If you’d love to be involved in the care of shelter dogs but aren’t able to adopt or volunteer as a staff member, shelter dog running may be perfect for you. There aren’t many of us who wouldn’t benefit from a little extra exercise, and dogs are no exception. The problem is that many shelter dogs don’t get the exercise they need – and that’s where you come in!
Studies have shown that shelter dogs that get exercise and interaction with people on a regular basis tend to be calmer when prospective adopters come to see them, which may make them more likely to be taken home.
There are a number of programs across the US that encourage runners to take shelter dogs for a run. Whether you’re a keen runner or just want to get outside more, shelters are looking for volunteers to pair with some of their well behaved dogs. The runs are usually group based, at least to start with, so you’ll be teamed up with other volunteers and at least one shelter staff member to make sure everything goes smoothly. Even if you don’t live in the US, it’s worth approaching your local shelter to see if you can borrow a running buddy. One Australian runner did just that, and loves running with her shelter dog.
All responsible dog owners know the value of providing enough exercise. Fitter dogs are less likely to suffer from a number of diseases, such as diabetes, and are generally better behaved. Exercise also provides stimulation for the dog, as it can explore a new area, and a chance to stretch his muscles. Regular exercise allows dogs to build stronger and healthier bones, which is essential in later life, and provides an opportunity for socializing with humans and other animals.
Dogs that are taken on runs as part of a shelter program are nearly always immediately happier. Exercising releases endorphins that make a dog feel good, and also uses up energy that otherwise manifests itself as undesirable behavior such as pacing, barking and aggression. Not only is this great in the short term, but a happier and less hyperactive dog also has a better chance of finding a permanent home. A well exercised dog is far more likely to be on its best behavior when prospective owners are visiting.
There are also a number of benefits for you. Aside from the extra exercise, taking a dog for a run can be a rewarding experience, as it’s obvious how much the dog enjoys it. Most shelters only require you to take the dog for a short run – usually around a mile – so you don’t need to be in top shape to take part. Some dog shelters even team up with local shops to provide gifts or discounts to volunteer runners.
Another bonus is that you’ll get to meet and run with other like-minded people. Running groups consisting of dog lovers are great places to make some new friends and jogging partners.
Many dog shelters are starting new running programs, so keep an eye out in your local area. Even if there are no official programs near you, it might be possible to negotiate a deal with a local shelter. Most are understaffed and more than willing to take any help they can get. The dogs will be very grateful, and even having a few volunteer runners can take a lot of strain off the shelter staff.