneven ground.

Invest in a bungee lead

The vital component between your dog's harness and your own canicross harness is a bungee lead. This is a springy lead which helps to absorb any shock from your dog, preventing jarring or sudden dramatic movements.

Bungee leads come in different lengths and the one you need will depend on your dog's size, height and strength, so do ask for advice. Naturally, the longer the lead the more room there is between you and your dog.

Running parkrun with a dog

Earlier this year parkrun changed the rules around running with a dog citing safety issues for runners. You can no longer run with a dog attached to a waist belt or canicross harness. Dogs must now be on a handheld, non-extendable lead running to the side of their owner rather than out in front.

To make this safe for dogs, it is advisable to use a handheld lead but to attach it to a dog harness rather than a collar. This is permitted within parkrun rules and is more comfortable for your canine companion.

To find out more about running with your dog listen to Louise Humphrey's podcast Canicross Conversations which she hosts with running coach Michelle Mortimer.

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