Picture it. You’re getting fit, exploring the great outdoors, armed with an awesome excuse to shop for new gear, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll find someone who enjoys running with you. A running partner is really special sort of friend - they let you mooch off their water bottle, don’t judge how red or sweaty you get, know the right level of encouragement and quiet, won’t get mad when your snot rocket lands on them, they stand guard if you need to pee in the woods, they listen to bitches and brags about your work, love, boss or spouse. You develop a special language, riddled with inside jokes that are so not funny to anyone else. Dogs. Are. The. Best. (Also, the handfuls of humans who tolerate this behavior from me and keep coming back for more. Mad, crazy and forever love.)
And, Here Come the Excuses
But, I’m no good at running. But, my dog is too fat, old, young, naughty, big, small, barky. But, I don’t have time. I don’t have a dog. Throw your excuse at me, I toss back a solution (you can get better at anything you put effort to, start easy, go slow, replace “run” with “any kind of movement,” dog stroller, hire a coach/trainer, actually try, how you spend your time is a choice/everyone has time, bajillion shelter dogs could use exercise). What else you got?
Here’s the thing. I’ve been coaching novice running for the majority of my adult life. In the last 9 years managing the fitness department for Madison School & Community Recreation, I’ve coached upwards of 400 runners, from 5k’ers to marathoners, kiddos to 87 year olds. If I had to make a list of my top 5 skills, coaching new, apprehensive, sometimes (very) crabby adult runners probably takes the top spot. I am confident I can help you like(ish) it, if not love it. And, I’m really sure, dear dog person, you’re gonna have fun with your creature and in return, your dog is going to love you something extra if you make fitness a priority.
The good news is that if your feelings on running spur from the memory of some torturous 1 mile effort in PE class, repeated attempts at the ‘Couch - 5k’, regrettable minutes on the gym treadmill watching crap tv, I’ve got something better for you. Plus, your dog gets to come along.
*Evilly taps fingertips to one another* I can make running your gateway drug to inspire you to move more AND take your relationship with your pup to the next level.
The Real Deal
Just like dog training, fitness doesn’t come in any magic form. There’s no quick fix pill; you can’t lay down cash and get instant results. This involves that dirty ‘w’ word. WORK. WERK, if you’re nasty. But follow me down this path for just a sec: work, with a dusting of fun, is actually just a game. Who doesn’t like to have fun and play games? Literally, no one.
At this point, I’m gonna give you skeptical Sallys and Steves an out. There are cute dog pics below, but we’re leaping, both feet/all paws in, to the “hows” of running with your dog. To proceed with this blog, you should have an eyebrow raised with a “this might be for me” attitude.
First Things First
Like any physical activity, you and your pooch need to be healthy and cleared by your doc and vet, respectively. Seriously.
At minimum, you’ll want a dog with decent leash-walking skills. If you presently have a wild Marlin on the end of your leash, hop in a dog training class or hire a trainer to work on walking politely on lead.
Time to Shop! For the human, you need running shoes. Not lawn mowing shoes. Not basketball shoes. Running shoes. Go get some good shoes so your body holds up (because you’re about to have so much fun that you’ll want to do this for all eternity). An interval timer is also great. You can use a watch or specific interval time like Gym Boss - it’s a phone app too, if you prefer to use that.
For the Dog
Investment Estimate: $200+/- to outfit you and your dog
Now that you’ve stimulated the economy, let’s talk about what you’re going to do with all this new shit in your closet.
I use run/walk intervals to teach all newbie, crabby, injured, returning and basically all runners. Some hang onto these intervals for all eternity (I do). Others have a hang up about running nonstop and venture in continuous running direction. Cool either way. Do you.
Here’s the madness behind this method. Firstly, intervals are just effective. Mix periods of “go” with periods of “stop or easy” and repeat. It’s used is all realms of fitness and sport training. After 10 years of competitive running and racing triathlon, unaddressed injuries caught up with me in a wicked and debilitating way. Surgery after surgery changed my entire way of life, but running is such a passion to me that I was willing to, literally, do anything - even *gulp* walk.
What a fool I was! Now, after using intervals for the past 10 years, I have put out faster times, I am never sore after a run, and my head doesn’t play tricks on me like (eh, 2 miles is good enough...when I planned for 4). Most importantly, I can run more consistently. I can’t imagine running any other way now.
Then, I started running with my dogs and found that intervals were incredibly useful for teaching my dogs to run well. Clearly, our dogs know how to run - but without training, it’s a free-for-all of spastic starts and stops, pee breaks without warning, hard pulls to sniff and crisscrosses until we’re all tangled up and I can speak only cuss words.
Goal Setting & Journey Enjoying
Go big. Go small. Stay where it’s comfortable. The choice is yours. But as you dive into your running journey with your pup, always remember, this run isn’t about you - you and your dog are a team. Your success is built together, so current runners need to be conscientious to not push it too hard - if running is new to the pooch, having a dog who is annihilated post workout is totally inappropriate for your animal in a mind, body and spirit way. For the newbs, just enjoy without pressure or expectations. Breath the air; Love the slobber.
Wanna Get Racey? There is this beautiful sport of canicross that involves you and your dog running trails. We, in Wisconsin, are pretty lucky as we have a rather active canicross calendary. Check out Kenosha Running Company’s Canicross Site - they offer seasonal (fall - spring) canicross races. From experience, they are low-key, friendly and awesome for all levels - walk, run fast or slow.
Interested in learning more? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m currently offering individual or small group private coaching for canicross training and working on a mini-sesh workshop this spring.
This is a love story. Vulnerability. Blech.
This does not happen often, but this dog is really special to me. So, here goes: I ran/raced triathlon competitively throughout most of my teen and adult life until a chronic injury got real, like really real. Enter a decade of doc appointment, tests, rest, diagnoses, frustration, surgeries, depression, climbing out of depression, training, only to start over again. To add to the problem, my profession is fitness. I’m as gritty as they come, but with the inability to train, compete and teach fitness, I lost a big part of myself. Chronic pain is a chronic bitch and by 2015, I thought I had officially broken up with running.
“You F#$&er.” My left hand investigated my torn jeans, bleeding face and dinged up Doc Martins, while my right hand held his collar. We sat side by side, deep in the woods, me on a log, Ojai in leaves. He sat with an open-mouth pant. His eyes sparkled, even in the dark woods. I dropped my head, tasting harsh metallic in the back of my throat. My calves throbbing in pain. A split second error, a mis-clip of his leash. As opportunistic as they come, he took the opening and set off into the icy forest behind our house.
20 Minutes Earlier
I got the other dog to safety and pursued the shadowy figure bounding up the valley. Sprinting uphill, over trees, under trees, I slid, I clawed and crawled through bramble. He stayed close enough to keep an eye on me, far enough away to make my quads burn and my booted feet feel like they weighed a million pounds. I knew we’d break through the forest and hit the cul-du-sac soon. I prayed no dogs were out, knowing he would bolt hard or fight hard. When we hit civilization, Ojai paused, scanning for his next move. With a soon-to-be lost dog on the line, I needed a better strategy. I whooped it up with a joyful noise used for recall, caught his attention, turned my back to him and ran into the woods. He chased me, caught up and settled in at my side.
I remember Ojai’s foster mom asking me why I wanted a 3-legged dog. “I don’t,” I said with a laugh. “I just want a great match. I guess it doesn’t matter how many legs he has.” Jesse and I both fell in love with the sleek, handsome black dog. To top it off, Ojai was incredibly tolerant of our pint-sized Havanese and Hilo was enamored by his new 3 legged pal. On the day we brought Ojai home, his foster mom told me that he was going to fall in love with me. I remember thinking how lucky that this enchanting dog was going to love me.
Ojai had never known a human bed. The first night with us, he took up a small spot at the foot of the bed, cautiously curling into a tight ball. Night 2, he claimed his forever place - his head on my pillow. Ojai was about 3 weeks post amputation when we brought him home. His barking, lunging, and maniac chasing increased exponentially over the next few weeks. He hated bikes, the mailman, pedestrians, fast movement, slow movement, no movement, things too close, things too far away. I got yelled at because he’d flail at the end of his leash and scare the shit out of people. He was a wild banshee in public. But, when that wasn’t happening, he loved on us with the same intensity. Everything, the good and the bad, is extreme. Still, I saw pure magic in him. I was determined to make him better.
In the moment, I was offended when he bolted on me. Me? His best friend. His rescuer. His mom. After a few minutes of sitting on that log in the woods, it all became so freaking clear. His love of running reigned above it all. I used to know someone exactly like that.
The whole point of having a dog is to have a loving friend; a furry pal to bum around with; a mate for every adventure. But, what happens when what we want and need doesn’t match up with what they want and need from this shared life?
Social media tells us that dogs belong everywhere all the time, from farmers’ markets to restaurant patios, biergartens and on shopping sprees. I really and truly love the movement toward a canine friendly community, but the reality is, not all dogs are ready and capable for navigating those environments. Neither are their people.
Don't get me wrong - I think dog owners have the absolute best of intentions; after all, they are just socializing their dogs, giving them a great life and creating awesome memories with their dogs. But I have to ask, is that the actual outcome?
My Lesson Thea and I started running together about one year ago. We did a couple of canicross races, trail running events for dogs and their people. Then, we had the opportunity to run a regular human event in town - one of my favorites, in fact. It’s a small race and the race promoter was kind enough to say dogs are ok. Thea and I parked the car, geared up and walked to the startline, to the startline with really loud music. Then, I watched the sun set. “Had Thea ever run in the dark?” Like we do in busy environments, we kept moving and she was doing awesome. My girl. Doing a big race. Then, people I know started to arrive and circle around - our opportunity to keep moving became restricted. Nice people wanted to pet the pretty dog. Thea started to get jumpy; her go-to nervous behavior is to jump on people. Out of nowhere, Thea growled and threw herself on the end of her leash toward a woman walking a dog behind us, admittedly she startled me too. I wasn't paying attention.
Too Deep I put her in too deep. What was I thinking? I’ll tell you what I was thinking - Thea and I had been working a ton on public appearances, running and hiking in groups, being around other dogs on leash and navigating crowds. She had been thriving in every situation. However, running races are second nature to me, not her. What I didn’t do is work through the real logic of it. Any one of the factors that caused her new and unexpected stress would have been no big deal. But all of this, it was just too much - too much waiting, too dark, too many people too close to us, and my focus was split in too many directions.
We started toward the back of the pack. Thea ended up doing phenomenal - she navigated the crowd like a pro, kept pace and her normal, loose, running body language. Thank goodness for resilience, training, luck and whatever else was on our side. We finished, while proud of her and grateful for every mile with any running buddy, I felt like a jerk.
Retool Expectations I want to have a dog that can run everywhere with me, all distances, all terrains. You may have a dog who you want to be the belle of the dog park, or queen of the cafe - and it's just not happening. Maybe it's full on disaster, maybe it's just not quite what you dreamed. So how do we better align a human goal with a dog's abilities and interests? We get flexible, we explore alternatives and we work toward a training solution. Let's turn struggles into strengths.
This weekend, the weather was great and it made for an excellent opportunity to observe (creep) on people and their dogs. Here are a couple of the more common dog/human goals that are slightly out of alignme
The super cool thing is that none of these social goals are bad - in fact they are great ways to hang out with your dog. But, there is an element of planning and training that could make them really successful.
My Solution? Never race again. JUST kidding. We totally paw the start line, but not at night and not at every race (or distance, or pace). This past weekend, we raced in Kenosha at the Pike River Trail Run. Start to finish, it was a brilliant day. During the exciting pre-race moments, we kept it moving, avoiding the chaos. I carried treats in my FuelBelt pouch. On the run, we allowed really energetic dogs to pass and we stopped to sip water in the river. Was it fast. Nope. Was it the manner in which I would have run on my own? Not even close. Was it fun? 100% I advocated. I made the decisions that were best for her. Today, we were a team. Today, we shined.
Shine On You are your dog’s advocate and guardian. When you hit the streets, the trails or the city with your pooch, that dog isn't an accessory. She's your partner in awesomeness and adventure. In other words, it's a "we" thing, not a "me" thing and just like any relationship, there's a bit of navigating, definitely challenges, and absolutely compromises and choices. So, if you and your pup aren't jiving, behavior needs some fine tuning or you're feeling at a loss, take some time to bring your goals and your dog's abilities into alignment. I promise you, that dog adores you just as much as you adore her. The work is worth it. And, you will both shine so brightly.
Reach out to Jess at email@example.com for help building a stronger bond and better behavior with your best friend
#VACAY We just got back from 7 days in the Northwoods - a classic experience with a lake house, campfires, hiking, paddling, swimming, porch sitting, beer drinking, loon listening, lounging and dipping toes off the pier. The whole shebang. With all three dogs.
When we first talked about taking our three-dog crew on vacation it sounded like anything but - I mean, the packing and unpacking, keeping dogs on leash in a new area, behavior at a rental house (with rules like, no dogs on furniture!). Who would the neighbors be and how close, what wildlife would roam into the yard and on and on and on.
However, it was our anniversary and we'd just cashed in on my parents' generosity to watch two of three dogs the week before. So, sometimes you just need to go and let go. We did. And, oddly enough, there is not an ounce of sarcasm in this blog title. It all worked out great. But that was no accident.
Engineered for a Chill Experience Any multi-dog household either knows the lengths in which you must go to manage, or exists it total and utter chaos. We are, for the most part, a tightly run ship. However, the theme on our ship is "ditch the routine." In part because our life is not typical, in part because I firmly believe that doing the same thing at the same time every day is the definition of insanity. While no day really looks the same, the gang gets daily exercise (sometimes on leash, sometimes off, sometimes a combo), mental stimulation, fun time, quiet time, kennel time and bouts of training. This bodes well for vacation life.
Kick It. On Your Boundaries. While kicking up our feet with a cold beer would have been awesome way to start vacation, getting out the training mats and a Kong was far more lucrative. Within 30 minutes, the pups, despite having 3000 sq feet of new home to explore, happily settled onto their training mats with a chew. Later, we could check out our new living space together, calmly.
Leash Law of the Land My monsters have the luxury of a fenced yard at home, so they have daily whirling dervish time, as needed. However, we do spend a good deal of time happily on leash, which comes in handy when the vacay house is sandwiched between a highway and a shoreline with deer everywhere, birds of prey a plenty and black bear abundant (though unseen on this trip). While it limited what we could do with the dogs, waist leashes are amazing as is a dropped leash with a wicked recall.
All Heightened Everything For those who live with a reactive dog, you may very well understand the concept of the full bucket, or stress threshold. To be blunt, it's the capacity a dog has before he loses his shit. For those without a reactive dog, you may see behaviors that you'd describe as "selective hearing" or "being a brat" - all dogs have a threshold. All dogs need time, a good 3 days, to recoup from an over-threshold episode. Keeping that in mind, I have 3 dogs, all experiencing so much new and different, all with different thresholds and all who tend to be slightly more sensitive as a merry band of three. The key to holding off a meltdown in the moment? Balance. Excitable periods must get equal or more rest, quiet time (collapsible kennels are wonderful) and calm-inducing activities. For my gang, it's jam-packed, frozen Kongs on the deck or car rides.
Sweat Therapy Here's the thing, while hanging out at the rental home is nice (and when combined with snuggles and power-binging on Twin Peaks is hands-down THE BEST use of vacation time), we definitely wanted to explore a couple of the parks in the area. Again, planning saves the day. Knowing that a trip to the state park would likely be a bucket filling experiences, we brought amazing treats, kept a good eye on our dogs' body language and provided plenty of quiet time during the afternoon and evening. Before heading to the parks, we also did a little research with Wisconsin State Park Dog. Our pal, Lucky, and his mama have traveling to state parks with dogs dialed! We had two days of beautiful, totally successful Northwoods hiking.
All in All It was a super chill time. It took us about a day to get into the groove, but there's no question that we relaxed, had tons of fun, slept well, ate well, and achieved exactly what we needed on this trip. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Essential Skills Before Your Next Dog Inclusive Trip
Interested in whipping your household into a flexible, fun and happy place? Learn more about training with Jess at www.mylocaldog.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Local Dog Adventure Blog
Join me and my 3-dog crew as we share our stories of training and adventure. Whether you're a newly leashed dog guardian, veteran handler, weekend warrior, cuddle on the couch sort, got yourself a fancy AF purebred or filthy, little mudblood, all are welcome in the Local Dog Tribe. If you want your pooch to think you're the coolest thing since sliced hot dogs, read on!