Meet Helen & Kepler. Helen is one of the co-founders of trail running and adventure blog, TrailandKale.com and regularly runs trails and hikes with her husband and their Border Collie, Kepler. They also share running tips and dog gear reviews, written in Kepler’s own voice.
We're so excited to share all of Helen and Kepler's awesome tips on trail running with your pup from our recent Q&A with them.
Q: How did you get started trail running with Kepler? What age did you start running with Kepler? And how far (or long in terms of time) did you run with him?
Helen: When people are new to running, it is best for their bodies and in particular their joints to start off with very short runs, so they can build up strength and stamina - and that’s after getting the all-clear from the doctor that they’re ok to start running.
The same goes for our pets! After getting the ok from Kepler’s vet for him to start running trails with us, we started taking him on short trail runs and hikes of around 10 to 15 minutes up to 30 minutes when he was around a year old, and that was typically once a week until he was several months older. Since he reached 18 months we normally run with him for up to about an hour at a time, although that includes shaded rest and water breaks, especially if it’s a very hilly or hot run.
Q: What essential gear am I going to need? Special harness (is there one you recommend)? Leash? Thoughts on waist leashes?
Helen: A great thing about trail running with your dog is that if you are doing very short runs you initially don’t need much in the way of special gear. That said, there are some essentials that we always take for Kepler when we are trail running, being plenty of water, a bowl to drink it out of, poop bags and a small first aid kit.
Depending on the type of trail we are going to run, we either run him with a leash on his collar, or a specific dog running harness. For Kepler we generally don’t use waist leashes, although many people find these are a great way to run hands-free with their dog! We have a more detailed post on our blog that explains the different types of leashes and harnesses for running with your dog, as well as some specific styles and brands we have used and recommend:
Q: I've got a puller, what advice can you offer?
Helen: I know the feeling! If you can train your dog to walk beside you, they should be able to run beside you - the training for us was the same, however I know from experience that it can be easier said than done when you have an energetic young dog.
If you have a working breed dog that is bred to do things such as pulling a sled (like a husky dog, for example) then you can also try ‘canicross' dog running harnesses that are specifically designed for your dog to pull you on trail runs! Our current favorite brand for this type of running, which we do with Kepler from time to time, is listed in the dog running harnesses recommended on our blog (https://www.trailandkale.com/adventure-dogs/dog-leash-for-running-harness/)
The only catch is, the person running the dog with this type of harness also has to wear a waist belt with leg straps!
Q: In terms of first aid, because accidents do happen, what essential items do I need to consider bringing with me running?
Helen: Great question! We carry a small first aid kit with us on our trail runs, in case something happens like a cut paw that can’t wait until we’re back at the car or home. This includes antiseptic wipes, tweezers, ointment and bandages. If we are going on a long run or somewhere more remote than usual then we take a larger first aid kit in our running hydration packs, which will be useful for us, too, as well as Kepler!
Q: With summer just around the corner... What tips can you offer regarding water? Cooling vests? Time of day (morning or afternoon)? Are you concerned about bugs? Snakes? Other 4-legged creatures?
Helen: Summer running with your dog can be tough if you live somewhere that gets hot! My top 3 tips are:
- Do your runs early in the day before it gets hot, and keep them short - both because of the heat as well as the trails and pavements may become too hot for your dog’s feet. As we are usually running at cooler times of day we are also less concerned about encountering sunbathing snakes, too!
- Take more water than you think your dog will need - Kepler drinks a surprisingly large volume of water when we run on warmer days.
- Definitely consider getting your dog a cooling vest - Kepler’s coat is thick and dark in color so it heats up very quickly, so if your dog is similar it’s something I suggest checking out.
Q: Help...I've encountered a dog off-leash who isn't friendly....how do you handle those types of situations?
Helen: This type of situation is such a nightmare for so many dog owners - and unfortunately it can happen in your local park or neighborhood just as much as on the trails. We try to avoid them and get as far away from the off-leash dog as quickly as possible to minimize interactions, and if we see the owner ask them to call their dog NOW - which sometimes works, if they listen and have trained a reliable recall.
My best advice to avoid such encounters is to try to pick less popular routes or trails where we are unlikely to encounter dogs off-leash, such as those that have leash laws that are enforced or generally respected by most. Running early in the morning also helps reduce the number of other trail users you’ll encounter, which is also helpful if you want to run your dog with fewer horses and bicyclists around, for example.
Q: Let's talk about poo on the trail as there's so much controversy around it? What are your thoughts in the backcountry? Do you have a favorite poo bag? And what's the secret trick to packing it out and not having it smooshed in your backpack? LOL!
Helen: It’s so disappointing when you see people have left their dog’s poo, or perhaps even a plastic bag filled with poo, on the trails!
To make it easier to pack our own dog’s poo out, we bag it and put that bag inside an old treat pouch (emphasis on OLD, definitely not the same one we put treats in!). We can then put the treat pouch in the back of our running hydration packs, far away from our noses and with little risk of being squashed. This stops the bag from getting smooshed or even worse, broken in your backpack ;-)
Q: Snacks? Treats? Food? What are your thoughts? As athletes, we tend to want to make sure we are fully hydrated before we head out for a run, but what's your advice for our 4-legged friends?
Helen: Generally for runs of less than an hour, which is most of them unless we’re doing a big adventure together, we don’t bring treats for Kepler or ourselves, for that matter - he’s usually too focused on running and drinking that he isn’t interested in food. That said, if we’re going longer then we take some chewable snacks for us all to eat during our run - which helps with all of our energy levels!
Q: Austin could literally run forever, his longest run is 20 miles (that's after 4 years of running consistently and being mindful of his hips and joints, and also have a prescriptive routine after)and if I hadn't called it a day, he would have kept going. Lots of breeds are the same, Kepler for example....how do you know when enough is enough?
Helen: Austin sounds like a great trail buddy!
We watch Kepler constantly when we run with him, to check for signs of fatigue, injury or overheating. Usually he’s grinning and panting happily alongside us or in front, where he likes to be. If he starts to run behind us or even stop and look for shade, then we know he’s probably had enough, even if he still seems happy and keeps pace with us. Like Austin, Kepler is capable of running, with breaks, for several hours, but we usually limit his trail running durations to an hour or so, as he is still young and may not tell us he wants to stop.
Every dog is different but based on our experience, if you are sensible with looking after your dog’s health and building up their running distance, duration and frequency very slowly, as you would if you were introducing any friend to trail running, then this helps them enjoy trail running with you while reducing their risk of overuse injuries, especially when combined with a good post-run recovery routine.
Q: The dreaded tick! Do you make time to check post-run, and what else should a new runner be looking for on their dog?
Helen: YES! Ticks are definitely something to be checking your dog and yourself for, thoroughly after a trail run (more on why in this post).
We also check for anything else that shouldn’t be on Kepler! This can include burrs, foxtails (grass heads) and trail debris caught between his toes or in his fur. Running with our dog on a leash, rather than off-leash, also helps ensure he’s not bumbling into undergrowth or through grasses where he’s more likely to collect these things.
Our post-run routine with Kepler includes these checks for hitchhikers, as well as a massage and Austin & Kat CBD chews to help care for his joints and help him calm down and recover quicker. This is especially true after a long or particularly exciting run (perhaps one involving off-leash dogs!) and we find this whole process really helps him chill out once back at home as well as caring for his physical recovery from such intense exercise!
For more on trail running with your dog visit:
If you are new to trail running (or running in general) yourself, their trail running for beginners guide is a fantastic resource to learn more about trail running and helpful gear for people new to the sport. Bookmark it now, so you don't forget!
Trail and Kale also has a specific guide to trail running with your dog which you can find here:
Helen says they're always happy to answer any questions about trail running over at the Trail and Kale site. So, if you and your dog are looking to get into it and you have any questions after reading these posts, make sure to drop them a comment and say "Hi" from Austin and Kat.
Thanks for sharing with us, Helen!