How to run a race with your dog (and do well)

They say a dog is a man’s best friend and diamonds are a girl’s. However, they’ve clearly never met me — the runner who has one of the world’s most athletic dogs. Harley, my Shiba Inu mix, is my best friend and training partner (a lovely twofer).

dog best friend

He trains for all my half-marathons with me, but since I pick the big-city ones, he’s never allowed to race them. However, I do try to pick dog friendly tune-up races — oftentimes they’re smaller, local ones — so he can have a chance at victory! After all, he’s training just as hard as I am.

If you have a best furry friend with whom you love to run, I encourage you to race with them as well! It’s a wonderfully rewarding experience that elevates the bond you form from running with your dog to a whole new level — one where the high of racing gets to be shared with a dog who’s, let’s face it, always excited even without a race!

Harley just raced his third 5k — and third race ever — with me at the Prairie Dog 5k in Westminster, Colorado, and we had a blast. We’re a month into training for the Las Vegas Rock n Roll Half-Marathon, and I loved getting to put his prowess to the test. We’re signed up for the Run the Rocks 10k at Red Rocks Amphitheater in October, too. Since we’ve been running for over a year together, and just recently started racing together, I thought I’d offer some tips on how to race well with your dog. Because, yes, a PR is still possible — more possible even — when you bring your furry friend along.

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Empty your dog’s tank before the race

This is the most important thing you can do if you want to run a PR. If your dog stops to pee multiple times, you’re obviously forced to stop as well. If your dog poops, it’ll take even more time to bag it up, and you may be stuck running with it for a while.

It’s also better for your image as a racer with a dog. What if your dog stops to relieve themselves and blocks other racers in the process? People could complain, and the race might stop allowing dogs! Do yourself, and all the dog-loving runners out there, a favor by making sure your dog has nothing left in their tank before that gun goes off!

Warm up with your dog

If you don’t have time or energy to walk your dog before heading off to your race, then this is when your dog will use the bathroom. Even if they’ve already used the bathroom, it’s good to give them one last shot. Additionally, a relatively long warm-up helps your dog get out all of their energy before the start.

Harley loves to zip off when we first start running, but going out too fast in a race can be detrimental. However, when he’s had the chance to jog and do some strides for 10-20 minutes, he’s much calmer and less overwhelmed by the crowd of people behind the start line. This makes our start much smoother.

Know your dog and how they run

Does your dog run in front of you, on your right or on your left? Are they friendly with other dogs? Do they get distracted my squirrels, rabbits and other wildlife? Do other people distract them? Knowing how your dog will react to stimuli on the race course is important to your safety and the safety of other runners.

Races typically ask that runners with dogs start in the back, and I get it. However, as I mentioned above, Harley likes to start out fast. He also hates being in the back. When I walk with my husband and second dog, Copper, he has to be in front or else he pulls. Since I know he’ll get in people’s paths trying to dart in front if we start in the back, we start closer to the front. I still respect the space of other runners and keep a short leash when we’re in the crowded first mile, which is the ultimate goal for asking runners with dogs to start in the back anyway. Harley will also only run on my right side, which means I always stay to the right on the course and pass other runners on the right. And since he’s not good with other dogs, we give them plenty of space even if we have to go out of our way and speed up for a burst to do so. At the end of the day, it’s all about my safety, his safety and the safety of my fellow runners, so having little inconveniences here and there is fine by me!

Use verbal praise on the race course

When I race with Harley, he can get pretty tired. The faster pace and the excitement of the people can wear him out quicker than a normal training run does. To keep him motivated, I like to tell him every few minutes or so, “C’mon, you’re doing great! Let’s go!”

Your dog wants to please you, so a little praise can go a long way. If they start to lag beside or behind you, use praise to get them to speed back up!

Treat them like the running partner they are

People may think I’m crazy, but I keep up conversations with Harley on the race course. It helps make the pain of a faster pace more tolerable and makes the event more fun since I’m truly getting to run with my best friend!

Know what you’re getting into before you race with your dog

Don’t race with your dog if you’ve never run with them before! You need to run with them for several weeks before attempting to race with them or else neither of you will be prepared.

Don’t push your dog to finish if there’s a problem! Understand that racing with your dog carries the risk of not finishing. Be willing to stop if something happens or your dog seems unusually tired. Never force them to continue.

Make sure your dog is fed and hydrated before a race! Would you race on an empty stomach and while feeling dehydrated? NO. Don’t make your dog do that either. Many dog friendly races have water bowls at the aid stations. If not, you may need to have a friend meet you with a water bowl on the course, carry one for your dog or have some other plan in place. Keep their health and safety in mind at all times.

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Now I only have one complaint about these dog friendly races: Why don’t the dogs get medals? Today was the second time Harley was the first dog to finish, and I really wish he got an award for his hard work and athleticism!


Do you run or race with your dog? Tell Harley and me why you love to do it!


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