dog running in Rome Marathon dog running in Rome Marathon A competitor runs with his dog on Piazza Venezia during the15th Rome Marathon. (Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP / Getty Images)

Getting fit with Fido: Compete in a race with your four-legged friend

Dog-friendly races around the world provide a healthy challenge for humans and canines alike.

Running is great exercise for both humans and dogs, and training for a 5K or other race event can help make your daily jog feel more purposeful. Recognizing that many people enjoy running with their dogs, cities around the world have organized race events in which runners can compete – or just participate for fun – along with their canine companions.

In Washington, D.C., "well-behaved canines may participate with their owners in the 1 mile Doggie Run/Walk" sponsored by Capital Sprints in November. Benefiting the Washington Animal Rescue League, the annual event combines this fun run with a costume contest. 

Santa Monica, California, hosts the Doggy Dash, a 5K/10K event along the beach path at Crescent Bay Park each September. Proceeds from entries benefit Pet Cancer Research & Awareness, and each participant receives a medal.

The dog-friendly city of Tel Aviv, which has more than 60 dog parks, hosted Israel's inaugural Doggie Run in January. The race, a 3.5K open to runners with dogs of all sizes and breeds, included a group of dogs that were training to be guides for the blind.

And Italy's capital has a long-standing tradition of running with your dog, in the well-attended Stracanina, a 4.7-km-long race for dogs and owners held alongside the Rome Marathon each year in March.

If you're thinking of signing up for a dog-friendly race event near you, your first step should be to visit a veterinarian to ensure your dog has a clean bill of health and is current on any required vaccinations (most races will want proof of this before you can register your dog to participate).

If your dog isn't great with crowds, or you just prefer to go the solo route, consider a virtual race event like the Run Down Under in Australia. You can run in areas that are familiar to you, on your own schedule, and still take advantage of the extra motivation that comes from competition.

Whatever event you choose, be sure to start training well before race day, especially if your dog is older or has been mostly sedentary in the past. You can even download a free Doggy 5K Run training plan from Runner's World magazine.

Running is usually safe for your dog, but a race means a lot of running. Most dogs living in an urban setting get far less than the recommended 1 mile of daily exercise, according to Running Paws, a New York-based dog running service (sort of like a personal trainer for your pooch). Still, it's important to understand any limitations of your dog's particular breed. 

"Some dogs, like pugs, may have respiratory, overheating or joint-related issues that should be understood before you attempt to run with them," cautions Sara Elliott of HowStuffWorks

Dog trainer Cesar Millan's website offers some additional training and safety tips, including keeping your dog to one side of you while running and making sure to pack water and snacks to keep your dog's hydration and energy levels up. Most importantly: know your dog, start out slowly and pay close attention to any possible signs of distress. With the necessary precautions, soon you and your dog will both be running your tails off and having a great time.

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Getting fit with Fido: Compete in a race with your four-legged friend
Want to try running with your dog? Dog-friendly races around the world offer the opportunity to compete in a fun run with your four-legged friend.