Dogs love to run fast and slow, here and there and anywhere. They also like to sniff anything of interest, what other dogs have been up to, who visited that tree or post, and what might be in that packet that someone has tossed from the car after a visit to the fast food outlet. So you see, to successfully run with a dog you need to relax, have patience and be prepared to train your dog to run by your side on or off the lead.
If you are the type of person who finds it stressful, and is constantly yelling at the dog, give up now because you’re not going to enjoy your run and neither will your dog. If, on the other hand, you love your dog and are patient enough to get through those first few months, and a few minor indiscretions, like a neighbour’s cat up a tree, or similar, you will reach the point where you and your dog will have a ball.
The upside of this will probably be that your training will become more consistent because your training partner will never not want to go running. Of course, the size of your dog, whether it has short hair or long hair, as well as the time of day and temperature, will determine the distances you run with them. The other important factor to consider is that like you or any athlete, they need a training program so they can build up to becoming a long- distance runner.
I was very fortunate that the first running dog I owned was a Weimaraner, a short- haired, light-mushroom-coloured dog with big floppy ears and yellow eyes. They were originally bred in Germany to be an inside dog that would go out and hunt deer, so they were capable of running at speed over distance, but the breed was kept within Germany by a limited number of breeders until an American managed to get a pair out of the country in the 1950s and they have since spread around the world. When I got mine she was a six-month-old with a long pedigree name ending in ‘Queen’, so as the only queen my children could think of was Elizabeth of England, she was named Liz and promptly took up her position as ruler of the household.
Over a period of around 18 months her strength and stamina built to the level where we were running 8 to 20 km most days, with some long four-hour-plus runs around the hills on a Sunday. The only special consideration I had to make was that our route needed to pass a river, pond, or water source every half hour or so where she could take a dip or at least drink a lot. When we arrived home she would eat, drink, stretch out on her rug while I showered and ate breakfast. She would then be standing by the door ready to go out with the family. We ran together for three years until on one of our 20 km Wednesday morning runs along a riverside trail, down a long, straight road to the beach, then back along the beach to home again, the unthinkable happened. We were running down the long road at tempo, Liz was right beside me on the footpath, when a guy stopped his car with his lights shining on his front gate.
I kept going but Liz must have been spooked by the lights and ran around the back of his car out onto the road where she was hit by another car and killed instantly. It took me a long time to get over the loss and come to terms with the ‘what ifs’ that go through your mind, but the one thing that I realised was that when she went she was doing the one thing she absolutely lived for – running.
Several years later, when my partner, Bernice, and I moved to a 20-acre rural property, with a few thousand acres of pine forest behind which we had access to over the weekends, it was obvious here was the ideal environment for a running dog. So after a short search Bernice found a new litter of Weimaraners and picked one, but then saw the runt of the litter and decided we should take that as well because no one else wanted it, and we had plenty of space. We were to collect them three weeks later when they could be weaned. However, when we returned they had the runt at the vet’s, and asked if we were interested in taking our original choice plus the monster of the litter as a substitute. Well, we went home with two little pups, Hazel and Minx, who very soon became big dogs that loved running and causing a lot of laughs.
There are many stories of their performances over the years but one which indicates their potential speed was when we decided one morning to do a long mountain bike ride through the forest. Towards the end of the ride we came to a long steep downhill section. At this point the dogs were sniffing around in the undergrowth so we started to pedal down, picking up speed as we went. Then I looked and saw the two dogs on either side of us about to pass. I knew that if they got in front, they would naturally close in to run side by side, and I had visions of them clipping our front wheels and a big pile of dogs, bikes and us, so I called to Bernice to pedal as fast as she could. Well, the faster we went, the faster they went. When we reached the bottom of the hill we were still four across in a line, and though I don’t know what speed we reached I am sure they would have given Usain Bolt a hard workout.
The other big plus with running with your dog is that they become amazingly strong and healthy. Ours lived far beyond their expected age of 12. Hazel lived till 15 and Minx was almost 17. So think of them as an indicator of what running is doing for the both of you.