How to Start Trail Running With Your Dog

Embarking on a trail run with your dog isn’t just a form of exercise; it’s an exhilarating journey through nature’s splendour, a shared adventure that strengthens the bond between you and your four-legged friend. As trail running with dogs gains popularity among outdoor enthusiasts, it’s crucial to approach this activity with knowledge and preparation.

Whether you’re a seasoned trail runner or new to this exciting world, you can transform each run into a rewarding experience for both you and your furry partner with the right preparation.

Preparation for Trail Running with Your Dog

Physical Fitness and Health Check

Before embarking on trail running adventures, ensure your dog is physically fit for the activity. Big dogs like Golden Retriever or Labradors need to build up their stamina and muscle strength gradually. Begin with short, easy runs and progressively increase the distance and difficulty. Consult your veterinarian for a health check to confirm that your dog is up to the challenge, especially considering factors like breed, age, and history of health issues.

Training and Obedience

Trail running requires more than physical fitness; it demands a high level of obedience and training. Your dog should respond reliably to basic commands like ‘stay,’ ‘come,’ and ‘leave it.’ This obedience is crucial for their safety, especially in areas with wildlife, other dogs, and hikers. Start training in less distracting environments and gradually move to busier trails.

Mental Preparation

Dogs, much like humans, need to be mentally prepared for trail running. Introduce them to different terrains and environments to acclimate them to varied trail conditions. Let them explore different scents, sights, and sounds, making each outing a positive experience.

Trail Selection

Dog-Friendly Trails

Not all trails are suitable for dogs. Choose trails that are dog-friendly, considering factors like trail width, surface, and the presence of hazards such as steep cliffs or toxic plants. Check local regulations as some areas require dogs to be on a leash. Trails that will have bikers or horses can be dangerous for dogs, so try to prioritise trails that are primarily for people.

Consider the Terrain

Select trails that match your dog’s ability and experience. Start with flat, smooth trails and gradually introduce more challenging terrains like hills or rocky paths. Be mindful of the weather and avoid trails that may be too hot or cold for your dog’s paws.

Crowd Management

Consider the time of day and season to avoid overcrowded trails. Running with your dog during less busy times can lead to a more enjoyable experience for both of you.

Safety Tips and First Aid

Safety Gear

Equip yourself and your dog with safety gear. A sturdy harness, a reliable leash, and a collar with ID tags are essential. Consider reflective gear and a bell for your dog’s collar to increase visibility.

First Aid Knowledge

Equip yourself with basic first aid knowledge and carry a first aid kit for both you and your dog. Know how to handle common injuries like cuts, sprains, or heat exhaustion.

Benefits of Trail Running for Dogs and Owners

Emotional Well-being

The tranquillity of nature, combined with the joy of movement, can significantly boost mental health for both dogs and owners. For dogs, the new experiences and freedom can lead to a happier, more balanced temperament. For owners, running with a loyal companion in nature is a powerful antidote to stress and anxiety.

Socialization and Confidence

For dogs, regular trail runs can be an excellent form of socialisation. They learn to interact safely and calmly with other dogs and people they meet on the trail. This exposure can lead to a more confident and well-adjusted dog. For owners, it’s an opportunity to meet fellow trail enthusiasts and foster a community of like-minded individuals.

Longevity and Quality of Life

Regular exercise like trail running can contribute to a longer, healthier life for both dogs and their owners. For dogs, it helps in weight management, reducing the risk of obesity-related health issues. For owners, it’s a heart-healthy activity that improves overall fitness.

Improved Behavioural Traits

Dogs that are regularly engaged in activities like trail running often exhibit fewer behavioural issues. The physical and mental stimulation helps to burn excess energy, reducing tendencies like excessive barking, digging, or chewing.

Adaptability and Learning

Trail running exposes dogs to various environments, making them more adaptable and better able to cope with changes. They become more intelligent and resourceful, learning to navigate different terrains and situations.

Gear and Hydration

The gear you’ll need to bring is dependent on the trails you’re going to run, but some of the most crucial items you’ll need will include:

  1. Harnesses: A good harness is crucial for trail running. It should be comfortable, with padding to prevent rubbing, and sturdy enough to handle the rigours of trail running. Look for harnesses with a handle on the back, which can be helpful in guiding your dog over obstacles or in tricky situations.

  1. Protective Booties: Depending on the terrain, protective booties can be a lifesaver for your dog’s paws. They protect against sharp rocks, hot surfaces, and icy conditions. Ensure they fit well to prevent slipping or chafing.

  1. Reflective and High-Visibility Gear: In areas with low visibility or during runs at dawn, dusk, or nighttime, reflective gear can ensure your dog is visible to you, other trail users, and potential vehicles on nearby roads.

Hydration is one of the most important aspects of trail running, not just for you but for your dog. To stay hydrated, you’ll need to have the following aspects covered:

  1. Hydration Strategy: Plan your water breaks and monitor your dog for signs of dehydration, such as excessive panting, dry gums, or lethargy. Encourage your dog to drink at regular intervals, especially if they are the type who gets so excited that they forget to drink.

  1. Nutrition on the Trail: For longer runs, bring along some dog-friendly energy snacks. These can be commercial dog treats formulated for energy and endurance, or simple, wholesome snacks like pieces of cooked chicken or dog-safe fruits.

  1. Post-Run Nutrition: After the run, it’s important to replenish your dog’s energy. A balanced meal that’s rich in protein can help with muscle recovery. However, wait until your dog has cooled down and is resting before feeding them to avoid digestion issues.


Trail running with your dog is an enriching experience that fosters health, happiness, and an unbreakable bond. By preparing adequately, choosing the right trails, and prioritising safety, you can ensure that every run is an adventure that both you and your dog will cherish. Embrace these moments on the trail, and let the journey strengthen the extraordinary bond between you and your canine companion.