Bend resident Matt Robinson, 26, knew he wanted an active dog that he could go jogging with. Two years ago, he found Hank, an exercise-loving Labradoodle (Lab-poodle mix) with a goofy personality.
The two jog together along High Desert trails when they aren’t taking their morning and evening walks. The exercise is good for Robinson and his energetic dog, who loves the chance to stretch his long legs.
For two other Labradoodles in town, life includes both jogs and cross-country ski trips to areas where pets are allowed. Bend resident Gina Miller, 41, is the owner of 11-month-old Disco and 4-year-old Metro.
Miller, a marathon runner, trained her pups to run long distances with her on hands-free leashes that clip around her waist. Metro can go as far as 10 miles, Miller says, and always with a water supply available.
“One of my criteria was to get a dog that would like to run,” Miller remembers of her two male dogs. “Now, I think my dog dictates my runs versus me dictating my runs — it’s really funny.”
While Miller runs as far as her dogs let her, many, many other Central Oregonians are leashing up and heading out on the desert or in the mountains. If you count yourself among them, local veterinarian Holly Morava O’Brien of Banfield Pet Hospital in Bend says you should consider a few things first.
For one thing, not even dogs like greyhounds, a racing breed, can instantly run 10 miles with you.
“Like people, they need to be conditioned,” O’Brien said of all dogs. “Things you need to worry about are overheating, their pads wearing down, the age of the dog, the agility of the dog and the potential for joint damage, whether it’s to the knees or the hips.”
Other things to consider: the temperature outside, access to drinking water, rest periods and the dog’s breed.
For example, thick-coated dogs such as huskies shouldn’t be exercised hard in the hot summer, just as thin-coated dogs such as boxers shouldn’t be unprotected in the winter elements.
And in Central Oregon, pumice and jagged cinder stones can rip up the pads of a dog’s feet — you’ll see them limping or licking their feet where their paw pads are raw and bleeding.
Owners shouldn’t run dogs that are too old or too young, O’Brien says, adding that she gets questions all the time about how early puppies can run.
The answer: Once the puppies are 10 months old, you can start working them up to long distances. Any time before that, their bones and joints aren’t fully mature. Healthy, athletic adult dogs can run anywhere from three to 15 miles with proper rest and water breaks — bring a separate water bottle for the dog.
When training dogs, start with short distances and see how they handle it — this goes for skiing, biking and running. When they are able, slowly build up their distance over the course of a couple of months, and force them to rest — dogs can run past the point at which they need to quit, so watch for when they start lagging behind in a trot, then call a rest.
Even if your dog has short legs, it can be a fine runner, O’Brien says, adding that she used to run with her dachshund.
“I have mountain biked for 13 miles with a corgi,” she said of the dogs often seen with British royalty. “The breed doesn’t change too many things (in a dog’s ability to be trained for distance exercise).”
That said, certain breeds, including pugs and bulldogs, have breathing difficulties, which could hurt them if they over- exert. And dogs that are giant, like Burmese mountain dogs, aren’t athletic because they overheat too easily.
Miller says greyhounds and whippets can have problems because their thin skin often gets chewed up if they run in thick brush common in the High Desert.
O’Brien currently has a setter breed that she says is a “phenomenal” runner, adding that all field dogs are known for their agility: pointers, Labs, vizslas and Weimaraners.
Bend resident Jeanne Wads- worth, 50, has a 5-year-old husky-Lab mix named Mia who loves to play in the snow almost as much as her owner. They jog two to three times a week in the wee hours of the morning, go skiing every weekend in the winter and do skijoring, a winter sport in which a person on skis is pulled by dogs.
The furry yellow-haired Mia can’t wait for winter, Wadsworth says.
“By the first snow, she’s just bouncing around the parking lot,” she said, adding that when she shopped for a dog, she knew a husky mix would be strong and good for exercising.
Wadsworth helps protect Mia’s paws with a waxy gel called Musher’s Secret that mushers use for their dogs. It keeps Mia’s paws protected from snow, ice and rock abrasions, Wadsworth says.
“That way, I don’t have to worry about her running around in the wintertime,” Wadsworth said.
Before you run your dog, it doesn’t hurt to contact your veterinarian for advice, O’Brien says.
“All dogs need exercise, they need it mentally and physically,” O’Brien said. “But everything in moderation, and the environment should match their coats (and abilities).”