Running With Your Dog in Autumn: A Seasonal Guide

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Autumn is paws-down my favorite season for running with my dog. I have great memories of running with my German shepherd mix, Sasha, through the fall foliage of the east coast, where I live, from New York to North Carolina, over the first morning frosts, her little dog breath visible as we went. Beautiful colors, cooler temps, bright blue skies, and a dog by your side: what’s not to love?

Besides the excitement of going on fall adventures with your dog, running can set both you and your dog up for a lifetime of good habits and health. But even more than that, running can help with training, behavior, and bonding. This fall, check out some ideas on how running can help strengthen that unbreakable bond with your dog.

Running with Dog - Pixabay

Courtesy Mabel Amber via Pixabay

Benefits of Running With Your Dog

Sasha and I ran together for over ten years. My husband and I got started on a regular running routine with her because she had a lot of nervous energy, and we found that—as a working dog—she did best when she could channel that energy to a specific task. Running made her more relaxed, less anxious, more responsive to training, and set her on a path for a lifetime of great health and longevity (she made it just shy of 14, healthy and active up to the last few days of her life).

But even more than that, running with Sasha helped us to develop a deep appreciation for her unique qualities. Having logged hundreds, if not thousands, of miles with her by my side, when we finally “retired” her, it was hard to get used to traveling those miles alone. But I will always appreciate everything she taught me about my own running, about patience, perseverance, and teamwork.

Autumn Running with Dogs 101

Fall is a great time to start—or continue—a running routine with your dog. In most regions, the temperature quickly becomes more accommodating, and the danger of overheating is significantly lessened. Your dog, who is probably even more aware of the changing season, will probably be invigorated by the falling temperature, new smells, and different wildlife out and about on the trails. Whether you are just beginning a running routine with your dog, or are an old hat, here are some ideas about staying healthy and active with your dog during the fall months.

Warm-up and Stretch: A Good Idea for Both Dogs and Humans

As the temperature drops, it’s important to make sure your dog is adequately warmed up. Many runners like to incorporate a warm-up and stretch before a run, and it’s no different for your dog. If the weather outside is colder than room temperature—which will probably be the case at some point during the fall, even if you live in a warmer climate— you will want to make sure both you and your dog are warmed up and stretched. It’s a good idea to have a basic sense of your dog’s resting heart rate (this can be as simple as putting your hand over her heart when she’s been sitting still for a while, and counting the beats in a minute). Go for a quick jog (two minutes probably will do the trick) to get her heart pumping a bit, then stretch her legs.

Stretching Dog for Running - Author Photo

The author demonstrates how to stretch your dog before a run.

If you’ve never seen this done before, the simplest stretch is to have her stand normally, face her, then take each front leg, one by one, behind the knee, and simply raise her leg out in front of her so the long bone is parallel to the ground and the foreleg hangs gently. Hold each leg for a count of ten.

Stretching Dog for Running - Author Photo

If the weather outside is colder than room temperature, you will want to make sure both you and your dog are warmed up and stretched.

For her back legs, again, have her stand normally, and simply lift the back leg, one at a time, forward (in the direction of motion), and hold it there for a count of ten. These stretches are gentle—everything is worked in the direction and angles of natural motion.

I usually stop every few miles and stretch out my dog again, just to make sure she is comfortable. When I do this, I also check the pads of her feet to make sure they look good and to make sure she doesn’t have any debris in between the toes. Chances are, if you are going on a fall run, you’ll be doing some off-roading, and you’ll want to be sure that her feet stay clean and healthy. A periodic foot check is also a great time to gauge your dog’s active heart rate, if you don’t already have an idea of what it is. Knowing her average rates helps you to make sure she is not overtaxed.

Not all Surfaces are Created Equal

Grassy fields and dirt paths are preferable to paved roads, and the autumn provides great opportunities to do a bit of off-road running. Be sure to research routes in your area, and know the rules for on-leash and off-leash adventures. If you live in a region where the snow comes early, take this into account and be sure the pads on your dog’s feet are up to any snow or ice.

Courtesy Mabel Amber via Pixabay.

Set a Realistic Pace

Have you ever noticed that sometimes your dog scampers along at a quick trot, and sometimes she seemingly effortlessly lopes along (think a horse at a canter versus a horse at a trot)? If you are running in an area or along a road or path where your dog has to be leashed, this can become very important. Your dog will be able to do more miles more efficiently at a loping stride, but you may not be able to keep up with her! Alternatively, if you run at a pace below her loping speed, she will be working hard at her trot to stay alongside you.

With Sasha, I couldn’t run for too many miles at her loping pace. My husband, however, could run just fine with her at that pace. So for me, this meant I did a lot of pace changing when I was running with her. I’d get a mile or two in at her ideal pace, then slow it down to my ideal pace, to make sure that neither one of us was overdoing it. Learning how to run with your dog at a pace that works for both of you is part of the experience, and also part of the incredible bonding of running with your dog. When you work with each other’s pacing needs, it truly becomes a running partnership.

Daylight Savings

One downside to running in the fall is the inevitable loss of daylight. This can mean big changes for your running routine, especially at northern latitudes that lose daylight faster and to greater extremes. If you are a morning or evening runner, you may have to consider changing times or changing routes. Whatever you do, don’t let the loss of light nix your plans for running: Getting outside as the days shorten, even for a quick run, is a good way for you and your dog to fend off seasonal affective disorder. (There are also some products on the market that can help you to stay safe running in limited light, which we list below.)

Breed and Age Considerations

While many dog breeds can be great running partners, there are a few things to consider as you get ready to run with your dog. Even though autumn offers good temperature ranges for running, your dog’s age will always be an important consideration. Dogs are most sensitive to exertion at the beginning and end stages of their lives.

If you have a young dog, and especially if she is a large breed (takes more than a year to reach her full size), it’s important not to put on too many miles before she is done growing. Too much running on growing joints can be detrimental to your dog’s growth and may affect her longterm joint health. It’s never a bad idea to exercise, but be careful of the running miles she puts in and the surfaces she runs on.

I am just beginning to run with my 10-month-old Bernedoodle, Sabine (whose parents both weighed in over 80 pounds), and my main consideration is keeping the miles limited and the surfaces soft (check out this advice from PetMD on surfaces) until she is done growing. And the fall offers tons of choices for off-road running…trails, fields, you name it.

Stretching Dog for Running - Author Photo

The author enjoying a jog with her Bernedoodle.

Similarly, running with an older dog warrants some caution, too—especially in hot and cold weather—though the fall may be the optimal season to run with an older dog.

While I had no reservations about a 10k with my Sasha when she was a younger dog, by the time she was ten we had completely cut out long runs, always gauging our distances by her enthusiasm and movement. If you are starting running with a dog who has reached the second half of her lifespan, start slow and build miles methodically. Be especially aware of any soreness she may exhibit after a run, and it’s never a bad idea to talk to your vet before significantly changing her exercise routine.

As far as dog breeds go, size will be a consideration. Smaller dogs will have different abilities and endurances than larger dogs (for one, their heart rates will increase faster and they have to move those legs a lot more to cover the same distance). Some dogs will be more prone to breathing and overheating problems—which probably makes these owners welcome the cooler autumn weather.

If you have a dog with a short snout who tends to snore (think Boston terrier), pay attention to her breathing. Short-snouted dogs can have difficulty with their nasal passages, according to PetMD, which translates to difficulty breathing and a tendency for overheating. As a general rule, smaller dogs can tolerate a lot less companion running than medium- or large-sized dogs. Length of leg and average weight is also a factor—if you are on the lookout for a dog to accompany you on distance runs, think Labrador or foxhound over corgi, bulldog, or basset hound.

Image by Martin Tajmr from Pixabay

Climate Considerations

Heading out for a run with your dog in the fall, you’ll have to take note of the weather, and that will look different depending on where you live.

The Northeast offers some of the most beautiful autumn scenery, but can get cold quickly. Temperatures throughout the day may fluctuate 30 degrees or more, and the northern latitudes will lose light earlier in the day. Fall is also a rainy season in New England, so be prepared for some muddy trails and fields. Similarly, the temperatures in the Midwest can vary largely. Residents are no strangers to summer-like weather or the occasional blizzard, all packed into the season we call “autumn.” The Midwest also offers a great variance of terrain, giving runners and dogs a lot of variety to choose from. In the northern states, the fall offers great opportunities to explore the many lakes before they begin to freeze, and farther west, there are miles and miles of roads just calling for runners.

Temperatures in the Southeast finally become comfortable in the fall, making for great outdoor running with your dog. The moderate fall/winter climate in the American Southeast offers beautifully groomed trails that are very popular with running groups. The vast majority of Sasha’s miles were logged in and around Chapel Hill, North Carolina and I can verify it’s a runner’s paradise!

The West Coast offers beautiful, mild fall temperatures, and you may also find that the tourist traffic has waned the farther you get into the season. Like many of the US climate regions, the west coast can get more rain in the fall—some of which can be intense and with little warning. The Southwest, particularly in the desert regions, can experience some extreme temperature changes, even within the course of a day. If you are planning an outdoor adventure with your dog, be sure to prepare for the variable weather, precipitation, and even snow that can occur at higher elevations.

And I can’t forget Hawaii, where we adopted Sasha! Some of my favorite memories are running the beaches with her, jumping in for a quick swim, then back to logging some more beautiful miles in the permanent-80 degree breezy weather.

Cautionary Notes

Hunting Season

In many regions of the United States, autumn is the start of hunting season. If you live in one of these areas, this should absolutely be on your radar, particularly if you use trails and fields for running. Many dogs resemble deer in their looks (especially from far away) and movement. Check out recommended products below to ensure you are wearing appropriate colors, and always know the posted signs along your route. In some places, even areas that look residential still allow hunting with a shotgun. Research your routes thoroughly!

Autumn Wildlife

Wildlife patterns change in the autumn. Reptiles look for those afternoon rays to keep warm, geese migrate and inhabit new areas, and animals that hibernate begin putting on that final layer of fat. Wherever you live, be sure to research what wildlife you might encounter in the fall, and consider how your dog could react. Are there venomous snakes in your area? Has your dog seen a flock of wild geese before? (Sasha loved chasing geese.) Do you have black or brown bears in your area? Are you going to see beautiful flocks of monarch butterflies and need to pack a camera?

On the plus side, pesky insects (like mosquitoes and black flies) disappear in the fall—another great reason to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

In Case of Emergency

Despite all your efforts to research routes, check the weather, and train for the elements, accidents can happen. A few basic preparations can go a long way if you find yourself in an emergency. First, always tell someone your running route, and take a phone with you in case you get lost. Going for a more extreme adventure? Take a map, know important landmarks, and have a plan for food and water. Having comfort with some basic first aid skills and a first aid kit (with supplies like a foil blanket, bandages, tape, ointment, and electrolytes) can be invaluable in a pinch.

Top 10 Accessories for Autumn Running

Now that you know some of the top tricks of the trade for a fall run with your dog, gear up with some of these essentials to make the most of the season.

If you are planning to run in the fall, consider purchasing a bright orange vest for your dog. Dogs can look and move like deer, and you want to be sure that both you and your dog are visible. This vest can fit large dogs, up to 100 pounds (but can be purchased in a smaller size, if needed). It’s durable, designed for comfort, and will move with your dog. (You might consider getting one for yourself, too.)

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Hands-free dog leashes are becoming more and more popular in the running world. If you find that it’s easier to run if you have full use of your hands (or if you are pushing a jogger), these leashes can help extend your run distances by keeping you comfortable. They also come with storage for keys or smartphones and can help organize any necessities that you want to have with you on your run—including basic first aid items. These leashes are great even for very large dogs (up to 150 pounds), are lightweight, and have multiple different control options (attach to your waist, your wrist, your stroller, etc.)

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If you are adventurous enough to try to run with two dogs, this leash might just help you stay untangled and on the trail. While running with multiple dogs can be challenging, it’s one of those activities where practice makes perfect.

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If you’ve ever run across a dog in booties, it might be the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. But, regardless of cute factor, outdoor booties have a real utility for adventure dogs. If you live in an area where the summer heat lasts long into the autumn, they can be great for protecting your dog’s feet from hot pavement. Conversely, if the snow falls early where you live, chances are you could encounter some snow during your autumn runs, and booties (once your dog is used to them, of course) can be used to preserve pads and help prevent injury or damage from prolonged exposure to snow, chemical deicers, and more.

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As the summer sun wanes, lighting will probably become a big consideration for your runs. Autumn offers a good balance of temperature, but the loss of daylight can make running outdoors a challenge. LED lights are a great way to stay visible to others and keep you both safe on your runs. This harness is a good mix of visibility and function, as many runners (and their running buddies) prefer harnesses to collars for maximum comfort and control.

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I’ve used these LED lights for many years, and find them to be useful, small devices that are easy to carry. Their purpose is to provide visibility to any traffic and can be ideal for autumn afternoons as the sun fades. With these guys, the more, the merrier! I put one on each shoe and one on my dog’s collar or vest for maximum visibility.

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Again, depending on where you live, your dog may need some extra protection for the autumn weather. Light rain and wind gear can help protect them from the outdoor elements as temperatures drop. Dogs with lighter coats can benefit from a lightweight jacket, such as this wind- and waterproof dog jacket, as can dogs who may fit more in more with the “jogging” vice “running” crowd.

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Smaller dogs and those with shorter coats often benefit from some coverage as the temperatures drop. This reversible coat offers some warmth, while keeping the legs free for motion. The fabric is both windproof and weatherproof and has sizes to accommodate lots of small dog breeds. This jacket could be ideal for many US climates during the fall months.

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First aid kits are a good idea for any longer run that will take you away from residential areas. Whether you are on the road or the trail, it’s never a bad idea to be prepared. This small kit, designed to be carried by either owner or dog, contains some safety necessities, including an emergency blanket.

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An inevitable part of running is that you will be on poop patrol. This poop bag holder is convenient because it can attach to your dog’s leash and is easy to carry, without causing any swinging or extra weight as you go.

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Further Reading

Interested in learning more about keeping your dog fit? Check out more on the topic with one of the articles below.

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