Running With Your Labrador


I was once accused of being cruel for running with my Labrador. That’s right, the claim was totally sincere. My companion announced that running deprives dogs of sniffing opportunities, and chances for a casual doggy chat with other curious canines. And was therefore deeply, fundamentally unkind.

Honestly, I couldn’t have disagreed more. A tricky situation to manage at the time, as it was raised by someone I am unable to avoid in future, but inevitably I couldn’t keep my mouth closed. Because running with your Labrador isn’t just not cruel, it’s incredibly beneficial to you both. As long as you go about it in the right way.

Running Safely With Your Dog

It’s not safe to go from no exercise to high amounts in a small space of time. It’s why even regular runners need to gradually build up over at least six months to reach marathon levels of fitness. Your dog, and you, are no different.

Build up slowly. Not just in terms of duration, but pace too. Begin your usual walking route, but jog instead of walking every few minutes. Gradually over time upping the proportion of time you are jogging vs walking. Then when you feel your fitness, and your dogs, increasing, you can switch to running and jogging, then just running with your Labrador!

Remember to only increase one thing at a time. So if you are going faster, don’t go further at the same time.

Serious running is really only a good idea for dogs that are fully grown, but not into old age. Joints and bones are still developing in young dogs, and Labs are at risk from hip dysplasia. Senior dogs might be arthritic and find running less comfortable.

running with a labrador

On vs off leash running

When I run in the forest behind my house, I keep my dog at heel and off leash. An excellent recall and a confidence that they rather stick with me than head off on their own means that this is a fairly safe option.

I also know where we are nearing roads and are likely to bump into other people, and always keep a leash with me to use if I need it.

Unless your Lab has good heel and recall command, I advise running with them on a short leash attached to a front fastening harness.

Watch the weather

Labradors are well equipped to deal with inclement weather. They have thick double coats that keep the rain off, and long muzzles that help them to regulate heat in hot weather. However, it’s still best to avoid running on extreme days.

Excellent Exercise

Running is a fantastic way to get and stay fit. You can rack up the miles much faster than walking the equivalent distance. You will build muscle, stamina and give your dog an excellent way to quickly wear themselves out.

Sporting Breeds Are Born To Move

The Labrador Retriever breed has been selected over generations for intelligence, fitness and energy. This breed needs to stay active, and was basically born to run. Not just short distances, but long range and over rugged terrain.

Working Labs retrieve by swimming through rivers and pushing their way through thick bracken and other spiky shrubs.

Bonding Time

Any time spent doing something fun with your dog is an opportunity to bond. Even if you are both moving at speed. Your running outing together is a period you’ll spend in each other’s company, with no distractions.

Doing something they love in your presence will reinforce your pup’s positive feelings about you.

Running With Your Labrador Avoids Potential Problem Behaviors

A major surprise benefit of running with Labradors is that it enables you to avoid problems. Ever rushed through a rowdy crowd in the hopes of not getting caught up in the bad vibes? It’s basically the same deal.

Over Friendliness To People and Dogs

Lots of Labs are very friendly, to the point of being a little problematic. Plenty of people love dogs, but to our horror, many others are less inclined to say hello. I must admit it still surprises me every time I meet someone who isn’t a dog person, but these unusual fellows are everywhere. And my dogs want to greet them just the same as they would with an enthusiastic old friend.

Howls of horror at muddy paws on coats, or kids hiding behind their parents is not an unfamiliar scene to many dog owners.

Labrador sociability often extends to other dogs too. Which is fine if you have nothing else to do, and your Lab isn’t too pushy, and the other dog is up for a game. It’s less fine if you have an anxious owner trying to pull their potential pal away hurriedly, or your dog tends to have too much fun to the point of upsetting their playmates.

Running with your Lab enables you to pass quickly by this scenario too. They are keeping pace, focussed on you and the road ahead. They don’t want to be left behind, and with a few kissy noises and perhaps a treat delivered straight to their mouth you can avoid something stressful before it’s even started.

Eating Unpleasant Items

Labradors are greedy, there is no getting around it. It’s even partially genetic, they just can’t help themselves. This insatiable appetite often extends to things that I don’t agree are food.

Poops, random bits of vegetation, carrion, food containers. They all seem to be fair game if you are going for a leisurely stroll and the dog comes across one of them. Short of putting a muzzle on your pup, or constantly treat-streaming to prevent them from diving in snout first, running really helps with this.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson(paid link)

They simply don’t have the inclination or even notice a lot of things that I’d otherwise be disgustedly trying to swap in exchange for kibble. Your increased pace hugely decreases the amount of trash scavenging you’ll need to deal with.

Basically, when all is said and done, if you are fit and your dog is healthy, there is no reason not to take them running with you. So what are you waiting for, hopefully we’ll see you out there!

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. I have a seven month old lab who is very agile and absolutely loves chasing balls. I’m now concerned whether we should have been letting him as I don’t want to damage his joints but his parents both had excellent hip scores and there is no suggestion my puppy has a problem and I’m worried now he will be unhappy if he wasn’t allowed to chase it? Thanks

  2. My Labrador / Golden Retriever cross is 6 months old. I have read endless advice, but finished up with 2 fundamental questions:

    1) “If she were in the wild, would she be running more or less than she is likely to do as a pet?”

    2) “When she is off the lead (which is most of the time as we live in countryside), what does she do?”

    The answers to these questions should tell you what you need to know about the individual needs of your dog. Mine is incredibly energetic and has no family history of health issues. At the moment she is already doing 3km runs with me, while breaking off for playfights with 4 legged friends and scratching her head at how humans are such useless athletes (and I run a 40 minute 10km).

    I wouldn’t dream of running my dog on hard surfaces or pushing her on if she wanted a rest, but I think the modern world is getting as over-protective with dogs as children. Just read their needs and respond to them.

  3. Hi my female lab is 9 year 4 months. Active n want to play always is it ok if I make her play n run to fetch da bal for 10, minits on hard surface like on road
    Daily? Pls guide how much excersice she needs

  4. Hi Pippa

    Our lab crossed with collie is two tomorrow and my husband runs between 3-5 miles and wants to take Lily with him. Is she old enough to start running with him if what mileage do you suggest.

    Thank you

  5. I have a 9 month male lab who has been going out for small runs (Jogs) with me about once a week as I got told not to take them out by a dog trainer. After reading the above comments is it to early to be taking him out with me. We was doing about 3 miles which he done easily and seemed to enjoy it but I don’t want to harm him in any way. Any advice please

  6. My dog loves running, will sprint off to fetch a ball, run on a head and back again on walks, run alongside joggers along the path, loves running up and down hill sides but will not let either my husband nor I run. As soon as we go from a brisk paced walk to a jog he rushes back and jumps up on to us sometimes so much so his paws are on my shoulders, his head with all his teeth at my head height. It is quite intimidating. I’ve tried taking a few running steps then go back to walking, then when he’s calmed down run a few more steps but he just gets too anxious or overexcited. I’m not sure which? So we’ve stopped trying and keep to a fast paced walk.

    • You never said how old but it sounds like youthful exhuberance. If I don’t let my Jake run loose for a while and burn some energy, he is like a sled dog on the leash. Also when we go to the woods trails where he can run free the first half mile he does a lot of what you describe as gratitude. He really wants you to know he appreciates your doing something with him and he really doesn’t know its for you too. Increase the distance and wear him down some.

  7. I’ve slowly introduce jogging with my lab right away. He is a beast ! I started out walking him 2 miles as a pup 2-3 times a week also swimming in those two times. He’s now 1 1/2 years old and runs 3 times with me a week 4 -6 miles at a time. We only go a pace we’re he’s trotting. Which is great for me;) I feed him sweet potatoes before our run so he has enough energy levels to not be exhausted. I also have a dog back pack on him for longer runs with ice packs in it to help him cool down, dogs don’t sweat they pant to keep cool so it help him run longer with me at a good pace.

  8. I have a 17 month old 68 lb lean, mean running machine lab/gsd mix…We have just started running together…2 miles in the morning and 2mile run or offleash run in the pm everyday. I usually have to adjust my pace with his because i dont think it is good to make them “run” the whole time. I think it is better to keep them at a trot for long distance.
    Be careful of the hot weather! Labs are sensitive to the heat. I wont take him out running above 70 degrees…Above what temp would you not take your labs out at?

  9. A study was done by a veterinarian that does dog sled racing. She found that if puppies do not get enough exercise to burn off the sugar and protein in their foods it is just as detrimental to their joints as too much exercise. You did not harm your dogs joints but most likely made them stronger. Keep exercising yourself and your dog. Barry Ravegim , pet exercise expert and sales mgr GoPetUSA Healthy Pets Exercise

  10. Hi Pippa,

    I tried running with my lab and only made it .5 miles with about 3 stops for potty breaks for him. He ended up with what I believe to be muscle cramps in his front legs. He is only 3 1/2 a bit overweight and had this happen before while playing with another dog. We do take long walks 1-3 miles and in the past he was my running buddy (2-3 miles weekly). When we do go for walks or a run I make sure he is in the grass area and do not drag him if he slows down. Do you know if this common condition among labs, will or should I every try to run with him again?

  11. Hi Pippa

    I was wondering if I can now go running my lab. She is nearly 15 months old as I have purposely held off until she had completed the 5 minute for every month rule on her walks. Has she fully finished growing now as I obviously don’t want to cause damage to her joints. I know I need to slowly build it up for her. How far can she run and how often. I go running 4 times a week usually somewhere between 3-4 miles. I am presuming she can last the distance once she’s built up her stamina but wondered if maybe I only took once / twice a week as I don’t want to overdo it for her. Thanks for the advice

    Ps love this site. Thanks for all the helpful tips and information that you give, I enjoy seeing the links on Facebook and reading your various articles.

    Thanks Liz

  12. Hello, I am concerned that I may have caused some damage to my choc labrador ‘Maisys’ joints .. She seems fine but I have perhaps mistakenly ran with her from age 15/16 months approx 12 times 2 miles each time… (Went on 2 runs per week)…. I have now stopped running with her she is 20 months old.. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Hi Matt, she should be completing her growth now, so running is not a problem provided you build up slowly and get her fit. Without an xray, there is no way of knowing whether or not her joints have been affected, but if she was well grown when you started running, she will probably be fine. Try not to worry and just build up her fitness nice and slowly. Pippa