Dogs generally run barefoot. Your choice of running surface is consequently of great importance to your dog.
Many dogs have sensitive feet, whether they’re used to running around on soft grass and carpet or just haven’t developed a thick skin on their foot pads. Even among dogs with hard feet, there may be a preference for a soft surface over a hard one.
Let’s look at some of the surfaces available and compare their pros and cons.
Pros – Original natural running surface. Soft, cool, “springy”. Absorbs shock for the dog and the human. Soaks up pee, breaks down droppings. Gentle on the foot pads and on long nails.
Cons – Holds moisture, can conceal holes and mud, may harbour biting or stinging insects. Can be a cause of allergic reaction. Prickles can irritate pads and skin, seeds can lodge in skin, coat, and eyes.
Pros – Fairly uniform depending on location, almost everywhere, non-slip, not dirtying. Can keep nails in trim by abrasion.
Cons – Can get very hot due to solar absorption, danger from traffic, high incidence of broken glass, hard on tender foot pads. Can cause pain if nails are too long.
Pros – Nice trails are a pleasure to run on. Dirt is generally in a more rural setting. Mixture of inclines and surface textures gives variety and can reduce fatigue and repetitive motion injuries, for both the dog and the human. Absorbs some shock for both dog and human.
Cons – Rough surface may cut pads on inexperienced dogs, or cause stone bruises. Uneven surface can be difficult to negotiate for human. Can be muddy and slippery in wet weather.
Pros – Usually softer underfoot than most other surfaces. Dry sand can provide a good workout. Wet sand is usually firmer and fairly even.
Cons – Can be quite abrasive, especially sharp or shell laden sand. Can blow into eyes causing irritation. Can be carried on the dog and brought home. Can conceal hazards such as glass or shells, or very boggy patches.
Pros – Fairly uniform depending on location, almost everywhere, not dirtying. Can keep nails in trim by abrasion.
Cons – Danger from traffic if roads, high incidence of broken glass, hard on tender foot pads. Can cause pain if nails are too long. Can be uneven at joins. Can be slippery if wet.
Pros – May be soft if backed with shock absorbing material. Good traction, all weather surface, generally free of insects and mud, uniform length and evenness.
Cons – Very abrasive on the sides of pads and between toes, especially with turning sports such as agility and flyball. Generally not appropriate for toileting on at all.
I’ve run with my dog on all of these – the three natural surfaces would rate as our favourites. Beach sand is nice to run on given the right beach. Dirt and grass are my dog’s preference to bitumen if we’re running on a road verge. Dirt trails would be our number one.
I’d be interested in feedback from owners of dogs in cold climates – how do you get on with snow and ice?