German Shepherd (GSD) is a large and muscular dog breed that will grow as high as 26 inches and weigh up to 95 pounds. As the name goes, these dogs were originally bred in Germany for herding sheep and protecting them from predators. However, their undeniable intelligence, strength, stamina, beauty, and loyalty alongside their unquestionable work ethic have made them popular in the United States and other areas of the world.
Actually, according to stats, German Shepherds are the second most popular dog breed in the United States. Their great qualities make them all-purpose, multi-function furry colleagues. In fact, we have to acknowledge that when it comes to versatility, not many breeds come close to the adorable GSDs. But can these multi-talented buddies run long distances? Well, I was asking the same question as you- and here is what I found out!
German Shepherds can become good long-distance running companions. However, it’s something you have to help them develop through training and building up their endurance. With proper training, these dogs can comfortably make a 20-mile run at a time.
Why Running Is Good For Your German Shepherd
If long-distance running is part of your lifestyle, then bringing your German shepherd along can really be very tempting. Running next to your close furry friend is a great way to keep you stay motivated. But are there any benefits that GSDs get by giving us company? Well, below are several.
It Keeps Them Healthy
One thing we must acknowledge about German Shepherds is that they need regular exercise to stay healthy. Taking them on long runs is a great way of making them live longer, stay healthier, and develop stronger hip joints. A regular run will also help strengthen their hearts and lungs.
It Keeps Them Tired In ‘A Good Way’
German Shepherds are normally very energetic dogs that love to stay active. Therefore, unlike the low-energy breeds, your GSD will need more than just an average-level exercise to burn the excess energy. And yes, long runs are a great way to help in this. They will also help them grow calm, jazzed up, and always ready for more.
It Strengthens The Bond
Running long distances with your pooch means that you are spending more time with them. It will help create a stronger bond between you and them. For the ‘busy bees’ who do not get much time to interact with their buddy in the remaining part of the day, running time will be a great opportunity to develop and nurture the bond.
It Helps Them Know More
Running will provides an opportunity for your German shepherd to become familiar with more things. It will make them become conversant with new sights, smells, and sounds. A long-distance run will also make them grow more familiar with their surrounding environment.
It Makes Them More Complete
German shepherds are among the dogs that make steadfast guardians. They are always ready to put their life on the line to protect their very own. For a dog of its kind, pace and endurance are important. And since running helps endow them with these qualities, it’s a great way of making them more complete and competent in what they are supposed to do.
Perfect Age for German Shepherds To Start Running
Although running is generally healthy for your GSD, you have to ensure that you don’t introduce him to it when it’s too early. German shepherds are very susceptible to problems associated with hips and joints. Therefore, you have to really wait until those plates seal completely before they can join you in the run.
So, what age is ideal for your dog? Well, since GSDs take a little longer than other dogs to mature, you will need to be a little more patient. Thus, you might have to wait until they are 18 months old before you consult the veterinarian on whether they are fit for the task.
However, before hitting the 1-1/2-year mark, it will be wise to train them to respond to your commands. Doing this will create a more favorable ground for more advanced training and give you an easy time when you begin running with them. Among the commands you can train them to obey are on to stop, start, sit, and more.
How To Train A German Shepherd To Run With You
When you think that your dog is ready for a run, it doesn’t mean that they are fit to begin at the level you are in. You need to consider following these steps when training them to run with you. The procedure will make the training more comfortable for your new running partner and help them to effectively grow in it with time.
Begin Where You Began
Remember the first day when you went out for a run? Do you recall the pace and the number of stops? Well, as you can tell, growing into a great runner starts from the lowest pace before it increases with time. In the same way, although German Shepherds are high-energy dogs, expecting them to run as good as you on their first day sounds quite much at their stage. Therefore, you need to train them bit by bit, increasing the pace gradually.
You can begin it from as far as making a simple walk. Taking a long walk a few times is good enough to prepare them for something more intense. After they seem to have gotten used to it, it’s time to switch to jogging. Jogging acts as a more intense exercise for your GSD and helps them to understand that the main idea is to copy exactly what you are doing. For instance, when you stop, they should understand that they also need to stop. Acquiring a clasp training lead or a traditional leash will be a good way to make them understand that you expect them to copy your behavior.
You can do jogging several times until they are fully used to it. A few weeks of jogging should do. Once jogging has become so comfortable for them, it’s time now to introduce running. At this stage, the best way is to begin by combining it with walking/jogging. For instance, you can decide to walk for 2 minutes for every minute you run. At this phase of the training, a session of about 20 minutes will be good. With time, increase the amount of time you use for running until they are comfortable to run throughout the whole training session. However, it will make it better for them if you maintain an even pace throughout the run.
Don’t Forget To Teach Your Pooch Some Cues
You don’t just want your German shepherd to be good at running, you also want him to learn to obey some of your commands. This is the perfect time to introduce some cues to the training. You can consider teaching them to respond to commands such as “walk”, “jog”, “run”, and “stop”. Teaching them these cues will help them know what you want them to do so that they don’t have to be lagging behind when you want them to improve the pace.
Increase The Stretch
Once your German shepherd is comfortable running for a good amount of time, it’s time to take the training to another level. This will help build up strength and endurance. One of the best ways of doing this is by increasing the distance. Raising it to about 2 or 3 miles will be good. It’s also recommendable that you keep some distance so that he can respond to your commands easily.
However, at this stage, ensure that you give him some days off. Skipping the training by a day will give him enough time to regain energy and prepare for more.
After a while, you can consider adding more distance depending on how they seem to cope with the training. Increasing the stretch with half a mile every week or so will be fine for most dogs. In fact, you can even consider sticking to this rate until your dog has become as good as you in a long-distance run. If you want to train your German shepherd to run farther, you can still increase the distance bit by bit but this time letting them run next to you when you are riding on a bike.
Nevertheless, when on a bike, ensure that you keep the pace they are used to otherwise it will be difficult for them to cover the whole distance. Also, be sure to keep a keen eye on their condition when on the bike.
Important Tips Before And When Training Your Dog To Run
Before and when training your German shepherd to run with you, there are a few things that you need to take in mind. They will make the training more comfortable for both of you.
For instance, if you are a marathoner, it may be hard to adjust to the pace of your dog. However, don’t get discouraged, you also began at some point before you slowly developed to become the great runner you are. Therefore, be patient with your furry friend, and with time he will hit your level.
On the other side, if the dog seems to be running faster than you, being patient with yourself is key. Understand that they are naturally faster than humans, probably because they have four legs, while we only have two :-).
Also, it’s important to understand the importance of warming up before every run. It helps stretch the muscles and prepare them for something tougher. A few stretches for you will be good. However, for your German shepherd, a simple walk will be fine. It’s also a nice way of cooling down after running a long distance.
Things To Watch Out For When Running
When training your German shepherd to run next to you, it’s something they are not used to. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to speak out when things get tougher at their side. In fact, GSDs are very good at pleasing their human partners. They will try their best to keep the pace that you need even when things aren’t working as fine at their side. Consider watching out for the following when running.
Signs Of Overexertion
I know that you love your GSD dearly, otherwise you wouldn’t be here looking for tips on how to turn them into your long-distance running companions. You want the run to be fun for both of you, and not as a punishment to them.
Now, to ensure that you aren’t overworking them, you can check out for a few signs such as excessive panting, lagging behind, extreme thirst, missing cues, and difficulty in breathing. When you note any of these signs, try and take a water break immediately. When things get back to normal, it will be nice to consider reducing the pace to make it more favorable for your furry friend.
GSDs are among the breeds that have a double-layer of fur. The two layers provide superior protection from injuries and keep them warm in the cold season. However, the very thick coat renders them more vulnerable to heatstroke when the temperatures rise. In fact, even with fair temperatures, exercise is at times all it takes to cause heatstroke.
Therefore, when running with your German shepherd in the sun, know that you are putting them at a very high risk of developing this condition. Hence, you can consider doing away with the summer runs if possible.
If this doesn’t sound fine for you, it’s important to reduce the distance you run with your dog and incorporate as many water breaks as possible in your training. Also, you can consider doing the training very early in the morning before the temperatures soar.
Whether it’s a German shepherd or any other dog, it’s always important to remember that anything that can hurt your joints can also hurt theirs. Hence, try to find routes with soft ground surfaces for your training. Perfect examples of such surfaces are grass, trails, dirt, and beach.
But what about if you don’t have any other option besides the rough ground? The best thing here is to reduce the distance and pace. When it’s sunny, confirming the temperature of the surfaces will be wise to be sure that it’s alright for your dog’s paws. You can test how hot the ground is with your palm. If the temperature feels good for your hand, then it’s fine for them, if it isn’t, then it’s neither cooler for your running companion.
Things To Bring Along In Your Trip
Apart from a leash, you need more for your running sessions with your German shepherd, especially when you are planning to make a long run that will keep you away from home for some good time. Here are a few necessities you should never forget when going out for a run.
Water And Snacks
Dogs become dehydrated faster than humans. Therefore, one of the things you don’t want to leave behind is a bottle of water. Water will help rehydrate your furry friend when it’s time to take a break. Also, carrying a few snacks will be the icing on the cake. They are a great way to keep your dog happy, energized, and more motivated throughout the run.
A Poop Bag
Another thing that you need to carry in your long-distance run is a poop bag. In fact, it’s something that every responsible dog owner needs to bring along even when going for a mere walk with their dogs.
A Dog Thermometer
Heatstroke in dogs can happen quicker than you can imagine. You need to keep a constant check on your dog’s temperature to help detect the condition at an early stage. A dog’s normal body temperature ranges anywhere between 101 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Hence, anything above that may be a sign of heatstroke. Other signs of heatstroke include excessive panting, difficulty in breathing, collapsing, diarrhea, elevated heart rate, vomiting, and more.
Factors Affecting The Speed Of Your German Shepherd
If your German shepherd isn’t performing as good as your neighbor’s when it comes to running, there are a few factors that could be the main cause. Here are some of the things that will affect the speed of your dog.
A healthy dog is a good dog for running. It’s easier for a healthy dog to hit the level of speed you want than one that is unhealthy. One of the things that will determine the health of your dog is the diet. A German shepherd needs a protein-rich diet for building their body muscles and strengthening their bones. Their food should contain about 18-22% of proteins. However, the diet should be low in fats. For an adult German shepherd, fat content should not exceed 5%, slightly lower than in puppies that need up to 8%.
Yet, in case your GSD just recovered from an illness, you may notice some changes in the speed. However, things should get back to normal once he’s fully fit.
The Level Of Training
Although they are born to be great guardians, it doesn’t mean that German shepherds are born knowing how to run. Running requires endurance and strength, something that training will help build up. Therefore, when you note that your GSD is running slower than you want, just know that they need some time to gain speed in their runs.
The Age Of Your Dog
German shepherds aren’t among the breeds that will live for over 20 years. In fact, their average lifespan is somewhere around 12 years. That means that they experience their sunset days at an earlier age than other dogs with a longer lifespan. As the dog begins to age, their speed may begin to reduce because they are no longer having the same amount of energy as they had in their middle-age days.
The Nature Of The Surface
The surface may also affect the speed of your dog. When running on a hard surface, dogs are likely to keep a low pace to avoid hurting their paws. Therefore, if you note changes in speed the next time you choose to run on a hard surface, keep the pace as comfortable as possible for your four-pawed running companion.
How Much Is Too Much For Your German Shepherd?
Dogs will need an exercise of between 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the breed, age, size, and overall health. Some kinds such as German shepherds, collies, Labrador retrievers, hounds, and other high-energy breeds require more exercise to keep them fit than other breeds. Therefore, a 2-hour run with a strong and middle-aged GSD should be perfect.
However, just as you always have to consult your doctor before you adopt a new exercise plan, it’s good to hear from your dog’s veterinarian before you take them out for a walk. The vet will examine their health condition and suggest the maximum pace and distance for their level.
Hip Dysplasia In German Shepherds
One of the things that scare owners of GSDs is hip dysplasia. It is a condition that is very common in large and giant dog breeds, although it can also happen in small kinds. Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip sockets are too loose, causing the femur to rub against them, something that leads to a lifetime injury.
According to the stats given by Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, 19% of GSDs suffer from hip dysplasia, although the severity of the condition differs from one dog to another. It is a congenital condition, meaning that it can be transferred from parents to offspring. Hereditary predisposition, however, isn’t the only way that a dog can get this disorder. A few factors such as type of training, training age, and diet can make the dog develop the condition or make it worse, in case of inheritance.
Signs Of Hip Dysplasia
Could you be doubting that your GSD is suffering from hip dysplasia? Well, looking out for some signs should help shed more light on the matter. Some of the major symptoms of this condition include:
- Rapid weight gain
- Difficulties standing up.
- Hesitation when going upstairs.
- Aggression when you touch the area around the hip.
- Decreased range of motion.
- Decreased activity, and
- Many others.
If your GSD doesn’t show any signs of hip dysplasia, implementing the prevention measures will minimize the chances of developing the condition.
Provide A Healthy Diet
A diet plays a central role in determining the health of your canine. Ensure that it is rich in proteins to help build muscles. Adding hip and joint supplements to their diet will also be a great way to curb the issue.
Never Be In A Rush To Take Them Out For A Run
Before you can introduce your lovely dog to running or any other physical training, ensure that your vet confirms that they are good and fit for the training. The vet also needs to be aware of the type of training to be able to tell whether it is healthy for your pooch.
Know That “Minor” Injuries Don’t Exist In GSDs
At times, some injuries like the ones associated with the hip may go as far as causing this condition. Therefore, be sure to put all it takes to prevent injuries and find treatment for them as soon as they develop- no matter how minor they appear.
Keep Their Weight In Check
Obesity in dogs is one of the things that may increase the chances of developing the hip dysplasia condition by exerting more pressure on the hips. Therefore, keeping your dog’s calorie-intake within the safe range will be good to prevent the condition.
The National Research Council of the National Academies emphasizes that the calorie-intake for inactive and older dogs should be between 1272-1540 calories. For active dogs, they suggest a daily caloric requirement of 1740-2100 calories.
Unfortunately, hip dysplasia is an irreversible condition. Therefore, when it occurs, your canine may have to put up with it forever.
That’s why you should keep all the preventative measures to the letter. However, for puppies who are born with the condition, early surgery may help correct the issue.