Tails on Trails: Running with Dogs

Vicki Lim at Huntaway Run Co.

Vicki Lim at Huntaway Run Co.

August 16, 2023 7 min read

I do a lot of lurking on trail running pages, because I’m a terrible runner and don’t usually have anything useful to add (but love the trail running community) ; so I watch in the shadows. Cue the post on the Wild Things Facebook page this weekend, where an anonymous female runner put up a post about how to feel safer while out trail running alone. I’ve seen this same question on American groups multiple times and the response always goes to guns (seriously) – what guns are easy to run with, how many times they’ve had to use the firearm either on wild animals or creepy humans.. so we’re pretty lucky here in Aotearoa.

To our Kiwi Jane Doe I cheekily replied that she should get a dog, because my boy Doug the Huntaway makes me feel safer wherever we go, and once you get a dog you’ll always have a mate that will be keen for adventures!

If you’re considering getting a dog, or getting your family kurī running, here are a few things to think about:

When to start running with your puppy?

Ah the age-old question. Let’s be clear: the “5 minutes per month of life rule” you might encounter has no scientific basis.

The more important question is, what type of exercise is appropriate for your puppy? A metaphor I like to use is that you wouldn’t run a marathon with your toddler, but you’d let them potter around for as long as they’d like – with supervision.

A trap that many pup parents get into is getting a high-energy or working breed dog, and overdoing exercise too young with jumping, running, or playing fetch with one of those ball throwers because they feel the need to stimulate them. We see way too many puppies with bone chips or fractures from inappropriate exercise! And after an injury like that, you can guarantee your dog will have arthritis to contend with, and you’ll kick yourself for not doing the right thing for your best mate when he was a pup.

Focus on low impact exercise like walking and swimming with your puppy to build muscle mass, and also work on the key aspects like leash walking, recall, and a “leave it” command. Building the foundations of training and bone growth will set your canine companion up for success in the future.

What gear do I need?

  • A collar with your dog’s name and your contact details.. just in case your recall isn’t as solid as you thought and your dog likes rabbits more than it likes you!
  • If using a harness: A well fitted harness that doesn’t restrict movement, especially of the forelimbs. Look for harnesses that look more like a “Y”, as opposed to a “T” with a horizontal strap across their chest which can impede stride length. This is extra important if you are looking to do Canicross or any type of running that involves pulling you, or some weight.
  • Parasite control: The last thing you want is to bring some unwanted hitchhikers home. In NZ we are lucky to be free of scary tick-borne diseases, but recent weather changes have meant that fleas are often a year-round problem now. And fleas are itchy and gross.
  • A collapsible water bowl: Depending on the trail you’re running you might not always have access to a watering hole – this way you can share some of your water with your mate.
  • Pet insurance: Hope for the best, but always prepare for the worst. Injuries can range from lacerations in the bush to catastrophic fractures. Even simple grass seeds in the summer months have a pesky way of getting lodged in ears, toes, and anywhere they damn well please, and can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to sort out.
    Cranial cruciate ligament (that’s the ACL for you bipods) tears are by far the most common orthopaedic injury in dogs. After a significant injury like that, your canine athlete will need x-rays, surgery (the gold standard is >$7,000), plus physio and hydrotherapy if you want to get her run-fit again. As much as you don’t want it to happen, there’s real value in being able to say to your vet, “Just do what you need to do”.

How do I build up the kms?

Easy, just like you would if you were starting out. Make sure your dog can handle long walks before you go running, and always make sure your dog is enjoying it. If you’re having to drag a panting deadweight on a leash, then your mate might not be so keen to go out with you next time around. Dogs are easy – if the activity is fun and reinforcing, they will happily do it again. If every time you go out it’s borderline heatstroke and horrible, they’ll head in the opposite direction when you put on your running shoes.

Some dogs are sprinters who have to build up stamina (like this writer), whereas others don’t have much velocity but are happy to plod on and on. Understand what works for your dog and adapt to their styles; they’re a lot more resilient than we are!

How do I keep my dog safe?

Have it well-trained. Good recall, a distance down (meaning your dog will drop into a down command wherever it is), and a “leave it” command so it’s not eating potentially poisoned carcasses or drinking out of giardia-laden bogs.

Also have it well-conditioned. Dogs that are overweight are also more likely to get injured, and develop arthritis. Weekend warrior canines get the same injuries as the humans. Sprained toes, strained ligaments, and torn muscles are common in unfit dogs. If you’re building up to run a certain distance, don’t leave your dog behind!

Another common question is on feet – to wear shoes or not? Most dogs, if they run regularly, should build up good calluses on their paw pads and not need shoes. If you find that despite that your dog is still getting cracked paws, they might benefit from a moisturising paw balm (we like @thefurlove for an NZ made and scientifically backed option). Oyster shells are also common culprits causing cuts between the toes, so shoes might be a goer if you find yourselves running frequently on sharp terroir. Be warned though: shoes can take some time for dogs to get used to! They quite frequently do the spider-dog dance, or freeze with a look of “why dog-mum/dad” on their sad little faces; so factor that in if you’re thinking of just popping shoes on paws and blasting off.

In New Zealand we don’t quite have the same weather extremes as runners elsewhere, but still be sensible. Especially if your pooch has thick fur or has a flat face, a long run on a hot day is just silly. Always try and make sure there’s water for your dog to cool down in on your trail, or share some of yours with them. If your dog is used to wearing a pack, she can carry her own. Every summer I’ll see heat-stressed, or worse, heat-stricken dogs, and heat stroke past a certain point is nearly always fatal. Watch out for: heavy panting, excessive drooling, dry and bright red gums. If you’re worried that your dog is getting too hot, stop immediately, find some shade, and wet them down with some water. Get them to the nearest vet if you’re very concerned.

Lastly, hot sand and concrete are your enemies. In summer, many dogs burn their feet on hot sand, which owners only realise once their dogs are no longer hooning on the beach and are instead hiding in the shade licking their sore burned paws. Remember: If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for them!


Now hopefully I’ve convinced you that the best running buddy you could get is a 4-legged one. Or at least, seeded the idea of a dog in your mind.. Just like how people say you never regret a run, I’ve never regretted a day out with my best mate. See you out there!

Dr Vicki Lim is a companion animal veterinarian in a busy practice in Central Auckland. She is a rubbish runner, but enjoys crewing for her partner Inia (@ultramaoridoctor) and their dog Doug (@dougdogjaspercat). Outside of her work in veterinary medicine, she started Huntaway Run Co. (@huntawayrunco), making hardworking trail gear for humans and dogs. Vicki does the mahi (work), so Doug can get the treats. What a life Doug. What a life.