Running dogs on pavement is a topic I’ve thought about but never quite gotten around to talking about for a really long time. Mostly because it’s one of those things that for me boils down to “know your dog, use your judgement” and writing a six word blog post hardly seems worth the time and effort. It’s been on my mind a lot lately, though, because with my most accessible dirt trails still flooded out my choices are three: Drive really far for a non-paved trail, run on pavement, don’t run at all. (And also because Squash wore a nail down too short this morning and it made me think about whether I needed to change my approach.)
Ask ten dog people about this and you’ll probably get ten different opinions on a spectrum from “absolutely not, never” to “it’s totally fine.” Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle. My strong preference is to run dogs on bare packed dirt or turf but I don’t think pavement is the worst thing in the world for recreational teams (like us) who stick to short distances and relatively slow paces. (My absolute most hated surface, thanks for asking, is gravel. It’s really hard on dogs’ feet and really easy for the bike to skid out).
Concerns about pavement are all about the dogs and potential for injury, particularly joints and feet.
Feet are pretty straightforward. Some dogs have really tough feet, but pavement can be really rough on paw pads and nails nonetheless. The pads can develop abrasions/excessive wear and nails can be worn right down to the quick. This can happen on any surface but more quickly on pavement because of its rough and unyielding nature.
My dogs have always had really tough feet and haven’t had any serious trouble with pad injuries, and today is the first time I’ve had a dog wear a nail down to the quick. I think just, be careful. Know your dogs’ feet. Use booties if necessary. And be especially careful when first starting out, increasing distances, or emerging from winter snows into spring dryland training.
Joints are less straightforward. Intuitively, it seems reasonable that regularly running on a harder surface could cause more stress, impact, and ultimately damage to joints than a softer surface. But is there evidence that there a significant effect? I spent some time before writing this browsing around PubMed and I admit I wasn’t searching hardcore but wasn’t able to find any research about dogs and safety/impact on joints of various surfaces. I didn’t find much actual research for people, either, mostly fitness articles that almost uniformly concluded there isn’t a “best” surface for humans to run on. However, a huge factor for humans is that the inherent unevenness of natural surfaces causes a lot of foot & ankle injuries, and that’s not really relevant in dogs. “Twisting their ankles” isn’t a thing in dogs like it is in humans.
If anyone has a good reference, though, I’d love to read it – drop it in the comments! (I mean a study, not an article.)
So right now we probably don’t know. Personally, I suspect unless a dog is clocking a lot of mileage or running a really fast pace, the difference between surfaces may not be enough to make a difference. But short of limiting distance and speed, the “better safe than sorry” approach is to avoid it altogether, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
We’re all just trying to make the best decisions for our dogs, including that person (maybe me!) who makes different decisions about running dogs on pavement than you do. I have pretty fit dogs with tough feet and we stick to pretty low mileage at slow speeds, so my personal approach is to minimize but not be afraid of or completely unwilling to use it, either. If I were running farther, faster, or had dogs with tender feet I’d probably feel differently and make different decisions.