Initially, I began running with my dog as a safety measureto deter any would-be criminals looking for an easy target. While security is still a priority, enlisting a four-legged running partner has increased my awareness and taught me valuable lessons that can be applied to all areas of my life.
Sometimes, we try to measure success by what we’ve accomplished or how much we’ve earned. This year, my success was finding value in the things that have been overlooked for too long.
Here are my biggest lessons from running with my dog. Plus, my tips on how to train your dog to run with you.
To me, patience can be a four-letter word. I like to get things done and keep charging forward without delay, so training Bailey to be my running partner is certainly a work in progress. Bailey has more than enough energy and desire to run, but conditioning her to run according to my standards takes time and effort.
I ran alone for nearly four years before adding my four-legged running partner. I was not accustomed to having barriers that distracted from my running experience. I could quickly hit the road with minimal preparation, and I only had to consider what pace or distance I wanted to run that day.
Now, preparation takes a little longer. I have to get Bailey ready for the run and consider what pace and distance will be good for her as well, and I’ve quickly learned that this endeavor requires the crawl, walk—then when ready—run approach.
Training Bailey to walk at my side without pulling was a critical first step. Early on, I tried walking her with a standard dog collar and leash, but I quickly discovered she needed a little more help and better walking gear. Using a Halti headcollarthat gently moved her head to the side when she pulled was the perfect solution.
I would hold the headcollar up and encourage her to stick her nose through the hole by holding a piece of hot dog on the other side. She quickly learned that a reward was waiting if she willingly put her nose in the collar.
Then, I would have her wear it for short periods of time around the house until she was fully accustomed to wearing the headcollar without distress.
This part also required positive reinforcement and some good distractions when Bailey tried to rub the headcollar off her nose. I gave her easy commands like “sit”, “stay”, “down”, and “come” which helped her to focus on something other than the headcollar. Additionally, I would give her verbal praise when she was relaxed and ignoring the headcollar.
The amount of time and patience for this step will vary with each dog, but it will be well worth the wait and will almost certainly lessen frustration for everyone in the long run.
There are many good headcollars, but my personal favorite is the Halti Headcollar because of the adjustable clip under the chin. I have Bailey’s adjusted tightly enough to stay on her nose while still giving her the ability to open her mouth to pant, eat, or drink.
Once this step was accomplished successfully, we moved to the next stage—walking!
Now that Bailey was comfortable in her new headcollar, it was time to hit the road…slowly. Yes, she had gotten used to wearing the headcollar, but adding a leash that impeded her desire to run ahead was a totally new experience.
I used consistent verbal commands and positive reinforcement in conjunction with the pull of the headcollar until she learned the correct position to maintain a good walking experience. I said the word “slow” and lightly pulled on the headcollar until she slowed down and then I provided her with lots of verbal praise for proper position. We continued these training sessions 3-4 times a week until she was able to maintain a good position with minimal correction.
Even now, I like to start our runs with a quick 1-3-minute warm-up walk to remind her of the rules and correct position, and I would highly recommend this for anyone who wants to keep their RunPup experience smooth!
Finally, the moment I had been preparing for—running with my dog! Bailey knew the rules on how to act appropriately on walks, but finally allowing my energetic cattle dog to actually R-U-N was a very exciting experience for her.
She took off like a lightning bolt with little regard to our previous training. This was a bit frustrating but also a little amusing seeing her excitement! So, we adjusted the plan and turned our runs into interval training. We would walk to reinforce the rules then run until she started pulling again, repeating the process until she eventually learned that she had to behave if she wanted to run.
Most runners understand the value of pacing themselves at the beginning of a race for long-term success. Be patient, pace yourself, and lay a solid foundation for you and your dog. This could also mean changing your expectations.
As an achievement-driven person, I easily get target-locked on “getting my miles.” Having a plan is great, but allowing myself to be flexible is invaluable. Bailey forced me to realize that life is about more than just achieving a certain number of miles. Getting frustrated and skipping steps does not achieve good results or lead to happiness.
This year, Bailey and I ran countless miles, but we didn’t miss opportunities to stop and smell the roses. We enjoyed the wildlife, met new people and pups, and for the first time in years, I took my eyes off the tiny block of pavement right in front of me and saw an amazing world all around me. Because patience requires practice, sometimes I just have to remind myself - every run does not have to be a race!
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