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How To Trail Run With Your Dog


Hey guys, Emmett here. I'm a good friend of a human that works at Ruffwear, and I'm kinda new to town. Between all the new smells, funny looking animals on the farm I live on, and my really cool new family, I’m kinda stoked on life. My friend thought it might be fun to try channeling some of that stoke and energy into trail running together.

Dog Emmett in Front Range Collar smiling at camera sitting on gravel road.

Spoiler alert: it was a blast! We’ve gone a few times now, and I’m approaching (semi)pro status. I have a hunch other dogs out there would LOVE trail running with their humans, too, so here are five tips for other trail dogs in-training like me.


There are a lot of trails out there, and picking one that would be right for us on our first run together was critical. I had to rely on my human pal for this part, but the things she considered:

  • Distance
  • Terrain
  • Accessibility
  • Trail traffic
  • Leash laws

For my first official trail run, the plan was to keep the run short on a fairly quiet and flat dirt trail. I have a ton of energy, but consistently running alongside my human is a new type of endurance I've yet to build up.

It was also easy to get back to the car in case we needed to cut the run short for any reason. And we had a map on hand just in case.

Emmett in Front Range Harness for his first day in-training to trail run.
Trail dog in-training. Day 1.


Dogs, play close attention to this one. There are some magic words out there. Words that lead to glorious treats and extra happy humans:

  • “Sit”
  • “Leave it”
  • “Come”
  • “Emmett”

That last one might be just for me... But those other ones? Pay close attention when your human says them. Practice at home first until you get the hang of it. All the newness and excitement of being out on the trail can be a little distracting, so be patient with yourself.

We go to off-leash trail areas, but "no leash" doesn't mean "no manners," and we carried a leash with us just in case. And no matter how good you get at your off-leash skills, if the trail requires you to leash your human – leash your human! It just sets everyone up for a positive experience.


While we're busy sticking our noses in bushes, peeing on trees, rolling in stuff, and finding THE perfect stick, it's our human's job to look out for things we won’t pick up on. Follow their lead. It goes a long way in staying safe and making new friends on the trail.

Emmett in blue front range harness on trail in forest for day 2 of trail running dog training.
Trail dog in-training. Day 2.

True story: I was rippin' through some singletrack – picking up serious speed, tongue out, ears flapping, in the flow. I heard not one but two magic treat words ("Emmett, come!"), so I dug my big paws into the dirt, spun around, and ran back to her as fast as I could for my reward.

She clipped the leash on and we stepped off trail. I wasn't sure what was going on until one of those big, funny-looking long-legged dogs like we have on the farm (Editor's note: a horse) was coming down the trail. I definitely would have spooked it.

Once the trail was clear, I earned a snack and a good scratch behind the ear, and then we were back to running. The more we play this game on and off the trail, the better I get!


Between brush, mud, puddles, and dust clouds, us dogs will undoubtedly get a little dirty on a trail run. I'm all for it. But I'd be remiss if I didn't warn you: excessive rolling in irresistible smells will lead to the humans spraying you with water back home and removing that smelly goodness (Editor's note: a bath). I still don't get it, and I definitely don't love it – but it's totally worth it.

One thing we do want to keep clean is the wilderness where we’re exploring. That includes picking up and packing out any wrappers from our trail snacks – and yes, even our poop.

Turns out, humans don't love our poop, especially if they smell it or step in it – or even see it left behind trailside. It can be unhealthy for other wildlife and their habitats. Have your human carry pickup bags to take care of business when duty calls. It's essential, and it's a big deal when it comes to protecting our access to trails in the future, too.

Woman pulling a poop bag out of the stash bag attached to waist-worn section of Flat Out Leash.


It doesn’t take much to get out to some singletrack and start cruising, but some gear can make our trail time that much more seamless.

Because us dogs are all going to have different needs, we have to rely on the ones who know us best: our humans. These are the things they'll think about prior to arriving at the trailhead:

Water: I love this stuff. Even on a short run, it's important to stay hydrated. My human carries some in her running belt and pours it into a bowl for me when we stop for a break. Speaking of bowl...

Bowl: This is where the water goes. I'm perfectly fine drinking from my human's bottle, but the feeling isn't mutual. Come to think of it, it's just easier to drink out of a bowl anyway.

Boots: Being a farm dog that runs around a lot, my paws are pretty tough. And we haven't run on any particularly rough or even hot terrain yet. But boots are a great way to protect paws on runs with those elements. They also cut back on paw soreness, meaning quicker recovery time before our next run.

Trail Runner System: The human actually gets to wear this hipbelt, and it carries all the little stuff we've talked about: water, pick-up bags, treats. It has a leash attachment (with a quick release if needed) that's compatible with any leash, making on-leash running hands-free and a breeze.

Hot weather: Pack plenty of water (have I mentioned how amazing that stuff is?). The Singletrak Pack comes with bladders so I can help carry the load. Cooling gear is a great idea, especially on dry trails without a lot of shade.


Did I mention how fun it was? Running out in the wild, feeling the breeze, bonding with my human as we work together.

We both have some training to do before embarking on longer runs. We'll build up our distance slowly over time. I’m not the best judge of my own limits, and I’m eager to please and keep up. That's why the human has to tell me when to slow down, take a break, or even take a day off for low key activity to rest and stay injury-free.

But we're finding our flow together. And after our runs, I always feel so relaxed. And SO happy. I think I can get used to this trail running thing.

Dog Emmett laying in gravel making goofy face at camera.
Post-run zen at its finest.