Running with your Dog. Keeping your Mind Sharp

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slimdoggysteveandjack_smHello. My name is Steve and my dog’s name is Jack. We are run-a-holics.


Pardon the humor, although there is a lot of truth to the above. The fact is that my dogs (all of them that I have ever had) and I love to run and for that matter, exercise intensely. The feeling that I get, and that I believe my dogs get during and after a run or hard workout is amazing. For ‘a-holics’ like us, this feeling is enough to keep us exercising on a regular basis. For many (if not most) others, this feeling is elusive or not enough to keep them on a regular schedule.


I thought that it would be worthwhile to begin a series on the many benefits of running focusing on one benefit at a time. The hope is that I can influence some people to give running a try. Luckily, the benefits that are associated with running will also apply to virtually any type of vigorous exercise, so even if you and your dog are unable to run, there are still plenty of options available for you and your pet.


Running with Your Dog for Mental Sharpness

The first benefit of running is one that most people overlook. It turns out that running, and other intense forms of aerobic exercise, can strengthen the brain and combat metal decline as we get older. Research has shown that exercise can improve mental function in aging humans and it is very likely that the same will hold true for dogs.


In “Benefits of regular aerobic exercise for executive functioning in healthy populations”, by Hayley Guiney & Liana Machado, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (Dec, 2012), the authors reviewed prior research to conclude that in older generations, the evidence for improvement in cognitive function with exercise is extensive. Specifically, this study focused on aerobic exercise and its effect on longer term improvements in mental function, across different age groups.

This study points out the numerous studies showing how aerobic exercise can improve the brain’s structure and overall mechanical function. The authors also review studies linking aerobic exercise to improved cognitive function (also known as executive function). In particular, the study focuses on specific types of cognitive functions:

  • Task switching- responding to different stimuli. For example, if the target digit is green, indicate whether the digit is greater or less than 5; if the target digit is red, indicate whether the digit is even or odd.
  • Selective attention and inhibitory control- an example of which is called the Stroop test which involves asking participants to indicate the color of the ink that a word appears in by either saying it aloud or pressing a specific button.
  • Working memory- tasks involve holding information in mind for a short period of time and rapidly updating that information in order to respond correctly.


The study authors overwhelmingly conclude that regular aerobic exercise can improve all of the above cognitive functions for aging adults. (They also note a relative lack of similar research on children.)

There was also evidence to indicate that aerobic fitness predicts better working memory.


Keeping your Dog’s Brain Fit through Exercise

While the research reviewed in this study focused on humans, I would expect that similar benefits would accrue to the canine athlete as well. Older dogs can suffer many similar brain ailments as humans do including dementia. According to, clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome are found in 50 percent of dogs over the age of 11, and by the age of 15, 68 percent of dogs display at least one sign. Thus, it would seem logical that intense aerobic exercise can help your dog retain their mental faculties and function as they age and forestall if not eliminate the onset of cognitive disorders.


So what are you waiting for? Hurry up and get outside and run with your dog. Before you both forget ;-).


References and Further Reading

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  1. One thing I’ve learned is that when I’m running with Rodrigo (which I need to start up again), I’m so focused on him and what’s happening around us that I don’t need an iPod. It’s so much fun to be so connected with him. I like stopping and changing directions suddenly or going in zig zags. That helps him keep his focus on me and by the time we get home, we’re both exhausted 🙂
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Petology Drama and Why Dogs Hate BathsMy Profile

  2. Yesterday, we ran into three kids who thought it was the best game ever to run and have Mr. N chase after them. I think he wore them out.
    Tenacious Little Terrier recently posted…FitDog Friday #32 – Beacon RockMy Profile

  3. I have cut back on my running again. Bailie has started running with Mom, so I let them go and I get to take a nice walk with Mom and Katie when they return from their run. Yesterday was he first time both Bailie and I ran with Mom. It went pretty well, but I think Mom and Bailie have much more energy than I do for that sport. She is sure happy to have a dog that enjoys running with her, that is for sure!
    Emma recently posted…Why Exterior Searches In Nose Work Are So ChallengingMy Profile

    • That’s great that Bailie loves to run so much. Jack is like that too – he will run and run – we have to keep his mileage reasonable though because of his age.
      mkob recently posted…Running with your Dog. Keeping your Mind SharpMy Profile

  4. Thanks for the great information I did not know. I best get out there and run run run as since I turned 40 I am dumb dumb dumb. Have a great day.

  5. We are walkers, but we do encourage running games for the dogs when we are home.
    Bailey recently posted…Friday Flowers: IrisMy Profile

  6. Our huskies love to go running every day. Owning dogs do make you live longer and being active with them is one great way to keep you both healthy.
    Jim recently posted…Pool Safety for PuppiesMy Profile

  7. What a great reminder to exercise! We walk instead of running because Ted has knee problems and I don’t want to share them! (But I do high impact aerobics at my exercise class, it’s just not as sustained as running). Any way, this is good encouragement to get out there!
    Amy recently posted…Who Does Your Dog Listen To?My Profile

  8. Hi Y’all,

    We hike and walk a lot…My Human & I used to run…well I ran circles around her and she did more of a jog! BOL! Papa Human can’t run anymore so Mama Human prefers to stay with him and walk…but I still race around unless it is hot and humid…then I just walk with them.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Fit as a FiddleMy Profile

  9. I need to get back in to running/jogging. I cannot run with my dogs if the temp is above 70 or so, they just don’t tolerate it. I have a friend who has a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and they will run 8 miles or more together in 90 plus heat. But that is a breed of dog meant to do so. Maybe someday I will have a dog who doesn’t prefer temperatures below 0. : )
    Rebekah recently posted…All Natural Tick ControlMy Profile

  10. we did it today. But I have to admit my tongue was much longer than Easy’s as we were back home.
    Have a great friday and a super weekend :o)
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog BOW TIE THURSDAYMy Profile

  11. Interesting stuff! When I run with my dog, I do so without listening to music/wearing headphones. This really gives me some time to clear my mind of all the busyness and think about big-picture stuff. It’s really relaxing to me. Lately we do a lot more walking than running, though.
    Lindsay recently posted…Update: 14-year-old, deaf pitbull needs your help finding a homeMy Profile

  12. Great article. I don’t run as much with Veruca as we did when she had 4 legs. (Now she only has three). But we still jog when she is eager. It is a great way to enjoy time outside with the dogs and I know that I just feel better after a good couple of miles of strenuous activity.
    Mark at DBDT recently posted…Nature Walks with Veruca #3: Barr HillMy Profile

  13. Was, is and always will be a favorite activity of mine. Running feels even better with a dog by your side. For right now it’s just Eko, but I can’t wait for the pup to be old enough to start running with us as well.

  14. That was a great post! And we are definitely NOT run-aholics! BOL!
    BUT, we have been doing lots of the walk-run intervals that we read about right here on your blog. And with that, I hope to gradually work our way up to having a good full out jogging session. I have been enjoying the intervals, it makes things much easier, and I don’t run our of breath so quick as when I used to try and go full out with my body not being used to it enough.
    Anyways, i’m done rambling, have a great weekend!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Parading pet jewelry and a mystery creature!My Profile

  15. Before we got our pyrs, we had a lab/husky X named Kaeto. Kaeto was the perfect running dog! We got up every morning and went on a nice run together. The pyrs aren’t really running dogs, so we just walk with them 😉
    Kelsie recently posted…Pyrenees Soccer GameMy Profile

  16. We agree that running with your dog is great fun, we have lots of friends that do it. But mom never was a runner, hates it, could never do it, etc. She’s a water person and I hate water, a match made in heaven right? Love Dolly
    Dolly the Doxie recently posted…Bloggers & Brands: Working TogetherMy Profile

  17. Never thought about the brain component. Harley and I are getting better using the bicycle and his woof trotter. We both pass out upon our return, it’s so sad. the more exercise we do together (Leo included) the better they eat, the harder they sleep and the more energy they seem to have. I just need to keep up! Have a great weekend…
    Cathy recently posted…PETBOX REVIEW | WRITTEN BY HARLEYMy Profile

  18. I think it makes perfect sense that running is good for the brain, for both dogs and humans. I wish I could be a run-aholic. I often think I have kind of an addictive personality, so why can’t I get addicted to exercise? 🙂
    Cricket loves to run. Yesterday on our walk I broke into a jog a few times and she just seemed so happy about it!
    Jan K recently posted…FitDog Friday – Spring TrainingMy Profile

  19. Great post! I definitely see the results of better brain function when I step up my workouts! With Rocco we tend to do more interval training (walk-run). I’m not supposed to run long distance anymore and I need to monitor how much running Rocco does so it works for both of us! I think agility improves human cognitive function as well, since you have to learn and remember a different course each time!
    Diane and Rocco
    Diane recently posted…Teach Your Dog to Play DeadMy Profile

  20. It’s so true. I definitely got the a-holic going a couple years ago when I first started jogging with Tig. We slowly built up to about 4.5 miles with 1000 foot change in elevation over the jog. I finally was in good shape! Since moving to a terrible area for jogging (from what was perhaps one of the most beautiful jogs there was, Lands End in San Francisco right outside our front door), and dealing with a pile of stressful life events, I’m horribly out of shape and missing those jogs and the stress relief they brought.

    We just started again, now jogging towards or around a landfill and around tech campus parking lots. Gotta take what you can get, I guess! Here’s hoping to be an a-holic and get back into shape, regardless of the surroundings, with two dogs in tow now 🙂

    (And side note: jogging with two dogs is a whole different ballgame than jogging with one. Something I didn’t expect!)
    Jen recently posted…Dog Sports Interview: Meet Captain Awesome and Blazer and learn why they love dog sportsMy Profile

    • Good luck on getting back into it. As soon as you starting feeling results, it will get a lot easier. And oh yeah, two dogs is a lot more than double the coordination.
      mkob recently posted…Running with your Dog. Keeping your Mind SharpMy Profile

  21. I was so happy when Rob started running with our boy Leo, but Leo doesn’t seem to like it as much as we thought he would. Rob runs six laps around a parking lot (because Leo’s leash-reactive, that’s a safe place), and Leo “puts on the brakes” periodically, deciding he doesn’t want to jog anymore. Mystifying!!
    Kari recently posted…Walking dogs for fitness and funMy Profile

  22. Alfie runs, runs and runs – while I walk. He is a ball-o-holic though, not a run-o-holic, although I suspect they go paw in hand 🙂
    Linda – Alfie’s Blog recently posted…K9 Nose Work: Learning the BasicsMy Profile

  23. We are speed walkers because due to bad knees, I can\’t run. I had thought of buying the dogs a treadmill so they could run alone but I read an article that this does not stimulate their minds the same way and many of the benefits from running with the owner are lost. So I decided not to and just stick with the speed walking together.

    • The speed walking is great. If your dog’s needed more activity, I might still consider the treadmill as a supplement. Then you still get the bonding from the speed-walk, but the get the added exercise of the treadmill.
      mkob recently posted…Running with your Dog. Keeping your Mind SharpMy Profile

  24. Those sound like great reasons to do some aerobic exercise.
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