Can German Shepherds Run Long Distances?

I one day want a German Shepherd, and I also aspire to a more active lifestyle, including running. I wanted to know if German Shepherds can run long distances, in case I ever decide to combine those two desires someday. I decided to research it to find out.

So, can German Shepherds run long distances? If a German Shepherd is trained right and has built up endurance, and if the outside conditions are good, they are able to run for fairly long distances. They are capable of running anywhere from 5 to 20 miles.

What makes a German Shepherd able to run long distances? It tends to be a combination of their history, training, and built-up strength.

A German Shepherd’s Running History

German Shepherds originated as herd dogs in the late 19th century. Like many herd dogs, German Shepherds had to be able to pull in long hours in the fields herding the farm animals, whether it was sheep, cows, or something else.

German Shepherds are extremely intelligent, as they had to be alert and able to see if anything was going wrong. They were also bred to be obedient, protective, and loyal, perfect for someone who wants to keep their livestock safe. A herd dog needs to be able to obey commands and keep up with the animals that it is meant to shepherd.

German Shepherds are a medium to large breed of dog that is energetic thanks to it’s herding past. Being able to keep up with a bunch of animals is a big job, and the German Shepherd was and is always eager to please, and so it always does it’s best.

With all of the energy a German Shepherd had to have in its herding days, and with it’s larger, more lean and muscular build, they are quite capable dogs when it comes to many forms of exercise. Back in the day, however, German Shepherds weren’t expected to be running for hours on end, or for extreme distances, but just enough of the field and in the speed needed to gather the herd.

Still, the traits of a German Shepherd that give it its energy and athletic ability have carried over, and they make it a great dog for people who love to exercise today.

It’s also no wonder why German Shepherds have been used as working dogs in a variety of modern fields. From police dogs to fire dogs to service dogs, German Shepherds are known for their strength, dependability, and endurance.

Anyone who wishes to live an athletic lifestyle would be well served with a German Shepherd as a companion. There are some things to do, however, before you jump into that half-marathon with your beloved companion.

How to Train a German Shepherd to Run With You

A German Shepherd shows off it’s running ability.

The first thing someone who is hoping to run longer distances with their dog should know is when to start. German Shepherds are youthful dogs that take a bit longer than other dogs to become fully grown. It’s recommended to wait until your dog is about a year to a year-and-a-half years old before beginning a serious running program with them.

The reason for this is that starting too early can be a risk for more injuries, such as various bone and muscle problems. Their bodies still need to grow, and it’s best to wait until their more fully developed so nothing goes wrong.

Another reason for this is that your German Shepherd should be well trained before you take it for long runs with you. Your dog needs to obey your commands to stop, sit, start, or whatever else you may need it to do. This lessens the risk of it getting hurt while you’re out and about on something unexpected.

Luckily, German Shepherds are fairly easy to train, and so if you spend the year to year-and-a-half training your German Shepherd and helping it know you, obey commands, and become socialized to strangers, there should be no problems once you start running with it.

Now, once your dog is old enough and you’ve decided you want to take it running with you, there are a few things that you should do.

Start Off Slow

I am definitely not a runner at this point in my life. If I were to try and run a marathon tomorrow, it would be a complete and utter disaster. I simply haven’t built up the strength or endurance necessary for me to be able to do that. If I want to run a marathon someday, I will have to slowly train my body to be able to handle running, and I will have to train those muscles gradually so as not to get injured.

Dogs, including German Shepherds, are the same in that way. While they do have a lot of energy, and require an average of about two hours of exercise a day, this does not mean they are able to take on a long distance run immediately. They need training just as humans do.

“The jog is the most natural gait, especially over long distances, which adds the least amount of strain on the dog’s body.” 

-German Shepherd 101

In order to start training your German Shepherd, it is recommended to start at a jog and with interval training. You can warm up by walking, perhaps letting your dog pee, and just being outdoors. Keep them on a loose leash so that they don’t get lost and can pace with you.

When you start, a variation of this can be to walk for about two minutes, and then run for one. You would do this back and forth for around 20 minutes for the first few weeks as your dog gets used to running.

Eventually, you would reduce the amount of time that you spend walking until you can run the whole time. Make sure your pace is about even, and that you can still talk to your dog so that it can still hear orders. If it doesn’t hear or obey orders, that could be a sign you need to take a break and try again later or another day.

Build Up Distance

After your German Shepherd is used to running for a good amount of time, you can start to build up distance. Runner’s World has good tips on how to do this.

Every other day, you can plan a route of about 2-3 miles, doing this three or four days a week, depending on your preference. Keep the leash loose and make sure you can still give your dog commands. Remember to stop for water breaks as well.

After a week or so, try adding about half a mile, or around 10 minutes to the run. Watch closely to see how your dog is handling this. If you need to slow down for a few days, do that. Eventually, you should be able to add about half a mile to your run every few weeks.

How far you go can depend on a few factors. Some people are content with only going about 5 miles. Some people train their German Shepherd to run farther. A typical amount can be about 10-12 miles, and it’s possible to do this with them running next to you and you on a bike, if that’s preferred, as long as you keep an even pace beside your dog.

Some people have run full marathons with their German Shepherd. If you want to do this, you’ll need to keep close attention to your dog’s health and strength. Some may be able to run that much, but some may struggle. Don’t push your dog more than it can go.

Be Patient and Take Breaks

If you are already a good runner, it could be hard to take it slow with your dog, especially at first. But just as you may not have always been that great at running, your dog is still learning. Don’t push them too fast, because endurance running is a process.

Also, remember to be patient with yourself! In some cases, your dog may be faster and stronger than you. Keep your dog with you but remember that you’ll get better and stronger eventually as well. Don’t give up on yourself or your friend, because practice makes perfect!

“It will take time and patience to get your [dog] ready, but with a little guidance and practice you’ll end up with one of the best running partners you could hope for.”

-Active

Anyone who runs distance needs to take water breaks and quick rests once in a while. The same goes for your dog. Remember to give your German Shepherd time to rest, to drink water, and perhaps to relieve itself.

You may also want to carry snacks, depending on how far and for how long you are going. Going long distances without pause isn’t healthy for human or for a dog.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Muscles and joints can get injured if you or your dog jump straight into a run without warming up. The same can happen if there is no cool down.

Before running, walk around for a few minutes and get your muscles moving at a slower pace. You may need to do stretches, but your dog should be okay with a simple walk. Do the same after the run in order to cool down.

Your dog may seem like it’s doing okay, but German Shepherds love to please. Remember its needs and keep an eye out for things that could indicate a problem.

Things to Watch Out For

There are several things to watch out for when it comes to running long distance with a German Shepherd, and not all of them have to do with the dog itself. Below are some of these things to be aware of.

Signs of Overexertion

There are signals to look for that can indicate a problem with overexertion. Some of these are your dog missing cues and commands, excessive panting or heavy breathing, extreme thirst, lagging behind, and a reluctance to run.

German Shepherds are also at risk for various muscle and joint injuries. If you are being careful and not pushing your dog too hard, this can help lessen the risk of injury, but it can still happen. Hip dysplasia is one of the more common injuries for German Shepherds, which is where the hip socket gets loose and causes damage.

A German Shepherd with hip dysplasia.

Signs of hip dysplasia are limping or hooping, favoring one leg, hesitating when exercising or going up stairs, difficulty standing, and sensitivity or even aggression around the hip.

Typically this will develop if not taken care of in puppy-hood, but even adult dogs need to be careful. Developing safe running habits, with breaks and by being careful can go a long way in preventing this from occurring.

The Terrain

While we as people have the ability to run with shoes to protect our feet, German Shepherds don’t have that privilege. If you can imagine how it would hurt to run a long time on hard pavement, you can see how that might hurt your dog as well. Their paws may be tougher than our feet, but they will still get hurt on rough surfaces. In the winter, ice and acid melt can cause injury to their paws as well.

Terrain that is soft for us will be alright for your German Shepherd. Soft dirt trails, beaches, and grass are all safe options for running with your dog. In the summer, some surfaces may be too hot, so place your palm on it and test the heat- if your hand is fine, then it should be fine for your dog as well.

The Weather

German Shepherds are double-coated dogs. This means that they have two layers of fur that helps protect them and keep them insulated in the winter, but can make them prone to overheating in the summer.

Running with a German Shepherd in the colder months should be perfectly fine. Anything below 65 degrees is typically a safe temperature for a German Shepherd. For higher temperatures, there are a few things to consider.

For most dogs, if the total amount of heat and humidity is greater than 150 degrees, it may be too hot. So if it’s 70 degrees with 80% humidity, it will likely be too hot for your dog to run. German Shepherds are particularly susceptible to heatstroke, so you need to be especially careful. Typically, anything over 75 degrees, regardless of humidity can lead to problems for a German Shepherd.

If you want to run in the summer, maybe limit the amount of time or distance and make it less than your normal. Stop for plenty of water breaks as well. You could also run in the early morning or late evening when it is cooler, as long as you keep track of the time in the morning so you’re done before the temperature rises too much.

You should also watch for the signs of heatstroke, among which are excessive panting, difficulty breathing, vomiting, elevated heart rate, diarrhea, and collapsing.

Should You Run Long Distance With Your German Shepherd?

The answer is that it’s up to you and it’s up to your dog! Perhaps you yourself don’t want to run super long distances, and that’s okay. Or perhaps your particular German Shepherd likes to exercise in other ways besides running, and so it may not be the best jogging companion for you.

It also depends on the training you’ve given them. If they are well socialized, and you’ve dedicated time to train to distance run with your dog, then it could be great. A dog that isn’t as well trained could be a risk, and if you don’t have the time to slowly train it to run distances, you may want to reconsider.

Whatever you choose, a German Shepherd will still enjoy fun activities such as hiking, frisbee, or something else physically stimulating, so you’ll always be able to enjoy a good time exercising with your dog.

Related Questions:

How fast is a German Shepherd? German Shepherds can run at speeds as high as 30mph. However, they are not always able to maintain this speed over long distances, but they can still be trained to run fairly quickly over long distances.

How often should you walk a German Shepherd? German Shepherds require a lot of physical activity and exercise. It is recommended that they are walked for about 30 minutes twice a day at least. This can vary depending on the individual needs of each dog.

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