This is Sheba.
Sheba is a German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) and named after a beautiful east coast town in Barbados called Bathsheba.
We were lucky enough to actually get a GSP in Barbados. Her parents were brought in from the UK by two of our now wonderful friends. Buy a dog, gain a friendship! Anyway, she is 18 months old, and she’s loves to run. Love is probably not nearly a strong enough word, but any other word starts to sound creepy and her ‘obsession,’ if you will, is really just utter, uncontrollable, pees-from-excitement-at-the-sight-of-a-leash love. If you know anything about GSPs, you know that they are high-energy dogs, which means they need a lot of exercise every day. And if you might remember, I sometimes find it hard to motivate myself to run by myself at five in the morning. So that’s where Sheba comes in.
But let’s start from the beginning. First, I fell in love with this picture.
Then, I got excited at the idea that not only would she have to be exercised everyday, but with time she’d be able to go with me on my early morning runs. Running partner, check!
And for the past year, we’ve been incredibly successful! Let me say, though, I am most certainly not a veterinarian, nor am I a dog trainer. Everything written below is really just a collaboration from lots of research, working with local trainers, and my own personal training experiences.
Now, I say we’ve been successful, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t lots of challenges along the way. Training a dog is HARD! My daughter was so much easier to train than Sheba, s-e-r-i-o-u-s-l-y! What, you say?! Train my daughter? Well, it’s kind of the same thing. Okay, maybe teach is a better word, but it all boils down to being respectful to oneself and others, obeying the rules of the house, and not throwing a fit every time I said the word ‘no.’ Both took an incredible amount of work, but again, Gwyneth was/is so much easier than Sheba!
Anyway, back to running. So in my time of being a runner, becoming a psuedo-dog trainer, and teaching my dog to run, here’s what I learned.
running with dogs: a guide for beginners
1. check with your vet
First and foremost, check with your veterinarian before you begin, especially if your dog is still a puppy. Puppies’ bodies are typically not mature or ready for exercise that causes sharp or repetitious impact during the first year, and 18 months for large or giant breeds. Here’s a bit of info for you:
“The leg bones grow from areas located near their ends. These soft areas of immature bone are called growth plates (also epiphyseal plates or the epiphysis). At about 12 to 16 months, the growth plates “close” as calcium and minerals harden the soft area. When the hardening process is complete, most growth stops and the growth plates are said to be closed. Before they close, the growth plates can be injured or fractured more easily than mature bone. An injury to the growth plate can cause the bone to stop growing or to grow incorrectly” (source).
Because Sheba is such a hyper dog, we were given the green light at nine months for short runs. We took a month to train her and then ran very short runs and slowly built her up for longer runs.
2. research the breed
Checking with your vet is also important if you are unsure of the breed of your dog. Not all dogs are fit to run and, if they are, not all dogs are fit to run long distances. Researching your breed will not only tell you how much exercise your dog may be able to handle, but also what kind of behaviors you’re likely to encounter while training for or during the run. Is your dog a hunter like mine who would sniff her way through miles of running if she could, or perhaps a working dog that needs a task while running to stay focused? Be sure to do your research so you can better prepare. I know I definitely can’t outrun my GSP, but I’m pretty sure I can out run this little guy.
So cute! Poor thing reminds me of Elaine dancing on Seinfeld.
3. perfect walking with a lead
Unfortunately, if a dog is not properly trained to walk with a lead, I imagine it will be very difficult to then try to run with one. The greatest thing I learned about walking with my dog on a lead (and in all aspects of our lives together) was to be the pack leader. By being the pack leader, I am able to control the run and help ensure everyone is safe. This means that Sheba:
- runs next to or behind me
- easily obeys commands like heel, stop, and no
- focuses solely on me and our run
It’s not her time to hunt, so there’s no sniffing the ground when we run. Unless, of course, she’s really gotta go, and in that case, normally she just stops abruptly and does her business there and then (see #6 below for what to do in that situation).
4. start small
Once you’ve perfected walking with a lead, it’s time to move on to running. And the number one rule is: start small. Just like I trained Sheba on the lead, I then had to train her to run, and run next to me. On our first couple runs, she would jump up on me like we were playing a game. It was kinda funny to watch. I was able fix the jumping by running into her, which pushed her back down and reminded her I was the pack leader (see #3). Then she started sniffing throughout the run, so I fixed that by using a figure-8 slip lead and tugging on it each time her head lowered (see Wednesday’s post for a how-to on the figure-8). Once I fixed the behaviors I didn’t want her to do, we were ready for our first run. But remember, just because your dog is behaviorally ready to run doesn’t mean he/she is physically ready to run. So again, start small. Run short distances and slowly build up. If you plan to run with your dog often, try to find trails to run on, which will be easier on their legs and paws than the pavement.
5. use excellent running gear
On Wednesday, I’ll go into more of the specifics of the equipment I use, but for now be sure to have excellent running gear…for your dog! It could include as much as the lead, back pack, shoes, jacket, and water bowl.
6. carry supplies
Okay, remember how I mentioned when Sheba’s really gotta go she goes where ever we are and that I’d tell you how to handle the situation? Yes, it’s happened on a sidewalk near a busy intersection (such proud parents we are)! Well, here’s what you do. Bring along a really good poop bag, clean up the mess, and then run and hide! Unless, of course you live on a small island where people from the intersection are likely to know you, well, then you just smile embarrassingly, and then run and hide! Obviously, your most valuable supply will hands down be poop bags, but here’s a few other things you’ll want to carry:
- water – before, during, and/or after depending on the length of run
- high-protein snacks – for long runs, it’s just like carrying gels for your long runs
- citronella spray – in the scary event of a dog fight (check out tip #8)
7. be mindful of your dog
Watch your dog and become familiar with signs of fatigue or overheating. This is especially important, of course, in the summer months or if you live in a warm-weather climate like me. But also just like we can get injured during a run, so too can your dog. It may be harder to notice right away if he/she is injured, so remember to be mindful of your dog.
8. find safe routes
Always be aware of your surroundings, never run with head phones, choose safe routes, and know what to do in an emergency (like how to handle a dog fight). Check out this thorough article on dog fighting and why they recommend carrying citronella. Whatever path you’re planning to take with your dog, try it out before you bring him/her along. Are there other dogs around, will you cross busy intersections (yes, you’ll need to teach fido how to cross the road), will you run into wildlife? And even as you become familiar with your running path always maintain a keen awareness of your surroundings. You don’t want any surprises. There was one path I took with Sheba where we ran into two vicious dogs. They were locked up (thank goodness), but they were large enough to stand up and peer over a six foot high fence! They growled, barked, and scared the bejesus out of me. Whenever I took that path by myself before, they was no sign of the dogs. I guess I should have figured something was up when I realized the dogs were the reason their six foot fence was draped and covered with tarps. Needless to say, we don’t take that path anymore. So be careful and be aware.
9. be courteous of others
Sadly, not everyone loves dogs. Sometimes it’s with good reason and sometimes not. Regardless, when I am on a run or walk for that matter, I just assume that the people I encounter all hate dogs. I keep my distance, I give them the right of way, and I mind my dog. Most people won’t interact with you while you’re on a run, but you never know. I get tons of stares, points, and pictures taken. Weird, right? I do live in a tourist destination so I’m figuring that’s why the cameras are already out, and not on the off chance that I might be running by;) The pictures taken are always of Sheba, of course. Check out Wednesday’s post and you’ll see why. Who wouldn’t want a snapshot of all her cuteness! So I’m also prepared if someone wants to chat and/or pet my dog. Like I said though it usually doesn’t happen on a run. Anyway, just be respectful of others, their homes and property, and every place you run, i.e. don’t leave crap on the sidewalk=)
Do you run with your dog? How do you exercise your dog?